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The Most Overused Songs in Movie History

3 April 2004 by Gnoll 23 Comments

by Gnoll

As both a movie buff and a musicphile, I tend to pay a lot of attention to the music that appears in film. I think that the music in a film can really make or break it as an accomplishment. One thing I respected about Quentin Tarantino when he hit the scene was his amazing use of music. Obscure stuff from past decades that you hadn’t thought of in ages, used in sequences where it really helped to create a mood. Unfortunately, though, Tarantino was an anomaly. Too many filmmakers consider their musical selections an afterthought, throwing on some of the least-inspired banal crap you could possibly imagine. And all too often, they use songs that have been used again and again and again. And again. And again.

So here are the top ten offenders: the ten songs that have become the most overused, hackneyed, clichéd pieces of music in film history. Turn it up.

10. Cranberries, “Dreams”
The Cranberries, an Irish rock band that somehow managed to have more chart success than Sinead O’ Connor and the Sundays combined despite being blatantly derivative of both, have contributed one of the most omnipresent movie themes of the last decade. “Dreams”, one of their biggest hits, has been featured on the soundtracks to such films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, CHUNGKING EXPRESS, SAFE PASSAGE, YOU’VE GOT MAIL, and BOYS ON THE SIDE. On top of that, it’s been pretty regularly featured in movie trailers as well. Got a romantic comedy you want to shill? Maybe something that can appeal to the whole family? Apparently the rights to “Dreams” come pretty cheap. After all, they used it for THE BABYSITTER’S CLUB.

9. Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door”
Ah, Pete Townshend. The prototype of the punk rocker, the angst-driven guitarist from the Who mellowed out in his older years (possibly around the time that he developed a fondness for child porn.) One of his biggest hits as a solo artist was “Let My Love Open the Door”, a catchy pop tune that has permeated many a movie soundtrack. You may have remembered hearing the song in GROSSE POINT BLANK, or more recently in the horrid Adam Sandler remake MR. DEEDS. And it’s also one of those songs you’ll see quite a bit in movie trailers. Whenever you need a song to represent an uplifting, inspiring film (Think Tim Burton’s BIG FISH or Cameron Crowe’s JERRY MAGUIRE) call upon Mr. Townshend.

8. Yello, “Oh Yeah”
You know it. It gets stuck in your head. It’s infectious. Bum, bum. Oh Yeah! Chick-a-chick-ahhh! You probably hear it and immediately want a Snicker’s Bar, or one of the other 37,000 products that used the song in a commercial. But this little ditty from Europop pioneers Yello is also pretty common in the movies, particularly comedies from the 1980’s. Immediately springing to mind is the classic FERRIS BEULLER’S DAY OFF, in which this song was used to its maximum potential. But it was also featured in several other films from the era, including THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS, SHE’S OUT OF CONTROL, and OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS. After 1990, however, the song had run its course and was not to be found in the great numbers that it had in its 80’s heyday.

7. Carl Douglas, “Kung Fu Fighting”
I hate this song. Really. I get a lot of flak for it, but it sucks ass. I think the only song I hate more is Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'”. Part of the reason I hate it so is the fact that it’s managed to find its way into every single clichéd movie moment that it can possibly fit. The reason it’s not higher on this list is only because of the fact that it’s generally only used for that one moment in the film — generally the comedic martial arts sequence. You’ve probably heard it in BEVERLY HILLS NINJA, or BOWFINGER, or DADDY DAY CARE, all pretty stupid comedies (two of which feature Eddie Murphy.) The song can also be heard in SPIRIT OF ’76, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS, and a Tom Jones-sung cover appears on on Jackie Chan’s SUPERCOP.

6. George Thorogood, “Bad to the Bone”
The opening riff is unmistakeable. And when you hear it, you know you’re in for a cliché. Some new badass has entered the picture, or some kid is getting suited up to get revenge on the bully, or someone’s sharking in a pool game. Yes, George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone” is horribly hackneyed, but that doesn’t stop filmmakers from using it to this day. You might remember the song being used in TERMINATOR 2. Or maybe you’re one of those people who heard it in the 1998 remake of THE PARENT TRAP. Director/Composer John Carpenter even put his own spin on the song as the theme to his killer-car flick CHRISTINE. But perhaps more than its appearance in the films itself is the outrageous amount of movie trailers it’s been used it. Think THE COLOR OF MONEY for its best use, but then think of any movie since where a scruffy anti-hero comes in to kick some ass, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear it blaring over the trailer. I’m pretty sure it’s in at least one trailer for GARFIELD.

5. Spencer Davis Group, “Gimme Some Lovin'”
Even the classics work their way into the movies from time to time. The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin'” is an upbeat 60’s number that everyone knows, and as a result, it’s creeped its way into too many Hollywood movies to count. Whenever you’ve got an uppity romantic montage, you can’t go wrong with this. The producers of NOTTING HILL knew this. It also works in nostalgia flicks, like THE BIG CHILL. But everyone knows the song from its presence in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Covers of the song have appeared in films such as DAYS OF THUNDER and JACK FROST (That one’s by Hanson!) “Gimme some Lovin'” is also a popular trailer filler, most prominently in the genre of romantic comedy. It was recently used as a bumper for the Coen Brothers’ INTOLERABLE CRUELTY.

4. Smash Mouth, “All Star”
Smash Mouth’s “All Star” is the newest song on this list, having only been released in 1999, but it earns a special place on this list for its utter omnipresence. After butchering tons of other people’s songs, this soulless alt-rock band released this catchy-like-herpes single. Immediately upon its release, it was featured in so many commercials (think Gatorade) and movie trailers that it was virtually impossible to escape. It became the theme song to that summer’s hit comedy MYSTERY MEN, and created the music bed of approximately 79% of that film. In the same year, it was also used for Disney’s INSPECTOR GADGET. If that wasn’t enough, it was used prominently in RAT RACE and even SHREK. The problem is that when this song gets used, it gets used to death. It’s generally featured as part of the soundtrack, plays over the closing credits, and is featured in the trailers. And it’s still being used on movie trailers today. Not a season goes by where it isn’t used to sell some comedy to the masses. The guys in Smash Mouth have a special place in hell waiting for them.

3. James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”
I love the Godfather of soul, and will always have a soft spot for him, despite the wife-beatings and drunken fleeing attempts. But Brown’s best-known song has become one of the most annoying staples in movie history. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” has probably been featured in more films than it hasn’t, and is generally found in almost any family comedy or nostalgia piece. It reads like a who’s who of Hollywood films: GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM. MRS DOUBTFIRE. K-9. A SMILE LIKE YOURS. DISNEY’S THE KID. THE BIG CHILL. And yes, it’s also a regular on the movie trailer circuit, indicating that this is the feel-good movie of the season that will make you delight with laughter! It’s almost become so clichéd that it practically goes unnoticed these days.

2. Jackie Wilson, “Higher and Higher”
Another one from the classic vault. Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” is one of Motown’s shining stars, but Hollywood has turned it into a blight on society. It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it, so let’s put it in any moment that needs to be drilled in as “fun” and “upbeat”. You’ll find this song on films as diverse as THE BACHELOR, SIMON BIRCH, and OPERATION DUMBO DROP. It’s also found playing over the closing credits, as it does on GHOSTBUSTERS 2 or THE AIR UP THERE. And, as with many others on this list, it’s an ad agency’s wet dream for the movie trailer.

1. Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine”
And finally, here’s the real culprit. Katrina and the Waves were a watered-down Canadian new wave outfit from the early ’80s, who put out this shitty song and changed the face of motion pictures forever. Yes, don’t let its oversaturation fool you: this was always a shitty song. It didn’t just become that way in retrospect, like many other hackneyed movie songs do. You may have had the displeasure of hearing this piece of shit in THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS. Or you may have had to plug your bleeding ears when you heard it in THE MASTER OF DISGUISE. Or you may have had to clamp your hands over your head when it appeared in BEAN. Or perhaps you banged your head on the seat in front of you when it appeared in DADDY DAY CARE. But the biggest crime was hearing the song in HIGH FIDELITY, especially in the context it’s used. Jack Black’s character is supposed to be this big time music snob, and he tosses in a tape with this song on it to rock out to? Please. And on top of the movies it appears in, it’s probably the most overused song used for movie trailers, shilling films such as JERSEY GIRL. Katrina can taker her Waves and stick them where there is no Sunshine.

Now, this ten is not a definitive list. There are dozens of other songs that get overused in the movies, often to the point of ridiculousness. Here are some of the other offenders:

The Jam, “A Town Called Malice”: BILLY ELLIOT, VALLEY GIRL, multiple movie soundtracks.
Edgar Winter Group, “Frankenstein”: DAZED AND CONFUSED, ENCINO MAN, any other movie with a stoner in it.
War, “Low Rider”: DAZED AND CONFUSED, 21 GRAMS, any other movie with a junkie in it.
Tones on Tail, “Go!”: GROSSE POINT BLANK, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES, any other film with a need for a hoppin’ dance number.
Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild”: EASY RIDER, BORN TO BE WILD, any motorcycle scene.
Four Tops, “Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”: Movie Trailer Mania!

One notable honorable mention goes to Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, which in 1999 alone was featured in five films: NEVER BEEN KISSED, AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE, THE LIMEY, and a remixed version in GO.

But to close this thing, let’s take a look at one particular film that almost seems as if it were destined to have the shittiest soundtrack in the history of film. You saw it mentioned above, because it contains a few of the big offenders as far as generic movie music goes. It’s none other than 2003’s Eddie Murphy Death Knell, DADDY DAY CARE. Here’s a look at this travesty of a soundtrack. You be the judge:

1. Walking On Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves
2. Takin’ Care Of Business – Bachman-Turner Overdrive

3. I Want You Back – Jackson 5
4. Coconut – Harry Nilsson
5. Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell
6. I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones

7. Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas

8. Dream Weaver – Gary Wright

9. Ballroom Blitz – Sweet

10. Surrender – Cheap Trick

11. ABC – Jackson 5

12. I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow

Almost every one of those songs is some sort of a cliché by this point. That’s just sad.


  • Leetta said:

    Can someone please tell me the name of the song that is played while the credits are running at the end of the movie
    “Four Brothers”? I’m very familiar with the 70’s music played during the movie itself, but I’m lost when it comes to this song. I believe it’s a fairly recent soft rock artist, but who?

    Thanks you,


  • Bobby Knight said:

    ok i have a question i need answered…i need to know the title of a song that occurs a lot in movies. it always pops up when a couple are running towards each other(normally through a field of daisies) if you have any idea what the heck im talkin about just post a reply or email me : hazzer09@aim.com

  • Noel said:

    You may be thinking of “Love’s Theme”, by Love’s Unlimited Orchestra.


  • Raymund Bourne said:

    Can anyone help me find the right title of the music that was played on the movie the exorcist, it the scene where a man put a long playing album on the turn table before he died. Please help here’s my email:

    thanks a lot!

  • Lotte said:

    I have to agree, that soundtrack is just a litle painful. I’m not sure about the worst ever… But it’s getting up there. =)

    I guess I just don’t get why people don’t look for other, new or unknown music to switch things up more often, makes things more tolerable.


  • Ktig said:

    How about Sweet Home Alabama or Baby got back

  • Swartz said:

    List fails by not having the number 1 song be “I will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

  • Dee said:

    Don’t forget “Who let the dogs out” by Baha Men. Used in every movie with a dog.

  • Mike said:

    What about: The Black Eyed Peas – Pump it. I think this is the most used song in movies!

  • ashley drenning said:

    what about the beach boys “wouldn’t it be nice?”

  • Me said:

    The Gothic classical ode “O Fortuna”. Perhaps you don’t know the name, but this is the EPIC choral song that’s used in the trailers of practically every single EPIC action movie/EPIC fantasy.

    The producers usually choose it because, of course, it sounds dramatic and Viking-like and so…EPIC. You wouldn’t hear it in a trailer for a Julia Roberts or Ben Stiller movie. More like LOTR or 300.


    There’s an audio sample on the Wiki page. It’s about as ubiquitous for dramatic blockbusters as the deep-voiced announcer who started every description with “In a world…”

  • Andy said:

    10.Christina Aguilera – Beautiful
    9. LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem
    8. Player – Baby Come Back
    7. Human League – Don’t You Want Me
    6. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – Bad To The Bone
    5. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up
    4. AC/DC – Back In Black
    3. Baha Men – Who Let The Dogs Out
    2. Maxine Nightingdale – Right Back Where We Started From
    1. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

    P.S. R.I.P. Whitney Houston

  • marty said:

    Gimmie some lovin, has also been played in every helicopter scene where the guy is in the window shooting the machine gun!!!

  • Rob said:

    Alright, you are all missing the champion of all time overused song. That would be “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy Pop’s old band The Stooges. It’s been used in so many movies, It’s close to impossible to list them all. Of course I didn’t expect anyone here to know that since this is the page “for the retarded”.

  • John said:

    The one song that has been used most in my humble opinion is Procal Harums A Whiter Shade of Pale,I could name at least 4 movies that have used it.

  • Bill said:

    “Let My Love Open The Door” is absolutely one of the most overused songs in movie history. A couple of years ago it seemed like every romantic comedy used it in the movie or their commercials. It made me grow to truly hate the song with a passion!

  • Tim said:

    “Stay With Me” – Rod Stewart and the Faces.

    Seems like ever time I turn around it’s being used. Generally just the first 30 seconds or so punctuate a character grouping that will now ride off into the sunset.

  • Twilight Man said:

    Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”

    Just to name a few:

    Remember The Titans
    The Sandlot 2
    Wayne’s Worlds 2

    and in theatres right now…….

    The World’s End


  • Max said:

    Hey, Does anyone know anything about a theme, normally used for quiet bits and endings, which kinda sounds acoustic? I guess the tempo’s around 90. Useless, I know, but I can’t figure out anything about it to help me find it! I just know the beat…. bow nownownow, na, now, dada, dododo… ugh…

  • Jim X said:

    I don’t see anyone mentioning “All Along The Watchtower” yet.

    And whether it’s a film or TV, I think there’s an actual LAW that any prom or high school reunion dance is required to play “True” by Spandau Ballet.

  • Matt said:

    What about Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill?

    Great song, but a major eye roll when I hear it in a movie.

  • Redd said:

    what about ‘run through the jungle’ by CCR?

  • Dandan said:

    Don’t forget Blur’s “Song 2.”

    Woo hoo!

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