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 (The Bodyguard)
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 song, however, remains one of the most loved ballads ever and is Houston’s greatest. As one fan asserts, “they probably represent the biggest gap in terms of popularity between the movie and the song.” I wholeheartedly concur with this assertion. The film is a mediocre romance, while the song is an iconic and timeless beauty.
2. White Christmas (Holiday Inn)
“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 (Mannequin)
I 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. Indeed, “the song has way eclipsed the movie in popularity and pop culture influence.” If reading this shocks you, then you will not be alone.
4. Iris (City of Angels)
“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.
5. All Star (Mystery Men)
“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 (Neptune’s Daughter)
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 (500 Miles) (Benny & Joon)
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.
8. The Prayer (Quest For Camelot)
“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 is a piece of mediocre obscurity. But “The Prayer” is a timeless piece of artistry.
9. (Theme from) New York, New York (New York, New York)
Several people note that the song “New York, New York” meets the criteria. It is “a classic song that everyone can sing along, but you rarely hear anything about the film even though it’s a Scorsese/DeNiro project.” 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 (Blackboard Jungle)
One classic film fan astutely points out that “Rock Around the Clock” is the theme song for the 1955 drama Blackboard Jungle. They claim that the movie about “juvenile delinquency fear [and] exploitation, literally spawned Rock ‘n Roll, a juvenile delinquent genre! ” 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 Grafitti, and the theme song for the television show Happy Days during its first season.
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