Special Report

The Greatest Songs From American Movies

What would movies be without music? As far back as the silent era, accompanying musicians (often organists) or small orchestras were fundamental to the moviegoing experience. Today, major films produce a legion of best-selling soundtracks — and often memorable songs that remain popular long after the films themselves have been forgotten. (Here’s the most popular movie soundtrack every year since 1964).

To assemble a list of the 50 greatest songs from American movies, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a ranking by the American Film Institute entitled “100 Years…100 Songs.”

AFI members nominated some 400 memorable songs, from throughout movie history, for consideration, then a panel of jurors ranked them according to these criteria: Songs had to come from English-language feature films; they had to “set a tone or mood, define character, advance plot, and/or express the film’s themes in a manner that elevates the moving image art form;” and they had to have had cultural impact, becoming part of our collective memory of the film itself and resonating across the decades.

Click here to see the 50 greatest songs from American movies

From Julie Andrews and Diсk Van Dyke singing “Supercalifragilisticeexpialidocious” to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” each song on our list enhances the enduring iconography of the film it comes from. Of course, don’t take that to mean they’re employed toward similar ends. Movies run the full gamut of ideas and emotions and so too do the songs they feature. (These are the 50 absolute best songs in history.) 

Take the aforementioned example of  “Supercalifragilisticeexpialidocious,” which delivers pure escapist fantasy. By contrast, “Fight the Power” is a call to action with overt socio-political messaging. A song like “Wind Beneath My Wings” invokes sadness while “Rock Around the Clock” instantly transports us to a bygone era. These songs and others like them help movies evoke emotional experiences. Movies wouldn’t be the same without them. 

50. “Rock Around the Clock”
> Composer(s): Bill Haley and the Comets
> Performer(s): Bill Haley and the Comets
> Movie: Blackboard Jungle

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49. “Make ‘Em Laugh”
> Composer(s): Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed
> Performer(s): Donald O Connor
> Movie: Singin’ in the Rain

48. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)”
> Composer(s): Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
> Performer(s): Doris Day
> Movie: The Man Who Knew Too Much

47. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”
> Composer(s): Allie Wrubel, Ray Gilbert
> Performer(s): James Baskett
> Movie: Song of the South

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46. “Don’t Rain On My Parade”
> Composer(s): Jule Styne, Bob Merrill
> Performer(s): Barbra Streisand
> Movie: Funny Girl

45. “That’s Entertainment”
> Composer(s): Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz
> Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant
> Movie: The Band Wagon

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44. “Wind Beneath My Wings”
> Composer(s): Larry Henley, Jeff Silbar
> Performer(s): Bettie Midler
> Movie: Beaches

43. “The Way You Look Tonight”
> Composer(s): Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields
> Performer(s): Fred Astaire
> Movie: Swing Time

42. “Luck Be A Lady”
> Composer(s): Frank Loesser
> Performer(s): Marlon Brando, Ensemble
> Movie: Guys and Dolls

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41. “New York, New York”
> Composer(s): Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green
> Performer(s): Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin
> Movie: On the Town

40. “Fight the Power”
> Composer(s): Carlton Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee
> Performer(s): Public Enemy
> Movie: Do the Right Thing

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39. “Days of Wine and Roses”
> Composer(s): Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer
> Performer(s): Chorus
> Movie: Days of Wine and Roses

38. “Theme from Shaft”
> Composer(s): Isaac Hayes
> Performer(s): Isaac Hayes, Chorus
> Movie: Shaft

37. “Swinging on a Star”
> Composer(s): James Van Heusen, Johnny Burke
> Performer(s): Bing Crosby
> Movie: Going My Way

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36. “Supercalifragilisticeexpialidocious”
> Composer(s): Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
> Performer(s): Julie Andrews, Diсk Van Dyke, Ensemble
> Movie: Mary Poppins

35. “America”
> Composer(s): Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim
> Performer(s): Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Ensemble
> Movie: West Side Story

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34. “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”
> Composer(s): George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
> Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers
> Movie: Shall We Dance

33. “Aquarius”
> Composer(s): Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado
> Performer(s): Ren Woods, Ensemble
> Movie: Hair

32. “I Got Rhythm”
> Composer(s): George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
> Performer(s): Gene Kelly
> Movie: An American in Paris

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31. “Theme from New York, New York”
> Composer(s): John Kander, Fred Ebb
> Performer(s): Liza Minnelli
> Movie: New York, New York

30. “Stormy Weather”
> Composer(s): Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler
> Performer(s): Lena Horne
> Movie: Stormy Weather

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29. “Born to Be Wild”
> Composer(s): Mars Bonfire
> Performer(s): Steppenwolf
> Movie: Easy Rider

28. “Some Enchanted Evening”
> Composer(s): Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
> Performer(s): Rossano Brazzi
> Movie: South Pacific

27. “Unchained Melody”
> Composer(s): Alex North, Hy Zaret
> Performer(s): The Righteous Brothers
> Movie: Ghost

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26. “The Trolley Song”
> Composer(s): Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane
> Performer(s): Judy Garland
> Movie: Meet Me in St. Louis

25. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin)”
> Composer(s): Dimitri Tiomkin, Ned Washington
> Performer(s): Tex Ritter
> Movie: High Noon

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24. “Ol’ Man River”
> Composer(s): Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II
> Performer(s): Paul Robeson
> Movie: Show Boat

23. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”
> Composer(s): Burt Bacharach, Hal David
> Performer(s): B.J. Thomas
> Movie: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

22. “Everybody’s Talkin'”
> Composer(s): Fred Neil
> Performer(s): Harry Nilsson
> Movie: Midnight Cowboy

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21. “Jailhouse Rock”
> Composer(s): Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
> Performer(s): Elvis Presley
> Movie: Jailhouse Rock

20. “Somewhere”
> Composer(s): Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim
> Performer(s): Natalie Wood (voiced by Marni Nixon), Richard Beymer (voiced by Jimmy Bryant)
> Movie: West Side Story

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19. “Some Day My Prince Will Come”
> Composer(s): Frank Churchill, Larry Morey
> Performer(s): Adriana Caselotti
> Movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

18. “Cabaret”
> Composer(s): John Kander, Fred Ebb
> Performer(s): Liza Minnelli
> Movie: Cabaret

17. “I Could Have Danced All Night”
> Composer(s): Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
> Performer(s): Audrey Hepburn (voiced by Marni Nixon)
> Movie: My Fair Lady

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16. “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)”
> Composer(s): Barbra Striesand, Paul Williams
> Performer(s): Barbra Streisand
> Movie: A Star Is Born

15. “Cheek to Cheek”
> Composer(s): Irving Berlin
> Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers
> Movie: Top Hat

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14. “My Heart Will Go On”
> Composer(s): James Horner, Will Jennings
> Performer(s): Celine Dion
> Movie: Titanic

13. “People”
> Composer(s): Jule Styne, Bob Merrill
> Performer(s): Barbra Streisand
> Movie: Funny Girl

12. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”
> Composer(s): Jule Styne, Leo Robin
> Performer(s): Marilyn Monroe
> Movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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11. “Man That Got Away, The”
> Composer(s): Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin
> Performer(s): Judy Garland
> Movie: A Star Is Born

10. “Sound of Music, The”
> Composer(s): Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
> Performer(s): Julie Andrews
> Movie: The Sound of Music

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9. “Stayin’ Alive”
> Composer(s): Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb
> Performer(s): The Bee Gees
> Movie: Saturday Night Fever

8. “The Way We Were”
> Composer(s): Marvin Hamlisch, Alan and Marilyn Bergman
> Performer(s): Barbara Streisand
> Movie: The Way We Were

7. “When You Wish Upon a Star”
> Composer(s): Leigh Harline, Ned Washington
> Performer(s): Cliff Edwards
> Movie: Pinocchio

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6. “Mrs. Robinson”
> Composer(s): Paul Simon
> Performer(s): Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel
> Movie: The Graduate

5. “White Christmas”
> Composer(s): Irving Berlin
> Performer(s): Bing Crosby
> Movie: Holiday Inn

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4. “Moon River”
> Composer(s): Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer
> Performer(s): Audrey Hepburn
> Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

3. “Singin’ in the Rain”
> Composer(s): Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed
> Performer(s): Gene Kelly
> Movie: Singin’ in the Rain

2. “As Time Goes By”
> Composer(s): Herman Hupfeld
> Performer(s): Dooley Wilson
> Movie: Casablanca

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1. “Over the Rainbow”
> Composer(s): Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg
> Performer(s): Judy Garland
> Movie: The Wizard of Oz

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