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What Is the Best “Movie Song” of All Time?

From “Edelweiss” to “Whoop That Trick,” we’re paying homage to the most memorable songs ever created—and performed—in a film

Ringer illustration

Some of our favorite songs also come from our favorite movies. But while much ink has been spilled on soundtracks and movie scenes scored with iconic songs, we’ve decided to highlight the songs not only made specifically for a movie—but the ones that were actually born in the film. Building off the list that Rob Harvilla and Shea Serrano put together in 2018, The Ringer polled its staff and came up with 12 of its favorite tracks, beginning with a classic Disney song (that you certainly remember) from a film celebrating its 25th anniversary (that you certainly will be celebrating) on Tuesday.

“i2i,” A Goofy Movie (1995)

Micah Peters: When the meeting of tasteless Tumblrites was convened to canonize the films of Disney Animation Studios’ “golden age,” they left out A Goofy Movie for some reason, which was probably why “i2i” never even made it onto our list of the 40 Best Disney Songs. I don’t hold it against my colleagues, they’re free to be wrong about things—but I maintain that not only should it be at the top of the list, there should be a 10-foot gap, at minimum, between it and the next best Disney song. Behind maybe “The Gospel Truth,” “i2i” is probably also the blackest—it’s a power-pop ballad sung by Tevin Campbell (with a call-and-answer breakdown featuring Rosie Gaines) and performed by a character that was originally intended for Bobby Brown.

“Why Did You Do That?” A Star Is Born (2018)

Andrew Gruttadaro: I used to be a “Shallow” guy, or even more honestly, an “Always Remember Us This Way” guy—but with the benefit of hindsight, I feel stronger than ever that A Star Is Born’s greatest musical artifact is “Why Did You Do That?,” the pop song that launches Ally to stardom. The brilliance of this song—written by Lady Gaga, Diane Warren, Mark Nilan Jr., Nick Monson, and Paul “DJWS” Blair—is that it sits so carefully on the fence between good and bad, between earnest foolishness and cynical parody, that no one can ever decide how to feel about it. The New York Times was one of seemingly a thousand outlets in 2018 to wonder “Is This A Star Is Born Pop Song Supposed to Be Bad or Glorious?”

To be clear, I don’t really have the answer—Warren insisted they didn’t purposely make “the ass song” (as it’s fondly known) bad. Sometimes it is exactly what I need. Other times it makes my eyes stick in the back of my head because I rolled them too hard. But no matter: “Why Did You Do That?” is supposed to be vexing because vexed is literally how Jackson Maine feels about it! He can’t comprehend it. It drives him to pick up a bottle of beer on the set of Saturday Night Live. It drives him to mumble and grumble that “maybe I fuckin’ failed you” line while Ally’s just trying to take a damn bath.

It’s the best made-in-a-movie song because of the way it so perfectly serves its movie. It practically writes the rest of the movie merely by existing.

“Mad About Me,” Star Wars: Episode IV (1977)

Ben Lindbergh: In what galaxy is Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes vs. the Max Rebo Band even a debate? Not in ours, and definitely not in the one far, far away. The all-Bith band killed their cantina gig in Episode IV with a rousing rendition of “Mad About Me,” a.k.a. “Cantina Band.” The group’s performance of the swing-inspired song, which allowed composer John Williams to show off his jazz—er, jizz expertise, was so irrepressible that even an amputation could only briefly bring down the mood.

Described as “an oldie but a goodie,” “Mad About Me” may be best played via kloo horn, but the tune transcends specific instrumentation. Meco’s disco cover of the Star Wars main title, which was combined with “Cantina Band” in an extremely 1977 musical medley, actually outcharted Williams’s original theme, climbing to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe the key difference was disco, but maybe it was “Mad About Me.”

“Remember Me,” Coco (2017)

Jack McCluskey: This song has layers. Penned by a father for his daughter, stolen by a greedy partner and co-opted for public consumption, then resurrected in the most touching of ways, “Remember Me” is a slow, achingly sweet song that is practically guaranteed to get your tear ducts going when Miguel sings it at the end of the movie. (And that’s before you consider it in the context of a global pandemic.)

No one wants to be forgotten, especially by their loved ones. And by keeping the people closest to us in our thoughts, we keep them with us no matter the distance between us. Ultimately, that’s the message of both the movie and the song. Written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the Oscar-winning “Remember Me” takes on different tones in different situations; it’s an exhortation, a plea, an earnest hope. It’s a beautiful song that perfectly fits the film that produced it.

“Edelweiss,” The Sound of Music (1965)

Megan Schuster: This may technically be cheating, given that this song was originally written for the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, not for the film adaptation. But Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer are too powerful a force to be constricted by worldly rules.

Every song from The Sound of Music is brilliant, but “Edelweiss” is special for a few reasons. First, singing “Edelweiss” with his children is the first time we really see Captain Von Trapp soften. Within the span of a few notes, he transforms from an overbearing, militaristic, whistle-blowing (literally) father into a sensitive, emotive capital-M Man (one whom Andrews’s Maria can’t help but stare at longingly). This song is also the heartstring of the film. It combines themes of love for one’s country—actual love, not Nazi fascism—connectedness, beauty, and hope. I still get chills when the crowd joins in on the refrain at the festival. It’s a humble little tune, but one of the sweetest around.

“Please Mr. Kennedy,” Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Ben Lindbergh: In the universe of Inside Llewyn Davis, “Please Mr. Kennedy” is supposed to be a bad song (or at least Llewyn thinks so). In ours, the unwilling astronaut’s plea to the president is incredibly catchy. Super-producer T. Bone Burnett, who adapted the ditty from a few hokey ’60s folk songs along with Justin Timberlake and the Coen brothers—with crucial creative contributions/sound effects from Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac—summed up the appeal of “Please Mr. Kennedy” (and all good made-in-a-movie songs) in a 2013 interview.

“It is a joke song, but here’s the thing ... even if a song is supposed to be bad in a film, it still has to be great,” Burnett said. “Because if you put bad music in a film, it’s just bad—then the film’s bad. You can put good music in a film and say it’s bad and the audience will believe it’s bad, but it will still be good and they will still be entertained by it, even though they’re told it’s bad. And, on top of it, underneath all of that, it really is great.”

“Black Sheep,” Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Dan Devine: When Scott Pilgrim author/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley first conceived the Clash at Demonhead, a fictional rock band named after punk icons and a largely forgotten Nintendo game, he reportedly based them on killer Toronto indie band Metric. (The wardrobe of frontwoman Envy Adams was evidently “inspired by photos of [Metric vocalist Emily Haines] in a live setting.”) So when director Edgar Wright and soundtrack supervisor/legendary producer Nigel Godrich wanted to bring the band to the big screen—with Brie Larson playing Envy, our titular protagonist’s ex-girlfriend, and erstwhile Superman Brandon Routh playing bassist Todd, one of the seven evil exes of Scott’s new love interest Ramona—they asked the real deal to essentially play themselves and contribute a track.

They came up with “Black Sheep,” originally recorded in the sessions for their 2009 album Fantasies but left on the cutting room floor because the band felt it sounded less like Metric and more like someone trying to be Metric ... which, you know, works out just fine here. Both versions—the one Larson sings in the film and the one Haines sings for the soundtrack—stomp and sneer, all sinuous synths slinking around writhing bass lines, all stabbing riffs riding atop high hats and handclaps. In the sort of fictional universe where a rock band can still become international stars, “Black Sheep” makes it easy to believe the Clash at Demonhead would get there: It’s dark and dance-y, slick and sexy, and just plain catchy as hell.

“Walk Hard”, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Alan Siegel: Walk Hard’s title track isn’t great just because it’s funny. It’s great because it actually feels like a true country classic. The team of musicians behind director Jake Kasdan’s fake biopic, including John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox himself, took their jobs very, very seriously. After all, creating a completely original soundtrack that spanned genres was no easy feat.

Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, who played Buddy Holly in La Bamba, came up with the Johnny Cash–esque song. In the movie, Dewey naturally belts out the career-maker on the spot after he fails to impress a record company executive with his rendition of “That’s Amore.”

“Walk Hard” was nominated for the Best Original Song Golden Globe. Alas, it lost to “Guaranteed” by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, who actually cameoed in the movie.

“That Thing You Do!” That Thing You Do! (1996)

Michael Baumann: The toughest part about writing a movie based on a popular music group is writing music that could plausibly have been a hit, which is a near-impossible task for obvious reasons. For That Thing You Do!, the songwriter had to thread a few additional needles: It had to sound like it came from a group of teenagers from western Pennsylvania in 1964. It had to work with the tempo slowed down. And unlike A Star Is Born, a movie about two prolific artists, That Thing You Do! was the story of a one-hit wonder: If the audience didn’t love the titular single each of the 15 times they heard it over 108 minutes, Tom Hanks’s directorial debut would’ve fizzled out in the high school gym.

And yet songwriter Adam Schlesinger—the prolific TV and film composer–cum–Fountains of Wayne bassist, who died last week at 52 from COVID-19 complications—pulled off the trick with ease. “That Thing You Do” is a meaty but compact pop-rock earworm that not only carried the film to a warm critical reception but became a mainstream radio hit in real life as well. Even if it wasn’t the best diegetic movie song ever, which it is, it absolutely carried the greatest weight.

”Drive It Like You Stole It,” Sing Street (2016)

Kate Halliwell: John Carney is the undisputed king of the made-in-the-movie song. Many people think that “Falling Slowly,” from Once is his best; those people are wrong. That distinction belongs to “Drive It Like You Stole It,” from Carney’s criminally underrated 2016 musical Sing Street, about a ragtag band made up of ’80s Irish teens. In a tale as old as time, 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) puts together a rock band as a front to impress a girl, and they end up absolutely rocking. Their musical masterpiece is “Drive It Like You Stole It,” performed in a dreamscape version of what Conor imagines his first school-dance experience to be. “You gotta learn to rock and roll it; you gotta put the pedal down,” Conor sings to a suddenly vintage-styled school auditorium, as his audience twirls in a peppy, choreographed dance routine; “and drive it like you stole it.” It’s a legitimately great song, and it’s been a staple on various playlists (and stuck in my head) since I first saw Sing Street. Time for a rewatch.

“Coming Home,” Country Strong (2010)

Katie Baker: Much respect to Lady Gaga, and I love Bradley Cooper’s passion, but when it comes to the “fading and faded musician” genre I’ll always be partial not to the more recent (and objectively better) A Star Is Born, but to the hot, sweet mess that is the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow–Tim McGraw vehicle Country Strong. On the one hand, this is a film that features, at its emotional core, a baby bird in a small box being slipped under a bathroom stall; on the other hand, it has a lot of genuinely catchy music, like Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester’s soothing duet, “Give in to Me,” or Gwyneth Paltrow in a strappy, glittering dress belting out “Coming Home.”

Hillary Lindsey, one of the song’s writers, spoke of being surprised when she saw that a plot point in the movie involves two characters fighting over the tune. “It was like, ‘When everybody leaves the theater, they better really like that song!’” she said. “It was a little bit of pressure.” They did: “Coming Home” was nominated for an Oscar in real life—Paltrow admitted that performing it at the awards show was one of her most nervous moments ever—and in the film, it is a powerful swan song for a fallen starlet who is giving it one last, sad shot.

“Whoop That Trick,” Hustle & Flow (2005)

Rodger Sherman: The most famous song from Hustle and Flow is undoubtedly “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the song that won Three 6 Mafia an Oscar and put Taraji P. Henson on a path to stardom. But any viewer would know which song was most likely to turn Memphis pimp turned rapper DJay into a star in the universe of the movie: It’s “Whoop That Trick,” the very first song he tries to record.

Some movies expect us to simply assume protagonists are born with a gift for writing hits. Hustle and Flow shows us the magical moment when a musician actually unlocks their talents. DJay has spent a lifetime writing bars on a notepad, but with a microphone in his face, he’s apprehensive. He needs Shelby, the “light-skinned” pianist, who crafts a beat mean enough to show up on your grandmother’s doorstep with an aluminum baseball bat. He needs Key, his friend turned sound engineer, to suggest that perhaps “Beat That Bitch” and “Smack That Ho” won’t get radio play. (Besides, they don’t want to be degrading to women.)

Within a few minutes, they’ve created something impossible to hear without yelling. Here is what happens when you play “Whoop That Trick” at a Grizzlies game:

That’s a whole NBA arena screaming. There are middle-aged Memphis alumni wearing starched button-downs chanting “WHOOP THAT TRICK” in the fancy seats. There are preteens wearing Marc Gasol jerseys demanding tricks be whooped. This song might have been born in a movie, but even real-life humans are not immune from the need to scream along.