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The 30 Best Songs for Movie Trailers

The Who, Paul Simon, Jay Z, et al. know how to sell cinema.

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    Artwork by Kristin Frenzel

    An excellent movie trailer used to be a rarity. Before Apple started uploading trailers online, previews were simply considered mundane commercials with the same “In a world…” narration, a few banner names, a cliffhanger clip, and a date. Sometimes, you’d catch a random teaser trailer for a highly-anticipated sequel without any notice. (For example, when the T.Rex stamped its foot into the mud and announced 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park, my father had to chase me around the aisles, popcorn in tow.) But really, it wasn’t until the last decade and a half that every trailer attempted to be as eventful as the film itself.

    That’s certainly something we discovered when compiling this list. As you’ll notice, most of the previews ahead date post-1999 and that’s largely due to the evolution of the movie trailer itself. They’re sleeker, more self-aware, and snappy in ways that catch our eyes and make us want to rewatch them again and again and again. In some respects, they’re short films — ahem, Zach Braff’s Garden State — and that’s mostly because they have a stellar song championing the visuals. In light of that marriage in marketing, we thought it’d be wise to rope together the 30 best songs in 30 different trailers.

    You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll remember why you paid $12 to see these movies.

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    30. Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”

    Disturbing Behavior

    When I first watched the trailer eons ago, I remember imagining it as an alternative-dimension Dawson’s Creek. Joey Potter had turned naughty, and Harvey Danger supplanted Paula Cole for the show’s theme song. Song remains a classic, the movie…

    How’d the film turn out? …not so much. I caught it on TV years ago and remember very little.

    –Justin Gerber

    29. Jay Z and Kanye West – “No Church in the Wild”

    The Great Gatsby

    While some were averse to Baz Lurhman’s contemporary soundtrack for Gatsby, Kanye West and Jay Z’s “No Church in the Wild” was a perfect fit for this candy-coated trailer. Gatsby’s depth as a character can be seen in Frank Ocean’s musings: “What’s a king to a God?/ What’s a God to a non-believer, who don’t believe in anything?”

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    How’d the film turn out? Not nearly as well as the trailer promised, but still–quality entertainment, as Leo can do no wrong.

    –Amanda Koellner

    28. Spoon – “The Way We Get By”

    Stranger Than Fiction

    You’re primed to expect something different if Will Ferrell’s dramatic gifts match his comedic talents. This charming, sentimentally uplifting trailer, together with Spoon’s accomplished hooks and serenading piano notes, allow themes of existential anxiety to remain at a comfortable and quirky ambience. Everything is pleasantly jarring with dramatic irony being buoyed by intelligent songwriting.

    How’d the film turn out? In reality, the trailer was better than fiction — Will Ferrel proved he’s not just a pretty face when he was nominated for a Golden Globe as Harold Crick.

    –Lior Phillips

    27. Sneaker Pimps – “6 Feet Underground”

    Cruel Intentions

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    At the time, this trailer was a dirty-minded adrenaline drenched ride perpetuated by the myth that teenagers scheming to deflower virgins and turn girls into tramps was a true betrayal of the New York City privileged crop of prep-schoolers. This standout trip-hop track was as symbolic of an era as the slow-motion Buffy versus Blair scene was to the movie and it fit perfectly.

    How’d the film turn out? Fourteen years old thinking the mantra “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” was the definitive answer to everything, the iconic end scene injected with The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was perfect. (Joshua Jackson’s flamboyant gay trickster character still gives me day-mares, though.)

    –Lior Phillips

    26. Ivy – “Edge of the Ocean”

    Before Sunset

    After nine years, seeing the old clips here of Jesse and Celine again sent jolts of electricity through the veins of every hapless romantic who had waited on pins and paper hearts following Before Sunrise. Did they ever reunite? What happened after Vienna? The way Ivy’s sleek hit weaves in and out here, tapered with the sunlight fonts, and the expressions of our two wiser heroes — all delectable as an $87 bar of dark chocolate. In 2004, I cheered alone in Ft. Lauderdale’s art house theater, but I cheered loud.

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    How’d the film turn out? Similar to the wine these characters adore, Richard Linklater’s brilliant series gets better with each installment. Sunset and last year’s sequel, Midnight, both nabbed Oscar nominations for their screenplays.

    –Michael Roffman

    25. Van Morrison – “Comfortably Numb”

    The Departed

    We get older. Good, evil, they become blurry. Are we fighting for something, or against it? To break the law or enforce, you’ve gotta be a little numb. And, as Van Morrison tells it, there’s some kind of comfort in that.

    How’d the film turn out? Won the Oscar that Goodfellas deserved.

    –Randall Colburn

    24. Nine Inch Nails – “The Day The Whole World Went Away”

    Terminator Salvation

    For a few minutes, I thought maybe, just maybe, this will be really good. This track from The Fragile brainwashed us into believing so, building an apocalyptic mood as the trailer progressed. Christian Bale as a future John Connor. Cool. McG directing? Maybe I should just re-watch this trailer again.

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    How’d the film turn out? I can now focus on Sam Worthington when it comes to the question: “Why is this guy a movie star?”, now that Shia LaBeouf is all but finished.

    –Justin Gerber

    23. Van Halen – “Panama”

    Superbad

    What better song to showcase Bill Hader drunkenly slurring its lyrics from behind the wheel of a cop car, Michael Cera hopelessly punching a girl in the boob, and a pre-Oscar Jonah Hill booping his co-star BFF on the nose? “Panama” detonates the two-and-a-half-minute glimpse into this high school odyssey for booze and women like only a Van Halen track could.

    How’d the film turn out? We are all McLovin’.

    –Amanda Koellner

    22. James – “Laid”

    American Pie

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    “Laid” is the kind of song that makes you go, “Oh, yeah…this song.” Even if you’ve never heard it before. American Pie has the same effect. It’s influences are so interwoven into mainstream pop culture that it exudes a sort of imperceptible nostalgia. “Laid” is the same, a song you’ve never heard, but have somehow heard a 100 times. It’s no wonder people flocked to the theaters.

    How’d the film turn out? American Pie Presents: Band Camp; American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile; American Pie Presents: Beta House, American Pie Presents: The Book of Love.

    –Randall Colburn

    21. Manfred Mann – “Blinded by the Light”

    Blow

    In the history of rock and roll, the “Wrapped up like a douche” mondegreen is unequivocally the most colourful of the lot and just like the film and trailer’s churning hyperactivity it becomes the perfect wallpaper for an eye-popping opening montage of tanned bodies parading around in hazy cocaine clouds. The voice over “if you really wanna score, I got the guy” chimes in and it feels inspired setting the tempo to a giddy crescendo.

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    How’d the film turn out? I care little for the critics who turned their noses up at this sobering story, who could forget Penelope Cruz saying ‘George’/Johnny Depp’s badass bravado/one of the best soundtracks of 2001 – a grossly undervalued film.

    –Lior Phillips

    20. Third Eye Blind – “Graduate / How’s It Gonna Be”

    Can’t Hardly Wait

    In the high school cinema realm of 1998, you were either a prom queen, jock, geek, nerd, or metalhead (no amalgamations allowed), and you were likely on a mission to get laid. As the last night of school finds many on their personal deadline for sexual enlightenment, some social interaction, or unrequited love profession, Third Eye Blind’s double header of “Graduate” and “How’s It Gonna Be?” encapsulate the pre-Y2K high school experience as seen through the movies while quite simply asking what most 18-year-olds wonder: “how’s it going to be after we graduate?”

    How’d the film turn out? I bought it for $1.99 when the Hollywood Video in Wicker Park closed last summer.

    –Amanda Koellner

    19. New Order – “Age of Consent”

    Marie Antoinette

    It was jarring to hear a song so embedded in ’80s culture playing in a trailer for a period piece. Learning later the film itself would feature modern music was just as shocking. Words were not needed in this trailer made great by New Order.

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    How’d the film turn out? Err, never seen it. Do the two or three scenes on Mr. Skin count?

    –Justin Gerber

    18. Pixies – “Where is My Mind”

    Fight Club

    The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” is as synonymous with Fight Club as Brad Pitt’s frosted tips. The song works as well in the trailer as it does at the film’s close, as Black Francis sings, seemingly here about The Narrator/Tyler Durden, “Your head will collapse/ If there’s nothing it in/ And you’ll ask yourself/ Where is my mind?”

    How’d the film turn out? I am Jack’s unruly cult status.

    –Amanda Koellner

    17. Electric Light Orchestra – “Mr Blue Sky”

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a heartrending love story slathered in technicolor facepaint. “Mr. Blue Sky” betrays its namesake by exuding every color of the rainbow, melding it mellifluously with Michel Gondry’s warped vision.

    How’d the film turn out? It’s so perfect and sad I don’t think I can ever watch it again.

    –Randall Colburn

    16. Beck – “Golden Age”

    Friday Night Lights

    Maybe I’m bias — after all, I have a “clear eyes, full hearts” tattoo on my wrist — but Friday Night Lights has to be one of the greatest sports films of all time. The way it’s ruthless about the harsh realities ahead of every high school football player, and uncompromising with the consequences. “Put your hands on the wheel/ Let the golden age begin,” Beck sings in the second half of the trailer, summarizing the thoughts of too many tackled souls of Odessa, TX. “You wanna get out of this town?” Sure, but I want to see this movie first, thought a 21-year-old Michael Roffman.

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    How’d the film turn out? Superb, but quickly surpassed by the five-season drama of the same name.

    –Michael Roffman

    15. The Strokes – “I’ll Try Anything Once”

    Somewhere

    It’s certainly worth mentioning that after the chaotic pop-laced soundtrack for Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere featured two remarkably poignant tracks that had more emotional effect in 1:52 than the entire movie. The underrated and cinematic auditory gem “Love Like A Sunset” by Phoenix coupled with the stripped down demo version of Julian Casablanca’s ‘You Only Live Once’ fit the underwater tea cup scene superbly and reconfirmed the Coppola’s affinity toward The Strokes.

    How’d the film turn out? …I’ll try anything once but how utterly lacking and utterly bland.

    –Lior Phillips

    14. Blind Melon – “No Rain”

    Sideways

    “I’m not Jack,” my friends and I would say to one another every time “No Rain” would bleed through the radio, PA, backyard BBQ, etc. At the time, you couldn’t see a film in the fall of 2004 without hearing Paul Giamatti plead his case to Virgina Madsen. Given the film’s sunny visuals and stormy disposition, Blind Melon’s timeless hit worked wonders in selling the moody Alexander Payne picture to holiday-hungry eyes that year. I was one of them.

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    How’d the film turn out? Possibly Payne’s best to date and certainly Giamatti’s.

    13. The Postal Service – “Such Great Heights”

    Garden State

    While Sam Beam’s fragile take on this now-iconic song is the version featured in the film (as Natalie Portman’s Sam collects Zach Braff’s Andrew’s tears in a Dixie Cup before the two share an intimate night), it’s the shimmering synths of The Postal Service’s original that first intrigued us as Portman begs questions like “Didn’t you Play the retarded quarterback?”

    How’d the film turn out? The full-size film poster that hung on my dorm room wall has since been disposed, but that’s not to say the film doesn’t still tug at certain heartstrings.

    –Amanda Koellner

    12. Moby – “Porcelain”

    The Beach

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    Michael Mann deserves all the credit in matching Moby to film with heart-wrenching precision for his use of “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” at the conclusion of 1995’s Heat. Like any plunderous discovery, it’s a well worth revisiting, and so did Danny Boyle for his oft-forgotten paradise thriller, The Beach. For its trailer, the keys, the synths, pretty every second of “Porcelain” proves the existence of synesthesia as we watch Leonardo DiCaprio marvel at Tilda Swinton’s island of fuck.

    How’d the film turn out? Hey, if it’s on Cinemax, I’m watching.

    –Michael Roffman

    11. Eric Clapton – “Layla”

    Goodfellas

    The first 75% of the Goodfellas trailer is about the good times. And then, when things start going to hell, that’s when the sultry, totally badass riffs of “Layla” enter the picture. That this tale of unattainable love underscores the action of men with everything at their fingertips is both perverse and wonderful. Sometimes, unattainable is best.

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    How’d the film turn out? Just try turning this off when it comes on cable. I dare you.

    –Randall Colburn

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