The 102 Greatest Movie Songs

With the recent post on The Wizard of Oz, as well as the journey we’ve been taking through movie music in the context of the year 1939 (which has included lists of the great composers, scores, and songwriters in film history), I thought that a list of the greatest movie songs is worth putting together.

The only other list of this type with any credence out there is the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Songs” list.  The list has a lot of differentiation from the list that I am providing below, but our champions are quite similar.  It may be worth looking at both the lists because they certainly have a lot of great songs on that list that didn’t make it on this one.

The most difficult part of creating and understanding this list lies in differentiating between “songs” and “movie songs”.  First of all, there’s the issue of songs that were actually originally featured in movies, only to become more famous after the movie’s release.  For example, “Moon River” was made much more famous by Andy Williams than Audrey Hepburn’s original version for Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the same goes for Frank Sinatra’s rehashing of many songs on this list, like “Call Me Irresponsible”, “One for My Baby”, and “The Way You Look Tonight”.  Even more frequent are songs that weren’t written for movies, but reached newfound peaks because of the success of the films in which they were featured.  Two films in the top 10 below are examples of such: “Singin’ in the Rain” was featured in Singin’ in the Rain, which was actually a movie featuring all the great works of Arthur Freed; and “As Time Goes By”, made famous in Casablanca was actually written eleven years earlier.  “Ol’ Man River” is another prime example of this.  Many other songs were written for a movie, but became more famous in a later film: like “Good Morning” from 1939’s Babes in Arms, which became much more famous for its usage in Singin’ in the Rain.  Or, to use another example from 1939 (which is only fitting), there’s “It Had to Be You”, a song not originally written for a film, but which was later featured in The Roaring Twenties.  It would go on to be far more famous for its usage in When Harry Met Sally…, which came out fifty years later.

Some songs, like “It Had to Be You”, even fall into more than one category.  For example, there is the classic ballad—oft-considered the best love song in country music—called “I Will Always Love You.”  It was originally written by Dolly Parton as a single on her album Jolene, only to be recycled for her performance in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  Despite the success of the film, the song became really, really famous for Whitney Houston’s rehashing in The Bodyguard.  Her version is now one of the highest-selling singles of all time.

So, where should respective songs rank?  Should they be placed in order from best song to worst?  Or from most popular to least?  From most influential to most unnecessary?  Or, what about as a reflection of the film in which it lives?  Surely, it’s ability to sum up the themes and emotions of a film are important, are they not?  And, should the greatness (or poorness) of the film be taken into account?  And, here’s the real question…what about songs originally written for movies versus unoriginal works?  After all, some of the greatest movie musicals of all time (Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and many others), all feature music not directly written for film.  What then?  I want to give a little more credence to songs written particularly for the movie, but recognize that many songs are primarily associated with the film in which they were featured, or they have given a film added life through their inclusion.

It’s all very difficult to do, but I think I was able to reconcile (with no real formula) a good representation of all these potentials and create a really well-crafted list of the greatest “movie songs”.  I hope you enjoy it.  The most represented songwriters on the list are Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and the indelible pair of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  The famous Sherman Brothers, who wrote more film songs than any other individual or group in history, are tied for fifth (with four mentions apiece) with the great George and Ira Gerswhin, Leslie Bricusse, and the pairing of Loewe and Lerner.

When it comes to singers, the leader is Judy Garland, who has six performances in this list.  In second place is the most underrated film singer of all time, Marni Nixon, who has 5 mentions.  Ever heard of Marni Nixon?  Well, you may have never seen her face, but you’ve certainly heard her voice.  She has done the vocal dubs in My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The King and I, and many more.  The two kings of the movie musical, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire (also, the two kings of the movie dance number), are also high on the list: Astaire is tied for second with Nixon, and Kelly is next in line with 4 mentions.  Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Julie Andrews, Barbara Streisand, and Dick Van Dyke are next in line with 3 mentions….as well as Adriana Caselotti (sort of, she was featured in the Tin Man’s rendition of “If I Only Had a…” in The Wizard of Oz).

Not including the short feature in The Wizard of Oz, Caselotti is one of several people on the list who enjoy two appearances, including (but not limited to) pop music superstars Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Liza Minnelli, and Celine Dion.

Anyway, please enjoy the below list.  Links to the songs are included.  I tried to link them to the film versions, but didn’t always succeed in finding a workable clip.  If a given song is an unoriginal song (not written specifically for the film), I will include an asterisk by the song name.  Also, links to reviews of the films themselves (if available) are included.

I did 101 movie scores last time.  Let’s do 102 movie songs this time…just for fun.

  1. “Over the Rainbow”The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg; perf. by Judy Garland)
  2. “White Christmas”Holiday Inn (Irving Berlin; perf. by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears)
  3. “As Time Goes By”Casablanca (Herman Hupfield; perf. by Dooley Wilson)*
  4. “Moon River”Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer; perf. by Audrey Hepburn)
  5. “When You Wish Upon a Star”Pinocchio (Leigh Harline, Ned Washington; perf. by Cliff Edwards)
  6. “Singin’ in the Rain”Singin’ in the Rain (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown; perf. by Gene Kelly)*
  7. “Stormy Weather”Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen, Ted Kohler; perf. by Lena Horne)
  8. “Ol’ Man River”Show Boat (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II; perf. by Paul Robeson)*
  9. “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)”The Sky’s the Limit (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer; perf. by Fred Astaire)
  10. “The Way You Look Tonight”Swing Time (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields; perf. by Fred Astaire)
  11. “My Heart Will Go On”Titanic (James Horner, Will Jennings; perf. by Celine Dion)
  12. “The Sound of Music”The Sound of Music (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; perf. by Julie Andrews)*
  13. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”Song of the South (Allie Wrubel, Ray Gilbert; perf. by James Baskett)
  14. “Summertime”Porgy and Bess (George Gershwin; perf. by Adele Addison)*
  15. “Jailhouse Rock”Jailhouse Rock (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller; perf. by Elvis Presley)
  16. “Love Me Tender”Love Me Tender (Ken Darby, Elvis Presley; perf. by Elvis Presley)
  17. “A Hard Day’s Night”A Hard Day’s Night (John Lennon, Paul McCartney; perf. by The Beatles)
  18. “Good Morning”Babes in Arms (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown; perf. by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney)
  19. “I Could Have Danced All Night”My Fair Lady (Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner; perf. by Marni Nixon)*
  20.  “Someday My Prince Will Come”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Larry Morey, Frank Churchill; perf. by Adriana Caselotti)
  21. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (Bob Dylan; perf. by Bob Dylan)
  22. “Can’t Help Falling in Love”Blue Hawaii (Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss, Jean Paul Egide Martini; perf. by Elvis Presley)
  23. “I Will Always Love You”The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Dolly Parton; perf. by Dolly Parton)
  24. “Mrs. Robinson”The Graduate (Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel; perf. by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)
  25. “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”Mary Poppins (Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; perf. by David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke)
  26. “All the Way”The Joker is Wild (Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn; perf. by Frank Sinatra)
  27. “Tears in Heaven”Rush (Will Jennings, Eric Clapton, perf. by Eric Clapton)
  28. “I Just Called to Say I Love You”The Woman in Red (Stevie Wonder; perf. by Stevie Wonder)
  29. “Unchained Melody”Unchained (Alex North, Hy Zaret; perf. by Todd Duncan)
  30. “Beauty and the Beast”Beauty and the Beast (Howard Ashman, Alan Menken; perf. by Angela Lansbury)
  31. “The Way We Were”The Way We Were (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch; perf. by Barbra Streisand)
  32. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”Help! (Paul McCartney, John Lennon; perf. by The Beatles)
  33. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”The Lion King (Elton John, Tim Rice; perf. by Elton John)
  34. “The Man That Got Away”A Star is Born (1954)(Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin; perf. by Judy Garland)
  35. “Somewhere”West Side Story (Leonard Berstein, Stephen Sondheim; perf. by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant)*
  36. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”Meet Me in St. Louis (Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane; perf. by Judy Garland)
  37. “Purple Rain”Purple Rain (Prince; perf. by Prince)
  38. “Lose Yourself”8 Mile (Eminem; perf. by Eminem)
  39. “Streets of Philadelphia”Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen; perf. by Bruce Springsteen)
  40. “People”Funny Girl (Bob Merrill, Jule Styne; perf. by Barbra Streisand)*
  41. “Suicide is Painless”M*A*S*H (Johnny Mandel, Mike Altman; perf. by John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin and Ian Freebairn-Smith, and Ken Prymus)
  42. “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Jule Styne, Leo Robin; perf. by Marilyn Monroe)*
  43. “Whistle While You Work”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Larry Morey, Frank Churchill; perf. by Adriana Caselotti)
  44. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hal David, Burt Bacharach; perf. by B.J. Thomas)
  45. “The Beautiful Day”Scrooge (Leslie Bricusse; perf. by Richard Beaumont)
  46. “Some Enchanted Evening”South Pacific (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; perf. by Giorgio Tozzi)*
  47. “‘S Wonderful”An American in Paris (George Gershwin, Ira Gerswin; perf. by Gene Kelly and Georges Guétary)*
  48. “Edelweiss”The Sound of Music (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; perf. by Christopher Plummer)
  49. “The Prayer”Quest for Camelot (David Foster, Carol Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa, Tony Renis; perf. by Celine Dion and Andrea Boccelli)
  50. “I Got Rhythm”An American in Paris (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin; perf. by Gene Kelly)*
  51. “It Had to Be You”The Roaring Twenties (Isham Jones, Gus Kahn; perf. by Priscilla Lane)*
  52. “Rainbow Connection”The Muppet Movie (Paul Williams, Kenneth Ascher; perf. by Jim Henson [Kermit the Frog])
  53. “Skyfall”Skyfall (Adele, Paul Epworth, J.A.C. Redford; perf. by Adele)
  54. “A Spoonful of Sugar”Mary Poppins (Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman; perf. by Julie Andrews)
  55. “Ave Satani”The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith; perf. by Chorus)
  56. “The Candy Man”Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley; perf. by Aubrey Woods)
  57. “We’re Off to See the Wizard”The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg; perf. by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Buddy Ebsen, Bert Lahr, and Chorus)
  58. “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”Shall We Dance (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin; perf. by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers)
  59. “New York, New York”New York, New York (John Kander, Fred Ebb; perf. by Liza Minnelli)
  60. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”Toy Story (Randy Newman; perf. by Randy Newman)
  61. “Isn’t It Romantic?”Love Me Tonight (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart; perf. by Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald)
  62. “The Stranger Song”McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Leonard Cohen; perf. by Leonard Cohen)
  63. “Swinging On a Star”Going My Way (Jimmy Van Heuse, Johnny Burke; perf. by Bing Crosby)
  64. “There’s No Business Like Show Business”There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin; perf. by Ethel Merman)*
  65. “Luck Be a Lady”Guys and Dolls (Frank Loesser, Robert Alda; perf. by Marlon Brando)*
  66. “Shall We Dance”The King and I (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; perf. by Yul Brynner and Marni Nixon)*
  67. “Diamonds are Forever”Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry, Don Black; perf. by Shirley Bassey)
  68. “Friend Like Me”Aladdin (Howard Ashman, Alan Menken; perf. by Robin Williams)
  69. “Make ‘Em Laugh”Singin’ in the Rain (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown; perf. by Donald O’Connor)
  70. “Under the Sea”The Little Mermaid (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman; perf. by Samuel E. Wright)
  71. “Pure Imagination”Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley; perf. by Gene Wilder)
  72. “Thank You Very Much”Scrooge (Leslie Bricusse; perf. by Anton Rodgers and Chorus)
  73. “Tonight”West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim; perf. by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant)*
  74. “On the Street Where You Live”My Fair Lady (Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner; perf. by Bill Shirley)*
  75. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman; perf. by Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes)
  76. “A Whole New World”Aladdin (Alan Menken, Tim Rice; perf. by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga)
  77. “Cheek to Cheek”Top Hat (Irving Berlin; perf. by Fred Astaire)
  78. “Springtime for Hitler”The Producers (Mel Brooks; perf. by Chorus)
  79. “Fight the Power”Do the Right Thing (Chuck D, Vietnam Sadler, Hank Schocklee, Keith Schocklee; perf. by Public Enemy)
  80. “Live and Let Die”Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney; perf. by Paul McCartney and Wings)
  81. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”Against All Odds (Phil Collins; perf. by Phil Collins)
  82. “Buttons and Bows”The Paleface (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans; perf. by Bob Hope)
  83. “Evergreen”A Star is Born (1976) (Barbra Streisand, Paul Williams; perf. by Barbra Streisand)
  84. “Cabaret”Cabaret (John Kander, Fred Ebb; perf. by Liza Minnelli)*
  85. “Chim Chim Cher-ee”Mary Poppins (Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman; perf. by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews)
  86. “I’m Easy”Nashville (Keith Carradine; perf. by Keith Carradine)
  87. “The End”Apocalypse Now (Jim Morrison, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore; perf. by The Doors)*
  88. “The Trolley Song”Meet Me In St. Louis (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; perf. by Judy Garland and Chorus)
  89. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”Ocean’s Eleven (Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn; perf. by Dean Martin)
  90. “The Wrestler”The Wrestler (Bruce Springsteen; perf. by Bruce Springsteen)
  91. “Ghostbusters”Ghostbusters (Ray Parker, Jr.; perf. by Ray Parker, Jr.)
  92. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”My Fair Lady (Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner; perf. by Marni Nixon)*
  93. “That’s Entertainment”The Band Wagon (Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz; perf. by Jack Buchanan, Fred Astaire, Nanett Fabray, Oscar Levant, and India Adams)
  94. “The Ballad of High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling)”High Noon (Dimitri Tiokin, Ned Washington; perf. by Tex Ritter)
  95. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”Gigi (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe; perf. by Maurice Chevalier)
  96. “New York, New York”On the Town (Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green; perf. by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin)*
  97. “I Cross My Heart”Pure Country (Steve Dorf, Eric Kaz; perf. by George Strait)
  98. “The Circle of Life”The Lion King (Tim Rice, Elton John; perf. by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M.)
  99. “Puttin’ on the Ritz”Puttin’ on the Ritz (Irving Berlin; perf. by Harry Richman)
  100. “Call Me Irresponsible”Papa’s Delicate Condition (Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn; perf. by Jackie Gleason)
  101. “Long Ago and Far Away”Cover Girl (Jerome Kern, Ira Gershwin; perf. by Rita Hayworth)
  102. “Count Your Blessings”White Christmas (Irving Berlin; perf. by Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby)

6 thoughts on “The 102 Greatest Movie Songs

  1. Pingback: The 30 Greatest Movie Songwriters | A Slice of Cake

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  4. Pingback: Scrooge (1970) | A Slice of Cake

  5. Pingback: Holiday Inn (1942) | A Slice of Cake

  6. Pingback: The Roaring Twenties (1939)* | A Slice of Cake

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