It’s always been so fascinating to me when a song written solely for a movie ends up hitting mainstream popularity outside of the production it’s a part of. That’s when you see the impact music holds. Music can transcend its original place and flow in all aspects of entertainment. Appearing or being written for a movie may be the catalyst but it’s the song’s quality that elevates it beyond the film. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite songs that came from Blockbuster Films, becoming hits beyond the screen.
For this list, I decided not to include songs written for musicals or animated films where singing is a major aspect of the plot. While songs from those productions are often beautiful and catchy, that’s kind of the point of the movie. Music is a major aspect of those stories. So “Let It Go” and “Fame” may not be on this list, but it does not mean that those songs aren’t worthy of another list sometime. 😊 I did make one exception on this list which you’ll see, but I’ll explain why when we reach it. Without further preamble, let’s dive in!
1. Batman (1989) – “Batdance”
First up on this list is more specifically not just a song, but an entire album. An artist already signed to Warner Bros. Records, the beloved music icon, Prince was approached to create not just a song for the 1989 Batman soundtrack, but the entire soundtrack. Prince's involvement in the soundtrack stemmed partly from the label’s desire to make use of one of their biggest signed talents and Prince’s need for a commercial revival. Prince was thrilled to get involved with creating the music for Batman. The singer/songwriter had even told interviewers that “Batman’s Theme” was the melody he used to teach himself how to play the piano.
What’s interesting is that the movie’s director Tim Burton actually didn’t want Prince involved in the soundtrack, not because he wasn’t a fan but because he was a fan and didn’t want his involvement tainting his view of the artists. The producers insisted on it, however, and so naturally Burton’s view of Prince was “tainted” according to him. Honestly, he didn’t want any of Prince’s songs in the film, but he was overruled.
The Batman soundtrack also served as Prince’s 11th studio album, and much like Purple Rain, it was a multi-platinum successful cross-media enterprise, sitting at number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive weeks. "Batdance", became his first number one song since “Kiss” and went double platinum. Honestly, listening to it in 2022, it was a song really ahead of its time, incorporating all kinds of genres and samplings that you’d find in modern music.
There are few artists out there who have been approached to craft an entire soundtrack, and this is one of those great ones that is worthy of this list.
Watch the music video featuring Prince made up as half-Joker and half-Batman.
2. Spiderman (2002) - “Hero”
This song is incredibly nostalgic for me and will be forever associated with Spiderman (which means they did their job right). “Hero” was sung by Chad Kroeger, singer of Nickelback, and Josey Scott, the then singer for Saliva. That sentence itself is so weird to type. The 2000s were such a wild time. It was written by Kroeger and recorded specifically for the 2002 Spiderman movie. “Hero" was released through Roadrunner Records as the soundtrack's lead single, and it was also Kroeger's debut solo release. worldwide commercial success, peaking in the top 10 of record charts in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The song also topped the US Billboard Rock charts. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the categories Best Rock Song and Best Song Written for a Movie. So, it’s safe to say that this song blew up beyond the movie. And many Spiderman 90s kids love this song, solely because it was in the credits for Spiderman.
Check out the music video featuring footage from the movie.
3. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) - “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”
This great song from the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie became a hit beyond the screen, possibly having to do with who was behind it. Singer-songwriter Bryan Adams came together with composer Michael Kamen, and producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange to write “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” This song was the lead single for the movie’s soundtrack as well as Adam’s sixth studio album. This song truly took off, not just in the US, but across the world, reaching #1 in nineteen other countries. It was especially successful in the UK where it spent 16 consecutive weeks at number one. It was Bryan Adams’ most successful song and one of his best-selling singles ever recorded. This exemplifies just how much a song can take off beyond a movie. For example, I’ve never seen the movie this song originates from, but I know this song. It’s a classic. It’s become a big part of music history. It’s probably also because hundreds of artists have covered this song, including a very funny clip from Stewie in the comedy Family Guy. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television, and it’s no surprise given how well-received and beloved it became.
The “official” music video for the song on YouTube doesn’t directly feature connections to the movie, but the original official video is not accessible on YouTube, sadly. If you’d like to see the original, one of the only places we tracked it down from is Facebook. You can try to watch it here.
4. Titanic - “My Heart Will Go On”
This song has become synonymous with Titanic. One cannot hear the opening notes and not think of Jack and Rose at the front of the Titanic. Those images are one. “My Heart Will Go On” took an already amazing movie and added some emotional weight to that turned soft cries into sobbing. The song was originally intended to just be instrumental and used a soundtrack to emotional moments. But this was a time when blockbusters were more commonly releasing a hit song with their movies. So, the composer James Horner decided to create a full vocal version of the song to place in the film’s credits. The director of Titanic, James Cameron, didn’t want this, but it happened anyway, with Will Jennings penning the lyrics.
An interesting fact about this song is that Celine Dion almost didn’t agree to record it. After singing the theme songs for Beauty and the Beast and Up Close and Personal, Dion said that she didn’t want to “push her luck.” I guess this could mean that she didn’t want to be known for this one thing. Thankfully she did it anyway because the song was massively successful, along with the movie.
Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” won her the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1998 along with a Golden Globe for the same award. It’s been stated that this song also inspired a year of pop power ballads in 1998, and the cultural impact of this song is obvious, even today, as it’s so associated with the award-winning movie. “My Heart Will Go On” has become Dion’s signature song, so it’s a good thing that her management convinced her to record it anyway.
Watch the music video, featuring clips from the movie.
5. A Star is Born - “Shallow”
So, here’s the exception I listed earlier. I know I said I wouldn’t include movies on this list that were basically musicals or where music numbers drive the plot, but I couldn’t leave “Shallow” out. Here’s my reasoning. This remake of A Star is Born is definitely driven by music. Of course, it is. It’s a song about musicians. But I feel it’s a little different because the songs sung are a part of movie performances or part of rehearsing for one rather than characters simply breaking into song in some offshoot of reality. Am I splitting hairs, and being a little contradictory? Perhaps. But I just couldn’t leave “Shallow” out. It’s left too much of a dent in modern music. This list is full of hits that came out in the last 50 years, but “Shallow” is one of the few that made it big in the last 10 years.
A Star is Born had all kinds of people captivated by its inspiring and heart-wrenching story. And the single “Shallow” encapsulates that feeling. Plus, it’s Lady Gaga who is one of the greatest female artists to come out of music in the last 20 years, so naturally, a song from her would hit it big time. Add Bradley Cooper, an actor that few knew could sing, and you have a hit on your hands. "Shallow" was written by Gaga with Andrew Wyatt, Anthony Rossomando, and Mark Ronson. Then it was produced by Lady Gaga with Benjamin Rice. Lady Gaga wrote the song from Ally's point of view with the self-aware lyrics relating to the characters. This song is unique because it's a power ballad that blends many genres, including rock, country, and folk-pop. When that final climatic chorus hits, it’s powerful. It’s incredible. And it was commercially very popular outside of the movie, topping charts in over 20 countries. It’s among the 25 top streamed songs on Spotify, and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song along with the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
It’s songs like these that give me hope for the future of hit songs coming from Blockbuster movies once again.
Watch the official music video:
6. Dirty Dancing - “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life”
When Jimmy Lenner, the head of Millenium Records, reached out to singer-songwriter Franke Previte to write a song for Dirty Dancing, he was hesitant. Based on the title, the singer for the group Franke and the Knockouts thought Dirty Dancing was going to be a pornographic film. But Lenner kept urging him to take on the task, assuring him that it would “change his life.” And he was right, of course. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” was huge, hitting the top charts of over 12 countries and securing a spot on the AFI’s 2004 list 100 Years...100 Songs (ranking #86).
Previte wrote the lyrics, and the music was written by John DeNicola and Don Markowitz. A slow build that leads to an explosive chorus was perfectly paired with Dirty Dancing’s finale. This song captured the spirit of the movie, which was most definitely not what Previte thought the spirit would be based on the title. The song’s demo was recorded with Previte singing on the track along with singer Rachele Cappelli to show how the harmonies were meant to be used. In the end, the original singers from the demo were replaced with Jennifer Warnes and Bill Melody of The Righteous Brothers. To give emotional depth to the song, Warnes had a video playback machine and footage of the final scene brought in to synchronize her singing with the movie's ending scene, particularly "the lift.”
The song was released in 1987, and once the movie was released, the song became a worldwide hit alongside the movie. I think this song was an excellent choice for the movie and it likely wouldn’t have reached the commercial success it did if not for Dirty Dancing’s popularity. It’s now one of the essential classics of the 1980s, and the song is an essential throwback and classic on its own.
The music video for this song is difficult to find in high quality, but I think it’s important to see the original music video.
7. Back to the Future - “Power of Love”
This song is honestly one of my favorite hits to come out of the 80s. And I know I’m not the only one because this song was huge when it was released in 1985. Blockbuster movie Back to the Future was huge. In fact, it was the highest grossing film of 1985, earning over $380 million. This popularity helped propel the song onto radio stations across the world. “The Power of Love” was written by the rock band Huey Lewis and the News specifically for Back to the Future’s soundtrack. It was also released as a single for the band, and it became their first number one hit on the US Billboard Top 100.
The origin of this song is an interesting one because it’s no secret that this song’s lyrics have nothing to do with Back to the Future. So, when Huey Lewis was approached to write a theme song for the film, the production team behind it, including Steven Spielberg, told him they wanted his band to be the main character Marty McFly’s favorite band. While Lewis was flattered by the idea, he had little interest in writing a song for a film. He had even less interest in writing one called “Back to the Future.” Set on getting Lewis to write a song for them, the production team told Lewis he could write any song he wanted. Thus, “The Power of Love” was born. It didn’t totally fit the movie, but that didn’t matter. Being in the movie was enough to make it an instant hit. The song made brief appearances in the franchise after that, becoming a theme for the franchise despite the little it had to do with the plot.
The song may have lost the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy for Record of the Year, but it was still immensely popular, charting in over 16 countries, and reaching number one in Australia and Japan alongside the US Billboard Rock charts. Plus, it’s just an amazing song that came out of an equally amazing blockbuster.
The music video for “Power of Love” is a fun one, featuring the legendary DeLorean and Huey Lewis introducing the song and the movie to a group of fans.
8. Ghostbusters - “Ghostbusters”
Who ya gonna call? I mean, it was destined to skyrocket to popularity. But Ray Parker Jr and production weren’t so sure during the making of the song and were pleasantly surprised. Unlike some other songs on this list, “Ghostbusters” is directly related to the movie and not just a theme song written with subtle similarities. This song works well outside of the movie but also as a big ad for Ghostbusters. So, when the song itself got big, it only made things better for the movie.
While Ghostbusters is a beloved classic now, the production side of it was quite chaotic. The production endured budgetary obstacles from the studio, many rewrites to the script, and a tight production window. All these things made it difficult to nail down a theme for the movie as that is typically the last thing taken care of in movie production. The studio had about 60 song submissions from other artists, but none of them felt right. It’s a miracle Ray Parker Jr. even got involved because, at the time, he was focusing less on music in order to take care of his parents. In 1984, Parker Jr. was headed to LA for a different project when he was contacted to create the song. He had very little time to help, just a few extra free days, but Ghostbusters took it. Ray Parker Jr. wrote the music for the song quickly, but he struggled with the lyrics, not sure how would organically incorporate the term “Ghostbusters” (a request by the studio). However, once he was shown a cut of the film, he was inspired by the in-movie advertisement for The Ghostbusters. Reminding him of extermination commercials, he came up with the now iconic, “Who ya gonna call?”
Parker Jr. was originally asked to write less than a minute of music for the film's opening library scene, the track was extended to a radio-friendly four minutes. This paid off for him as it was a number one hit on the Billboard Top 100 and stayed number one for three consecutive weeks. Although “Ghostbusters” didn’t win the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song, there’s no denying how incredible of a song it is and how much it helped the Ghostbusters franchise.
This music video is a fun trip. I won’t say much beyond that. Just give it a watch!
There are so many songs that fit into this Written for Blockbuster category, but these are the incredible ones we wanted to highlight. Movies with original songs attached to them can elevate a film or make very little of a dent. These are some that helped the film, but it’s not a foolproof formula. If you’d like to see a list of original songs written for movies that couldn’t save the film, let me know in the comments!
Written by Kristen Petronio
A special thanks to the source that helped me in creating this list...