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The 20 Best Songs Written For Movies

The Great Gatsby Warner Bros.

Everyone seems just as pumped for the Jay-Z-produced soundtrack for "The Great Gatsby" as they are for the flick itself.

But before we look ahead at what The Hova has in store for what we can only imagine will be the coolest-ever soundtrack to something you were forced to read in high school, let's look back at some of the all-time great movie songs.

 

20. Three 6 Mafia: 'Hard Out Here For a Pimp' ('Hustle & Flow')

Three 6 Mafia took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for this jam that confirmed what we had all already suspected: Pimpin' ain't easy. Terrence Howard and Taryn Manning's performances in "Hustle & Flow" were stellar, but there's little doubt that Three 6 Mafia's Oscar appearance, combined with host Jon Stewart's verbal Oscar tally ("Three 6 Mafia 1, Martin Scorcese 0") is what everyone remembers most about the movie.

19. Ray Parker Jr.: 'Ghostbusters' ('Ghostbusters')

Hypnotically catchy beat or blatant ripoff? Well, probably both. After human '80s embodiment Huey Lewis passed on writing a song for "Ghostbusters," Ray Parker Jr. stepped in and delivered a tune that sounded suspiciously like Lewis' "I Want a New Drug." Lewis sued and the case was settled out of court. Either way, Ray Parker Jr.'s theme assured both then-present and future generations that whenever someone asked the question "Who you gonna call?" at least one hi-larious jokester would answer accordingly.

18. Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer: 'Moon River' ('Breakfast at Tiffany's')

Since it was crooned by Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Moon River" has been recorded by, well, pretty much everyone. But before it was the ubiquitous standard it is today, it was written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini specifically to fit Hepburn's vocal range. "Moon River" is probably the third most memorable thing about the film, just trailing Hepburn's stunning beauty and Mickey Rooney's cringe-worthy portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi.

17. Simple Minds: 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' ('The Breakfast Club')

Simple Minds will forever be associated with "Don't You (Forget About Me)," perhaps the '80s-est '80s song of all time, made for the '80s-est '80s movie of all time, "The Breakfast Club." And the song will forever be associated with Judd Nelson's triumphant freeze-framed fist pump. Hey, if 1985-era Molly Ringwald was your new main squeeze, you'd be fist pumping, too.

16. Bruce Springsteen: 'The Wrestler' ('The Wrestler')

Just barely beating out "Streets of Philadelphia" for best Boss tune from a major motion picture, Springsteen's acoustic ditty for Mickey Rourke's comeback victory lap is quiet, melancholy and raw, just like Randy 'The Ram' Robinson himself.

15. Burt Bacharach and Hal David: 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head' ('Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid')

The happy-go-lucky "Raindrops" still seems a little out of place in a movie about 1890s train robbers, but it's hard to imagine "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" without it. Additional props to Bacharach and David for topping the charts with the song in 1970 — a time when delirious optimism wasn't all that groovy, man.

14. Kenny Loggins: 'Danger Zone' ('Top Gun')

While the "Top Gun" soundtrack delivered two synth-tastic hit songs, Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" is just a little too dentist-office-waiting-room-y for our purposes, so we'll go with "Danger Zone," the unrivaled anthem of cocky fighter pilots everywhere (RIP Goose). This one scores extra points for the out-of-nowhere sax solo at the end.

13. Survivor: 'Eye of the Tiger' ('Rocky III')

Before it was the go-to song for cliche montage parodies everywhere, "Eye of the Tiger" was the song for arguably the most famous montage of all time. Today, it still stands as the world's best tune to drink raw eggs and run up art museum steps to ... although we're not sure if we prefer the original or the "Team America: World Police" version.

12. Coolio: 'Gangsta's Paradise' ('Dangerous Minds')

It's probably fair to say that "Gangsta's Paradise" has outlasted "Dangerous Minds," the least hard movie about hard inner-city living to come out during the '90s. From the unforgettable synth beat to L.V.'s over-the-top delivery on the chorus and breakdown, "Gangsta's Paradise" is delicious mid-'90s rap goodness from top to bottom. The tune also notably inspired Weird Al to knock those smarmy Amish down a peg or two.

11. R. Kelly: 'I Believe I Can Fly' ('Space Jam')

Perhaps a little earnest for a movie about aliens playing basketball against wisecracking Looney Tunes characters and Michael Jordan, "I Believe I Can Fly" is still a total R. Kelly jam, and one of the choice songs for middle school graduations everywhere. Props to R. for advocating the power of positive thinking ten years before "The Secret" was on the shelves.

10. Radiohead: 'Exit Music (For A Film)' ('Romeo + Juliet')

Ah love, the loveliest of emotions. But Radiohead's opus "Exit Music (For a Film)" from Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" isn't about your average I-wanna-hold-your-hand type of love — we're talking I'll-poke-people's-eyes-out-if-people-even-glance-at-you crazy love, here. While the song probably isn't wedding-dance material, as a portrait of two lovesick puppies willing to kill to stay together, it fit "R + J" like a snug straightjacket.

9. The Bee Gees: 'Stayin' Alive' ('Saturday Night Fever')

"Stayin' Alive" is the ultimate callback to an era when clothes were tighter, voices were higher and facial hair was unironic. Really, as soon as the bassline drops you might as well be in the front seat of a DeLorean hurling towards 1977. The tune was a perfect theme for "Saturday Night Fever," a movie that is kinda about one young man's struggle to carve out an identity in New York City during the tumultuous '70s but is mostly just about John Travolta being really good at disco dancing.

8. Isaac Hayes: 'Theme From Shaft' ('Shaft')

Isaac Hayes doesn't so much sing on "Theme From Shaft" but rather simply describes in his inimitable Isaac Hayes voice the movie's titular character to a group of nameless, faceless, presumably sexy ladies who won't stand for his potty mouth. But that didn't stop "Shaft" from topping the charts in 1971, and it doesn't stop it from being the funkiest, sexiest, most blaxploitative song on this list.

7. Aimee Mann: 'Save Me' ('Magnolia')

Sparse, acoustic and gorgeous, "Save Me" was a perfect fit for Paul Thomas Anderson's oddball classic about regret, the power of coincidence and frogs' ability to totally mess up your weeknight plans.

6. Public Enemy: 'Fight the Power' ('Do the Right Thing')

Spike Lee commissioned "Fight the Power" for "Do The Right Thing," his 1989 drama about the lethal combination of racial tension and pressure cooker-esque New York City heat. The anti-authority anthem had a better fate than its boombox-blasting purveyor, Radio Raheem, later appearing on Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" in 1990 and continuing on as a battle cry against corruption to this day.

5. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova: 'Falling Slowly' ('Once')

Written for "Once," the musical love story for people who are way too cool for musical love stories, "Falling Slowly" is just about as pretty as songs get. In the movie, Glen Hansard's character teaches the song to Marketa Irglova's character in a music store, foreshadowing their not-quite romance (but hey, at least she got a piano out of the deal). If your heart didn't inflate Grinch-style when they took home the Oscar for Best Song in 2008, someone needs to check your chest cavity, you heartless person, you.

4. Elliott Smith: 'Miss Misery' ('Good Will Hunting')

"Miss Misery" might not immediately come to mind when you think of "Good Will Hunting," but Elliott Smith's sparse waltz — every bit as bleak as you'd expect — is a beaut. The song also resulted in one the most unforgettable images in Oscar History: the demure, mostly unknown Smith standing on stage alongside Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood as "My Heart Will Go On" (duh) was announced as the winner for Best Song. We promise you, "Miss Misery" is the better tune.

3. Paul McCartney: 'Live and Let Die' ('Live and Let Die')

You could argue about the merits of McCartney's solo output all day, but there's no debating the quality of "Live and Let Die," an epic tune and a damn good James Bond theme. Guns N' Roses' suped-up version offers up some serious Slash shredding, but we'll take the frenetic McCartney original any day. There's a whole mess of Bond songs that you could argue for here (most notably "Skyfall" and any of Shirley Bassey's contributions), but "Live and Let Die" reigns supreme.

2. Eminem: 'Lose Yourself' ('8 Mile')

Eminem was at the top of his game and looking to conquer the silver screen and the rap charts when "8 Mile" was released in 2002. With its stadium-ready beat and lyrics about facing pressure and battling your demons, "Lose Yourself" was destined to become a hip-hop classic and the battle cry of early '00s high school basketball teams everywhere. As usual, Em didn't skimp on the vivid verbal imagery, which included an unnecessarily specific description of what a stain on his shirt consisted of. (Spoiler Alert: it's spaghetti vomit.)

1. Simon and Garfunkel: 'Mrs. Robinson' ('The Graduate')

Originally about Eleanor Roosevelt, the song only became "Mrs. Robinson" after director Mike Nichols was able to convince Paul Simon to change the lyrics to suit "The Graduate," his film about cougardom and the malaise of young adulthood. Besides being a flat-out unforgettable slice of Americana, "Mrs. Robinson" also marked one of the first times a pop group penned a song for a Hollywood movie ... as well as one of the first instances of athlete name-dropping in music.

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