Movie Tunes: The Top 40 music moments in film history

There’s nothing better for someone who’s a fan of both music and movies to sit down in a theater, watch a film, and find yourself in awe of how the director has utilized a pop song to set a scene or convey a mood. It’s easy to know that you need a romantic song for a romantic moment, but finding the right song…? That’s the hard bit…and it gets even harder as you have to provide the proper sonic backdrop for just about every key moment in the film. Bullz-Eye polled all of our movie and music writers (and then some) to get their favorite uses of pop songs in movies.

The only real criteria we set was this: the song couldn’t have been written specifically for the film or have made its debut on the film’s soundtrack. This was pretty rough on us at first, because it meant we had to say so long to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (“The Breakfast Club”), bid bye-bye to O.M.D.’s “If You Leave” (“Pretty in Pink”), and offer a fond farewell to Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” (“She’s Having a Baby”).

Fortunately, we had a lot of great songs – and movie moments – waiting in the wings. But be advised: our descriptions contain spoilers galore.

Some sample choices:

36. “Closer,” Nine Inch Nails – Se7en

When I popped in the DVD of “Se7en” to refresh myself with the film’s usage of Trent Reznor’s composition, I was legitimately surprised to find that it didn’t actually begin with it; there are, in fact, four minutes of screen time preceding the song’s appearance. The thing is, the film’s opening credits – over which the harsh, thumping industrial beat of “Closer to God” plays – are so damned creepy and set the tone of the 123 minutes that follow that it never occurred to me that they weren’t the first thing in the movie. The quickly-cut close-up shots of an unidentified individual (later revealed to be our man “John Doe,” a.k.a. Kevin Spacey) filling journals with miniscule handwriting, blacking out lines in books, going through photos of various medical experiments, and – worst of all – using a razor blade to remove his fingerprints will make you shudder. Reznor’s music does most of the talking. In fact, he only sings one line at the very end of the credits: “You get me closer to God.” Uh, actually, it’s about as far away from heaven as you can imagine. If you’d had any idea that this would be the most comfortable you’d feel for the next two hours, you’d’ve walked out of the theater right then and there. – Will Harris

28. “Jump in the Line,” Harry Belafonte – Beetlejuice

With all due respect to the “Day-O” sequence in “Beetlejuice” – it does appear first, and therefore comes as a complete surprise – it is the movie’s closing number, as it were, that gets our vote. Perhaps it’s the song’s relative obscurity (it did not make the Top 40, while “Day-O,” actually titled “Banana Boat,” reached #5), or maybe it’s the song’s brash energy and instant familiarity that roped us in. Oh, who are we kidding, it’s then-fifteen-year-old Winona Ryder, suspended in air and lip-synching to Harry Belafonte, shake, shake, shaking her body line, while the dead football players do a hilarious callback as her backup singers. It was also great to see Michael Keaton’s title character get a, um, little dose of karma from a witch doctor as well. All in all, it is the perfect ending to an unforgettably loony movie. – David Medsker

19. “Tequila,” The Champs – Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

I think it’s safe to say that my entire generation discovered this classic rock song thanks to Pee-Wee Herman and his first flick. Seeing him turn a rowdy biker bar’s clientele into a bunch of grooving softies while dancing to the song on top of the bar in his trademark shoes was the highlight of the movie. How can you not hear this song and not get images in your head of Pee-Wee doing his great little dance? I recall seeing and hearing it for the first time and wondering just what the hell that song was; I even went so far to tape it from the movie itself onto a cassette, so I could groove along with it whenever I liked. Pee-Wee has always been one of the coolest, and we owe him so much thanks for introducing a ton of kids to this always-great song. – Jason Thompson

To see the entire list, click here.