The 20 Best Songs Written for Movies

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The release of The Hunger Games film and its accompanying soundtrack, including original tracks from artists as diverse as The Arcade Fire and Taylor Swift, had us thinking about the long history of pop music written specifically for movies. While Easy Rider and Scorpio Rising popularized the use of found music, some directors have desired to work with the artists they love without all of the context and baggage that found music carries with it.

20. I’ve Seen It All – Thom Yorke and Bjork
Dancer in the Dark
While we’ve mostly left musicals off this list, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention this excellent track from Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. Just be sure to listen to the version with Thom Yorke singing, rather than the version actually featured in the film.

19. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Top Gun
No list of movie songs is complete without mentioning Kenny Loggins’ so-bad-its-good work for Top Gun. You might not like it, but now that we’ve mentioned it you almost certainly can’t get it out of your head.

18. You Can Never Hold Back Spring – Tom Waits
The Tiger and the Snow
Roberto Benigni’s 2005 feature was barely released in America. But it features Tom Waits as himself, so it should be no surprise that Waits wrote a song for the film, which probably would’ve gone completely unnoticed if it hadn’t been for Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards’ release the following year.

17. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head – B.J. Thomas
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
One of those songs that feels like it’s been around forever, “Raindrops” fit strangely into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but helped set the picture’s goofy, buddy heist-flick tone.

16. Porpoise Song – The Monkees
While much of Head’s music was actually written by The Monkees for the first time in their career, like the movie they wrote it for, the soundtrack flopped (although not quite as badly). That isn’t to say it’s bad, though, and this track written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin captures a more psychedellic sound for the group than their more popular singles and functions as the main theme in the film.

15. Moon River – Audrey Hepburn
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Moon River remains an oddity in that it was written particularly for a movie, with Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini making sure it worked with Hepburn’s vocal range, but it’s been so overshadowed by Andy Williams’ cover that the original version is often forgotten. Strangely enough, Hepburn’s version wasn’t even included on the film’s soundtrack.

14. Lose Yourself – Eminem
8 Mile
Written largely from the point of view of Eminem’s character in the loosely semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself” was the first rap song to win an Academy Award. It also stayed at Billboard’s #1 spot for 16 weeks, making it the most successful single of his career.

13. Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes
Perhaps the most famous title song for any movie, it was written on condition that Hayes receive an audition for the title role, which never happened. It was still released as a single, though, and it’s one of the few songs written for a picture to head to the top of Billboard’s charts.

12. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – David Bowie
Cat People
Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake was largely overlooked, but its title song went on to be a huge success, not to mention living a second life in film when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

11. Exit Music (For a Film) – Radiohead
Romeo + Juliet
While written for Romeo + Juliet and referring to this status in the title, Thom Yorke specifically asked that the song be left off the film’s soundtrack. Instead Radiohead brought it in as another classic track on OK Computer.

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