When done right, playing the right song at the right time in a movie can make a scene immortal. These moments in movies become burned into our memories, forever joining the scene and the song. In no particular order, here are 10 of our favorite music moments in film. And yes, there may be spoilers.
Hit “next” or click the pictures to see which scenes made it on our list…
Fight Club (1999)
Scene: The final one
Song: The Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?”
David Fincher’s Fight Club, which was based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same title, spoke to audiences across the globe. The film’s gritty execution and unflinching attitude cut through all the bullshit of chick flicks and product placement with a nihilistic punch to the face.
The movie is full of memorable moments, but Fight Club‘s final scene is an epic one. The movie goes out with a bang, and The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” is cued at just the right moment, creating a perfect marriage of sound and visuals.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Scene: The suicide contemplation
Song: Elliott Smith – “Needle In The Hay”
When it comes to pairing music and images, Wes Anderson is probably one of the best. The Royal Tenenbaums has a number of wonderful scenes that exemplify this, but Richie’s suicide contemplation combined with Elliott Smith’s “Needle In The Hay” is effective on so many levels. It’s an eerie moment of art imitating life, as Richie, played by Luke Wilson, stares into the camera (as if he were looking into the mirror) and whispers “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.”
Scene: The yuppie exorcism
Song: Harry Belafonte – “Day-O”
Tim Burton is strange, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Beetlejuice, one of his most beloved pieces of work, is about a lovely, dead young couple that hires Beetlejuice to get rid of the pretentious yuppies from their old house. Beetlejuice attempts to scare the new home owners away—a human exorcism, if you will—and it will forever change the feelings evoked by “Day-O.”
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Scene: The jaguar shark encounter
Song: Sigur Rós – “Starálfur”
Those who have watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou can’t forget this incredibly moving scene. The film is based around Steve Zissou’s long journey to hunt down the elusive jaguar shark, the animal that ate his partner, Esteban. Within the last moments of the film, the eccentric group of characters come together in awe of the majestic jaguar shark, uniting in recognition of a special moment as Sigur Rós’ “Starálfur” plays. It’s a bittersweet moment, and “Starálfur” works to make it more powerful and dramatic.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Scene: The corny wooing
Song: Heath Ledger – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Frankie Valli Cover)”
Insecure, love-struck teenage girls everywhere swooned at Heath Ledger’s rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” It’s one of those classic chick flick moments that’s simultaneously corny enough to make you cringe and awesome enough to make you wish real life was a little bit more like ’90s Rom-Coms.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Scene: The dance
Song: Chuck Berry – “You Never Can Tell”
Coke binge! Dancing! Strange conversation! Sexual tension! And Chuck motherfucking Berry. There’s not much more you could ask for from this scene in Pulp Fiction.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Scene: The ear clipping
Song: Stealers Wheel – “Stuck In The Middle With You”
For a scene like this, a song like “Stuck In The Middle With You” is not the obvious choice. In this context, both the song and the scene take on a unique tone—one that reflects the dark humor of Quentin Tarantino and turns what could be a typical torture scene into a whole other animal.
American Psycho (2000)
Scene: The Paul Allen scene
Song: Huey Lewis and the News – “Hip to be Square”
Similar to the twisted nature of the scene from Reservoir Dogs, the happy-go-lucky feel of the Huey Lewis and the News song serves as an excellent counterpoint to these visuals. As a twisted Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, shares his in-depth knowledge of Huey Lewis, giving a very detailed account of Lewis’ music, he simultaneously prepares to murder a heavily-intoxicated Paul Allen (played by Jared Leto). Light, fun music plus murder is a wonderful combination.
Almost Famous (2000)
Scene: The bus sing-along
Song: Elton John – “Tiny Dancer”
Another one that flirts with that thin line between powerful and corny. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is a classic, but we’re not going to lie: every time we hear it we can’t help but think of this scene.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Scene: The rape
Song: Malcolm McDowell – “Singin’ In The Rain (Gene Kelly Cover)”
A Clockwork Orange is not an easy story to stomach. The movie is full of relentless violence and sexual deviance, and like Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel that it was based on, the film was undoubtedly ahead of its time.
This rape scene not only emphasizes the dreary universe that the characters inhabit, but it also reflects Stanley Kubrick’s use of his artistic license. Burgess, at no point, refers to Alex singing Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ In The Rain” in the novel; this addition was purely improvisation, to Kubrick and actor Malcolm McDowell’s credit. But unlike many movies that lose the original meaning of their respective novels, this addition actually reinforces Burgess’ contrast of “ultra-violence” with culture, brute force with high art.