Bob Dylan—the young traveling circus performer, the boy who cried Woody Guthrie, the poetic protest lyricist—has had his music used in so many movies, it’s almost become a cliché. But that pairing of song and film has also created some of the most iconic moments in cinema history. After searching through 50 years of soundtracks and scores, we’ve gathered the 20 best Bob Dylan songs used in films. We found video footage for many of these, but we’ll let Dylan do the serenading for the rest.
20. Watchmen – “The Times They Are A-Changin”
No matter what audiences thought about the 2009 comic adaption, the opening title sequence is an explosive cinematic moment. The vintage superhero vignettes capture riveting moments in American history spanning 1939 to 1985. The song is a perfect fit.
19. Monster’s Ball – “License To Kill”
As the conflict between Hank and Ryrus continues to escalate, Hank goes to Ryus’s garage to ask for a fix up. “License to Kill” hums eerily in the background on the radio.
18. Girl, Interrupted – “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”
The haunting lyrics of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” match well with Angelia Jolie’s character Lisa, a sociopath incapable of functioning. Them (featuring Van Morrison) recorded the track in London’s Decca Studios in 1965.
17. Dazed & Confused – “Hurricane”
It’s the track that plays during Wooderson’s iconic walk into the bar. It doesn’t get much better than that.
16. The Ballad Of Jack And Rose – “Boots of Spanish Leather”
Jack and Rose are father and daughter. Together they live alone on what used to be the Compound. What appears to be a functioning lifestyle quickly turns into nightmare of expounding proportions. The forlorn ballad plays before the film shifts. It acts as an evocative foreshadowing of the heartbreak to come.
15. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”
Not only is the track played in the film, Hunter S. Thompson mentions the song in his 1971 novel of the same name. Dr. Gonzo and Benicio del Toro feed off the tune while they cruise across the Western desert.
14. Bombay Beach – “Series Of Dreams ”
The documentary hybrid by Alma Har’el stormed the Tribeca Film Festival last year. The film’s soundtrack is a combination of Beirut and Dylan tracks—the humanistic interest the film’s voice takes on is reminiscent of Dylan’s musical consciousness/self-awareness.
13. Forrest Gump – “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
Forrest Gump is always trying to go home. Dylan just tries to run away—they make a great pair.
12. Blow – “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
George exchanges a few words with the court. “Huh? You say you’re looking for someone who’s never weak but always strong, to gather flowers constantly whether you are right or wrong, someone to open each and every door, but it ain’t me, babe, huh? No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe. You follow?”
11. Away We Go – “Mr. Tambourine Man”
Maya Rudolph’s character sings sweetly to her soon-to-be niece with the accompaniment of a stuffed animal after the child’s mother has left the daughter and her father. The scene is framed by far shot of a cracked door but the moment is more intimate than a close-up.
10. High Fidelity – “Most Of The Time”
Rob, you record store owner and compulsive list maker: We love you and we love your lists. And we’re quick to let you know we also adore the Dylan moment in your film, the one where he croons while you let the rain pour over you in a Chicago street.
9. Easy Rider – “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding”
First released in 1965 on Bringing It All Back Home, the success of the track arguably came from Roger McGuinn’s performance of the song in the 1969 release of Easy Rider. Peter Fonda, the film’s scriptwriter, had originally intended to use Dylan’s version of the song but after failing to secure the licensing he asked McGuinn to record it instead. The track features McGuinn on guitar and vocals and his Byrds bandmate Gene Parsons on harmonica.
8. Howl – “This Wheel’s On Fire”
“Wheel’s on Fire” by Dylan and The Band from The Basement Tapes plays during the closing credits of the 2010 film, an apt choice because of Dylan and Allen Ginsberg’s longstanding friendship.
7. Hamlet – “All Along the Watchtower”
The grave digger can be heard softly singing a few lines of the song shortly before Ophelia’s funeral.
6. Vanilla Sky – “4th Time Around”
This scene features “4th Time Around,” the live version from The Bootleg Series Vol.4:Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. The moment on the street corner with Cruise and Cruz is eerily familiar to the album cover for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan where Suze Rotolo clings to the arm of Dylan on a street in Greenwich Village.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums – “Wigwam”
Royal meets his grandchildren for the first time—concurrently, “Wigwam” plays.
4. The Big Lebowski – “The Man In Me”
For producer Joel Coen, “the original music, as with other elements of the movie, had to echo the retro sounds of the Sixties and early Seventies. There’s a musical signature for each of them [the characters].” The track plays during the stylized opening title sequence as well as during the hallucination sequence where The Dude is punched and has his rug stolen.
3. I’m Not There – “Tombstone Blues”
sits on the front porch with the child version of Bob Dylan, singing “Tombstone Blues” off the album Highway 61 Revisited.
2. Walk The Line – “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
recorded the Dylan classic with June Carter in 1965. The song was released on Cash’s album Orange Blossom Special. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do a fine job recreating the magic the tune captures.
1. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid – “Knockin’ On Heavens Door”
In 1973 Dylan released the album Patt Garrett & Billy The Kid as the soundtrack for Sam Peckinpah’s film of the same name. Dylan himself appears in the film. The 10 tracks are written by Dylan and are nothing short of perfect.