Movie Songs

13 Most Commonly Used Songs in Movies

December 21, 202311 Mins Read


  • Needle drops, or music used in the background of movies, often consist of popular songs like “Under Pressure,” “U Can’t Touch This,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
  • Songs like “What A Wonderful World,” “Chariots of Fire,” and “Mr. Blue Sky” are frequently used in movies to create emotional and uplifting moments.
  • Other popular songs in movies include “Fortunate Son,” “Bust a Move,” and “Eye of the Tiger,” which are often used to enhance specific scenes or create a certain atmosphere.

Ever feel like you know a song, but can’t place where you’ve heard it last? There’s a high probability you’ve been subconsciously consuming music from the background of a movie. Also known as needle drops, some tracks are used more often than others.

Indeed, music and film have gone hand-in-hand ever since the early days of cinema. The partnership between the two has even brought together major industry players within both media. Famous musical artists have composed soundtracks for movies, while others have either written a song specifically for a film or lent their tracks out. Whether it’s for a catchy melody, a relatable theme, or to create comic relief, here are some of the most common songs used in movies.

Updated December 19th, 2023, by Samuel Cormier: If you are a fan of movie scores and classic songs, then you will be happy to know that this article has been updated with more content.

15 “Under Pressure” — Queen and David Bowie

Robin Williams in World's Greatest Dad
Magnolia Pictures

British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie are two artists whose music has continuously been playing on every radio station in the world for five decades. Therefore, it is no surprise that their collaboration song, “Under Pressure,” appears on this list. The lyrics deal with the pressures of conformity that are put on individuals by society, so it has some pessimistic undertones.

“Under Pressure” nonetheless acts as a relevant needle drop in many popular movies. Grosse Pointe Blank plays the song when the main character, Martin, deals with his internal struggles concerning his family. We can also hear it in the rom-com The Girl Next Door, in the superhero movie Zoom, as well as in the buddy comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. What probably stays as the greatest use of the song, however, is its inclusion in World’s Greatest Dadstarring Robin Williams in the final scene, when Lance finally accepts his new life and dives naked into a pool.

14 “U Can’t Touch This” — MC Hammer

Marlon and Shawn Wayans in the dance battle scene in White Chicks
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Considered his signature song, “U Can’t Touch This” is a single produced and performed by American rapper MC Hammer. The song has become a constant inclusion not just in film, but in TV and commercials as well. The hit has been used in movies such as the action-comedy Tropic Thunder with Ben Stiller, the drama-adventure Into The Wild, and the K-Mart shopping scenes in Grown Ups 2. The most memorable use of “U Can’t Touch This” for many, however, may just be in the dance-off scene in the cult classic cop comedy White Chicks.

13 “Sweet Home Alabama” — Lynyrd Skynyrd

Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama
Buena Vista Pictures

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama” was released back in 1974, and has been used by cover bands, movies, and TV series left and right ever since. Perhaps the most iconic use is when Forrest dances with his beloved Jenny in Forrest Gump. Other films like Joe Dirt — a movie about a man looking for his long-lost parents — have also seen the song become part of its official soundtrack.

Remember the dance scene in Con Air with Nicolas Cage? Yeah, that was also “Sweet Home Alabama.” It was even recreated by Eminem for the movie 8 Mile. Most importantly, we simply cannot forget the movie that borrowed not just the song, but the title — Sweet Home Alabama, featuring Reese Witherspoon.

12 “What A Wonderful World” — Louis Armstrong

The animals in Madagascar look shocked

Originally recorded by Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World” is such a good song that it’s included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The list of movies that feature this song is probably endless, but here are some of the best. It’s been used in the radio scene in Good Morning, Vietnam, when Alex is left all alone in Madagascar, in 12 Monkeys when James Cole wants a different song, in the elevator scene in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay, and in the American terrorism montage in Bowling for Columbine. This song has definitely seen various uses, from happy to sad.

Related: 15 Greatest Movies About Jazz

11 “Chariots of Fire” — Vangelis

Chariots of Fire famous beach scene
20th Century Fox

Easily one of the most iconic, recognizable and reused songs in movie history, “Chariots of Fire” has popped up in a smattering of movies ever since the 1981 British Historical Sports Drama of the same name was released. The Chariots of Fire score is most prominently used in the comedy movie genre, mostly as a spoof of an iconic moment from the Chariots of Fire movie.

Some notable comedy classics that the song has appeared in include Bruce Almighty, Old School, Madagascar, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas to create comedic effect. However, the best use of the theme has to be awarded to National Lampoon’s Vacation, when Chevy Chase and his family finally achieve their goal after a disastrous trip and arrive at Wally World in hilarious fashion. In this case, “Chariots of Fire” not only elevates the humor, it also makes the moment even more emotional and satisfying.

10 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz Somewhere Over the Rainbow

‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ was originally written for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Thanks to its popularity, it became one of Judy Garland’s signature songs. The song is about finding a place where no one will get into any trouble, almost like a zone of safety to escape to. This iconic song and its remakes have also been used in the romantic comedy 50 First Dates, in the drama Finding Forrester; the romantic fantasy film Meet Joe Blackstarring Brad Pitt; and the action movie Snakes on a Plane.

9 “London Calling” — The Clash

Piers Brosnan as James Bond in airplane in Die Another Day

English rock band The Clash released the song “London Calling” on their third studio album. This high-tempo song deals with themes of social displacement, racial conflict, and drug use. The lyrics serve as the perfect song for establishing London as a new location in just about any movie, such as in James Bond’s flight to London in Die Another Day. The song is also played during the opening sequence in the second Conjuring movie. It has also been used for a typical montage of the iconic landmarks of the city, such as in the Billy Elliot movie and Night at the Museum.

8 “Mr. Blue Sky” — Electric Light Orchestra

Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2

“Mr. Blue Sky” from the Electric Light Orchestra has been used countless times throughout cinema history. Recently, however, it is mostly recognizable from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 intro where the ever-adorable Baby Groot dances along to the tune.

The song is usually used to emphasize a happy and gleeful moment in a movie, and is more often than not at the very beginning of the movies it is featured in. Mr. Blue Sky has popped up in movies such as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Role Models, The Game Plan, and, of course, the British classic The Magic Roundabout. Similarly, iconic movies such as Megamind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have also featured this irreverently catchy tune, making it one of the most used songs in movie history.

7 “Fortunate Son” — Creedence Clearwater Revival

The cast of Suicide Squad lined up

“Fortunate Son” is a song by the rock band American Creedence Clearwater Revival. Since its inception, the song quickly became a symbol for the anti-war movement, hence why it’s used in so many movies about the Vietnam War or Americans’ involvement overseas. The best examples of its use include Forrest and Bubba arriving in the Vietnam combat zone in Forrest Gump, the end credits for the movie Die Hard 4.0, and the end credits for the movie Battleship. Fortunate Son is also on the official soundtrack for the DC superhero movie Suicide Squad and was used for a rescue scene in the movie War Dogs.

6 “Bust a Move” — Young MC

Zac Efron dancing with the cheerleaders in 17 Again
New Line Cinema

This upbeat hip-hop song was most famously used to accompany the cheerleaders’ routine that Mike (played by Zac Efron) casually joins in the teen classic 17 Again. A rare occurrence, Young MC himself is seen performing the song in the 2009 movie Up in the Air. Additionally, this song appears in the soundtracks of Uncle Buck, The Blind Side, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and It, to name just a few of the numerous occurances of this song on-screen. This song has definitely been a hit for montages and uplifting scenes since its release in 1989.

5 “Spirit in the Sky” — Norman Greenbaum

Forrest Gump on his bench
Paramount Pictures

Known for being one of the best-selling one-hit wonders of all time, “Spirit in the Sky” is a song by American singer-songwriter Norman Greenbaum. Although the original meaning of the song references Jesus Christ, the title alone can be very open to interpretation, from religion to UFOs.

It’s no surprise that the song appears on the excellent Forrest Gump soundtrack list full of iconic hits. However, it’s also been used in scenes such as Evan speaking to God in Evan Almighty, in the space docudrama Apollo 13, and in the sports drama Remember The Titans. Although not used in the movie directly, “Spirit in the Sky” is also included in the official soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy and was used for one of its trailers.

4 “Kiss Me” — Sixpence None The Richer

Rachel Leigh Cook as Laney in She's All That

“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer wholly encapsulates the feeling of a late ’90s romantic comedy. The original music video paid tribute to French filmmaker François Truffaut and his film Jules et Jim, even recreating some of its scenes.

Related: How Music Can Inspire Movies

The song got a major push when it was featured as the main theme song to the cult classic She’s All That. Starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook, this update on Pygmalian and My Fair Lady was the perfect platform on which to showcase this song. Another version of the music video was soon released to reflect this partnership, in which the band watches scenes from the film on a ’90s portable player. This song been heard in weddings and romantic comedies ever since.

3 “September” — Earth, Wind and Fire

Party scene in Night at the Museum

This song is an instant throwback to the ’70s and those disco, carefree, fun-loving years. It is also incredibly engaging, and anyone who hears it will notice their hips moving to the beat. This is probably why one of its most famous uses is at the ending of Night at the Museum, during a party that gathers all the historical figures from the museum, finally getting along. “September” has also been featured in Robot Dreams (2023) multiple times, Polar (2019), and also covered by Sisqó and Vitamin C for Get Over It (2001) and by Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake for Trolls (2016). This timeless classic is sure to make any scene it is featured in unforgettable.

2 “Eye of the Tiger” — Survivor

Rocky boxing scene

“Eye of the Tiger” is the ultimate ’80s fight song. The fact that it is near synonymous with the Rocky series should come as no surprise. This epitome of pump-up jams first premiered in Rocky III. Sylvester Stallone had originally intended to use the popular Queen hit “Another One Bites the Dust,” but wound up with this little gem instead. Training montages just haven’t been the same since. The song was featured on both the Rocky III soundtrack and the Survivor album of the same name. Since then, it’s been used on and off over the years at both sporting events and on the big screen in films like Big Hero Six and The Animal.


10 Original Songs from Movies to Make Your Cold Season Extra Moody

Nothing makes us feel more like a character in a montage like the colder season. Here are some original songs to add to your moody playlist.

1 “Happy Birthday to You” — Patty and Mildred J. Hill

Birthday party in What We Do In The Shadows

This one may be a bit of a cop-out, but a search of films in which characters sing “Happy Birthday to You” produces quite an extensive list, from Smile to Liar Liar. Like most songs on this list, any film worth its salt that wanted to use this late 19th century ditty had to pay out to its copyright holder until recently. To be frank, this song and its numerous variations have been the basis of many a legal battle. It is the song’s ability, however, to hop between voices and genres that solidifies its spot on this list.

This song’s origins supposedly trace back to a pair of sisters who introduced it to their kindergarten class (though even this story has been up for debate). Now that it is in the public domain, however, filmmakers are finally free to use it as they please.

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