In today’s entry, I continue counting down my list of The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs. In this part, I cover a whole lot of ’80s themes! For Part 1 of the list, click here.
Remember, all songs must be written for the movie, be the main theme, and feature some amount of singing. But if you have a favorite that hasn’t been included yet, let me know!
20. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock)
Elvis Presley movies vary pretty widely in quality, both in terms of the film itself and its music. Some are great (Blue Hawaii) and some are, quite frankly, terrible (Clambake), but none have as iconic of a theme as Jailhouse Rock. This is definitely a theme song that has far outlived its own movie. “Jailhouse Rock” is fun, fast, and confident. It helps define an era of Elvis and the musical time period as a whole.
19. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (Rocky III)
If Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone’s liberal steroid use weren’t proof enough, “Eye of the Tiger” solidified the fact that Rocky III had brought the Rocky series into the 1980s. And the song couldn’t be tied more directly to the movie; it plays directly off Apollo Creed’s challenge to Rocky in the wake of his loss. Combined with images of triumphant boxing and the bromance between Lang and Rocky, “Eye of the Tiger” has become inseparable from the movie franchise.
18. The Touch – Stan Bush (Transformers: The Movie)
How can a song be both incredibly dorky and inspirational? When it’s linked to Optimus Prime, of course! This song is chockablock with nonstop positivity. Anyone who has this song sung to them should feel like they can move mountains. But we all know it’s about Optimus Prime. How could it be about a mere human?
17. A Whole New World – Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle (Aladdin)
This might be the Disney song that is most beloved by men. It’s all about (literally) sweeping a girl off her feet and is both assertive and sensitive at the same time. Every guy would want to be able to show a girl the world and open her eyes to new amazing wonders. And the ladies wouldn’t complain either. We can’t all have a magic carpet and an impression-obsessed genie, but “A Whole New World” is definitely fitting for the guy that does.
16. Now We Are Free – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator)
“Now We Are Free” is both beautifully sad and joyful at the same time. While Gladiator focuses on bloody yet stunning battles, it’s propelled by real heart. In the end, the only peace Maximus can find is by being reunited with the family he tragically lost. Through beautiful imagery, a stunning song, and perfect closing lines, the audience is brought true closure to their emotional journey. “I will see you again my friend. But not yet. Not yet.”
15. Back in Time – Huey Lewis and the News (Back to the Future)
Almost 30 years later, Back to the Future is almost a double time travel story, first back to the ‘80s and then into the ‘50s. Besides acid washed jeans, life preserver vests, and big hair, Huey Lewis and the News helps ground the film in its original time period. Sure, “Back in Time” liberally references a bunch of parts of the movie to the point of being distracting, but the mix of saxophone, guitar, and distinct Huey Lewis-ness make it iconic.
14. Gonna Fly Now – Bill Conti (Rocky)
The Rocky series is full of pump-up songs, but none beat the original. From the pounding trumpets to the soaring choir, this theme really does feel like you’re taking off and soaring through the air. It’s inspiring, tenacious, and ultimately triumphant without being aggressive. Without “Gonna Fly Now,” the Rocky montage would never have become a cinematic staple. Best listened to while drinking egg yolks and running up steps.
13. Whistlestop – Alan-a-Dale (Robin Hood)
A simple, unpretentious song to open a sweet and loving adventure story. Alan-a-Dale will be your guide to Robin Hood’s story, so it’s only fitting that he introduces you to both the world and its characters. “Whistlestop” is made up of mostly light strumming, humming, and (of course) whistling, but it sets the mood and gets stuck in your head in mere moments. It will get you smiling, and you won’t stop until long after Robin Hood is over.
12. Man of Constant Sorrow – The Soggy Bottom Boys (O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
This is a song that is both a perfect encapsulation of its main characters’ struggles and a major part of the film’s plot. “Man of Constant Sorrow” is vital to O Brother, Where Art Thou? In fact, it’s so important, it’s sung twice within the movie. While most of the film’s songs are covers of decades-old bluegrass and hymns, “Man of Constant Sorrow” helps to permanently ground the film within its old-timey sound.
11. Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Ultimatum) – Moby (The Bourne Ultimatum)
Every Bourne fan knows that once those familiar high-pitched strings kick in, another film has come to a close. But in the wake of countless thrilling action sequences, the audience can’t help but be happy and wait to see their hero once again. The haunted but determined lyrics are in perfect synch with the protagonist’s own goals and personal demons. Musically, its modern intensity is an exact match for the film series that helped bring the spy adventure movie into the 21st Century.