Many of us remember moments on screen when all of a sudden you sit up because a song you recognise has come on. Music is universal, after all, and even when new characters are embodying the emotions of those songs, they can connect. Personally, I love a good needle drop (you can read my interview with Our Flag Means Death music supervisor Maggie Phillips right here!) and here are some of my favourites, from both movies and TV, ranked purely by how much I personally love them.
“Johnny B. Goode,” Back to the Future
Starting with a classic from Chuck Barry, the only reason this is the first on the list is because everyone’s heard it and Back to the Future has been out for 40 years. A truly OG needle drop, so thanks, McFly, the kids do love it.
“All The Things She Said,” Birds of Prey
No, not the recent Harley Quinn-led movie. This is the 2002 TV series, Birds of Prey, also centered around DC superheroes, This might be one not many people have heard of, but this ridiculous and batshit fight scene to the early ‘00s faux-lesbian punk song “All the Things She Said” by t.A.T.u. was just the weirdest moment of 2002 and I loved it.
“Time in a Bottle,” X-Men: Days of Future Past
A little on the nose, but that’s why it’s in the middle rather than topping the list. In a moment of extreme pressure Quicksilver (Evan Peters) finally gets a second (or two) to show off, running around the set like a dervish. It’s a seriously cool, wonderfully fun special-effects driven scene, and Jim Croce’s delightful “Time in a Bottle” forces me to love it.
“Come A Little Bit Closer,” Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
I know both Guardians of the Galaxy films have a lot of these, but I’m going to choose my favourite. In my opinion, Yondu gets some of the best lines, and the energy of this scene is really incredible. Somehow the campy, gleefully brutal blood, guts, and gore of this scene is perfectly matched to this ‘60s hit from Jay and the Americans.
“Pauvre Lola,” Legion
An outlier, but I’m counting it. This isn’t even the best needle drop in this season of Legion, much less in the entire series, but I couldn’t find videos of the others. Regardless, this dreamy, bizarre-o ‘60s song from the French artist, Serge Gainsbourg, is a wonderful introduction to an absolutely batshit series.
“Paint it Black,” Westworld
Another odd choice because this isn’t so much of a needle drop as it is a rescore of another song — in this case, Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” But look, there’s something about this Spaghetti Western-inspired orchestral movement from Ramin Djawadi that adds so much drama and tension to this robbery scene that I can’t imagine the original emulating this find of supercharged, unhinged energy. Like, this version of this song is what you get when a 35-year-old man imagines himself a desperado. It’s wild, beautiful, and horrible all at once.
“Don’t Stop Me Now,” Shaun of the Dead
Honestly, a classic Queen drop in more ways than one. There’s just something about diegetic music in a fight scene that makes me immediately fall in love with a film. From the song choice to the sound design, everything about this clip is just class. We don’t need to take life and undeath so seriously.
“O Death,” Supernatural
I’m loathe to give Supernatural any credit at all, but this song hits hard and made me immediately care about what happened in the next episode, which is, in itself, a miracle. It was also different from the other needle drops on this show, which were largely classic rock hits. Jen Titus’ take on this Appalachian folk song was really quite great.
“Simply Irresistible,” What We Do in the Shadows
I love What We Do in the Shadows and Laszlo’s always been a fucking treat. When he “runs away” and starts a new life as Jackie Daytona, he gets some of the wildest arcs, and has some of the best guest stars, including a few scenes with Mark Hamill. This Robert Palmer song is the perfect choice, especially because Laszlo causes way more damage in his week as Jackie Daytona than he does this entire season as himself.
“Immigrant Song,” Thor: Ragnarok
Yes, this song shows up in the opening scene, but it’s the return of the Led Zeppelin banger in the finale that really earns this needle drop a place on this list. Thor getting his mojo back, Loki doing Loki things, Valkyrie showing up and kicking arse with fireworks in the background, and Hulk hulking out vs Fenrir? Pure cinema. It’s a renaissance painting, but with Marvel characters and sick-arse fight choreography and half-decent CGI (sort of, sometimes). The song works hard, but Taika Waititi works harder.
“Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” Black Mirror
The romance! The emotion! Let me have this one gay scene before I die. An iconic moment, an iconic episode, and this Belinda Carlisle pop song is so perfect that I can’t help but include this needle drop, even though I know this video isn’t the exact scene (it’s not on YouTube anywhere!). I’m trusting y’all to know in your heart of hearts that this ranking is correct.
The framing! The absurdity! Harry Belafonte’s energy! Unmatched. This one requires no explanation because it’s so wonderful. A classic that never gets old.
“Take It Back,” Lovecraft Country
There is so much anger, rage, and pride in this scene, I love it so much. It’s got an absolute fearlessness from top to bottom, performance to presentation. While Dorinda Clark-Cole’s “Take It Back” is more of a gospel song than a revenge anthem, we love this scene in all its cathartic window-smashing glory.
“Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” The Umbrella Academy
When music supervisor Maggie Phillips was asked to “inject a bit of innocence” into this very aggressive, brutal fight scene, she didn’t immediately think of this cover by They Might be Giants, but this song is now forever embedded in my subconscious as Five’s fight song. A wonderfully brilliant and absurd choice that cannot be matched.
“Sabotage,” Star Trek Beyond
This clip has literally everything I love. An unexpected diegetic soundtrack that has you on the edge of your seat visually and narratively. Every part of this scene is perfect, from Chris Pine’s weird little smirk, Bones’ quirky “Is that classical music?”, Sulu jamming along at the nav desk, and then the perfectly timed beat breakdown as Commander Finnegan says “Broadcast!” when all these ships just explode? Sickening. Absolutely perfect. I love the Beastie Boys at all times, but especially this time. Expertly done, no notes.
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