Top 10 Iconic Movie Songs Of All Time

From catchy modern greats like “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” and “My Heart Will Go On” to songs from classic musicals such as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, and tracks that have become synonymous with iconic cinematic moments like “If You Leave” and “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life”, music not only plays a huge part in the way movies influence us but can be the reason why we remember them so fondly.

Scene from the iconic final dance sequence in Grease which sees Olivia Newton John and John Travolta sing “You’re The One That I Want”.

Since cinema’s earliest days, there have been some truly iconic and timeless movie songs. So narrowing it down to just ten is nearly impossible. There will be dozens of songs not mentioned here that probably should have or at least could have made the list. So what makes a movie song memorable? In my eyes, it’s a song that when you hear it, you instantly know what movie it’s from. Some of these are chart topping songs and others are songs that got nowhere near the billboard top 100 yet over the years have become synonymous with the films they are from.

10. Let It Go

Frozen (2013)

Although this song only went as high as number 5 on the Billboard top 100, it’s a song that is instantly recognised as the song from Frozen. Frozen was the standout of 2013 as the film went on to become a worldwide smash hit. It made 1.2 billion dollars and it was a cultural phenomenon in many countries outside of the US, especially in Japan where it opened to 7 million and went on to gross 249 million. The song is incredibly catchy and as sung by Idina Menzel, it had people everywhere, especially young children, reciting it word for word. Some even said that it had a deeper meaning in that it was an anthem for the coming out for homosexuals and that Elsa was a positive role model for the LGBT community. Whatever the reason, Let it Go has become synonymous with the movie Frozen.

9. Cry Little Sister

The Lost Boys (1987)

The Lost Boys' heroes the Frog Brothers

Here’s a song that never made it to the Billboard hot 100, in fact, it didn’t make any charts until it was recorded by different artists ten years later. The song was written and recorded by Gerard McMahon, before he had seen any of the film. It doesn’t reference vampires at all and McMahon at first was upset at himself for not seeing the movie before recording it. However, upon hearing the song, director Joel Schumacher told him, “You nailed my theme song to The Lost Boys! I can’t believe you wrote this without seeing a frame of film!”. McMahon additionally explained: “I always say that if I’d have seen the film first, I would probably not have written ‘Cry Little Sister’. I didn’t want the song to be specific to the vampire. I wanted it to be about the longing for family from a rejected youth’s perspective, which I went through myself and that many of us have felt.” Cry Little Sister has an ominous and foreboding tone to it. It sounds like you are walking through someone’s nightmare, perhaps through a morgue or a forbidden place and perhaps that’s why it has remained the most recognisable song from The Lost Boys.

8. Everything I Do (I Do It For You)

Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves (1991)

Kevin Costner, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves,

This is Bryan Adams’ biggest success in terms of chart position. It became number one in sixteen countries including the UK, where it spent 16 consecutive weeks at number one on the singles chart (which is the longest run in UK chart history). It’s also one of the best selling singles in the history of rock and roll. The song was produced by “Mutt” Lange, who was responsible for the sound of groups like Def Leopard and Shania Twain. It’s a song that perfectly captured the romantic theme of the film and not only did it play over the credits, there were snippets of it in the film as well.

7. If You Leave

Pretty In Pink (1986)

Pretty In Pink, Top 10 Films, John Hughes,

My personal favourite movie song of all time. It perfectly encapsulates the tone and feeling of the John Hughes film. In it, Andi, played by Molly Ringwald, falls in love with Blaine, played by Andrew McCarthy. They come from different social and financial backgrounds but they fall in love. When they inevitably break-up and eventually get back together, If You Leave is the song that plays. It’s the song the kids dance to as the prom takes place. But more than that, it’s a song that fits the breakup motif. It’s a song about losing the one you love and the pain that goes with it. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark recorded the song almost over night. The band wrote “If You Leave” after Hughes decided to change the ending to Pretty in Pink after poor test audience reactions. Hughes had asked the band for a song for the new ending two days before they were due to begin a tour, and “If You Leave” was written and recorded in under 24 hours as a result. It’s another song that didn’t reach number one but gained popularity over time.

6. Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters was written and performed by Ray Parker Jr. It hit number one on both the US and UK charts. It was nominated for best song but lost out to Stevie Wonder for I Just Called to Say I Love You. According to Parker Jr., he was approached by Ivan Reitman to compose and record the song only three days before it was needed for the soundtrack. Parker Jr. says he got his inspiration from a late night TV commercial. There is some controversy with the track as Huey Lewis sued the artist claiming the song sounded too much like I Want a New Drug. There was an out of court settlement. Regardless of this claim, Ghostbusters is one of the most instantly recognised film songs.

5. I’ve Had The Time Of My Life

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing

This is another song that has grown in popularity over the years. It did reach number one in the US but only number 6 in the UK. The soundtrack for Dirty Dancing, however, is one of the biggest selling albums of all time with more than 32 million sales worldwide. With songs like She’s Like the Wind and Hungry Eyes, in addition to Time of My Life, it’s no wonder it became a world wide phenomenon. Time of My Life is the song that plays in the final dance with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It’s the part of the movie where everything comes together and the passion and love between the two of them is omnipotent. They nail every move, including the big finish where she jumps into his arms and he holds her over his head. Time of My Life has lived on and been mentioned in dozens of movies, including Crazy Stupid Love where Ryan Gosling tells Emma Stone he can do the Dirty Dancing move.

4. Mrs. Robinson

The Graduate (1967)

Anne Bancroft, The Graduate, Film

Reaching number one in the US and number 4 in the UK, Mrs. Robinson is a song written and performed by Simon and Garfunkel. So recognisable is this song that when I hear it I instantly know it’s from The Graduate. The Graduate is not one of my favourite films but this song is synonymous with it – so much so that when they used it as Stiffler’s Mum is seducing Finch in American Pie, I knew they were going to use the song even before it came over the soundtrack. When Simon and Garfunkel originally recorded the song, it was before director Mike Nichols asked them to do a track for the movie. They originally had the song title as Mrs. Roosevelt. When Nichols heard it he loved it and when he asked them to use it for the movie, they changed the name to Mrs. Robinson and added a few lyrics that would fit with the themes of the film.

3. Eye Of The Tiger

Rocky III (1982)

Top 10 Unlikely Alliances In Film

The Rocky films have had some instantly recognisable songs. Gonna Fly Now from the original and Burning Heart from Rocky IV are also songs most people know are from the Sylvester Stallone boxing films. But Eye of the Tiger is a cut above. It reached number one in both the UK and the US.

Stallone actually had a hand in this song. He originally wanted Another One Bites the Dust, by Queen, to be the theme of the movie. But Queen refused to give him the rights to the song. So Stallone asked Survivor to record a song for the movie, one that would capture the spirit of the Rocky franchise. In fact, many of the lyrics are written specifically for the film, including “rising up to the challenge of our rivals” and others.

In an interview years later, co-writer Jim Peterik said, “At first, we wondered if calling it “Eye of the Tiger” was too obvious. The initial draft of the song started with “It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight, rising up to the spirit of our rival, and the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night, and it all comes down to survival.” We were going to call the song “Survival”. In the rhyme scheme, you can tell we had set up “rival” to rhyme with “survival”. At the end of the day, we said, “Are we nuts?” That hook is so strong, and “rival” doesn’t have to be a perfect rhyme with the word “tiger”. We made the right choice and went with “Eye of the Tiger”.

2. Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz, Film,

Judy Garland sang the song which would go on to win best original song at the 1940 Academy Awards. It also became Judy Garland’s signature song, one that she would perform for the rest of her life. The song almost didn’t make it into the film as the producers felt it slowed down the pace of the film, but after some persistence from Garland’s vocal coach, the song was reinstated into the film.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow has consistently reappeared on charts decades after its release. It reached number 29 on the UK singles chart in 2010 and number 12 in the US in 2004. There are many songs that have gained iconic status from the film but none more than this one. The AFI named it the best movie song of all time. Garland’s iconic and smooth sounding voice contributes to its legendary status. And perhaps no other song in film history, with the exception of my choice at number one, fits better into the theme of the film, than this one.

1. My Heart Will Go On

Titanic (1997)

Titanic, James Cameron, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio

There’s no song that is more associated with the film it appears in than My Heart Will Go On. It reached number one in EVERY country it was released in and sold more than 20 million copies as a single. But it doesn’t end there. The original Titanic soundtrack sold 30 million copies and Celine Dion’s album Let’s Talk About Love also sold more than 30 million copies. Basically, everyone on the planet was in love with the song.

Director James Cameron originally didn’t want a song at the end of the film with lyrics. Composer James Horner waited until Cameron was in an appropriate mood before presenting him with the song. After playing it several times, Cameron declared his approval, even though he worried that he might be criticised for “going commercial at the end of the movie”.

Cameron also wanted to appease anxious studio executives and “saw that a hit song from his movie could only be a positive factor in guaranteeing its completion.” It’s the kind of song that brings a strong Pavlovian response to many people, including yours truly. It’s such a powerful song that it brings back the dire hopelessness of not only the fate of Jack and Rose but of all the passengers who lost their lives on the Titanic. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written and deserves its place at number one.

I realize there’s about 50 or more songs that could be on this list. I’d love to see what you think. Have I missed any that should replace any of the songs here?

Written by Dan Grant

Your turn: what are your fave movie songs of all time…

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

Related Posts

  1. Avatar
    Callum Reply

    Good selection. I’d say the one that stands out is Over The Rainbow – it isn’t my favourite song but it’s definitely iconic. Singing In The Rain is another that comes to mind.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Singing in the Rain is definitely one that I struggled to keep off the list. It’s such a wonderful song.

  2. Avatar
    CineGirl Reply

    My top 10 would have to have Singing In the Rain alongside Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Others that I love include Bowie’s Magic Dance from Labyrinth and pretty much the entire Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack.

    • Avatar
      Callum Reply

      Oh yeah, Little Shop, another fave of mine.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Wow! I actually didn’t even think of all the cool stuff from Little Shop of Horrors. There’s some good stuff in there for sure.

  3. Avatar
    Caron Twyman Reply

    Any film with Coldplay in it, there’s quite a few, lol. In case you haven’t guessed, I like Coldplay!

    • Dan
      Dan Reply

      Do you have a particular favourite – perhaps a fave Coldplay song AND a fave Coldplay song used in a movie?

      • Avatar
        Caron Twyman Reply

        Well, Glass of Water is my favourite Coldplay song and perhaps Night at the Museum 2 with Life in Technicolour or Wicker Park The Scientist.

      • Avatar
        Dan Grant Reply

        Curious as to what some of your faves are Dan.

  4. Avatar
    CutOutForTiming Reply

    You should make a difference between songs that are part of the movie’s world (Wizard Of Oz) and songs that are Voice Over only (Robin Hood).

    For soundtrack I would suggest Footloose from “Footloose” (1984) and for song as part of the told world: Summer Nights from “Grease”.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      I respectfully disagree. A song used in a movie in any sense is how I chose this top ten. When I hear these songs, I instantly know what film they are from. So I think it’s better, imo, to not differentiate.

  5. Avatar
    Derek Reply

    Some admirable choices on this list, Dan. Not going to argue with Somewhere Over The Rainbow and you’ve got to admit the likes of My Heart Will Go On, Let It Go and Every I Do enjoyed huge popular success. And you’re right: you hear these tunes and you instantly know what film they’re from.

    From a classic perspective, I’ve got to put forward As Time Goes By from Casablanca and Singin’ in the Rain.

    A personal favourite of mine is included on your list – Mrs Robinson… I love that song. Another that I love that you’ve not included is Flashdance… What A Feeling.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Some excellent mentions here. Casablanca is certainly worthy of a mention. And Flashdance was one I considered right up until the final ten were chosen. They even pay a very very nice homage to it in the Vince
      Vaughn/Owen Wilson film The Internship.

  6. Avatar
    Angie G Reply

    The ballroom dance sequence from Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourites.

  7. Avatar
    Rory Reply

    Magic Dance – Bowie – Labyrinth! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      I guess I need to see this one again…you’re not the first to mention it.

  8. Dan
    Dan Reply

    Wonderful topic Dan. I suppose when you think about the best movie songs from a personal perspective it’s the songs that come to mind straightaway. Apart from some of those mentioned above, I’d have to add Johnny B. Goode and Marty inventing rock n roll in Back To The Future as a piece of music that lives long in my memory. I love that scene.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      YES!! That’s another one that I struggled to keep off the list. It’s such a well timed piece and one of the best part of the movie!

  9. Avatar
    Global-Diary-Net Reply

    How about – Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head from the movie Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid ?

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Another very good choice. Sadly, when I hear Raindrops keep Falling…I think of Spider-man 2.

  10. Dan
    Dan Reply

    Another one.

    Not a pop song but a song nonetheless – the Salma Hayek scene in From Dusk Till Dawn when she dances on the table before all hell breaks loose! The scene’s events are perhaps more memorable than the song itself but it’s still a great moment when a song plays an important part.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    One of my personal faves is Blue…by La Tour. It plays in the club scene in Basic Instinct when Douglas and Stone are dirty dancing with one another…it really sets the tone of the movie at that moment.

  12. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    As I mentioned in the write up there are probably 50 songs you could add here….these are just some of the other songs I considered:

    Footloose: Kenny Loggins
    Singing in the Rain: Gene Kelly
    Danger Zone: Kenny Loggins (Top Gun)
    Hakuna Matata: The Lion King
    Johnny B Good: Chuck Berry (Back to the Future)
    Power of Love: huey Lewis (Back to the Future)
    Unchained Melody: Righteous Brothers Ghost
    Keep on Loving You: Last American Virgin (REO Speedwagon)
    Don’t You forget About Me: Simple Minds (Breakfast Club)
    Oh Yea: Yello (Ferris bueller’s Day off)

    • Dan
      Dan Reply

      Some great ones there too. The Footloose one is memorable – love the dance and the way they cut that sequence together. There’s a few moments in Top Gun that possibly could have made a top 10 – maybe even the film could have it’s own top 10!

      • Avatar
        Dan Grant Reply

        You’re right about that, Dan. Take my Breath Away is one of the all time great ballads. Great Balls of Fire is also really memorable when all four leads or co-leads sit on the piano in the bar and belt out the tune. Top Gun is just littered with great movie songs.

  13. Avatar
    Ray Madden Reply

    Another vote for Johnny B Goode. Good top 10 though.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks…yep..JBG is an all time classic for sure….you’re too young for this…but your kids are going to love it!

  14. Avatar
    DTX Reply

    This Is Spinal Tap – Stonehenge (partly because of what happens in the scene!).

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Another good choice that slipped my mind. Maybe someone else could do a part two to this.

      We haven’t even mentioned anything from Grease!

Leave a Reply