By Ayinde Waring

A good song does not a good movie make.  However when it comes to the Oscar for Best Original Song, there’s no denying that a great song will enhance any film and sometimes propel good movies into otherworldly status.  To be nominated for B.O.S. is in itself a testament to that magical combination of music and lyrics, with the visuals manifested by a film.  To win the award means, well you’ll probably go on to become one of the biggest performers in the history of music.  Just ask Celine Dion.

Being a sap who’s a sucker for great music in films (normally the tear-jerkers that give you that sickening sad feeling in your gut), I got to thinking, what are some of the best, B.O.S. songs.  To keep it manageable I figured the ideal approach would be to address the past three decades.

In all honesty I figured this would be a cinch, choosing a Top Ten, but after delving a little deeper, I was reminded of a few things:  the 70’s may have been the Golden Age for filmmaking but the 80’s and 90’s were the Golden Age for Best Original Songs; all animated films must have at least one incredible song, Purple Rain won for Best Original Song Score (?); and “I’ll Always Love You” from The Bodyguard and masterfully performed by Whitney Houston was in fact a Dolly Parton remake.

There went my predetermined number one, which meant I had to take more of a “scientific” approach to list.

The results, a hodgepodge of thought and sentiments loosely based on:  1. Relevance of the song to the movie 2. Pop culture influence or implication (what is that?  I’m still figuring it out) 3.  Hit factor.

But enough of the rambling, these songs will speak for themselves.


10. I just Called To Say I Love You (1984) from The Woman in Red

Performed by:  Stevie Wonder; Music and Lyrics by:  Stevie Wonder

In 1984, Best Original Song represented not only the top movie songs, but perhaps the top songs of the year.  Wonder beat out “Against All Odds” (performed by Phil Collins), Footloose (performed by Kenny Loggins), “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” Performed by Denise Williams) and “Ghostbusters” (performed by Ray Parker Jr.) all of which became chart toppers and remained ingrained in the pop culture world in 1984.  But alas, Stevie Wonder’s sentimental hit spawned numerous television commercials and served as the “line du jour” for would be suitors during the early 80’s.  The song enjoyed tremendous success, but for me personally, it didn’t completely resonate with the film.  Nevertheless, it is another Wonder classic and a cultural phenomenon.


9.  Fame (1980) – from Fame

Performed by: Irene Cara; Music by: Michael Gore; Lyrics by:  Dean Pitchford

Before there was Glee and the new Fame, there was the original film.  Heavily influenced by the last days of disco there’s no mistaking the longevity of the title track from this film.  It rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 respectively.  You know you’ve created a masterpiece of sorts when it leads to not only a top hit on the charts, but also, a spinoff into a TV show.  (remember the original Fame TV Show?).  It inspired everyone to “live forever and learn how to fly.”  Great song with even better costumes worn by Irene Cara when performing it live.


8.  Lose Yourself (2002) – from 8 Mile

Performed by: Eminem; Music by: Eminem, Jeff Bass and Luis Resto; Lyrics: by Eminem

Considered one of the best rappers of all time, Lose Yourself, bolstered the credibility and iconic status of the white rapper from Detroit.  No one could have ever imagined that a rap song performed by a t-shirt clad, foul-mouthed, anti-establishment, MC would reign supreme on Oscar night, but Em proved all of the naysayers wrong.  Many may have their opinions of why the song won, but the fact is, it was made to capture the essence of the gritty 8 Mile. Eminem rocked it and propelled Rabbit’s finest moment into meteoric heights.  Its opening lines tell it all:  “If you had one shot/one opportunity/ to seize everything you ever wanted/ would you capture it?/or just let it slip”


7.  Streets of Philadelphia (1993) from Philadelphia

Performed, Music and Lyrics by:  Bruce Springsteen

The Boss knows how to paint a lyrical picture, but in all honesty Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” may have actually captured the essence of the heart wrenching film about Andrew Beckett’s battle against HIV/AIDS discrimination in the city of brotherly love.  “Streets of Philadelphia” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Top 100 in the United States but went on to tremendous acclaim in Europe.  The fact is that anytime this song plays you’re instantly propelled back into the theatre watching Beckett wandering the streets at the end of his rope; lonely and desperate for help.


6.  Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) (1981) from Arthur

Performed by:  Christopher Cross; Music and Lyrics by: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen

Simply a beautifully written ballad.  Perhaps its Cross’ delivery of the song or the imagery it paints of an uber rich, immature bachelor in New York City who really wants to find love; either way “Arthur’s Theme” became a hit and had people around the world dreaming of love in The Big Apple while singing “…If you get caught between the Moon and New York City… the best that you can do is fall in love….”  “Arthur’s Theme” specifically refers to the Dudley Moore character in the lyric so that’s an added bonus.  It reached #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and remains a staple on many Top Songs of All Time Lists.


5.  Up Where We Belong (1982) from An Officer And A Gentleman

Performed by:  Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes; Music by:  Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie; Lyrics:  by Will Jennings

Haunting yet uplifting is the best way to describe this 1982 hit.  Like the combination of Werner’s soft melodic perfectly-pitched voice and Cocker’s coarse, raspy delivery, this song seems to evoke opposite emotions at the same time.  The film itself was a tremendous hit and made Louis Gossett Jr., a star.  Its images of suicide, despair, triumph and ultimately love, can break down even the hardest souls, and the song fits perfectly with all of these images.  Who can forget Sid’s final act and Zach discovering his friend has killed himself?  Commercially it was a hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and became a mainstay of high school graduations.  (I’ve seen it sung at least four times).


4.  Take My Breath Away (1986) from Top Gun

Performed by:  Berlin; Music by Giorgio Moroder; Lyrics by: Tom Whitlock

The onscreen chemistry of Maverick and Charlie seemed to explode when the first few bars of this hit song played during Top Gun. Call it Tom Cruise’s coming out party, introduction to the world or whatever, the bottom line is Top Gun propelled him to iconic status in Hollywood.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 24 years since, Cruise donning his leather bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses, confidently strolls away from a stunned Kelly McGillis as an instrumental of “Take My Breath Away” plays, but alas it is true.  “Take My Breath Away,” became such a stand alone hit, that it might be easy to forget it was a part of the blockbuster film.  It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and on the UK charts in 1986.


3.  Flashdance… What a Feeling (1983) from Flashdance

Performed by:  Irene Cara; Music by: Giorgio Moroder; Lyrics by: Keith Forsey and Irene Cara

She’s baaaaaccccckkkkk!  With “Flashdance….What a Feeling,” Irene Cara scored the biggest hit of her career.  It reached #1, achieved platinum status, won a Grammy Award and became an iconic song in its own right.  Appearing in both the opening credits and climatic scene in the third act as Alex’s audition song, it enjoyed more movie time than most of its predecessors on this list.  The song itself is homage to all of the struggling artists throughout the world, fighting to survive while pursuing their love and craft.  Play this song and anyone who has ever dreamed will pause to take note.  Its imagery drove a nation to emulate Jennifer Beals’ style, and the movie is credited with introducing breakdancing to the world.  The song is arguably much bigger than the film itself and why not?  Great chorus + Relatable lyrics = Winning combination.


2.  My Heart Will Go On (1997) from Titanic

Performed by:  Celine Dion; Music by:  James Horner; Lyrics by:  Will Jennings

Everything about the James Cameron film was gigantic and phenomenal and the same can be said of Celine Dion’s hit song.  Great songs don’t always accompany great movies, but in this case, both undoubtedly had something to do with the other’s success.  This song became one of the biggest selling singles of all time.  It dominated the 1999 Grammy Awards winning Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.  This song is widely considered one of the top “break-up” songs ever made.  No matter when it is played it will always evoke the memories of Jack and Rose “flying” on the stern of the doomed ship.  The movie was great before the song, but together both became enduring masterpieces in pop culture.


1.  (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life (1987) from Dirty Dancing

Performed by:  Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley; Music by:  Franke Previte, John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz; Lyric by:  Franke Previte

Not to be outdone by Irene Cara, Jennifer Warnes finds herself on the list and in the top spot for her duet with Bill Medley.  Perhaps no song will ever be able to replicate this song’s Pop Culture significance.  23 years later it is STILL being used in commercials, as its message is timeless and boundary free.  There is no doubt that Dirty Dancing is the reason this song gained so much popularity, but its staying power has proven to be top notch.  It’s the type of song that no matter what you’re doing, even if you haven’t seen the movie, when it plays, you’re going to think of Johnny and Baby’s final dance (or at least Patrick Swayze.  Come on admit it).  Women love the film, men secretly watch it, and the world can’t help but be affected by it.  It’s a deserving #1.

Dirty Dancing – Time of my Life (Final Dance)
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Honorable Mentions

Good songs, but just couldn’t make the cut.

“A Whole New World” from Aladdin

“Say You, Say Me” from White Nights

“Beauty and the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast”