A truly great opening song can draw you in, pump you up, and build suspense. The best ones can set the tone for an entire movie.
Here’s our list of the 10 best movie opening songs.
10. Boogie Nights: “Best of My Love,” the Emotions
All is well in the disco-loving world of professional porn productions, or so this song and the sweeping opening scene seem to believe. And somehow you can’t help but just agree and bob along.
Key Lyric: “Demonstrating sweet love and affection/That you give so openly, yeah.”
9. Watchmen: “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Bob Dylan
In the alternate universe that Watchmen inhabits, any number of iconic moments took place just a little bit differently than we remember them. In the famous “V-J Day” photo of a jubilant kiss, the nurse is no longer dipped by a sailor, but rather by Silhouette. Dr. Manhattan shakes hands with President Kennedy. Dylan’s song is apt both in subject and title and an interesting contrast in style to the gorgeously pseudo-comic bas-relief intro.
Key Lyric: “For the wheel’s still in spin/And there’s no tellin’ who/That it’s namin’/For the loser now/Will be later to win.”
8. Cars: “Real Gone,” Sheryl Crow
What, you might ask, is a cartoon doing on this list? Ever since Disney started releasing features, great music has figured prominently in animated fare — and nowhere more so than in Pixar films like Toy Story. But Cars wins for pairing Sheryl Crow’s song about lost small-town values with the story of a big-city star who learns to appreciate what’s been left behind.
Key Lyric: “We been driving this road for a mighty long time/Payin’ no mind to the signs/Well this neighborhood’s changed, it’s all been rearranged/We left that change somewhere behind.”
7. Diamonds Are Forever: “Diamonds Are Forever,” Shirley Bassey
This über-stylish intro combines white cats, dark lighting and lots and lots of bling. The song is even cooler. ‘Nuff said.
Key Lyric: “Unlike men, the diamonds linger/Men are mere mortals who/Are not worth going to your grave for.”
6. Dog Day Afternoon: “Amoreena,” Elton John
It’s a slice of life in early-1970s Brooklyn, a hot summer snapshot of sidewalks, ferries, bodegas, construction workers, people playing tennis, old men lounging at the beach, garbage piling up, the flag coming down … and, finally, Al Pacino sitting in a car casing a bank, while on the car radio is playing the incongruously country’fied song.
Key Lyric: “Living like a lusty flower, running through the grass for hours/Rolling through the hay like a puppy child.”
5. Up in the Air: “This Land Is Your Land,” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
This funky, soulful rendition of the Woody Guthrie
standard — with its patriotic-yet-countercultural undertones — are set to some
remarkably beautiful flyover images of the U.S. Yearning and awe are mixed in
equal parts, and that feeling pervades the nuanced and affecting film.
Key Lyric: “As I was
walking a ribbon of highway/I saw above me an endless skyway.”
4. Joe Versus the Volcano: “Sixteen Tons,” Eric Burdon
What is almost certainly the oddest Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie — and the most underrated — starts off with one grim, dark depiction of workaday drones. Attributed to Merle Travis and covered by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Tom Jones, the song was originally about a coal miner but works just as well for Joe’s anal-probe-factory job.
Key Lyric: “Another day older and deeper in debt/Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go/I owe my soul to the company store.”
3. Do the Right Thing:
“Fight the Power,” Public Enemy
Music plays a critical role in this important
film about the complex interplay of racial tensions, a sweltering summer day,
and a mixed neighborhood. It’s also, despite all that, really funny. “Fight the
Power” figures later in one of the most violent scenes, but here it’s
punctuated only by a young Rosie Perez dancing and boxing on a stylized city
Key Lyric: “Our
freedom of speech is freedom or death/We’ve got to fight the powers that be.”
2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” Richard O’Brien
Those lips! As soon as you see them floating toward you on a black screen, you know you’re in for a different sort of cinematic experience. And then they start singing, and the cavalcade of classic scifi-movie references (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, The Invisible Man, et. al.) and dramatic orchestration set the mood for this cult classic. Though the vocals were courtesy of the song’s composer, Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff), the lips were Patricia Quinn’s (Magenta).
Key Lyric: “And Flash Gordon was there/In silver underwear.”
1. Pulp Fiction: “Misirlou,” Dick Dale & the Del-Tones
Quentin Tarantino’s postmodern masterpiece weaves together unforgettable stories and characters, framed by the diner stickup by Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer). In the opening, they calmly discuss the relative merits of robbing a bank, a liquor store, or the restaurant they’re sitting in. Then they kiss, pull out their guns, make some energetically foul-mouthed threats and the image freezes as the 1961 surfer-cool song comes on. Roll credits. Perfection.
Key Lyric: Nope. With guitar licks this cool, who needs ‘em?