The choice of music can make or break a scene, especially if it’s in a film where you don’t expect a musical interlude. If done incorrectly it’ll seem like a poor excuse for filler, or make your eyes roll back in your head. When done well it can enhance the experience, set the mood, make you love or hate a character and create a memorable moment.
To narrow it down I’ve set some parameters. It cannot be from a film that’s classified as a musical, the characters in the movie have to be aware of the song, in that it plays some part in the scene or they’re singing and/or dancing to the music. This means no amazing movie score choices like; Godspeed You! Black Emperor in 28 Days Later, Jaws and the shiver inducing violins in Psycho, or music played during a montage like Hall & Oates, You Make My Dreams, in Stepbrothers and The Wedding Singer.
So in no particular order…
Super Freak (1981) by Rick James in Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The film’s most endearing scene is also the culmination of an exhausting road trip to get Olive Hoover to her beauty contest. Showcasing the moves her grandad taught her, it shows how close the family have come during the trip and also how some songs and dance moves were perhaps not made for people under a certain age.
Day O (1956) by Harry Belafonte in Beetlejuice (1988)
Remember when Tim Burton made good movies, before he became a caricature of himself and every Johnny Depp character? Those were the days. This scene and song choice where the ghosts inhabit the uptight pseudo-arty elite during a dinner party is a fun break from the dark and fantastical Burton aesthetic.
Stuck In the Middle with You (1972) by Stealers Wheel in Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino is a master at setting a scene with music. Juxtaposing torture with the light hearted Stealers Wheel track somehow makes Mr. Blonde even more terrifying. I think I’d much rather be tortured in silence than be tormented by cheerful and maniacal singing.
Waterloo (1974) by ABBA in Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
The Hibiscus Island Star Search didn’t know what hit it when Muriel and Rhonda entered as Agnetha & Anni-Frid from ABBA. The ladies give an impressive rendition together which makes a nice change from the “popular” girls from her former high school that she’d had been trying to impress for years. Muriel marries her obsession with ABBA with her new found confidence together with a winning performance. Also I’m sure watching two bitches you went to high school with maul each other is pretty good too.
Kevin G Rap in Mean Girls (2004)
I was going to go with Jingle Bell Rock, I mean during high school I sat through many similar performances like that one and Amy Poehler’s stage mum involvement makes the clip, but Kevin Gnapoor, the Math Enthusiast/ Bad-Ass M.C is the winner in my eyes.
Sweet Child O’ Mine (1988) by Guns N’ Roses in Stepbrothers (2008)
The overly confident Derek (played by Adam Scott) and his wife, the repressed sexual fiend (played by Kathryn Hahn), make the creepiest family even creepier with their rendition of the Gunners hit. Harmonising children, a verbally abusive Derek and a near accident makes this one of the stand out scenes in an already quotable movie.
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (1969) by The 5th Dimension in the 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
I imagine this scene is what plays out when all men lose their virginity; I also suspect that women have a completely different song playing after they lose theirs, something that captures the pain and awkwardness. This song and dance number is definitely a great culmination of the entire movie, and nothing makes me happier than Paul Rudd.
Danke Schoen (1963) by Wayne Newton and Twist & Shout (1963) by The Beatles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Director John Hughes is great at adding a spontaneous musical number into his films, I’m sure everyone remembers the impromptu dance from the kids in detention on The Breakfast Club (1985) but in my opinion, this one is far superior. If you’re going to have a day off, you better make the most of it and as Ferris put it “This is my ninth sick day this semester. It’s getting pretty tough coming up with new illnesses. If I go for ten, I’m probably gonna have to barf up a lung. So, I better make this one count”. Make it count he does, with this over the top parade number and with the charm that makes Ferris so endearing.
Don’t Stop Me Now (1979) by Queen in Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This movie is the perfect satire of all those zombie films you love and it’s the film that kicked off The Cornetto Trilogy, the other two being Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013) and introduced most of us to the comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. A fight scene with zombies, set in a pub with the music of Queen sounds ridiculous until you see how hilarious it is.
Money (That’s What I Want) (1979) by The Flying Lizards in Empire Records (1995)
A classic 90’s coming of age movie is a cult classic, who didn’t want to work at Empire Records with these guys and who didn’t want to be as hot as Liv Tyler as Corey Mason? This scene made working at a record store seem fun and with lots of playful ribbing.
Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You performed by Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
I miss 90’s teen movies, it was always about unrequited love and had Blink 182 in the soundtrack. I’m not really one for romance but Heath Ledger serenading me with Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, with his dreamy eyes and his dishevelled hair could even melt my icy cold heart. This re-imagination of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is one of those movies that never gets old, unlike Julia Stiles’ career.
Canned Heat (1999) by Jamiroquai in Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
The strange and neurotic title character Napoleon Dynamite isn’t what you’d call socially blessed. He has a friend named Tina who happens to be a llama, transfer student Pedro and entrepreneur Deb but after he’s given a tape from LaFawnduh, he impresses the kid at school with a mesmerising dance routine.
Time After Time (1984) by Cyndi Lauper in Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)
I like to think of this as revenge dancing. Before everyone had Facebook and you could cyber stalk your old school friends/enemies, you had to go to your high school reunion to find out if you were doing better than them. This movie reiterates that the nerds become rich and the popular kids become pregnant and boring.
- Say A Little Prayer For You performed by the cast of My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
- You Can Never Tell (1964) by Chuck Berry in Pulp Fiction (1994)
- Two of Hearts (1984) by Stacey Q in Hot Rod (2007)
- My Sharona (1979) by The Knack in Reality Bites (1994)
- Knock on Wood performed by Emma Stone in Easy A (2010)