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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the track that plays during Wooderson’s iconic walk into the bar. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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.
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.
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.
Forrest Gump is always trying to go home. Dylan just tries to run away—they make a great pair.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
The grave digger can be heard softly singing a few lines of the song shortly before Ophelia’s funeral.
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.
Royal meets his grandchildren for the first time—concurrently, “Wigwam” plays.
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.
Richie Havens sits on the front porch with the child version of Bob Dylan, singing “Tombstone Blues” off the album Highway 61 Revisited.
Johnny Cash 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.
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.