The right song, combined with the right scene in an action movie, can turn any moment into a classic. Whether by pure skill or a keen sense of sound with scene, there’s a reason why some songs are difficult to separate from their iconic use in films like “Kill Bill,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Godfather.” Here are our top picks for the best uses of songs in action movies.
1. “The Man Comes Around”- Johnny Cash – “Logan”
There aren’t any songs more fitting to be put at the end of “Logan” than this, a perfect sendoff that encapsulates his life as a hero who never had it easy. Anyone who had an attachment to the Wolverine character in the past 20 years felt the same pit in their stomach and lump in their throat by the time this played over the credits.
2. “Hello Vietnam” – Johnny Wright – “Full Metal Jacket”
“Hello Vietnam” usually doesn’t come to mind when people think of classic songs from that era, but it’s used superbly in “Full Metal Jacket”. The song takes on a more sullen tone as it plays over Joker and company getting their heads shaved before heading off to boot camp. The grim realities of war have already begun to settle in these young men as this song about duty plays. Say goodbye to what you love. Say hello to war.
3. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen – “Shaun of the Dead”
Combining zombies with Queen takes some skill, but director Edgar Wright pulled it off in “Shaun of the Dead”. The song is used to great comedic effect in the scene and it also manages to retain its fun and upbeat tone as the main characters whack zombies in the head while it plays.
4. Atlantis – Donovan – “Goodfellas”
What better way to follow an on-screen tantrum thrown by Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas” than some Donovan? A seemingly strange choice to play while Pesci and Robert De Niro murder a man in a brutal fashion, but it ends up working. This scene was topped off with Pesci’s funny yet haunting line,”I didn’t wanna get blood on your floor.”
5. Stuck In The Middle With You- Stealer’s Wheel – “Reservoir Dogs”
Of course, the song that’s from THAT scene in “Reservoir Dogs” must be included on this list. Not that there aren’t many classic scenes in this film, but admit it, this is the one you think of when you hear this song.
6. “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay & The Americans – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
With all of the songs used in both “Guardians” films, it’s hard to pick a scene that uses a classic song most fittingly. This scene has perhaps the most clever use of a pop track in both films, with an entire crew of the enemy ship downed by a single arrow propelled by a whistle. It’s hard to argue with the genius pairing of such an offbeat song with this scene.
7. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell “Casino Royale”
James Bond movies have always had great intro themes. “Casino Royale” revitalized the franchise with Daniel Craig stepping into the role for the first time. This was a great song for signifying the new era of Bond and it’s packed with style.
8. “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Kingsman: The Secret Service”
While a largely forgettable film, this action comedy features some sharp editing and quick-witted chase scenes. Its soundtrack has two good moments- the opening scene using “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, and this strikingly well-done killing spree scene in which Colin Firth bloodily wipes out a horde of zombified churchgoers. “Free Bird” is an iconic, long beast of a song and this sequence put it to surprisingly good use.
9. Push It To the Limit – Paul Engemann – “Scarface”
A somewhat cheesy sequence by today’s standards, this montage from “Scarface” does a great job of showing Tony Montana’s meteoric success. The money keeps rolling in and his lavish lifestyle reaches the point of absurdity before his downfall begins.
10. The End – The Doors – “Apocalypse Now”
This dreamlike song from The Doors, featuring Jim Morrison’s hypnotic voice, ponders a somber journey towards death. It’s a fitting, deeply haunting track with which to open a film like “Apocalypse Now.”
Ulises Duenas and Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion on Twitter.