20 Movie Songs That Stole the Spotlight

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Movies and their theme songs go hand-in-hand. Often, these songs become as well-known and beloved as the films, each musically cementing itself into movie history. Tunes such as “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club are prime examples.

But what about songs that surpass the movie they are from in popularity? An online discussion forum ponder this very thing. Indeed, there are quite a few that meet these criteria. Some may even be surprised that these popular songs are technically movie themes.

1. I Will Always Love You (from The Bodyguard)

Scene from The Bodyguard
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Although the original recording of “I Will Always Love You” is by Dolly Parton, the version Whitney Houston sings as the theme from The Bodyguard is the most widely known and liked. Most know the song and film go together, but in terms of quality, The Bodyguard has not stood the test of time.

The film is a romance but we hadn’t even heard of it or seen it, while the song is an iconic and timeless beauty.

2. White Christmas (from Holiday Inn)

Scene from Holiday Inn
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

“White Christmas” is one of the most loved Christmas songs ever. The Guinness Book of World Records declares it is the top-selling Christmas song and the top-selling single, period. Out of all genres, this song from Irving Berlin tops them all.

But many are unaware that we first heard it sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. Some may think it is originally from the 1955 film White Christmas, which also stars Bing Crosby. That holiday film is well known, but nothing surpasses the song’s success and enduring, beloved appeal.

3. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us (from Mannequin)

Scene from Mannequin
Photo Credit: Gladden Entertainment.

We’ve have heard the song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” by Starship numerous times. But only recently did I learn that it is the theme song for the film Mannequin. This odd but charming film is a cult favorite from the 1980s but very much an offbeat, rarely seen one.

Only its biggest fans will remember or know this film exists. But the Starship hit is a classic, still regularly played on 80s stations. If reading this shocks you, then you will not be alone.

4. Iris (from City of Angels)

Scene from City of Angels
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls is one of their biggest hits. It was massively popular upon release and today remains well-loved due in no smart to its timeless musicality and powerful lyrics and themes.

But it will surprise some that the song is the theme to the 1998 romantic drama City of Angels, which stars Meg Ryan as a doctor and Nicolas Cage as an angel who gives up his immortality. The song was composed with the movie’s plot in mind by the songwriter Johnny Rzesnik.

City of Angels is a divisive film. Some love and find it moving, while others despise and loathe it. “Iris,” on the hand, is one of those songs with mass appeal.

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5. All Star (from Mystery Men)

Scene from Mystery Men
Photo Credit: Universal.

“All Star” is one of Smash Mouth’s best, most widely known, and liked songs. It gained in popularity after its use in the animated film Shrek. But that film is not where the song originated. No, it was initially the theme for the much more obscure movie Mystery Men.

The song’s music video has stock footage from the film and cameos from the cast, including Ben Stiller and William H. Macy. But have you seen this film? Not many have, including myself. But I’ve heard “All Star” more times than I can count. It’s a fun anthem of motivation for anyone who needs it.

6. Baby, It’s Cold Outside (from Neptune’s Daughter)

Photo Credit: MGM.

The classic tune that morphed into a holiday song over the years is well-known and unfairly maligned as troubling or problematic these days. If one knew the origins of the music, one might think differently. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (which won an Oscar for Best Original Song) is from the film Neptune’s Daughter, which stars Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrett, and Red Skelton.

It is sung by two couples in a playful, flirtatious manner, not wanting their companion to leave, while others pretend they want to. The song cross-cuts between Montalban protesting Williams attempting to go and Garrett doing the same with Skelton. The ways the gender roles are reversed and seeing the context help shine a light on this song. Regardless, its popularity is undeniable; many still love it without knowing its origin.

7. I’m Gonna Be, or 500 Miles (from Benny & Joon)

Scene from Benny & Joon
Photo Credit: MGM.

Many fans of the show How I Met Your Mother only remember this song as the one that plays continuously in Ted’s car because of a broken tape deck. Others know and love it from many years of airplay. We still hear “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in television, movies, and advertisements.

It is an all-around timeless classic love song. But this Proclaimers tune is first heard in the film Benny & Joon. The quirky romantic drama stars Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson, and the song plays over the opening montage as Joon paints in her room. The film is an underrated gem. But I can’t deny the song’s popularity far outreaches the movie.

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8. The Prayer (from Quest For Camelot)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“The Prayer” is one of the most stunning, lyrically moving, and profound songs ever, composed by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager. Fans of the hybrid pop/adult contemporary/classical genre are incredibly familiar with the song. The most beautiful renditions are by Josh Groban and Charlotte Church, Josh Groban and Celine Dion, and Katharine McPhee-Foster and Andrea Bocelli.

But who knows that it is from the animated film Quest For Camelot? The connection between these is a head-scratcher. The song is a true beauty that does not match the tone or the plot of the film very much at all. That may be why it lost the Best Original Song Oscar. Nevertheless, the movie has faded into obscurity, but “The Prayer” is a timeless piece of artistry.

9. New York, New York (from New York, New York)

Scene from New York, New York
Photo Credit: MGM.

Several people note that the song “New York, New York” meets the criteria. It’s a real classic and people love to sing along to it, but we rarely hear anything about its origins. Indeed, the Scorcese-directed flick is not one we hear much about today, and we rarely associate it with the first singer, Liza Minelli.

The version that is most popular is by Frank Sinatra and is known as “the New Year’s Eve song.” Every year when the ball drops in Time Square, folks ring in the new year with the Sinatra classic. The movie does not have the same widespread scope and everlasting nature.

10. Rock Around the Clock (from Blackboard Jungle)

Scene from Blackboard Jungle
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The song “Rock Around the Clock” is actually the theme song for the 1955 drama Blackboard Jungle. Blackboard Jungle is less famous than others of the era, like Rebel Without a Cause, despite being similar in its themes.

The Bill Haley and the Comets song only gained success after being used in the film. But after the fact, its popularity grew exponentially and had second lives as the theme for another 1950s set film, American Graffiti, and the theme song for the television show Happy Days during its first season.

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11. Endless Love (from Endless Love)

Photo Credit: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.

We’ve got to acknowledge that the song “Endless Love” has taken on a life of its own. Even if you’re not familiar with movie soundtracks or 80s films and songs, this one has become iconic. It’s been covered several times over several years at this point, and we’re honestly still in love every time we hear it.

12. Uninvited (City of Angels)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Alanis Morissette is a talented artist and she’s released countless hits, but this one stands the test of time. We’ve got to say this for City of Angels: it’s brought a few songs different into the limelight. “Univited” hits different than most love songs, and it’s got a slightly eerie spin on it. If you don’t know it already, give it a listen!

13. Eye of the Tiger (from Rocky III)

Photo Credit: United Artists.

It’s very possible that if you don’t know the song “Eye of the Tiger”, you’ve been living under a rock. No offence. It’s just that popular, ya know? Even Katy Perry has a song that seems to be inspired by Eye of the Tiger. But originally, it was written for Rocky III. Admittedly, most of also know of the Rocky Balboa movies but the song itself has still outpaced the movies for popularity. This one belongs on your workout playlist.

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14. Against All Odds (from Against All Odds) (by Phil Collins)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Who hasn’t heard Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds”? It’s one of those trademark songs; Phil Collins wrote the soundtrack to our childhoods with his music in TarzanBalto, and Hook. Even if you don’t know this exact song, once you play it you’re going to recognize his voice and the general feeling of his music the moment he begins to sing.

15. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (from Meet Me in St. Louis)

Photo Credit:

We’re willing to bed you sang that title to yourself instead of just reading it. That’s how popular the song has become. No shade to the movie either; Meet Me in St. Louis has done well for itself and it’s still widely known. It’s just, well, the song blew the movie out of the water here. Talk about a total eclipse. Anyway, we like both the movie and the song, but this one has solidly earned its place on this list.

16. Ben (from Ben)

Photo Credit: Bing Crosby Productions.

True, you may not know the song “Ben” by Michael Jackson but we’re willing to bet real money that you’re not familiar with the movie it was first written for. Jackson’s crooning in this tune has a magic all its own. We were hooked on the first listen. This song was his first hit single without the Jackson five, and it earned a Jackson a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

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17. I Can Dream About You (from Streets of Fire)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

“I Can Dream About You” has been catapulted from the 80s straight to a classic. Streets of Fire, meanwhile, has mostly faded from view. Give this one a listen if you haven’t lately: you’ll find yourself jamming along even if you haven’t heard it before. The live performance in the movie is excellent too.

18. Knocking on Heaven’s Door (from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid)

Photo Credit: MGM.

This one is guaranteed to be familiar, although you’ve probably heard of Billy the Kid too. The original movie is an old western based off of real people, which makes the song that much more touching. But no matter what context it’s played in, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is an emotional song, and it’s grown into a life of it’s own beyond the movie.

19. Unchained Melody (from Unchained)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Have you heard of the movie Unchained? It was released in 1955, so it’s understandable that the movie has faded into relative obscurity; that was nearly 70 years ago. But one song from that movie has made its way to the ranks of classics: this song has been covered hundreds of times now by many different artists, including Phil Collins and Elvis Presley. That’s quite a claim to fame, if you ask us!

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20. Silver Bells (from The Lemon Drop Kid)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

That the song has outstripped the movie is probably apparent just from the title here. Who hasn’t heard “Silver Bells?” For that matter, who hasn’t heard “Silver Bells” dozens of time each December alone? This song has gone from a movie soundtrack to the soundtrack of the Christmas season (and we’re not mad about it.)

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