Top 17 Most Overused Movie Soundtrack Songs

February 27, 2012 | Lists

"Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees"

Music to strut by

Have you ever been at a movie and left dumbstruck by images of Piccadilly Circus or Big Ben — wondering upon which exotic foreign locale your heroes were descending only for a blast of “London Calling” to erase all doubts? That’s what movie soundtracks do, they offer context and set moods – when something is by Jeff Buckley or Radiohead, belly laughs are not appropriate if other people are around.

Most soundtrack inclusions are obvious choices. In his book Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed, critic Richard Roeper found 11 instances in which the James Brown tune “I Feel Good” is played when a character is, well, feeling good. Not surprisingly it isn’t a tune that’s featured after a desert snake bite or when the doctor has just diagnosed dysentery on a ship. (That said, some choices can cause confusion, such as the use of “Singin’ in the Rain” during a scene of horrific violence in A Clockwork Orange – despite an obvious lack of precipitation.)

Soundtracks are an indispensable part of the movie-going experience. Think of how creepy and unnatural romantic comedy sightseeing montages would be without accompanying music and the bikini doffings just aren’t the same without leering bass lines. But there are some songs that have been used so often many are now either only used ironically or in films so devoid of creativity they need to write a royalty check to someone who probably already has a shoebox full of receipts from past ones. Someone has to put a stop to that gravy train and we’re doing it here with our list of the Most Overused Movie Soundtrack Songs.

17. Bad to the Bone (George Thorogood)

"Arnold in the Terminator"

Back when this song was not used strictly for irony.

Uses: This is a very versatile song. Because it has “bone” in the title, it can be used for the kinds of actors you have to clean up after (dogs, that is – not the rehab-bound).

However, it’s also a favorite for scenes where a former wimp undergoes some sort of transformation and the Thorogood number kicks in as he makes his reappearance (for added effect, said opening shot should begin at the hero’s feet and move slowly up).

Featured In: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Megamind, Joe Dirt, The Parent Trap, Talk Radio, Problem Child, Problem Child 2, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Talk Radio.

Dishonorable Mention: Oh Yeah (Yello)

Uses: Frequently for the shedding of a bikini top in front of a teen virgin.

Featured In: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Waking up in Reno, Soul Plane, Not Another Teen Movie, She’s Out of Control, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, K-9

16. Wouldn’t it Be Nice (Beach Boys)

Uses: A romantic comedy staple that you’re sure to encounter on a Transatlantic flight as your seatmate furrows a brow wondering if the impossibly good-looking interior designer / wedding planner / fashion editor will go for the rich snob or the rumpled slob who’s pining after her.

Featured In: Hall Pass, It’s Complicated, I Could Never be Your Woman, 50 First Dates, Bubble Boy, What’s Cooking?, Roger and Me, One Crazy Summer, The Big Chill

Dishonorable Mention:  California Girls (Beach Boys or David Lee Roth)

Uses: Films that make you glad that all women are indeed not California girls.

Featured In: Rock Star, Meet the Parents, Taken, Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey!, Rush Hour II, Soul Man
Down and Out in Beverly Hills, A View to a Kill

"Sweet Home Alabama movie"15. Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Uses: A standard in any movie where cleanliness is not next to godliness, dust is liable to be kicked up and a lunatic hillbilly is driving around with a shotgun. Also in any film relating to the state of Alabama, which is kind of the same thing.

This has become such a cliched movie song that it somehow morphed into an actual film starring Reese Witherspoon.

Featured In: Despicable Me, The Girl Next Door, Sahara, An American Carol, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sweet Home Alabama, 8 Mile, Excess Baggage, Con Air, To Die For, Crimson Tide, Forrest Gump, Outside Providence

14. Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-a-lot)

Uses: The musical accompaniment to a  rump-shaking and indeed your ass is what you will want to get out of the theater if the film you’re watching uses this tune. Witness the cinematic horrors below:

Featured In: The House Bunny, Blonde Ambition, Scary Movie 4, Big Momma’s House 2, Shark Tale, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Gigli, Jackass: The Movie, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Charlie’s Angels

13. Walkin’ on Sunshine (Katrina & the Waves)

Uses: Sunshine is universally perceived as happy despite its nasty effects on people with freckled complexions. You’re unlikely to see Joe Pesci collecting gambling debts or hit-men puncturing retinas to the strains of this disposable 80s confection.

Featured In: Herbie Fully Loaded, Ella Enchanted, Daddy Day Care, Master of Disguise, High Fidelity, Bean, Look Who’s Talking, The Secret of my Succe$s, American Psycho, Into the Wild Green Yonder, and the trailer for Bye Bye Love. 

12. Atomic Dog (P-Funk)

Future blog: Horrible puns used in animal movie posters.

Uses: For an audience with a Pavlovian response to something cute and furry appearing on screen or a male character behaving like a scoundrel to the tune’s “bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yay” rhythmic panting.

Featured In: Breakin’ All the Rules, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, Rugrats go Wild, Bruce Almighty, Joe Dirt, See Spot Run, 10 Things I Hate About You, Menace II Society, Boomerang

Dishonorable Mention: Who Let the Dogs Out? (Baha Men)

Uses: As above. This song made its way into Rolling Stone Magazine’s Worst Songs of the 90s, a decade that brought us not only stiff competition such as Achy Breaky Heart but Barbie Girl and I’m Too Sexy. In fact, this would get serious consideration for worst song of all time if Black Eyed Peas, the worst band of all time, hadn’t put out My Humps.

Featured In: The Shaggy Dog, Men in Black II, The Hangover, Racing Stripes, Rat Race, Bubble Boy, Rugrats in Paris

11. Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf)

Uses: It’s been tried on several occasions, but thus far it’s been impossible for anyone on film to put a key in the ignition of a hot sports car (or a jalopy if someone is about to light out on an adventure) without “Born to be Wild” (“Get your motor runnin’…) automatically piping up.

Sure, on occasion “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys is employed (“Round round get around…I get around!”) when a teen is sneaking out with whatever product placement ride the producers have pre-approved for his parents, but it’s not as common.

Featured In: Borat, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Herbie Fully Loaded, Sleepover, Connie and Carla, Dr Doolittle 2, Recess: School’s Out, D3: The Mighty Ducks, Speechless, Problem Child, Robocop 2, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, Lost in America, Opportunity Knocks, Easy Rider

10. All Star (Smash Mouth) and Semi-Charmed Life (Third Eye Blind)

Uses: Two terrible 90s acts that had the market cornered on movie trailers. “All Star” is possibly the more annoying of the two and has been overplayed to death not only in films, but commercials for Doritos and Toyota, the world’s worst entrance music for UFC fighter Alessio Sakara and, in a Hal 9000 horror sort of way, as the wake-up music for the Space Shuttle Discovery crew in 2006.

“Semi-Charmed Life” is musical poison – a paean to partying that was written as a  response to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and is a celebration of crystal meth whose lyrics were often excised in PG fare.

All-Star Featured In: Shrek the Third, Rat Race, Shrek, Inspector Gadget, Mystery Men

Semi Charmed Life Featured In: American Pie, Wild Things, She’s So Lovely, Contact, A Lot Like Love

9. Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum) (tie) Kung Fu Fightin’ (Carl Douglas)

Uses: According to Greenbaum, the song appeals to an inner self and need for redemption, a feeling anyone who sat through all 105 minutes of John Travolta’s Michael would’ve undoubtedly felt.

Featured In: W, Jesus Camp, The Longest Yard, Ocean’s Eleven, Remember the Titans, Saving Grace, Superstar, Universal Soldier II, A Simple Plan, My Name is Joe, Contact, Michael, Apollo 13, Wayne’s World, Maid to Order

Kung Fu Fighting:

Uses: Wait for it…Kung…Fu…Fighting and not for a doctoral dissertation presentation or synchronized swimming montage.

Featured In: Kung Fu Panda, Rush Hour 3, Epic Movie, Roll Bounce, Child Star, Daddy Daycare, City of God, Beverly Hills Ninja, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, I’m Gonna Git you Sucka


8. Let’s Get it On (Marvin Gaye)

Uses: Perverting the order of the universe, the completely unappealing hero gets the girl and does things to her which ups the movie’s rating from PG.

Featured In: The Change-up, Marmaduke, The Bounty Hunter, Frankie and Alice, Blades of Glory, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Something’s Gotta Give, Crossroads, High Fidelity, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Love Stinks, The Taking of Beverly Hills, Nine Months

7. Why Can’t We Be Friends? (War)

Uses: Friends, frequently the male-bonding kind and less frequently, after someone catches a beating and pleads for mercy with this musical question.

Featured In: College Road Trip, The Nanny Diaries, Semi Pro, Bridge to Terabithia, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Mr 3000, Welcome to Mooseport, Cheats, Wild Things, The Mexican, BASEketball, Lethal Weapon 4, Dazed and Confused

6. I Will Survive (As performed by Gloria Gaynor)

Uses: The song, which George Carlin called one of the most embarrassing of all time, shows no signs of dying off.

Every drag queen is somehow contractually obligated to entertain a couple in a seedy bar with this.

Featured In: Valentine’s Day, New in Town, Meet the Spartans, Delta Farce, Chicken Little, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mambo Italiano, Boat Trip, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Men in Black II, Dr Doolitle 2, Living it Up, Man on the Moon, Coyote Ugly, I Still Know what You Did Last Summer, Selena, Butterfly Kiss

5. What a Wonderful World (many versions)

Uses: Nothing conveys pathos, inoperable brain tumors and and all around decrepitude and desolation better than this. Perfect for someone about to be deported or riding a long-haul bus well into the closing credits.

Featured In: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, W, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Madagascar, Son of the Mask, Going the Distance, Freaky Friday, What a Girl Wants, Finding Forrester, Meet Joe Black
Twelve Monkeys, Michael, Good Morning, Vietnam, Bowling for Columbine, Women Talking Dirty

4. I Got You (I Feel Good) (James Brown)

Uses: As mentioned earlier, this one’s not for a couple awaiting pregnancy test results or for malarial dream sequences, but for feeling good.

This was once the go-to funk for comedy films but has strangely appeared in Exit Wounds and Transformers. We never saw either but it’s possible Steven Segal tried on several comically over-sized hats in a shopping montage.

Featured In: Exit Wounds, Transformers, Who’s Harry Crumb, Mr 3000, Garfield, K-9, Mrs Doubtfire, The Nutty Professor, Showtime, White Men Can’t Jump, Mr Destiny, Good Morning Vietnam

3. Respect (As performed by Aretha Franklin)

Uses: Romantic comedies or as a temporal reference for period pieces so as not to confuse anyone who was asleep or super-sizing things at the concession stand when the caption indicated it was 1967. An occasional karaoke choice on television to scold a straying boyfriend.

Featured In: Akeelah and the Bee, The Ringer, Are we There Yet?, Ella Enchanted, Two Weeks Notice, Rat Race, Bridget Jone’s Diary, Bicentennial Man, Dangerous Minds, Confidence Forrest Gump, Cold Justice, The Allnighter, Platoon, Back to School, St Elmo’s Fire, Desperately Seeking Susan, Airplane! and countless TV shows and specials.

2. Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees)

Uses: It’s virtually impossible to walk down any city street with purpose without this bass-line following your every step and the camera following your footwear.

Featured In: The Bounty Hunter, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Meet Dave, Young @ Heart, Chicken Little, Madagascar, Strange Bedfellows, Baby Geniuses, A Night at the Roxbury, Mars Attacks!, Swingers, Grumpier Old Men, Let it be Me, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Mr. Saturday Night, Supercop, Honey I Blew up the Kid, Cadillac Man, Look Who’s Talking

1. Over the Rainbow (Written by Harold Arlen and performed on a ukelele by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole or sung by Judy Garland)

Uses: Chosen when the rights to Wonderful World can’t be secured. Frequent closing credits song choice so audience members have something to hum in the lobby. The Ukulele-plucked version by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole  is for more thoughtful films whose total target demographic equals a late night infomercial dubbed into Spanish. “Rainbow” was penned by Harold Arlen of Buffalo, the city’s greatest cultural export if you don’t count personal injury attorney ads.

Featured In: 9, Fred Claus, Little Nicky, Made in America, Finding Forrester, Alpha Dog, Milk, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 50 First Dates, You’ve Got Mail, Meet Joe Black, Contact, Face/Off, Selena, One Fine Day, Unconditional Love, Sleepless in Seattle, Made in America, International Velvet, Pink Panther Strikes Again, Dr Phibes Rises Again and probably more (also featured in 30 + TV series and too many documentaries and TV specials to reference).

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15 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. How do film makers let us know someone is “cool” and rebellious?… by playing Joan Jett’s – Bad Reputation.
    (Kick Ass, 10 Things I Hate About You, Baby Mama, Easy A,
    Shrek, National Lampoon’s- Endless Bummer, I Melt With You and every extreme sport DVD ever!)

    Makes me want to bust a cap in hollywood’s ass!

  2. Most of these songs have also been used as motivational or inspirational songs. I think it gives a sense of nostalgia.

  3. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” also was featured in “The Replacements” with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman. (

    • Thank you! For the life of me, I couldn’t recall what movie “I Will Survive” was in and it wasn’t listed here. It was the hilarious dance routine in the jail in “The Replacements”.

  4. Greate post! My wife and me find and listen all these songs… it was a fun time.

  5. There’s another song (possibly instrumental) that’s driving me crazy, it’s in Anchorman 1, I believe, looked it up and can’t find it. It’s when the guys are walking down the street and there’s a bassy-sounding few chords played (sorry, I don’t know much about music). Would you happen to know what that might be?

  6. Generally I do not read article on blogs, however I wish to say
    that this write-up very compelled me to check
    out and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thanks, quite nice article.

  7. There was a time – 1990s/2000s – when it seemed like “Good Lovin'” was in every single trailer I saw. That song is nearly fifty years old.

  8. What, no mention of ANY version, original or cover, of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? I mean, the man himself said it had been overdone to the point that he never wanted to hear it in a movie soundtrack again…

  9. how about gimme shelter by the rolling stones? I thinks that song also

  10. I just made a playlist of these songs because they’re all so good, follow me on spotify!!!!!!!!

  11. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking a few minutes and
    actual effort to make a great article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

  12. It’s like you’re on a misosin to save me time and money!

  13. Hello everyone, it’s my first pay a visit at this web page, and post is truly fruitful for me, keep up posting these articles.

  14. That’s an ingenious way of thinking about it.

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