I’ve complied a list of my favorite moments in cinema where a song has been chosen and integrated into a scene so well that the two art forms come together and take each other to a level of sensory enjoyment unreachable when on their own.
5. Queen "Don't Stop Me Now" from Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This whole movie is an absolute blast, but when the jukebox randomly puts on Queen, and Shaun, Ed and Liz have to fight off the zombie bar keep with pool cues, it’s about as fun as a scene can get. I especially love when they all start whacking the zombie to the beat of the song. In any other movie a joke like that may have been unsuccessful, but here it fits perfectly.
4. Stealers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle” from Reservoir Dogs (1992)
It becomes evident early on in Reservoir Dogs that Michael Madsen’s character is a psychopath. What better way of showing Mr. Blonde’s level of insanity boil over then by having him groove along to Stealers Wheel right before his cuts an ear off. The little smile he gives right when K Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies starts playing “Stuck in the Middle” is so good. The song fades out as Mr. Blonde leaves the building and casually walks across the street to grab the gasoline canister. When he walks back into the building the song fades back in and Mr. Blonde gets right back to groovin’. That pause in the action and song completely makes the scene what it is, brilliant.
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” from The Big Lebowski (1998)
This scene is just pure enjoyment. What could be better than The Dude jamming out to Creedence, smoking a joint and drinking a beer while driving? Nothing. I especially love this scene because while all this craziness is going on around him, it shows all The Dude wants to do is have a good time and take it easy, and get his rug back, man.
2. The Doors “The End” from Apocalypse Now (1979)
When my brother told me I had to watch this incredible war movie, Apocalypse Now, he emphasized the powerful intro scene where “The End” plays over a jungle exploding cross faded with Martin Sheen acting psychotic in his hotel room. I was intrigued, and after watching that scene I was completely absorbed in the film. The Doors song sets the eerie, unsettling tone of the film perfectly. The lyrics create brilliant irony or even foreshadowing for what’s to come. I dare you to watch this scene and not want to settle in and go for the 153 Minute cinematic adventure that is Apocalypse Now. (Those echoed helicopter propellers get me every time)
1. The Rolling Stones “2000 Man” from Bottle Rocket (1996)
The climax of Wes Anderson’s directorial debut occurs when Dignan, played by Owen Wilson, makes the decision to rescue one of his partners in crime who was left behind in the building they just robbed. Right as the first guitar picks of “2000 Man” start, Dignan proclaims, “They’ll never catch me, man, cause I’m fuckin’ innocent.” At that moment, it becomes clear that Dignan’s attempt at rescue is doomed and 2000 Man’s irregular beat and structure compliments this sporadic moment perfectly. The tempo in the song changes as Didnan spots the cops arriving and decides to makes a run for it. The transition from unabashed hopefulness to his impending doom is made possible with this perfect match of song and character. This scene has always stuck with me because it introduced me to the “2000 man” and the entire “Their Satanic Majesties Request” album. Every time “2000 Man” comes on I can’t help but see Owen Wilson running around in a bright yellow jumpsuit with a buzzed head. If you’ve never seen Bottle Rocket don’t watch the scene below, but rather, watch the entire movie as soon as possible. If you have seen it, I think you’ll have a good time reliving this moment.
Honorable mentions: “Free Bird” during the final scene of The Devil’s Rejects, “Mad World” in Donnie Darko and “Search and Destroy” in The Life Aquatic.