Movie Songs

The 50 Best Original Songs Written for Films

March 10, 202442 Mins Read

Tonight, the 96th Academy Awards will air and award some brass to the top achievements in film over the last year. And it seems that Billie Eilish is set to win her second Best Original Song Oscar in the last five years, a feat that only 26 other musicians—including Elton John, Giorgio Moroder, Henry Mancini and Randy Newman—have accomplished in the award’s 90-year existence. While “What Was I Made For?” is a worthy and compelling frontrunner, the Academy doesn’t always get their picks correct—and they rarely offer a nuanced, accurate portrait of the best that film had to offer in any given era.

The Paste music editors have assembled a list of what we believe are the greatest songs ever penned for film. This ranking is not limited to just Best Original Song winners and nominees. No, we are looking at the best musical moments that Hollywood has had to offer over the last century—including standouts from Spider-Man 2, Blue Velvet, Superfly and, yes, Shrek 2. So strap in, here are the 50 best original songs written for films. —Olivia Abercrombie & Matt Mitchell

50. Oneohtrix Point Never ft. Iggy Pop: “The Pure and the Damned” (Good Time, 2017)

While most of Oneohtrix Point Never’s soundtrack for the Safdie Brothers’ 2017 film Good Time is an electronic score, the track he penned for the trailer—“The Pure and the Damned”—is one of the most beautiful, haunting synthesizer ballads I’ve ever heard. With Iggy Pop bouncing between a sung melody and spoken-word musings, “The Pure and the Damned” strikes feverishly at draping the sibling bond that exists at the core of the film itself with a spectral tapestry. “Some day, I swear, we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to,” Pop says. “And we can pet the crocodiles.” It’s the kind of song that will stick with you, and it’s one of Iggy Pop’s best performances of the 21st century. Who knew a team-up between him and OPN would be such a slam dunk? —Matt Mitchell

49. Dashboard Confessional: “Vindicated” (Spider-Man 2, 2004)

I’ll spare you from reading me gush about Chad Kroeger’s “Hero” from the Spider-Man soundtrack. Instead, let me briefly discuss the equally good (but more culturally lauded) Dashboard Confessional track, “Vindicated” from Spider-Man 2. The melancholic rock ballad opens with the lines “Hope dangles on a string / Like slow-spinning redemption,” a clever reference to our favorite superhero’s otherworldly powers. It’s impossible not to sing along to that shrill, emo-accentuated chorus: “Vindicated, I am selfish, I am wrong / I am right, I swear I’m right / Swear I knew it all along / And I am flawed / But I am cleaning up so well.” It’s just melodramatic enough without becoming too cliché, which is precisely how I would describe Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. —Olivia Abercrombie

48. Sufjan Stevens: “Mystery of Love” (Call Me by Your Name, 2017)

Take me back to the summer of 2018, a time filled with dreams of a blissful European summer and a breezy summer romance. Never mind that I was 17—or still in high school and stuck in the blistering Texas heat rather than sequestered in a cozy Italian cottage—but Sufjan Stevens transported me to that place with “Mystery of Love.” The delicately plucked strings paired with his airy vocal capture the weightlessness of young love with the lyrics “And what difference does it make / When this love is over” painting a picture of passion splashed with sorrow—something that Stevens has mastered so effortlessly. He wrote “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon” for the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack, expressing the serene yet miserable intimacy of an earnest, short-lived relationship between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Though certain revelations about Hammer make it difficult to watch the film nowadays, I can still count on Sufjan’s music to transport me to a fantasy land of idealistic romance. —OA

47. John Parr: “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” (St. Elmo’s Fire, 1985)

Few films are as quintessentially 1980s as St. Elmo’s Fire, and few songs are as quintessentially 1980s as John Parr’s theme song for it. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” has the great power of being miles greater than its source material, as Parr crafted a real bonafide pop-rock masterpiece that held the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in 1985. Not only are the “I can see a new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky / I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher” lines ear candy, but members of Toto, REO Speedwagon and Mr. Mister perform on the track. Talk about an all-star affair from top to bottom. —MM

46. B.J. Thomas: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

Though it’s B.J. Thomas’ voice at the center of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” the song was written by pop dynamo Burt Bacharach and his collaborator Hal David. Though I prefer the song’s appearance in Spider-Man 2, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” was penned by Bacharach and David for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969. It’s a simple story, as the song’s narrator forgoes all worries by embracing the hope that happiness will soon come, and Thomas really sells it with his sincere singing performance. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” became a #1 hit in the US, Canada and Norway and won a Best Original Song Oscar, and its jubilant stroke of soft-rock ecstasy is still full of energy more than 50 years later. —MM

45. Ray Parker Jr.: “Ghostbusters” (Ghostbusters, 1984)

“Ghostbusters” is never a song I never seek out on my own whenever I go mining through the 1980s pop vault, but it is iconic in every sense of the word. Even if you’ve never seen Ghostbusters, you know the answer to the question “Who you gonna call?” There are few marks of cultural staying power greater than that one, and “Ghostbusters” wound up being the only #1 hit of Ray Parker Jr.’s career. Aside from Chazzy Green’s saxophone, Parker sings and plays guitar, Korg Poly-61 and Roland Jupiter-6 synths, a Roland MSQ700 sequencer, drum programming, maracas, cowbells and Simmons drums. Few musicians on this list have ever had such an all-encompassing hand in making a track come to life and “Ghostbusters,” no matter how novel it is, is the epitome of one of film history’s greatest blockbuster eras. —MM

44. Metropolis: “The Darkest Side of the Night” (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, 1989)

It’s not on streaming services, so you’ll have to go to YouTube to enjoy Metropolis’ “The Darkest Side of the Night,” which appears in the opening credits of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. While the film is an absolute disgrace to the Friday the 13th franchise, “The Darkest Side of the Night” is an absolute blitzkrieg of ‘80s rock catchiness. The song soundtracks a montage of New York City (which is mostly just shots of alleyways in Vancouver), and the scene includes street rats mugging each other, houseless addicts doing heroin and various other flashes of the Big Apple, like Times Square and diner interior. It’s outrageous and “The Darkest Side of the Night” is such an obvious take on a strand of the going-extinct hair metal and stadium-rock of the era that it sounds like a blown-out pastiche now. But, I adore it and always will. Few songs penned for horror films ever get their due, and Metropolis—like Friday the 13th Part VIII—burns like a fire for the wasted lives. —MM

43. Gerard McMahon: “Cry Little Sister” (The Lost Boys, 1987)

For years, I swore this was a Billy Idol song, only to find out it came from a vampire movie with Kiefer Sutherland doing a Billy Idol cosplay—so I guess I wasn’t too far off. The Lost Boys was chock-full of incredible music from INXS, Roger Daltrey and Echo & The Bunnymen, but the real standout was the original theme Gerald McMahon wrote for the film, “Cry Little Sister.” McMahon penned the track before even seeing the film, which explains its lack of reference to the actual plot—yet he was still able to capture the moody, broody spirit of The Lost Boys. The song’s narrative of longing for acceptance is a perfect metaphor for the film, with the chorus “Cry, little sister / Come to your brother / Unchain me, sister / Love is with your brother” echoing this sentiment of isolation. “Cry Little Sister” perfectly combines ‘80s hard rock, gothic organs and choral gospel, accentuating the vampire aesthetic to a T. —OA

42. Elliot Smith: “Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting, 1997)

Has there ever been a more fitting title for an Elliot Smith song? “Miss Misery” is tragically gorgeous, just like all of the indie folk artist’s work. This is one of the times that the Academy got a nomination right, even if “Miss Misery” didn’t win for Best Original Song—though, if you are going to lose to anyone, it might as well be Celine Dion. Smith wrote the track for Good Will Hunting, but he also recorded an alternate version with different lyrics that was later released posthumously. The lyrics changed a fair amount from the original, showcasing a more vulnerable version of the final song that is more in line with Smith’s earlier work and themes. The film version has a more complex production, transitioning from Smith’s raw recorded tracks to a more ornate arrangement. One of the most glaring changes in the final verse, though, is the switch from “To vanish into oblivion / Is easy to do / And I try to be, but you know me / I come back when you want me to” to “He vanished into oblivion / It’s easy to do / And I cried a sea when you talked to me / The day you said we were through,” shifting the perspective of blame. Both versions are the perfect gut-punch to pair with the credits of Good Will Hunting. —OA

41. Bob Dylan: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 1973)

Not every song written for a film is guaranteed to be considered one of an artist’s best works—and certainly not one written by someone as prolific as Bob Dylan—but the folk titan’s turn on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” somehow wedges its way into his own pantheon. Written for the forgettable Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is one of the greatest folk-rock songs ever, let alone one of the greatest movie songs ever. It’s sublime and minimal—at least by Dylan’s standards in the 1970s—and relies on gospel harmonies and a dainty acoustic guitar arrangement. Though this period in Dylan’s career wasn’t rife with commercial and critical adoration, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” feels was an apt precursor to his upcoming renaissance—and it’s the best thing about Sam Peckinpah’s movie, which was good for Bob but not so good for Sam. Such is how it goes, though. —MM

40. Paramore: “Decode” (Twilight, 2008)

The debate for the best Paramore song may never be answered, but the debate for their best song written for a film is an easy one. Sorry to the “Monster” fans out there, but “Decode” clears their entire original soundtrack catalog—and I stand by the fact that the Twilight saga gave us some of the best original song content of the 2000s. “Decode” was written during Paramore’s peak era following Riot! when emo culture was at its height—even though we all know they’ve always been a pop-punk band. Twilight offered us an iconic teen love story, and Paramore gave them their angsty theme song—as Hayley Williams captures the romantic tension between Bella and Edward while delivering an impassioned, Evanescence-like performance. —OA

39. Irene Cara: “Flashdance…What a Feeling” (Flashdance, 1983)

Unlike “Maniac,” Irene Cara’s theme song from the movie Flashdance holds up beyond measure. She won a Grammy and an Oscar for this song, and it’s simply marvelous to revisit. Normally, I’m not so inclined to give much attention to made-for-soundtrack songs, unless it’s “If You Leave” or “I Can Dream About You,” but “Flashdance…What a Feeling” doesn’t just encapsulate the film is stars, it solidifies the pop movement in the 1980s completely. “All alone, I have cried silent tears of pride,” Cara sings, “in a world made of steel, made of stone.” Are you kidding me? What a gorgeous, soulful anthem composed by the “Father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder and penned by Cara and Keith Forsey. —MM

38. Dan Hartman: “I Can Dream About You” (Streets of Fire, 1984)

I’m bending the rules with this one just a bit, as the version of “I Can Dream About You” that appears in Streets of Fire is not the one that appears on the film’s official soundtrack. While Winston Ford delivers the vocals in the movie, the song was written and performed by Dan Hartman on the physical release—and the latter version is far-and-away superior. Hartman channeled his inner-Hall & Oates on the track (and he even offered it to the duo to record on their own, but they declined; they’d cover it 20 years later, however), and you can hear that energy running throughout—but that doesn’t mean “I Can Dream About You” isn’t Dan Hartman to the bone, as it conjures the kind of poppy finesse he once exuded on “Instant Replay” some years prior. A Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in 1984, “I Can Dream About You” is one of the coolest-sounding pop-rock songs of all time, let alone one of the greatest made-for-a-movie tracks ever. —MM

37. Björk: “I’ve Seen It All” (Dancer in the Dark, 2000)

Björk has not only seen it all, but she can do it all. The Icelandic singer-songwriter wrote “I’ve Seen It All” for the musical film Dancer in the Dark—a tragic melodrama about a woman with a degenerative eye condition. Björk composed the entire soundtrack for the film and wrote “I’ve Seen It All” as a devastating portrait of her character Selma Ježková grappling with the fact that she’s losing her sight. “I’ve seen it all, I have seen the trees / I’ve seen the willow leaves dancing in the breeze / I’ve seen a man killed by his best friend / And lives that were over before they were spent,” she sings, as she resigns to her fate. The album version features Thom Yorke singing Peter Stormare’s part, doubling down on the bleakness with two of the most melancholic singers of the last 30 years teaming up. —OA

36. En Vogue: “Don’t Let Go (Love)” (Set It Off, 1996)

I will never stop giving En Vogue their flowers, and they’re more than well-deserved when it comes to their Set It Off hit, “Don’t Let Go (Love)”—which is equal parts tough and sensual, matching the energy of the characters in the heist thriller. Set It Off was a cultural moment—a Black female-led cast that was a massive box office success and helped propel Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah and Vivica A. Fox’s future stardom. The provocative and mesmerizing beat draws you in, while the hypnotizing harmonies of Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson deliver memorable, awing and sensual lyrics—I’m always ready to bust out that “What’s it gonna be” harmony. The track is contagiously catchy and part of an outstanding soundtrack of ’90s rap/R&B legends, like Busta Rhymes and Seal. —OA

35. The Cure: “Burn” (The Crow, 1994)

Love and death—both the Cure and The Crow exemplify those themes in their art. “Burn” finds these two goth dynasties crashing together for one of the best movie soundtrack collaborations ever. Before the film was even set into motion, The Crow’s creator was referencing the Cure’s lyrics—even quoting “The Hanging Garden” in its entirety—in the comics. Originally, the song was meant to be “The Hanging Garden,” but Smith loved the comics so much that he wanted to write an original song for the soundtrack—and thus, “Burn” sits in the pocket between the brash drumlines of “The Hanging Garden” and the thumping basslines of “Fascination Street.” The song is a self-referential gothic gem that is the perfect theme for any supernatural cult classic, but especially The Crow. —OA

34. Radiohead: “Exit Music (For a Film)” (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)

“Exit Music (For a Film)” sits at the top of my list of songs I didn’t know were made for a movie, which is ironic considering it’s right in the title. Before its fame on Radiohead’s OK Computer, the hauntingly sparse score narrated the most grim romance in all of fiction. Baz Luhrmann’s modern retelling of the Shakespearean classic Romeo & Juliet was a gift not only to Leonardo DiCaprio fans but also to every high school student who would have to read the tragedy—now, at least, they could be treated to a flamboyant dramatization of the play. We all know how this story ends, but Thom Yorke drags us through the disaster with his anguished croon. “Now we are one in everlasting peace,” he sings about the lovers who could truly only ever be together in death and eternity. Yorke has a special talent for invoking heartache in every note, and “Exit Music (For a Film)” delivers that pain and then some. —OA

33. Tina Turner: “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985)

“We don’t need another hero,” Tina Turner earnestly sings in the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome power ballad. Turner’s raw power and emotion in delivering the lines “I wonder when we are ever gonna change / Living under the fear until nothing else remains” resonate with the visceral uncertainty the characters lived through in the post-apocalyptic world, and the heartening message is just as uplifting today, as we live through the unpredictability of the modern age. Maybe all of those post-apocalyptic films from 40 years ago were on to something. —OA

32. Warren G ft. Nate Dogg: “Regulate” (Above the Rim, 1994)

I legitimately think that “Regulate” is one of the greatest rap songs of all time. The fact that it was written for Jeff Pollack’s 1994 flick Above the Rim is just an extra layer of poetry. Warren G and Nate Dogg were able to make a crossover into the mainstream with the track, too, as it hit #2 on the Hot 100 and has become a crucial torchbearer of 1990s West Coast hip-hop. “Regulate” features a four-bar sample of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting’ (Every Time You’re Near),” Bob James’ “Sign of the Times” and Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride,” and the track even begins with dialogue from Young Guns. The way Warren G and Nate Dogg trade verses is peak G-funk era (“step to this, I dare ya”), as the two MCs perform one of the greatest feats of rap storytelling in the genre’s history (“16 in the clip and one in the hole, Nate Dogd is about to make some bodies turn cold / Now they droppin’ and yellin,’ it’s a tad bit late / Nate Dogg and Warren G had to regulate”). —MM

31. Christopher Cross: “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” (Arthur, 1981)

Christopher Cross’ music has always been hit-or-miss for me. I’ve never been particularly keen on “Sailing,” nor do I think his debut album should have won Album of the Year in 1980. But, his piano ballad “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” written for Arthur the movie, has the smoke—and I can fully understand why it won Best Original Song at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. When I was getting ready to travel to New York City with my best friends as an eager 18-year-old, I listened to “Arthur’s Theme” over and over and over—hoping that, one day, I could live in a moment as euphoric as the “When you get caught between the Moon and New York City, I know it’s crazy, but it’s true” lines. There’s a real magic in this song, one that not even I can ignore—nor do I ever want to. —MM

30. Aaliyah: “Try Again” (Romeo Must Die, 2000)

We’re so lucky that Aaliyah’s talents were able to escape the mediocrity of Romeo Must Die—it’s unsurprising, though, considering she wrote a visionary club banger. “Try Again” was made for the vaguely Shakespearean-inspired flick, which Aaliyah also starred in. Not only was she a shining light in the bleak cartoony action film, but Aaliyah recorded three songs for the soundtrack, too—though “Try Again” was the only one that hit #1, and it remains one of her most popular songs. The whole soundtrack was packed with 2000s R&B powerhouses, with Static Major and Timbaland helping produce the futuristic, brain-scrambling beat backing Aaliyah’s fluid, soulful vocals. —OA

29. Richard Reed Parry, the Barr Brothers & Little Scream: “Live That Way Forever” (The Iron Claw, 2023)

While Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” deserves to win the 2024 Oscar for Best Original Song, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give equal love to the other perfect film track from 2023: “Live That Way Forever.” A hi-fi rendition of the song—which is played by Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) and his band, portrayed by the real-life Louisiana outfit LVVRS, at a party in The Iron Claw—comes via Little Feat, the Barr Brothers and the fim’s composer, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. It’s the kind of track that flirts with timelessness, as it is meant to sound like a Southern garage rock band wrote it in 1980 while also remaining perfectly apt for the modern day. “Live That Way Forever” was snubbed at the 2024 Academy Awards, but it will rock on thunderously in our hearts for years to come. —MM

28. Counting Crows: “Accidentally in Love” (Shrek 2, 2004)

This was always going to make the list—and although realistically, I couldn’t put it higher in the ranking because of the weight of those above it, I easily could have put “Accidentally in Love” in the top five—and I’m not even a Counting Crows fan. It’s widely known that Shrek 2 is the superior entry in the franchise, and that’s due in part to the joyous pop-rock opening montage featuring Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) blissfully enjoying their ogre honeymoon. They literally frolic through flowers while being chased by angry villagers—what more could you ask for? Though it’s outrageously sappy—“Well, baby, I surrender / To the strawberry ice cream / Never ever end of all this love” (I mean, come on)—it couldn’t be more perfect for the spirited newlyweds’ soundtrack. —OA

27. The Wonders: “That Thing You Do!” (That Thing You Do!, 1996)

It’s a shame that “That Thing You Do!” is a fake song, because it’s one of the greatest power-pop songs ever written. The track appears in the film of the same name, which focuses on a fictional band called The Wonders and their shot-out-of-a-canon rise to momentary fame after scoring a Top 10 hit song. While That Thing You Do!’s examination of one-hit wonderdom remains one of the best music-centric movies of all time, the songwriting of Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger throughout the film is a pinnacle of pop penmanship. Crafting a song that not only hitched its wagon to a long-bygone era but could just as easily succeed commercially 30 years after the fact had one-in-a-million odds—and Schlesinger happened to have luck on his side. “That Thing You Do!” is, by my account, the greatest song ever sung by a fake band (here’s looking at you Spinal Tap, Stillwater, the Archies and Josie and the Pussycats). —MM

26. Simon & Garfunkel: “Mrs. Robinson” (The Graduate, 1967)

The version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” we first heard in The Graduate in 1967 is slightly different from the one that appeared on Bookends a year later. In the former, the song is fragmented and dispersed across a crucial scene in the final act of the film—as Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) drives across California to stop Elaine Robinson’s (Katharine Ross) wedding. Initially, “Mrs. Robinson” was titled “Mrs. Roosevelt,” a nod to former First Lady Eleanor, and was presented to director Mike Nichols after he was not floored by Paul Simon’s previous offerings—“Punky’s Dilemma” and “Overs.” Simon later returned with only the “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee” melody, but Nichols was over-the-moon about its potential—and the rest was history. “Mrs. Robinson” quickly became one of the first soundtrack songs of its kind, arriving without orchestral backing and leaning into the folk-rock popularity sweeping across the musical zeitgeist at the time. God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson, indeed. —MM

25. Jason Segel & Peter Linz as Walter: “Man or Muppet” (The Muppets, 2011)

I wanted to include Jason Segel’s song “Dracula’s Lament” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall on this list, but there’s not a good recording of the song anywhere that’s not just fragmented portions from various scenes (Segel never officially recorded it for anything but its part in the film). However, Segel’s duet (in character as Gary) with Walter (Peter Linz) in The Muppets stands head-and-shoulders above most of the songs on this ranking. Not only did it win a Best Original Song Oscar, it was nominated for a Grammy Award, too. Reflecting on their true identities as, you guessed it, man and muppet—reckoning with romantic desire and interpersonal sacrifice. While it’s a piano ballad for a kid-oriented movie, Segel takes Bret McKenzie’s songwriting and turns “Man or Muppet” into something that transcends even that designation. —MM

24. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: “If You Leave” (Pretty in Pink, 1986)

While I do think that the popularity of “If You Leave” overshadows some of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s greatest tunes (like “So In Love” and “Enola Gay”), there’s no denying that it is one of the greatest synth-pop songs of all-time—and, as Paste’s resident synth-pop writer, I must ride-or-die for my beloved OMD. Written for Pretty in Pink, “If You Leave” is the finale track that plays during the high school prom at the film’s end—but it wasn’t always going to be that way. Initially, writer John Hughes wanted OMD’s song “Goddess of Love” to play but, after poor test audience reactions, he changed it to “If You Leave,” citing his desire to have something that was the same tempo (120 BPM) as “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” OMD wrote and recorded “If You Leave” in less than 24 hours, and the result is—I think—the greatest song ever made for a John Hughes flick. The chorus synthesizer at the instrumental’s introduction, too, remains one of the prettiest-sounding beginnings to a song ever. —MM

23. Billie Eilish: “What Was I Made For?” (Barbie, 2023)

Cue the waterworks! I’m not one for getting overly emotional during movies, but when the opening piano notes to “What Was I Made For?” floated out in the theater, I felt my chest immediately tighten—I have Billie Eilish’s hauntingly pure tone to thank. Eilish managed to ground the surrealist narrative of a Barbie doll coming to life in a metaphor of the agony of growing up as a girl trying to figure out where they fit. The line “I don’t know how to feel / But I wanna try,” hits home especially—and it makes sense, as Eilish and I are the same age, though I’m not an international pop star. I still can’t listen to the song without that same intense ache I felt when I first heard it. —OA

22. Destiny’s Child: “Independent Women Part I” (Charlie’s Angels, 2000)

Charlie’s Angels was my childhood. I watched it for the first time at a sleepover, and I was never the same again. The knockout club jam “Independent Women Part I” from Destiny’s Child, paired with the kick-ass trio of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu, was an incredible pop culture collision. And, while this track has an undeniable radio catchiness, it goes far beyond that as an anthem of female empowerment. “I do what I want, live how I wanna live / I’ve worked hard and sacrificed to get what I get / Ladies, it ain’t easy being independent,” Beyoncé sings in the second verse—no truer words have been spoken. Though it may not be the strongest of Destiny’s Child’s smash hits, it accomplishes its role as a clever theme to the film while still sending a message about the hits that were yet to come from the peak iteration of the trio: Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. —OA

21. Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog: “Rainbow Connection” (The Muppet Movie, 1979)

Nothing can tug at my heartstrings quite like the fuzzy optimism of Kermit the Frog. With the talents of Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, fresh off their 1976 film A Star Is Born, they created an unlikely radio hit for The Muppet Movie. It’s a simple yet beautiful song about the power of your thoughts—and it’s an incredible opening moment for the film. “Who said that every wish / Would be heard and answered / When wished on the morning star / Somebody thought of that / And someone believed it / Look what it’s done so far,” Jim Henson sings as Kermit, with his characteristically unique speech pattern on display. That detail makes the song even more engaging. Who would have thought a puppet with a banjo could bring me to tears? —OA

20. Air: “Playground Love” (The Virgin Suicides, 1999)

Imagine making the quintessential tragic teen girl film on your first outing as a director. I can only dream of making that kind of impact by the time I turn 27. Sofia Coppola knows how to craft a flawless soundtrack—just take a look at Lost In Translation—but there is something about her collaboration with Air on The Virgin Suicides that hits harder than her future curated move tracklists ever could. “Playground Love” exudes the tragic naivety of the Lisbon sisters’ fatal encounter with young love and girlhood, and that opening vibraphone cascade never fails to produce a visceral ache in my heart. —OA

19. Bruce Springsteen: “Streets of Philadelphia” (Philadelphia, 1993)

Before I was a massive Bruce Springsteen fan, I was a massive Philadelphia fan. Really, “Streets of Philadelphia” was my first non-radio introduction to The Boss, when I was entering my high school cinephile phase. Now, years later and an embarrassing level of Springsteen fandom later, I can safely say that “Streets of Philadelphia” is not only his most underrated track, but one of his very best. Written for Jonathan Demme’s 1993 HIV/AIDS drama, Springsteen strips his entire rock ‘n’ roll bravado away for a harrowing electronic ballad that potently expresses a fear of succumbing to a fatal disease and the tragedy of it in the first place. What the New Jersey native came up with—including the lines “And my clothes don’t fit me no more, a thousand miles just to slip this skin”—remains the very greatest (in my opinion) Best Original Song winner of all time, one that was coupled with Neil Young’s equally great “Philadelphia” and remains a crucial, distinguishable song penned for and during the AIDS crisis in America. —MM

18. Aimee Mann: “Save Me” (Magnolia, 1999)

Magnolia is one of the most gut-wrenching movies I’ve ever seen. Unlike most of the movies on this list, the script for Magnolia was inspired by Amiee Mann’s catalog—which is why she also contributed originals to the film. Much like Mann’s music, the story explores feelings of happiness, acceptance and meaning in an existential journey through the San Fernando Valley. The opening line of “Save Me”—“You look like a perfect fit / For a girl in need of a tourniquet”—is the perfect thematic end to the pain of self-reflection and discovery the characters live through. It’s profoundly vulnerable and scarily realistic, yet the song maintains an undeniable beauty. —OA

17. Deniece Williams: “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” (Footloose, 1984)

While Kenny Loggins had his thumb on the pulse of 1980s film soundtracks (Caddyshack, Top Gun, Footloose), it’s Deniece Williams’ contribution to Footloose that outshines everything Loggins did that whole decade. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is one of those tunes that is such pop perfection that you might not even know it was written for a film in the first place. But songwriters Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford found their formula, and Williams carried it out perfectly. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” glues itself to stardom with an earworm chorus and some serious hooks. “Maybe he’s no Romeo, but he’s my lovin’ one-man show,” Williams cries out, mastering just one of the song’s dozen singalong lines. A lot of soundtrack songs get lost to the sands of time as years pass, but “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and its post-disco, synthesizer-driven melody is still just as sweet and danceable now as it was 40 years ago. —MM

16. Simple Minds: “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (The Breakfast Club, 1985)

When I think of iconic movie songs, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is always at the top of the list. The Breakfast Club is the quintessential ‘80s movie, packed with iconic music, ridiculous stereotypes and a simple yet compelling script. The opening crack of the tune is electrifying no matter how many times you hear it, inviting you to join in with a hearty “Hey, hey, hey, hey.” The final freeze frame of Judd Nelson’s John Bender—dressed in a duster and combat boots—punching his fist into the air has forever been seared into my brain, and I’m eternally grateful for its campy, overblown and overused glory. —OA

15. Huey Lewis and the News: “The Power Of Love” (Back To The Future, 1985)

I think it’s safe to say that Back To The Future was one of the first movies to ignite my love of filmmaking. The post-Star Wars ’80s sci-fi aesthetic combined with some killer music—what else could you possibly want? Huey Lewis and the News gave us two immensely catchy hits for the time travel romp, including the more aptly-named “Back in Time,” but “The Power of Love” has that infectious keyboard sting that emits dangerous levels of joyful nostalgia. “It’s strong, and it’s sudden, and it’s cruel sometimes / But it might just save your life,” Lewis sings in the chorus. I swear no one makes jubilant music like Huey and his News. —OA

14. Survivor: “Eye of the Tiger” (Rocky III, 1982)

Funny enough, my first exposure to “Eye of the Tiger” was in the 2005 Will Ferrell comedy Kicking & Screaming. The scene was him embroidering a tiger-striped tracksuit to go coach his kid’s soccer game—one of the many times it was used as a parody, calling back to its original use for the training montage in Rocky III. The triumphant soundtrack blew Bill Conti’s Rocky theme (“Gonna Fly Now”) out of the water in popularity (though both tracks are equally good), spending six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Although now it’s often used in an ironic format, the Survivor track was an exhilarating catalyst for Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his return to glory after Mickey’s (Burgess Meredith) death to defeat James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) with the help of his former rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Since 1982, it has been used in over 140 film and television productions and continues to be a critical piece of pop culture. Hard to argue against that. —OA

13. Dolly Parton: “9 to 5” (9 to 5, 1980)

Good golly, Miss Dolly knows how to write a hit. 9 to 5 had an all-star cast of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and it needed a sensational theme to match all of that star power. No doubt, Parton was destined to write the countrified anthem of female liberation and hi-jinx for the film—and the song’s cheery tone and frustrated lyrics exemplify the female plight and the inequalities of the late ’70s explored in the movie. “9 to 5” opens with one of the most recognizable lines in music history with Parton’s twangy vocals crooning, “Tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen / Pour myself a cup of ambition / And yawn and stretch and try to come to life,” a sentiment I regret to admit I’m starting to empathize with more and more each day. I’m just glad I can listen to Dolly serenade me through the grind of even the most mundane work days. —OA

12. Kenny Loggins: “Danger Zone” (Top Gun, 1986)

If you were raised by a dad who grew up in the ‘80s, then you don’t just know Top Gun, you bleed Top Gun. Getting Kenny Loggins to record a hard-rock track that exudes toxic masculinity—I’m saying this endearingly—was an inspired choice by songwriter Tom Whitlock and soundtrack producer Giorgio Moroder, especially as he was coming off of the poppier and dancier soundtrack for Footloose. However, Loggins was actually the fourth musician to be asked to sing on the track—after Toto, Corey Hart and Jefferson Starship. Can you imagine anyone at the helm but him? Ironically, the track itself was far from a dangerous production choice, with the state of the ‘80s charts being dominated by the likes of Survivor, Heart and Prince and the Revolution at the time. Even with the dynamic power of “Danger Zone,” it still couldn’t outshine another hit from the soundtrack—which we’ll get to later. —OA

11. Blondie: “Call Me” (American Gigolo, 1980)

Put another tally on the board for songs I didn’t realize were made for a movie. My mom has always been a massive Blondie fan, so I grew up listening to “Call Me” on our local ‘80s station. Its success outside the movie—it topped Billboard’s year-end chart of 1980—proved it could stand on its own, even though it was explicitly written for American Gigolo, a film that gives us the perspective of its protagonist, a male prostitute. Giorgio Moroder strikes again on “Call Me,” merging his Italian disco chops with Debbie Harry’s commanding vocals for this stirring electronic dance hit. —OA

10. The Bee Gees: “Night Fever” (Saturday Night Fever, 1977)

I genuinely believe you could put any track from the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on this list and it would suffice. While “Stayin’ Alive” is, likely, the most recognizable tune from the film, “How Deep Is Your Love,” Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You” and “More Than a Woman” are equally worthy. But, for me, it will always be the striking, gentle, groovy textures of “Night Fever” that solidify the soundtrack as the very best. For five years after its release in 1977, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was the best-selling album in music history—so popular that it seems like, along with Frampton Comes Alive!, record stores were just giving copies away. Seriously, few vinyl collections are without this one, and I often find myself putting it on and dragging the needle onto “Night Fever” immediately. The song went #1 in the US, UK, Canada, Spain and Brazil (it also hit the Top 10 in 14 other countries) and, as of 2018, is the 42nd-highest-charting single in Hot 100 history. Few songs have ever been so commercially successful while also being perfect compositions. “Night Fever” is, thankfully, in a league of its own. —MM

9. Judy Garland: “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

We couldn’t make this list without the movie song. Film is our escape from the real world, and Edgar Yipsel Harburg captured that spirit in “Over the Rainbow”—sung through the eyes of a young girl dreaming of leaving the colorless plains of Kanas. “Someday I’ll wish upon a star / Wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” Garland yearns in her crystal clear tone, portraying the youthful enthusiasm of Dorothy Gale. Garland’s heartfelt rendition stole our hearts nearly a century ago and launched her to megastardom. There’s a reason that it is one of the most covered songs in history. It’s timeless and always will be. —OA

8. Curtis Mayfield: “Superfly” (Superfly, 1972)

The best movie songs can stand on their own far away from the source material, and “Superfly” is a Grade A example of such transcendence. Curtis Mayfield wrote all of the music for the Blaxploitation film Super Fly, and the title track remains omnipresent in contemporary culture. While “Freddie’s Dead” charted higher than “Superfly,” the latter was crucial in invigorating interest in soul concept albums (along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which arrived a year prior), and Joseph “Lucky” Scott and “Master” Henry Gibson’s rototom percussion break at the song’s introduction has been widely sampled by everyone from Nelly to Notorious B.I.G. to the Beastie Boys to OutKast. Johnny Pate’s arrangement for the horn section’s hook and the conga percussion cement the potency of “Superfly” permanently. It’s one of the greatest funk songs of all time. —MM

7. Audrey Hepburn: “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)

I remember being 17 and watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time and, in a flash, becoming transfixed by Audrey Hepburn’s performance of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.” While Frank Ocean would later cover the track and re-introduce it to a new generation, Hepburn’s original rendition remains the most powerful. While its inclusion in the film makes no sense plot-wise, when you really think about it, you’re fine with looking the other way—because it’s just simply too beautiful a tune to have any real gripe with, and the image of Hepburn singing it on Holly Golightly’s fire escape is just picture-perfect. And much of that is because of Hepburn, whose delicate and untrained voice emphasized the sincerity of “Moon River.” Paramount Pictures reportedly wanted to remove the song from the film altogether, to which Mancini vehemently refused. I think we’re all lucky that Mancini won that battle. —MM

6. Julee Cruise: “Mysteries of Love” (Blue Velvet, 1986)

Julee Cruise’s voice is the only thing that could ever convince me angels might be real, so it’s no coincidence that she and David Lynch were a match made in heaven. Blue Velvet is another dip into the dreamy Lynchian universe, and it’s the first time he and Cruise collaborated, sparking a partnership for the ages that would reach unprecedented heights in the 1990s. While they would go on to create magic together in Twin Peaks, “Mysteries of Love” remains an ethereal exploration of a character trapped in an abusive relationship desperately searching for authentic love. Though lyrically sparse, Cruise’s celestial vocals ring out—as she sings, “Float in love / And kiss forever / In a darkness / And the mysteries of love / Come clear.” It’s bewitchingly somber yet, through the ache, Cruise always manages to radiate hope in her fits of despair. —OA

5. Whitney Houston: “I Have Nothing” (The Bodyguard, 1992)

The Bodyguard gave us some of Whitney Houston’s best work, including the iconic covers of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Still, I have always had a soft spot for “I Have Nothing”—and not just because it’s my go-to karaoke song. Though it bears a substantial similarity to “I Will Always Love You,” the symphonic climax of Houston declaring, “Don’t walk away from me, I have nothing, nothing, nothing / If I don’t have you,” gets me on my feet every time. Though the casting of Houston as a pop star wasn’t much of a stretch when it came to an acting performance, she made sure to flaunt her talents on the unforgettable soundtrack with some of the best work of her career. —OA

4. Public Enemy: “Fight the Power” (Do the Right Thing, 1989)

Some songs enter the musical pantheon and, instantaneously, are immovable from such triumphs. That’s the case for “Fight the Power,” the theme song penned by Public Enemy for Spike Lee’s 1989 flick Do the Right Thing. Commercially, the track went #1 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, and the RIAA even named it the 288th greatest song of the 20th century. Incorporating samples from Civil Rights exhortations (including Chuck D alluding to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “beloved community” vision, James Brown’s “Hot Pants” and “Planet Rock” and Black church services, “Fight the Power” arrived anthemic, became a leitmotif in the film and remains just as crucial in the rap zeitgeist. MC Chuck D was inspired by the Isley Brothers’ own song of the same name, and the result is one of the greatest anti-authoritative tracks ever composed. “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me” remains an all-time line from Chuck D, and “Mothafuck him and John Wayne” remains an all-time follow-up from Flavor Flav. —MM

3. Berlin: “Take My Breath Away” (Top Gun, 1986)

We’ve arrived at the superior track from Top Gun, and the basis for my obsession with ‘80s power ballads in general. “Take My Breath Away” is a sprawling synth dream that gives you a moment to pause during the chaos of the film’s action so you can invest in the unfolding romance between Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). It’s as cliché as a movie song can get, yet that never diminishes its stunning grandeur. “On this endless ocean, finally lovers know no shame / Turning and returning to some secret place inside / Watching in slow motion as you turn around and say / Take my breath away.” Terri Nunn breezes over another masterpiece from ‘80s pop auteur Giorgio Moroder (we think he’s really great here at Paste, as you can probably already tell). Without the extravagance of Berlin gliding over a slightly awkward love scene, the chemistry between Cruise and McGillis would be even more unbelievable. So thank you, Berlin, for saving us all. —OA

2. Prince: “When Doves Cry” (Purple Rain, 1984)

Pick any song from the Purple Rain soundtrack and you’ll have a winner. Whether it’s the title track or “Let’s Go Crazy” or “I Would Die 4 U,” the album remains so good that it transcends the confines of film music altogether. But “When Doves Cry” is not only one of the greatest songs written for a movie, it’s one of the greatest songs period. The story goes that Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli wanted Prince to pen something that would mirror a love affair theme, and Prince went on to find inspiration in his own relationship with Susan Moonsie and use it as a backbone for the track’s narrative. “When Doves Cry” would go on to be Prince’s first #1 hit and earn a Platinum certification from the RIAA—along with a year-end top placement on Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 singles list. Few musicians have cemented their legacy with a performance as visceral and perfect as Prince did on Purple Rain—and he likely has “When Doves Cry” to thank for that. —MM

1. Coolio featuring L.V.: “Gangsta’s Paradise” (Dangerous Minds, 1995)

We all recognize that lurching opening synth that blows Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” wide open, because it changed the rap game forever. Even though the ’90s are so synonymous with hip-hop legends like 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G, before “Gangsta’s Paradise” became the first rap song to hit #1 on Billboard’s year-end charts, the two were considered too “abrasive” for the mainstream. The opening lines, “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death / I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left,” will go down in history as part of one of the most memorable verses in hip-hop history. The song has another trailblazing legend to thank, as the melody and chorus were interpolated from Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.” Where the track shines amongst its rap counterparts of the time, however, is in the choral refrain. Its haunting aura highlights the oppressive cycle that so many young Black men were thrust into then and still are, and “Gangsta’s Paradise” offered a bleak look into the reality of the lives gangsta rap was already narrating—and its place on theDangerous Minds soundtrack helped bolster the sub-genre’s popularity in the mainstream. The final verse of Coolio’s rhapsody is a succinct message of surrendering: “They say I gotta learn, but nobody’s here to teach me / If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me? / I guess they can’t, I guess they won’t, I guess they front / That’s why I know my life is out of luck.” —OA

Check out a playlist of these songs below.

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