Before the spoken word made its way to the silver screen, music was essential for capturing the emotions in films. We’re a long way from the first “talkies,” but music remains a powerful medium for conveying feelings in movies.
So it’s no surprise that some of the most memorable songs have come from the silver screen. And out of Hollywood’s wide repertoire, these are, without a doubt, some of the most iconic film soundtrack songs of all time.
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- Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger (Actors)
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
According to one study that researched references across 47,000 different films, The Wizard of Oz is one of the single most influential films of all time. So it’s no wonder that the first song on our list is the movie’s hit “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The song, sung by legendary actress Judy Garland, dreams wistfully of a place where life is better. The song captured the hearts of an America still battling its way out of the Great Depression. Covers from artists like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole have kept the song relevant even 80 years later.
- Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
- Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal (Actors)
“Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)
The image of Audrey Hepburn in a black dress with a string of pearls, a dainty tiara, and a pair of sunglasses lingers in the minds of American film-goers to this day. The song her character sings later in the movie, called “Moon River,” is as iconic as her look.
Even so, the idealistic ditty by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer nearly ended up cut after an early screening. When Hepburn heard about it, she reportedly responded, “over my dead body.” Needless to say, the song stayed and won an Oscar for Best Song and two Grammies, including Song of the Year.
“My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic, 1997)
Few films capture the scope of the word “blockbuster,” quite like Titanic. Along with being one of the top three Oscar-winning films, it held the title of the highest-grossing film of all time for 13 years. And “My Heart Will Go On” is as well-known as the film.
However, like “Moon River,” this song was also nearly removed from the film. Director James Cameron was uninterested in a vocal version of the film’s instrumental love theme, and Celine Dion didn’t want to sing on another soundtrack.
But James Horner and Will Jennings pushed forward, and the song won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and four Grammies.
“Hallelujah” (Shrek, 2001)
After the last choices, Shrek may seem like a curious pick for a list of the most iconic film soundtrack songs of all time. But besides being a beloved part of countless childhoods, this film became part of the legacy of the song “Hallelujah.”
Leonard Cohen, a musician who made it later in life, wrote this song decades before Shrek. However, after the film featured it in its soundtrack, it exploded in popularity. Now it has featured on countless soundtracks, and myriad artists have covered it.
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