An animated girl-power narrative undermines its entire message with a cringingly cheesy soundtrack. A way-modern band shatters the illusion of a period film. Two superheroes decide to consummate their relationship in-costume, only for the mournful strains of Leonard Cohen to completely kill the mood. Music choice is everything, but especially in genre stories where you have a specific world and tone to match.
Many unsuitable songs are shoehorned into genre movies and television series, the worst ones coming off so anathema to the scene being set that they make viewers say “huh?” Below, we list songs that did that for us, but we also list instances where the music paired with a movie absolutely kills it. Relive the greatness and badness of these songs! (And add your own!)
Songs That Didn’t Work For Us
- Every song on the Brave soundtrack: Every song is cheesy as all-get-out—not to mention Celtic fakiness—and overall they just don’t fit with the action.
- “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Armageddon: The song that kicked off this list. Is this a love song for Liv Tyler and her fiancé Ben Affleck, or a love song for Liv Tyler and her dad Bruce Willis? Or her actual dad Steven Tyler? The meaning gets really muddled.
- “Hallelujah,” Watchmen: No no never why would you have sex to this song? Also a poor choice for Shrek.
- “Where My Heart Will Take Me,” Star Trek: Enterprise: a.k.a., the awful country-rock theme song for the terminally confused Enterprise, a.k.a. the theme song for Patch Adams. Shudder.
- “Everything I Do, I Do It for You,” Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: So cheesy!
- “Batdance,” Batman: Batno. The music video, yes, but Batno otherwise.
- “Hero,” Spider-Man: One strike for being Nickelback, two more strikes for lyrics like I’ll hold on to the wings of the eagles / Watch as they all fly away… At no point has Spider-Man had wings.
- “Shut Up and Drive,” Wreck-It Ralph: The one flaw in this perfect movie.
- “Analyse,” The Prestige: Why is Thom Yorke singing in a period film?
- Power ballad versions of Disney songs during the end credits.
- Really, most credits songs.
Songs That Did Work
- “All Star,” Mystery Men: Overplayed in its time but a decent karaoke tune, just right for a group of superhero misfits. Also a great choice for Shrek.
- “Batdance,” Batman. It works so poorly for the movie that it comes right back around to working perfectly. It helps that the Joker really sells it on camera.
- “Immortals,” Big Hero 6: What worked for us was that it had just enough Nickelbackian bombast to work well in a superhero movie, but also enough interesting production values to sound like something a 14-year-old would actually like. Plus, it’s short and ends on a real note, rather than just repeating a meaningless chorus over and over. Even sweeter, the band members said that the lyrics were inspired “by the kid stepping up on behalf of his brother” and that “it was insane how much it lined up with the way our band saw the world.”
- “Where Is My Mind,” Fight Club: Just as iconic as the exploding buildings at the end of Fight Club is this Pixies song. Perfectly sums up the movie.
- “Kiss from a Rose,” Batman Forever: The definition of guilty pleasure.
- “You Can’t Take the Sky from Me,” Firefly: A creator writing the theme song for his space cowboy show could have gone awfully wrong, but Joss Whedon’s ode to space cowboys sums up the show perfectly.
- “Power of Love,” Back to the Future: The perfect ’80s movie just gets more deliciously ’80s as soon as that synth revs up.
- “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Doctor Who, “Mummy on the Orient Express”: Not only is it a great Queen cover, but Foxes’ rendition really set the tone for the episode.
- “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Shaun of the Dead: ALL QUEEN IN EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. But even if it weren’t about Freddie Mercury, the tandem in-time beating of a zombie with pool cues might be one of cinema’s greatest moments.
- “Sinner Man,” Sherlock: This is all a question of composition. The glorious editing incorporated into the opening of Moriarty’s trial. The inevitability of that piano as the song starts. The use of this number is chillingly foreboding, and it introduced a lot of people to the late, great Nina Simone. Which just makes it better.
- “Higher and Higher,” Ghostbusters 2: Beginning the film with the Ghostbusters as has-beens adds some bleak reality to a fantastical story. The break-up of Dana and Venkman is also key, since it forces him to woo her again, and really all movies should be required to woo Sigourney Weaver. Using such a joyful song as a focal point works well as a counterpoint to the rest of the movie. Showing us how anger-slime works in the sweet toaster scene is great, but then paying that scene off with a dancing Statue of Liberty… Well, maybe it shouldn’t have worked, but we’re with them all the way. She’s a harbor chick. She’ll be fine.
- The entire Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack: Well, except for one track. See below.
Songs We’re on the Fence About
- “All Along the Watchtower,” Battlestar Galactica: In the moment, it was just eerie enough to act as a sleeper Cylon trigger. But then seemingly everyone started using it, which just diluted the effect.
- “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” Guardians of the Galaxy: There is no redemption for it. A whole forest of Groots couldn’t make this song okay.
What songs did and didn’t work for you? Tell us in the comments!