Movie theme songs: What are the best and worst of all time?

The BBC reports today that Leona Lewis has been tapped to sing the theme song to James Cameron’s upcoming I-see-blue-people sci-fi epic Avatar, with the help of James Horner and Simon Franglen, the team who blessed/bedeviled the world with Celine Dion’s deathless chest-pounder “My Heart Will Go On” for Cameron’s Titanic back in 1997.

While Lewis prepares to bust her wing span on whatever the outer-space equivalent is of a ship’s prow, we’re compelled to take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly in movie theme songs, including—cue coyote flute— soundtrack king Ennio Morricone’s actual theme song for the 1966 Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western classic The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

There’s great schlock (Whitney’s Bodyguard epic “I Will Always Love You”; Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” for the 1984 movie of the same name; Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ Dirty Dancing duet, “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life”;), and schlock schlock (Aerosmith’s execrable Armageddon smash “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” Bryan Adams’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves mom-slayer “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”).

Everyone has an ingrained soundtrack memory, whether they be Ghostbusters, Grease-ers, or Gangstas; the James Bond catalog alone could keep us busy for days. Is it Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″ cup of ambition? Jaws‘ infamous, ominous duhn-DUHN? Eminem’s Detroit fever-dream “Lose Yourself”?

Let’s kick off the debate with a little “Flashdance,” shall we? Then take your passion and make it happen in the comments section below:

Which artists have brought the most music magic to the big screen? Who should be stripped of their celluloid privileges forever? (Will Smith, you’re on notice.) And where will Leona’s entry fall in the pantheon of blockbuster theme songs?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)


Comments (179 total) Add your comment
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  • bondfool

    My Heart Will Go On is one of the worst things ever to come out of the movies.

    • Anna

      I actually think it is one of the best, and fits the movie perfectly.

      • Jen

        Agreed! That song gave the movie a lot of momentum. People were requesting is constantly after the movie came out. It was way way overplayed but it was the perfect compliment to drive the emotionality of the movie home.

      • crispy

        I despise Celine Dion, but I’m willing to admit that is a good song that totally suited the movie. It was just played to death.

    • Sunny

      This is the best song in the world for a movie. This is my all time favorite song and Titanic is my all time favorite movie.

      • ratatooey

        Hands down worst——-Wind Beneath My Wings from Beaches. Most overplayed song in the history of mankind. Loved the movie, hated the song.

    • Brooke

      THIS.

      It was a good song, but it was overplayed to death and just…gah.

    • Sonny Crockett

      My Heart Will Go On is a great song. Just over played.

  • Laura K.

    The end credit theme from “The Princess Bride.” “Our love is like a storybook story/But it’s as real as the feelings I feel.”

    • Em

      Sweet!

    • Laura

      Isn’t it Mark Knopffler?

  • randi

    “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by Beck, from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Understated, moving, and utterly brilliant.

    • Sienna

      Excellent choice! What a beautiful song.

    • jan

      YES!

    • K

      Yeah, I fourth this.

    • Blue Orchid

      GREAT choice!

    • erin

      yes, yes, and yes! perfect for that movie, and just an amazing piece.

  • crispy

    The “Theme from Shaft” of course. And “Take My Breath Away” is pretty good too.

  • Elizabeth

    Aren’t they using Leona’s new song “Happy” for all the promos for “Precious”? Is she getting two nominations come Oscar time?

    I find it interesting that a lot of songs that are used in promos for movies aren’t actually on the soundtracks too…

    Sorry, I’ll go animation and select “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story 1.

    • Sienna

      I believe “Happy” is off Ms. Lewis’ new album, so it’s not an original song for a movie and therefore not an Oscar contender.

    • Fatima

      No, they’ll be pushing Mary J. Blige’s “I Can See in Color” for the best song nom for that movie.

  • Q

    Ummmm. The theme to “Jaws” isn’t a ‘song’.

    • Dave

      Doesn’t need words to be a song, and it certainly qualifies as a movie theme. It’s no different than instrumental songs (i.e. no vocals) on an album.

      • crispy

        Sorry, no. There’s an enormous difference between song and score. The Jaws theme is part of the score, and that two-note duhn-DUHN that was referenced is a motif repeated throughout the score. If scores are to be included, this is a completely different conversation.

      • paige

        I Completely agree crispy… score and song are different, which is why I’m having problems posting an opinion.

    • Em

      How is it not a song?

      • Q

        A song, by its’ very definition, is a musical composition with words. In other words, it needs to have singing. The “Jaws” theme does not have that. It is part of an instrumental score. At least the theme to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” contains vocals.

  • I-Man

    Spacebaaaalls… look out look out! It’s the Spacebaaaalls. [Yes I went there and sung it in text] Since Leah Greenblatt included Jaws instrumental theme, may I point out the opening instrumental theme to Airplane! or the opening theme to The Naked Gun. Family Guy really went nostalgic playing those songs in two of their episodes.

    • paige

      awesome spaceballs reference!

  • bme

    “A Time for Us” from 1968 Romeo and Juliet. Really beautiful.

  • Bruno

    My Heart Will Go On is the best.

  • Lynn

    Somewhere over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz my favorite.

    • Mary

      Yes! Good choice!

    • Em

      The one song played more than “My Heart Will Go On.” Sorry – I know it’s heretical, but I am so freaking tired of “Over the Rainbow.”

  • jordan

    I’m a big fan of Spider-Man 2’s Vindicated by Dashboard Confessional. Made me wait through the credits, which rarely happens unless there is a scene at the end!

    • Melissa

      A totally appropriate tune, seeming that Peter Parker is the ultimate emo superhero. :)

  • Wheaty

    “All For One” from the Three Musketteers,” sang by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart & Sting. Everything I Do, I Do It For You is another all-time favourite too.

    • ks

      Good one, one of my favs

  • Sarah T.

    Love “You’ve Got a Friend” from Toy Story. Perfect song for a great movie.
    Okay, I realize that this isn’t technically a “song” like someone else pointed out but EVERYTIME I hear the theme song to the Superman movies, I get goosepumps. I was so glad they used it in the 2006 movie as well. It’s epic.

    • Albertkitten

      Oh my God! I thought I was the only geek-freak who thinks the Superman score is legendary! Absolutely the most recognizable, most image-inducing, most inspirational score of all time! Kudos Sarah T.!

  • Danno

    My Heart Will Go On is a hugely overrated song from an even more overrated movie. Titanic shouldn’t have won best picture. Good Will Hunting was a better movie in every conceivable way. “A View To A Kill” is the best theme song from the James Bond series and one of the best theme songs ever.

    • crispy

      Wow, you’re like wrong on every point you made!

      • Connor

        I haven’t seen Titanic or Good Will Hunting, but My Heart Will Go On IS hugely overrated.

    • Danny

      Good Will Hunting was, indeed, the true Best Picture that year.

    • Renaton

      Not only was Good Will Hunting a etter movie (although I actually think L.A. Confidential was a more deserving winner), ut Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” is much much superior to “My Heart Will Go On”, and that year he completely stole the show with his song during the awards ceremony. A simple but overwhelming track that one.

  • graeme

    Yes, “Happy” is being used in promos, but it wasn’t written for “Precious” so it can’t be nominated.

    Even if Lewis performs a great track, there will be major backlash against it since it’s coming from a Cameron film written by James Horner performed by a pop diva.

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