Film Scores in Focus: The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs, Part 3

This is it! The final part of my three-part entry on The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs. I’ve gone through both well-known and obscure songs ranging everywhere from the 1960s to modern day. Numbers 30 to 21 can be found in Part 1 and 20 to 11 can be seen in Part 2.

In the final part, I look at 10 songs that not only make their films more memorable and impactful, but are great on their own. Some of these are not only my favorite movie theme songs, but are some some of my favorite songs in general.

Let me know what you think of my choices, if you agree with what I love, and if you think I made a huge mistake and left off some of your favorites.

10. New Divide – Linkin Park (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)

Some may prefer “What I’ve Done,” but Linkin Park’s “New Divide” is a fast, hard hitting, and instantly recognizable theme that is more unique than its predecessor. The heavy reverb placed on drums, guitar, and electronics all help to add a dizzying, cavernous effect under Chester Bennington’s powerful screams. Sure, the movie it is attached to is a hot mess, but that shouldn’t affect the enjoyment of this song.

9. Why Should I Worry? – Billy Joel (Oliver & Company)

This is what happens when you make Billy Joel the voice of a dog and the writer of a Disney movie’s main theme. You get one of the best Disney songs of all time. It’s carefree, it’s cool, and it’s confident. Anyone would want this song to be about them. Listen to this and it’ll easily get stuck in your head. You’ll be singing “Woo-hoo-woo-hoo-hoo” in a matter of minutes, and you’ll be loving every second of it.

8. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)

This is how you reintroduce James Bond. Not with horns, strings, and crooning vocals. But with blasting electric guitars and power vocals, courtesy of Chris Cornell. Straightforward and honest lyrics dealing with the consequences of death and violence are a great match for a story dealing with Bond’s rough origins. Images of diamonds and falling angels give it a sense of grandeur and mystery. It’s a great pairing with the opening titles, which stray from the typical female silhouettes in favor of fighting and gambling images. Welcome to the 21st Century, James Bond!

7. Pure Imagination – Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory)

This scene alone makes Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory into an instant classic. It perfectly encapsulates the ideas of the movie and it basically sums up what every kid (and kid at heart) wants in life. It’s just mysterious enough, and Gene Wilder’s tender yet mischievous delivery work great with the unfolding wonders inside Wonka’s factory. Next time you want your humdrum everyday life to feel a little more magical, sing this song.

6. Hero – Chad Kroeger (Spider-Man)

If you were growing up when Spider-Man came out in 2002, then you should know why this song is so high on this list. That summer, I couldn’t stop playing this song and wishing I was Spider-Man. It didn’t come true, but listening to this still conjures images of swinging through the urban canyons of New York City. It may feel very much like the early 2000’s, (hiring the lead singer of Nickleback to sing your song will do that), but it didn’t stop me from feeling bummed when this wasn’t included in The Amazing Spider-Man. Sure, it was a long shot, but a guy can hope!

5. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid)

For being only two and a half minutes long, Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” quickly envelopes the listener, sucking them down into a sullen and heartfelt piece of folk that borders on a hymnal. It pairs well with a movie that is all about inevitable death and loss in the Wild West, but it quickly transcends it. With Dylan at the height of his writing and composition power, it’s no wonder why everyone from Eric Clapton to Guns n’ Roses have covered the song. But none compare to the power and sadness of the original.

4. Down to Earth – Peter Gabriel (Wall-E)

It’s both a song about a fictional future where humanity rebuilds itself as well as our current human condition. When matched with Wall-E’s beautiful end credits, it not only gets to the heart of the movie’s ideas but also provides great closure to the story. Peter Gabriel’s strong yet rough vocals are complimented by an almost lullaby-like tone made up of piano, bells, and an intermittent female choir. As the song enters the chorus, reverberating guitars punch it up another level, giving it an extra emotional wallop after listeners have been completely charmed by two robots falling in love and saving humanity.

3. Beauty and the Beast – Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson (Beauty and the Beast)

If you have ever fallen in love, then “Beauty and the Beast,” both the song and the film, are guaranteed to touch your heart in some fashion. Both in the iconic ballroom dance sequence and during the credits, the song manages to sum up so many feelings and ideas in so little time. It manages to be both soaring and intimate at the same time. Without it, the movie isn’t as strong. Listen to it today, and no matter how long it has been since you have seen the film, you will be transported back into a tale as old as time.

2. Sticks and Stones – Jónsi (How to Train Your Dragon)

It’s the only way to end a sweet and caring story about friendship. Jónsi ‘s mixed English and Icelandic lyrics about friendship and courage are filled with beautiful images and colors. Bolstered by his high-pitched vocals and racing drums, guitar, and strings, “Sticks and Stones” feels like soaring through the clouds. It’s an emotional high after a film that ends on a triumphant and overjoyed note. Altogether, it’s a great fit for not only a movie about befriending dragons, but friendship and love in the real world.

1. Oblivion – M83 and Susanne Sundfør (Oblivion)

This is the newest song on this list, the ultimate reason for me creating this list, and my favorite movie theme song of all time. It’s also quickly climbing up the list of my favorite songs, movie theme or not. The shimmering, star-struck opening  begins things in a grand fashion and the song only escalates from there. Susanne Sundfør’s power vocals continue to hit higher and higher notes as the song continues, perfectly accenting lyrics concerning star-crossed love that transcends time and space.It’s a perfect accent for Oblivion’s themes and ends the film on an extremely strong note. And at the last moment, as the strings, keyboard, and vocals seemingly couldn’t get any more powerful, the score drops out beneath you and is replaced by a bittersweet and tender piano solo that punches into your chest and grabs your heart. This is music that is a fitting background for declaring love, rocketing into space, and plummeting back to Earth.

Press play and crank this.

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3 thoughts on “Film Scores in Focus: The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs, Part 2 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 4 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  3. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 1 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

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