6 Examples of the Creative Use of Music in Film

Sometimes dialogue alone in film doesn’t quite suffice. All the words in the world can’t define the mood and meaning a director strives to achieve. That’s where music often steps in. The right song supports the film’s tone and tells a deeper story within its greater arc.

From an exciting battle cry to easing in the ending credits, truly memorable scenes using music take a life of their own for the story and audience. These 6 iconic scenes below capture the significance and creative use of music in film.

If you’re curious to watch (which we recommend!) many are available on a number of accessible streaming channels.

Footloose (1984)

Moving into a new town requires adjustment to a different culture. What happens when a drastic shift impedes one’s ability for self-expression? In director Herbert Ross’s Footloose, Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) faces off against a small Midwestern town’s declaration to illegalize dancing and rock music. Left to hide his passion from others, Cormack yields his body across a dusty warehouse to Never by Moving Pictures. Though the film’s ending finally lets the town’s teens celebrate their victory party, the warehouse dance-off amplifies McCormack’s fight for freedom and rock n roll.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Sometimes a popular song is what a superhero needs to find their footing again. As of late, no one’s been more worthy of this than Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Throughout Thor: Ragnarok, he deals with his father’s passing, loses his eye, discovers his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is also the Goddess of Death, falls into his brother’s traps, and struggles to find his place in the universe without his powers. As his home of Asgard fights off Hela’s army, the God of Thunder’s powers finally kicks in to Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song. Though Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) became a massive hit with its retro-centered soundtrack, director Taiki Waititi’s vision replaced a traditional theme song to mark a victorious comeback for its hero and his companions.

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

From highlighting Vogue-worthy costume design to celebrating a couple’s happily ever after, music is synonymous with romantic comedies. If a scene calls for actors to sing a song, most productions use pre-recorded tracks to lip-sync. Instead, My Best Friend’s Wedding gives the cast the chance to nervously sing aloud on their own. Journalist Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) races to end her best friend Michael’s (Dermot Mulroney) wedding and convince him to marry her. When she uses her co-worker George (Rupert Everett) to make Michael jealous, he aims for payback by initiating an a cappella version of Dionne Warwick’s I Say A Little Prayer For You. It doesn’t backfire as the audience expects. Instead, the entire restaurant, including Michael’s wedding party, joins in.

Say Anything (1989)

For more than 30 years, Say Anything epitomized grand romantic gestures. After dating and sharing an intimate night, Diane (Ione Sky) breaks up with her boyfriend Lloyd (John Cusack) out of fear for her father’s wellbeing. Despite his friends suggesting he walks away, Lloyd arrives outside of Diane’s house holding a boombox playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel over his head.

The scene seems simple enough to execute. But it almost ended up on the cutting room floor. From the cast asking for a subtler moment to striving to find the right song, director Cameron Crowe struggled to fully realize his idea. Everything rested on finding the right song. Coincidentally, Crowe came across Gabriel’s rock ballad and convinced the artist to acquire the rights for use. The rest they say is history as the image of Lloyd trying to win Diane back still lives on.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Rolling Stone declared director Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction as one of the world’s coolest mixtapes and we certainly agree! Tarantino’s work remains renowned for crafting his films around a specific theme of song styles. As one of the most popular movie soundtracks, he sets Pulp Fiction apart by blending genres such as surfer rock and oldies with ease. While eating at a 1950s-themed restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim’s, hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and his boss’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) strut their hips in a twist contest to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. While the music remains memorable throughout this 1994 classic, the enigmatic dance scene etched itself into cinema history.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director John Hughes cemented the brat pack genre throughout the 1980s. The beloved dramedy The Breakfast Club soothes the angst of high school as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal spend a Saturday afternoon in detention. After exalting their deepest fears and surviving the day together with a hotheaded principal out to ruin their future, John Bender (Judd Nelson) pumps his fist in the air to Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds. The song signifies how the group managed to tear down their labels. However, they’ll continue to uphold their reputations. The track became an unforgettable earworm for anyone who enjoys the film and also eases the audience into feeling as triumphant as the characters.

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