Overused Songs in Movies

Music in Film

The soundtrack can make or break a movie. On the surface, this can appear superficial, as all of the acting, filming and directing means nothing unless the right piece of audio is played over the top of it.

When you watch a film, you take in what you see, and you take in what you hear. The audio makes a huge difference to a scene, which is how some directors have become renowned for their use of music in their films.

Martin Scorsese, particularly in his masterpiece Goodfellas, uses songs to set each and every one of his scenes. He will play a piece of music that fulfils two purposes. It must fit the era and the lyrics must have some relevance to the scene.

Take the iconic tracking shot, where Henry and Karen walk through the Copacabana. “And Then He Kissed Me” is the backing song, and it was clearly chosen for its happy melody and lyrics that summarise the couple’s relationship so far. The scene doesn’t show the pair kiss, it isn’t too on the nose, but it is the perfect selection for the scene, and has gone down as one of the most artistic moments in Scorsese’s career.


Compare this, then, to when “London Calling” is played in Atomic Blonde, Die Another Day, Friends or Get Him to the Greek. What does this achieve? What is original, iconic or innovative about the use of this song in these films? More importantly, what do the scenes in which London Calling is played have in common in each film?

The main character has gone to London. The song, a very good song, has become a cliché in cinema. Much like characters looking away pensively after someone got angry with them, some movies use music that doesn’t so much as set the scene, but shoves the scene down the audience’ face, leaving no room for intrigue or interest.

There are some songs that, if played, damages the movie’s status as an artistic endeavour. This isn’t to say that films like Atomic Blonde or Die Another Day are bad, more that the director and creators are relying on the creativity of The Clash, rather than their own ingenuity to inform the audience that the characters are in London.

This was one of the major complaints levelled at Suicide Squad, as the DC disappointment over relied on pop songs and great music to give the audience a good time, rather than through the use of character development and writing.

As the movie moves towards Alabama, “Sweet Home Alabama” is the tune. Why? This does very little for the progression of the movie, but will undoubtedly have fans tapping their feet and enjoying the scene, because of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s memorable guitar intro.

This is the biggest audio crime committed in movies. Using a popular song to introduce a scene, that has little to no impact on the movie itself, but using the reputation of the song to keep the fans happy.

You wouldn’t steal a song…

The other major crime is movies using a song, that has been used by another film for a similar scene. Take Platoon. A classic Vietnam war movie, in which Charlie Sheen wrestles his way through war, occasionally dabbling in drugs and other mischief.

In these Vietnam drug scenes, the excellent “White Rabbit” is the backing music, the perfect track to describe a young man’s introduction to drugs, falling down the “rabbit hole”, describing the lack of control that those young men in Vietnam had in the 60s and 70s.

Contrast that to the use of “White Rabbit” in the 2017 movie, Kong: Skull Island. Here, as the main characters rustle together a crew to go to Skull Island, they meet Tom Hiddleston in a bar in Vietnam. And, shock of shocks, the background music is “White Rabbit”.

This inclusion adds little to the scene, but it is clear that it was chosen based on its similarity to (the vastly superior) Platoon. Using the song invokes memories of the 1986 movie, making people feel more emotionally connecting to an excruciatingly one-dimensional scene in Kong.

Music is crucial for the success of a movie. But films that use a modern-day pop song, a timeless classic or music shamelessly nabbed from a (better) movie, it should set off alarm bells, that it might not be as creative, and original, as you might think.

Oh, and if a trailer uses a song that you love, don’t go and watch the film. You will be disappointed.


Why John Tucker is a Hero

Ignoring the Mean Girls plot, the lack of clothing and typical teenage American melodrama, John Tucker Must Die leaves us with an important life lesson.

Not the life lesson the film surely intended, because antagonist John continues his womanising ways, right up to the end credits and in fact spends the majority of the film an awful lot happier than his brother, who is honest, kind and thoughtful. The lesson there, therefore, seems to be to be missing.

The movie is about a man being taught that cheating is wrong, but he seems to receive no significant punishment for his ways. The movie instead focuses its ending on a random girl becoming a legend throughout the school for “beating” John Tucker, suggesting that this guy is has so many people under his thumb, that the only way to be notable in this school is to be associated with him in some way.

No one ever stops to ask why this man (boy? They’re in high school so I guess he’s like 17, but he drives a jeep, boat and looks about 30, so it is unclear) is the most popular fella in the world.

Is it because he’s charming? Sure. Is it because he’s attractive? Possibly. Is it because he’s nice to people? Undoubtedly.

But there is one characteristic that John Tucker exhibits that everyone in the world should adopt If they want a happy life. It occurs around four times throughout the film, and demonstrates why he is the hero, and the one we should aspire to be.

He rolls with the punches. First, the heroes claim in front of the school that he has genital herpes. To the common man, this would be character destruction, but our man John regroups, reloads, and pledges to do more to help people with the ailment.

Later, the valiant female squad pour oestrogen into his drink, to make him overtly feminine. He develops a sensitive side during a critical moment of a basketball game, causing him to become a laughing stock in his stomping ground. This should crush him, but he turns it to his advantage by convincing women that this makes him a nice guy.

This man is a legend. Every day in your life, there is a high chance that you will do something stupid. From that moment on, people will do their best to embarrass you for it. The most important thing that you can do when you’re under the societal cosh, is to own the joke, and make it your own.

Most impressively in the movie, Johnny boy is tricked by the girls to wear womens underwear, and finds himself in full (frontal) view of everyone he knows. Again, this is humiliating, and the easy thing to do would be to keep your head down for the rest of time, and deny it ever happened.

Instead, John holds his party under the theme “Not The Same Old Thong And Dance”. This man is someone we should all look up to.

I’m not even joking. If you focus on John, this movie becomes an inspirational story about a bullied young man who quick wittedly side-steps adversity at every opportunity, simply by making every joke his own.

This film is a pile of crap. But if you want to take any lesson from this 89 minute mess, take this particular leaf out of John Tucker’s book.

What makes bad movies even worse

Are bad films worse when they are part of a successful franchise, or as a standalone?
The thought was sparked when I somehow caught the opening twenty minutes to the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. I knew full well It was going to be poor, but I had no idea the depths they would stoop to. I sat through the (spoiler alert) bank chase scene, in which they literally rode a moving bank through some streets. What I saw was a hot mess, and I couldn’t bring myself to continue.

Compare this to other critically slammed movies, like After Earth or Jupiter Ascending. These were made with the best of intentions, but they too were fairly atrocious. At least the latter two attempted to write a film with a coherent story, rather than just squeezing out the remains of an already tiring cast and story. Pirates of the Caribbean slowly burned during the second and third movies. The reboot in 2011 fanned those flames, and the latest, Salazar’s Revenge, poured petrol onto the franchise. They hoped to reignite the spark, but instead created an explosion of horrible acting, writing and directing. (Tell us how you really feel).

The point I’m making is, although After Earth and Jupiter Ascending were poor, at least they tried. At least they were trying to create something vaguely original, and fresh. Of course, they failed miserably, but the effort was clear to see. In total, AE and JA grossed $426,000,000 combined. Bearing in mind After Earth had an outstanding marketing campaign, that saw huge opening weekend takings. The quality of the film led to one of the sharpest declines in opening weekend – following weekend movie takings. The point is, while these films were bad, they tried, and they made $400,000,000. Salazars Revenge, which didn’t even try, and looked like it had been cobbled together by someone drunkenly trying to remember the characters and tone of the previous films, raked in $794,000,000.

Almost twice as much than the other two combined! Despite essentially being a parody of the movies it was attempting to follow, Salazar’s Revenge made almost twice as much as the other two. I’m not saying that the other two deserved more money, or that money is even a reliable measurement of a movie’s quality, but that may demonstrate how the cushion of a big franchise is what causes so many reboots and sequels. Forget storyline, forget acting, just stick the brand name up there and make sure the trailer uses the theme music and boom. Receive 200% interest on your initial budget. Easy.

Maybe I’m focusing too much on the train wreck that is Pirates of the Caribbean. What must be remembered is that it is a movie franchise aimed at a demographic that enjoy parting with their money and going to the cinema, young people. It also explains why the latest Transformers movie, an explosive orgy of colour and fire, with little in the way of cohesive story and a 5.2 rating on IMDb, pulled in over $600,000,000 at the box office.

But it’s not just a demographic thing. Even when a more mature movie franchise bombs, it still isn’t considered as bad as a standalone failure. Spectre was the opportunity for the James Bond franchise to put aside the wishy-washy subplot of Bond’s family and private life, but instead was a dull, lifeless film beyond the opening credits. Yet, that made $880,000,000. I agree, it was nowhere near as bad as some of the standalone failures of recent years, but it’s definitely the James Bond name pulling that figure up.

The movie that further compounds this theory that franchised failures get a free pass is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from Guy Ritchie in 2017. This was a decent attempt at a fresh reboot, telling the classic tale of King Arthur but in classic Guy Ritchie Lock Stock style. But besides a few fun scenes, it was pretty poor. The paying public agreed, and it only made $140,000,000, less than its initial budget.

Ritchie tried to impart his style on the film too soon. He tried to be too adventurous before the franchise was cemented in place, taking a big risk with the cast, tone and writing with the first movie. The risk failed, and it’s unlikely that the franchise will recover. If he had done what Star Wars did, and rebooted the story with Force Awakens (I’m not saying it’s bad, just making a secondary point), a relatively mediocre film that, while not bad, takes few risks to remain appealing to the masses. If a Star Wars movie flops now, people will write it off and just move on to the next one, forgetting all about it. King Arthur, however, cannot just be moved on from.

It would appear that, in answer to my initial question, not really. When it comes to bad films, it’s hard to argue which one is worse, because generally, no one watches them enough to give an accurate judgement. But it does seem that poorly made films in successful franchises either get remembered as better than they really are, or get ignored as fans await the next off the production line. Standalone, independent movies simply cannot compete with crap that big film franchises produce.

And to act as the cherry on the icing, compare two animated movies from the last two years. It shows it doesn’t just happen to bad films. Disney’s Moana is an original, empowering, quirky kids movie with a killer soundtrack and is fully deserving of the plaudits that come it’s way, including a 7.3 rating on IMDb. Compare that then, to Minions. No one quite worked out how Despicable Me needed a sequel, let alone a spin off (and now a third part to the tale), but in 2015 the Minions, barely even related to the initial story, got their movie. 6.4 on IMDb, rushed off the shelf and, I would add, not even part of the Disney collective.

Moana, one of the finest animated movies of the last few years, made $643,000,000. Minions made $1,163,000,000. I’m out.


The Dollars Trilogy

Ennio Morricone is probably not a name many people are familiar with. Of all the high-profile movie composers over the years, names like John Williams, John Murphy and Hans Zimmer tend to spring to mind.

But Morricone is responsible for some of the most famous pieces of cinematic music, including the legendary introductory music in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Sergio Leone, the Italian director of some of the most well-known westerns ever, worked closely with his countryman for The Dollars Trilogy, featuring Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Morricone was also responsible for a number of film scores in recent years, having a hand in the soundtrack for Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.

Quentin Tarantino has often said that The Dollars Trilogy featured some of his favourite films, particularly the latter. This may signify the influence that these sorts of films have had on modern action cinema.

The Dollars Trilogy are all based around the same premise. A bounty hunter, portrayed by Clint Eastwood, comes into town, and all hell breaks loose around him. He’s a quick talking, quick firing killer, who never ever shoots first.

A host of other talented actors work around Eastwood, including Lee Van Cleef, as the films managed to hold the same premise, but display a totally different story each time. The pinnacle of this came with Eli Wallach, the actor behind Tuco, one of the finest characters ever written for cinema.

Released in 1964, 1965 and 1966 respectively, each film in The Dollars Trilogy steadily improves on its predecessor. The dubbing in the early films is poor, and the dialogue is predictable in places. But the leap between Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More is astonishing, as the cinematography and soundtrack go up a fair few notches.

While the acting, camerawork and scripts are world class in every film, it is the music from Ennio Morricone that brings it all together into the (2nd) best trilogy of movies ever made. Each scene is ten times more engaging with the use of Morricone’s music, particularly in the numerous duels that happens throughout the three movies.

The music is instantly recognisable, which is impressive for movies that are over 50 years old. More importantly, the movies, and music, have been parodied over and over again, and sampled for other movies. The style of direction of The Dollars Trilogy has been perfected by Tarantino (distinct similarities between the ending of Reservoir Dogs and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), while the music has made its way into movies like Kick-Ass.

While it seems simplistic to suggest that the legacy of a trilogy of movies is based on the music used, The Dollars Trilogy is an exception. The films are excellent as it is, and still hold up today despite their considerable age, but the Morricone music is just perfect, and just enough to give the movies a legendary status.

Rating- Fistful of Dollars: 80%

Rating- For a Few Dollars More: 89%

Rating- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: 94%

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is considered by many to be the best film ever made. While that particular claim is open to debate, 2001 could certainly make a case for being the most influential movie of all time.

In a previous post, I mentioned how certain films redefine a genre, or at least make a genre noteworthy. In that example I referred to The Godfather defining the mafia/crime genre. However, it would be simplistic to suggest that 2001 simply redefined the Sci-Fi genre.

Released in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s film changed the way that movies could be made. It had three aspects to it that made it truly great. One, an outrageously good score, perfectly implemented at the critical moments of the movie. Also Sprach Zarathustra was deployed at the opening of the movie, during the dawn of man scene, and at the end, to highlight how the humans had progressed throughout the course of the movie.

Two, the movie had a completely ambiguous ending. Despite being nearly 50 years old, it is still unclear what the final 10-15 minutes of the movie signify. Through the use of quick cuts and magical camerawork, the ending of the film leaves the audience scrabbling for answers. But, rather than have a spinning top and not telling the viewer whether it falls or not, 2001 gives the audience all of the information they need. Any viewer can have their own interpretation of the ending, and the beautiful thing is, they’re all right.

The content of the film demonstrates the evolution of humans from “the missing link” to becoming space exploring astronauts. Bearing in mind this was made almost 50 years ago, when religion was much more important to people and people were less likely to accept evolution, this alone was a bold move by Kubrick.

Finally, the movie makes some outstanding predictions. The movie features AI, Skyping, Ipads, space travel (the year before the moon landings) and a host of other minor details that simply shouldn’t occur to someone in 1968. In the same way that 1984 is one of the most popular books ever written due to its foresight, Space Odyssey contains so many things that we could come to expect in every Sci-Fi movie now.

And that’s why the film is so influential. Rather than igniting just the Sci-Fi genre (although it did have a role in inspiring George Lucas), the movie showed the power of an emphatic score, a clever storyline and visionary directing. The jump-cut early in the film demonstrates the quality of direction in 2001, and has rightly been replicated in dozens of movies since.

Rating: 90

Touching the Rock

The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the most decorated adventure movies of all time. Quite rightly too, the first part of a remarkable trilogy, it sets up the next two movies, while also being one of the best movies in its own right. There are a number of factors that led to this movie being so well-regarded from day one. The cast are perfect, the visuals are enchanting, and of course the original score is still considered to be one of the best in cinema.

There are many moments within the 3-hour running time that stand out, including the battle with the Balrog, and the (Spoiler) death of Boromir. However, there’s always one moment that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. While “You Shall Not Pass” will be repeated for the rest of time, and everyone remembers the Mines of Moria, there’s a brief shot, about midway through, that the film absolutely cannot do without.

Those who have watched the film will know exactly what the picture below represents, and what shot I am talking about. The Fellowship have just been banded together, and have just set off from Rivendell to take The Ring to Mordor in order to destroy it. To describe the scene, as the group leave Rivendell, the orchestra starts up, and begins to raise the atmosphere with every passing second. A number of helicopter aerial shots show the nine setting off on their journey along mountains. This lasts around 25 seconds, as the music intensifies further.


The camera then cuts to the shot (above). This is the shot I am referring to. The camera moves upwards and forwards, slowly. This almost gives the characters a slow-motion feel, despite the fact that they move in real time. It has Gandalf at the front, striding forwards between two rocks, which symbolize a sort of gateway. The remaining eight members of The Fellowship follow him, while the exceptional music continues above.

Lasting about a minute all in all, this scene is one of the most important in the trilogy. Prior to this point, all of the characters seen here have been established, the plot has been outlined and set up, and most importantly, the difficulty of the task has been clarified. Once all three of these needs have been met, a loud, grand minute of film grabs you and tells you “sit back, get ready, and enjoy.” Simple to film, no dialogue or particular stage direction, but it works as an establishing shot. Rather than establishing the location, or who the characters are, it arrogantly establishes to the audience that the rest of this film is gonna be good.

From this point on, in this film at least, no new major characters are introduced and no major changes happen to the overall plot of the story. The scene is simply there to be an orgy of gorgeous aerial shots and a world famous score.

While, I’d argue, this sort of scene is done best here, it’s not limited to The Lord of the Rings. There are other films that utilize this kind of scene. In general, these are the sorts of movies with a linear direction of the story. Adventure movies, such as The Lord of the Rings, are the most notable for this kind of storyline. Marvel movies tend to have this type of linear arc. Within the movie there is an introduction to the characters, a layout of the plot and where it’s due to take place, and the film goes on from there. However, these Marvel films lack this “Touching the Rock” moment. There’s no shot that is purely in the movie to grab the audience and ensure they won’t take their eyes off the screen for the rest of the movie.

The closest Marvel come to this is in Avengers Assemble. Unfortunately, the scene happens way too late, although given the endless continuation of movies thereafter, it may as well be in minute one of the franchise. It’s the classic shot, just after Banner becomes Hulk and punches a huge alien ship. The music crescendo’s, explosions go off in the background, and The Avengers stand there, looking coolly up at the impending chaos, while a camera rotates slowly around them. Perfection, and is arguably the best moment in the entire Marvel Universe. It lets the audience know that they don’t have to focus on learning any new names, or any new facts, they can just sit and enjoy the explosions. As mentioned, it happens way too late in the film, although Guardians of the Galaxy does have a similar scene in the prison, very early in the movie. This goes to show how important this kind of shot is in films.


Such a scene doesn’t necessarily require loud music and a slow camera. The best scene in The Hunger Games is the second the countdown ends to initiate the games. Disregarding all of the unnecessary shaky cam and PG violence, the music cuts to a simple, high-pitched whine, and the pandemonium grabs the audience attention. Unlike the shot in LOTR, this movie couldn’t go without this scene, for plot reasons, but the way it’s put together gives it the same effect. Unfortunately for The Hunger Games, it absolutely peaks at this moment.

Many other films use this kind of brash, over the top scene about midway through their movie. Whether its musical or sound effects, this kind of shot can be vital to an adventure/fantasy movie. The first T-Rex roar in Jurassic Park, the dance in Pulp Fiction, the lighting of the beacons in Return of the King, the walk to Candieland in Django, and of course the legend of it all, the introduction of The Good in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The impact that this kind of scene can have on a film or franchise is profound. It can turn a collection of characters and their problems into a story, and can turn that story into an audio-visual spectacle. The first hour or so of The Fellowship of the Ring is a great setup. The split second Gandalf touches that rock, it becomes a great story.

Rating: 100%

The Godfather

There’s a reason The Godfather is so frequently parodied. The reason is that it’s old. This was a film that broke the mould in 1972. Prior to this, the big movies flying around were westerns and romances. For a film to sweep in with such graphic violence, twisted storyline and frankly exceptional acting at a time like this meant it deserved to become an instant classic. Of course its dated, and the amount of parodies doesn’t help the matter. When watching it for the first time now, hearing Don Corleone talk about giving someone an “offer they can’t refuse” is not quite as emphatic as it would have been almost 45 years ago once you’ve heard it on countless cartoons and American comedies. The horse in the bed scene is one of the most chilling moments I’ve witnessed on film, but it’s also difficult to watch without imagining its Lisa Simpson doing the screaming.

None of this is the fault of Coppola and the gang who made this masterpiece. They produced an original thriller, that became the platform for almost every mafia movie to come after. The rise and fall of great Italian/American mob bosses throughout two hours of murder and betrayal. The archetype is The Godfather. It is considered one of the greatest films of all time, mainly by IMDb, but also the 3 Oscars it picked up. Best picture was a given, the story so engrossing, and at moments heart-wrenching, that no one could have ever imagined such a plot. Marlon Brando claimed best actor, and his performance has been considered one of the greatest in any movie ever. The presence he has on screen has obviously been written into the script, but there’s no way the writers could have predicted how good it would look, until they saw him commmand every piece of dialogue and facial expression perfectly. The only surprise would be that best supporting actor did not go to Al Pacino. I am yet to watch Part II, but if anything excites me about watching it, it’s about seeing him playing the same role again. He was incredible, when quietly reacting to action around him, or when playing the main event, particularly in some of the more intense scenes.

The score was obviously also a big bonus, again used in countless scripts since, in parodies and such. It does seem that whenever someone tries to copy a mafia film, The Godfather is always the go-to movie. It’s the archetype, the first, the original. The I would argue, not the best. For example, if Goodfellas had been released in 1972, and The Godfather trilogy in 1990, then there is no doubt that Goodfellas would be considered the better film. Or not, of course it’s a matter of opinion, but there’s no doubt that East Coast mafia thrillers make their own sub-genre, and there’s no doubt that Goodfellas and the Godfather are the kingpins of the organization. Coppola created the genre, but Scorsese perfected it. This is unparalleled in other genres. Star Wars really set up the Sci-Fi genre, but since then has anyone really taken it by the scruff of the neck and improved upon it? Of course not, and its these films that break the mould that become instant classics. Psycho with horror, Shakespeare with romance (all romance films are modern day Shakespeare), and The Godfather with Mafia, these stories that don’t go out to become the best of any genre, they go out and create their own genre. When’s the last time a film came out that did that?


Rating: 85%