23 Greatest Movie Song Moments From the ’90s

23 Greatest Movie Song Moments From the ’90sEXPAND
Image designed by Art Tavana

Looking back at the '90s, for reasons that only Kurt Loder and Clarissa Darling may be able to explain, it isn't so much nostalgia that rekindles our fondness but the decade's outrageously cool attempts at reinterpreting the past. We often forget that the '90s were the first decade that mostly lacked artistic novelty, and whose most infamous filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, was a shameless retrophile, while everything from Forrest Gump's dominance at the box office to the hacker movie and Valley Girl–inspired teen movie were retro.

The '90s were also all about the music. The decade's films gave us movie stars made famous in music videos (Alicia Silverstone bungee jumping in an Aerosmith video, to start) and introduced us to indie bands, like Radiohead in S.F.W. or techno music as the hacker's preferred genre. The '90s just took what the '80s created, with their music video–style sequences, and made them a bit cooler; relatable for an AOL generation jaded by grunge — too emo for rah-rah training montages and uncomfortably awkward dance-offs. 

The following — beginning at 23 as an homage to the decade's winningest person, Michael Jordan — is a meticulously ranked list of the most memorable moments when a song made a sequence so cool that it won an MTV Movie Award or started a trend. While the '80s had more memorable hits generated by songs' interplay in film, the '90s had iconic moments we continue to obsessively reinterpret and attempt to fashion our lives around.

23. Blink-182 - "Dammit"
Can't Hardly Wait [1998]
For the teen movie, the house party, along with prom night, was the genre's laziest (and oftentimes most memorable) cinematic technique to bring closure to shit. Can't Hardly Wait was an entire movie built around this concept, where Blink-182's "Dammit" comes on just as the cops show up to shut down the party. "Well, I guess this is growing up" is how a music supervisor narrates a stupidly simple high school comedy without a voice-over. —Art Tavana

22.  The Prodigy — "Voodoo People"
Hackers [1995]
If the history of the internet was a TED Talk and the cultural impact of Hackers was being discussed, the speaker would conclude that one film, by itself, made it offensively sexy to play with a computer. It also gave us Angelina Jolie, her CGI-style lips and the myth that it's better to code to electronic music. "Voodoo People" is the film's beating heart, the song we hear during a hacker battle between "Zero Cool" (Jonny Lee Miller) and "Acid Burn" (Angelina Jolie), which basically predicted online dating. —Art Tavana

21. R. Kelly — "I Believe I Can Fly"
Space Jam [1996]
A live-action cartoon based on Michael Jordan's pointless retirement and messianic return as basketball Jesus, Space Jam's mawkishly inspirational theme "I Believe I Can Fly" is how we, the audience, watch in awe as teenage Air Jordan shoots around in his backyard (contemplating flight) and then returns to Earth in a cartoon spaceship piloted by Looney Tunes. This movie is ridiculous, but with R. Kelly singing about taking flight in a cornfield, it's Field of Dreams for the "Be Like Mike" generation. —Art Tavana

20. Coyote Shivers — "SugarHigh"
Empire Records [1995]
Over the course of a single whirlwind day, the employees of an imperiled record store get up to all sorts of mischief. There’s head shaving, diet-pill popping, aging pop star–fucking, but it all wraps up with a triumphant vocal performance by Gina (Renee Zellweger), whose compulsive promiscuity is really just a symptom of her low self-esteem. Get her up on the rooftop with Coyote Shivers for a rendition of the somewhat generic power-pop jammer “SugarHigh” and she’s all wound up like a sexy baby having a tantrum. (This scene has always made me feel deeply, deeply uncomfortable for Zellweger, which is why I love it so awfully much.) The Empire Records soundtrack was full of choice, era-defining songs such as Gin Blossoms’ “Until I Hear It From You” and Edwyn Collins’ fuzzy, retro “A Girl Like You,” but sadly the version of “SugarHigh” included therein was Zellweger-free and kind of a letdown. And the soundtrack didn’t even have “Say No More, Mon Amour.” Way to ruin Rex Manning's day. (Fun fact: From 1992 to 1999, Coyote Shivers was married to former model and legendary groupie Bebe Buell, mother of Liv Tyler. So when Empire Records came out in ’95, a 30-year-old Shivers was Tyler’s stepdad. Cute!) —Gwynedd Stuart

19. Aerosmith — "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"
Armageddon [1998]
Director Michael Bay understood machismo better than any other filmmaker of his generation. The opening sequence of Bad Boys is basically car porn during a sunset. He took maleness, siphoned the shit out of it and somehow made countless blockbusters built around epic montages and explosions during sunsets. Armageddon was his most sensitive film: a story about a father protecting his daughter from a giant fucking asteroid. A power ballad by Aerosmith and Diane Warren scores the emotional pre-takeoff sequence, during a sunset, of course, and the closing wedding scene when Liv Tyler marries Ben Affleck while her real-life dad sings: "Don't wanna close my eyes, don't wanna fall asleep, cuz I miss you, baby, and I don't wanna miss a thing." —Art Tavana

18. Cyndi Lauper — "Time After Time"
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion [1997]
A movie about young-adult angst that had a wildly successful original soundtrack that was actually pretty shitty: 11 popular hits from the '80s that were all, by 1997, played out and mostly reserved for shopping mall playlists. One song missing from the soundtrack provides one of the most earnest scenes in '90s cinema. Rubber magnate Sandy Frink — wearing Air Jordan–inspired ballroom kicks — dances with Romy and Michele to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" in a choreographed ballet that was at once ridiculous and better than anything on Dancing With the Stars. —Art Tavana

17.  Hanz Zimmer — "You're So Cool"
True Romance (1993)
Zimmer's carefree calypso juxtaposes the gritty romance between Clarence, a comic book–store clerk, and a hooker named Alabama, every geek's dream girl. Titled after the film's most memorable line, "You're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool," the melody hypnotizes us during Alabama's poetic voice-over and quietly commands us to stay cool as the film feeds us Clarence's dangerous philosophy: "Rock & roll, living fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse." —Art Tavana

16. The Sundays — "Wild Horses" 
Fear [1996]
There’s no way Harriet Wheeler and co. could’ve dreamed their beautiful, sublimely twang-free cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” would be inserted — pun intended — into the most iconic finger-banging scene in ’90s cinema. The song’s dreamy strains begin as Nicole and David (Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg) board a roller coaster at a better-than-average carnival. He places his hand on her thigh — but wait! She’s got something more in mind. After some thrusting with David’s wrist at an unnatural angle, and just in time for both the song’s chorus and the ride’s zenith, Nicole achieves ecstasy. Before you praise the film’s sex-positivity, keep in mind that this is all a Lifetime-style cautionary tale to redouble a teen girl's anxiety that the boys we allow to take liberties with our purity will turn out to be criminally insane people who are also lazy spellers ("Nicole 4 eva" ... c'maaan). Worse yet, it promised a sort of rapturous pleasure our boyfriends’ (or girlfriends’) digits couldn’t actually deliver. Good song, though. —Gwynedd Stuart

15. KISS — "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" 
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey [1991]
The final scene in Bill and Ted's unpretentious journey to conquer the "Battle of the Bands" ends with KISS' "God Gave Rock and Roll to You." It's a most epic set broadcast around the world as Bill and Ted's band, Wyld Stallyns, shred to restore peace to the world — with the Grim Reaper on bass — becoming the biggest band on the planet right in front of our eyes. The sheer epicness of the scene establishes the whole point of the Bill and Ted franchise: to sell us on the idea that Van Halen and babes are as crucial for survival as oxygen. This is also the most unashamedly anti-grunge scene during the rise of grunge. KISS were the perfect band to sell us on Bill and Ted's hard-rockin' worldview. —Art Tavana

14. The Flaming Lips — "Bad Days"
Batman Forever [1995]
Of all the original songs on the Batman Forever soundtrack (widely considered to be better than the movie itself), including Seal's No. 1 hit "Kiss From a Rose," only three actually appeared in the film. The vague optimism of Flaming Lips' slacker classic "Bad Days," a song most people discovered on this soundtrack, provides a bit of sunshine through the thick clouds of Elliot Goldenthal's score. It's also the unofficial theme of neurotic scientist Edward Nygma, brilliantly overacted by Jim Carrey, whom we see creating a riddle in his shitty apartment as he transforms into the Riddler. —Art Tavana

13. Neil Young's guitar
Dead Man [1996]
Jim Jarmusch's postmodern Western is scored by Neil Young's guitar in such a way that it makes every solo feel as if it's pushing William Blake further into native territory to meet his maker. Young's solos are minimalistic, wild and uncomfortably loud. Somehow the sound of jolting guitar riffs in the lonely, monochromatic West are kind of ridiculous. We often think of Ennio Morricone scores, or Disney's fictionalized "Old West" idealism when it comes to Westerns, but Neil Young brought rock & roll to the genre and made it fucking cool rather than outdated. —Art Tavana

12. Jim Carrey — "Somebody to Love"
The Cable Guy [1996]
This movie was dark and kind of sad, a buddy movie about a sociopath looking for a real friend. The film's psychedelic karaoke scene seems like a bonding moment, at first, but it's really Chip's (Jim Carrey) attempt at catching Steven (Matthew Broderick) in the act with another woman, and then using it as blackmail to coerce a friendship. All the creepiness of the karaoke scene often overshadows the fact that Carrey sang Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" like Johnny Rotten, dressed like Jim Morrison, in what became an MTV music video and the film's most memorable scene. —Art Tavana


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