25 Great Eponymous Movie Theme Songs
Is there anything better than a movie with a great theme song? Arguably, yes. But I’m still fond of theme songs anyway, particularly when said song shares an exact title with the movie it’s from. The eponymous movie theme song is a rare and sometimes strange breed, sort of like a hairless sphinx.
I decided to collect 25 of the best of these beautiful, bizarre creatures into a single list, but in order to do that, I first needed to set a few ground rules. Only song titles that exactly matched their corresponding film would be included. If a theme included a subtitle (like ‘Flashdance ... What a Feeling’), that didn’t count. If a theme included the word “theme” in its title (like the great ‘Theme from Shaft’), that was out too (unfortunately). Musicals were disqualified on the grounds that most musicals have eponymous theme songs, which makes them a lot less special or interesting. It’s the non-musicals that go the extra mile and make a random theme song anyway that deserve our attention and YouTube viewership. And so, ranked in chronological order, here are 25 Great Eponymous Movie Theme Songs
1. ‘Johnny Guitar’ (1954)
Written by Peggy Lee and Victor Young
Peggy Lee’s mournful voice carries the sad melody of this beautiful theme song from Nicholas Ray’s intense Western melodrama. The melody by Victor Young is absolutely haunting, one reason it’s been covered many times in the half-century since.
2. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ (1954)
Written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn
Frank Sinatra sang a bunch of great movie theme songs, but most of them didn’t qualify for this list. (His song for ‘The Tender Trap,’ for example, is technically titled ‘(Love Is) the Tender Trap.’) But ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ made the cut, thanks to Ol’ Blue Eyes’ sparkling vocals. Incredibly, Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn wrote the song in an hour without seeing the movie it was “inspired by,” a romantic comedy set in Rome.
3. ‘Town Without Pity’ (1961)
Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington
This sultry stew of jazz horns and guitar is the perfect soundtrack for this courtroom drama about a group of American solders on trial for sexual assault in post-World War II Germany. The vocals are by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Gene Pitney.
4. ‘Goldfinger’ (1964)
Written by John Barry, Anthony Newly, and Leslie Bricusse
The James Bond franchise is famous for big, brassy title songs, but few have come as big or as brassy—or as Bassey—as the theme for ‘Goldfinger,’ with its huge horn riffs and booming Shirley Bassey vocals. The music is unforgettable but the lyrics are great too; Goldfinger is described as “the man with the Midas touch / a spider’s touch” (and he’s such a cold finger, too). Before the audience ever sees Goldfinger, this song establishes him an epic foe for 007.
5. ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ (1965)
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
The theme to this Woody Allen-penned comedy is like the sounds of the swinging ’60s distilled into two minutes and 18 seconds. The song became so well-known that when it was time to make a sequel to the film, one of its lyrics was chosen as the title: ‘Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You.’
6. ‘Alfie’ (1966)
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Though initially reluctant to record a song about a dude named Alfie, Burt Bacharach eventually relented, and pulled significant inspiration from the film itself, including the opening line “What’s it all about?” which was cribbed from dialogue spoken by Michael Caine. Technically ‘Alfie’ was intended as a promotional tool rather than a part of the film’s soundtrack, but Cher’s version was attached to the closing credits of ‘Alfie’’s American release, which is good enough for us.
7. ‘To Sir, With Love’ (1967)
Written by Don Black and Mark London
“If you wanted the sky, I would wriiiiiiiite across the sky.” Man, Lulu’s voice is so great. It really amplifies the nostalgic tone of the song, appreciating this great teacher who’s helped his students so much. It always gets a little dusty in the room for me right around the start of verse two.
8. ‘Across 110th Street’ (1972)
Written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson
For this unique blaxploitation crime drama—a sympathetic portrait of cop and criminal that depicts both sides as cogs in the same dehumanizing machine—Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson crafted a similarly sensitive portrait of 1970s Harlem, an ode to men and women “doing whatever [they] had to do to survive.” It’s a funky, soulful wake-up call, right down to the final “look around you” outro. It worked so well Quentin Tarantino swiped and reused it for the opening credits of his blaxploitation homage ‘Jackie Brown.’
9. ‘Superfly’ (1972)
Written by Curtis Mayfield
Technically, this song shouldn’t qualify; Curtis Mayfield’s iconic funk track is titled ‘Superfly’ (one word) while the Gordon Parks Jr. movie it’s from is ‘Super Fly’ (two words). But c’mon, it’s just one little space, and if I left this masterpiece off the list I’d never hear the end of it (and rightfully so). So we’re allowing this one super fly exception.
10. ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Perhaps not the most lyrically-dynamic Bond theme (or Paul McCartney song), but the bombastic guitar riffs work perfectly with Maurice Binder’s opening title sequence. (Fiery skulls! Naked ladies! More fire!) If you’ve ever seen McCartney in concert, you know this one’s always a highlight, too. (Spoiler alert: He uses a lot of pyro. More fire!)
11. ‘The Way We Were’ (1973)
Written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch
Shut up, this song is amazing. It won an Oscar and a Golden Globe dammit! It was parodied brilliantly in ‘The Naked Gun 2 1/2’! Barbra Streisand rules! Oh, leave me alone.
12. ‘The Harder They Come’ (1973)
Written by Jimmy Cliff
This Jamaican thriller about an aspiring musician who gets stymied by a corrupt record industry and becomes a folk hero and outlaw helped popularize reggae music around the world, thanks in large part to the infectious theme song written and performed by star Jimmy Cliff. Forty years later, its message about unstoppable dreams (not to mention its toe-tapping rhythm) still holds up.
13. ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
Written by Mel Brooks and John Morris
For the theme song of his Western parody, Mel Brooks wanted a “Frankie Lane-type” who could ape the style of the ballads that served as the theme songs to many popular ’40s and ’50s Westerns. Improbably, the real Laine (who’d sung the themes to ‘Gunfight at the O.K, Corral’ and ‘3:10 to Yuma’) wound up getting the gig, but Brooks never told him the film was a comedy. Laine’s earnest vocals worked; his sincere crooning made the goofy lyrics even funnier.
14. ‘9 to 5’ (1980)
Written by Dolly Parton
This ’80s workplace comedy with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton is well-remembered, but Parton’s lively theme song had an even bigger and more long-lasting impact on popular culture. The lyrics have become part of the vernacular; when someone says “working 9 to 5” someone always invariably replies “what a way to make a living.” It’s automatic.
15. ‘Fame’ (1980)
Written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford
I think there is a very good chance this song really will live forever.
16. ‘Endless Love’ (1981)
Written by Lionel Richie
Sure, it’s been played to death on easy listening radio. Yes, if I hear the elevator Muzak version one more time I might lose my mind. But let’s look past all that. ‘Endless Love’ is a stone-cold classic duet. It’s outlived its movie, a forgotten romance starring Brooke Shields, but don’t hold that against it. As long as someone needs a slow dance to play at a wedding, ‘Endless Love’ will live up to its title.
17. ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)
Written by Ray Parker Jr.
Quick question: If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters, obviously. In the thirty years since Ivan Reitman’s beloved horror comedy hit theaters, Ray Parker Jr.’s bouncy theme song has remained nearly as popular as the film itself. If the song sounds vaguely familiar to you, you’re not alone; Huey Lewis sued Parker for infringing on his copyright for the song ‘I Want A New Drug.’ Who did he call? Intellectual property law-busters! (The case was eventually settled out of court.)
18. ‘Footloose’ (1984)
Written by Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford
When the king of yacht-rock says cut loose, you say “How loose?” (Answer: Footloose). So everybody cut loose! Do it now! Kenny Loggins demands it! This enduring anthem of teenage rebellion didn’t just propel its film into the annals of cheesetastic ’80s movie history, it’s also the ideal soundtrack for any game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
19. ‘Repo Man’ (1984)
Written by Iggy Pop
Damn, 1984 was a good year for eponymous movie theme songs. Last but certainly not least was Iggy Pop’s punk masterpiece, written and recorded in a matter of minutes in the spring of 1983. For the full story, I encourage you to read this account of the recording session, which involves the use of two “Cuban cigar”-sized lines of cocaine.
20. ‘Weird Science’ (1985)
Written by Danny Elfman
Danny Elfman is now recognized as a great film composer, but in 1985 he was still best known as a member of Oingo Boingo, who contributed the appropriately eclectic theme song to John Hughes’ sci-fi film ‘Weird Science.’ The track was later recycled for the ‘Weird Science’ television show, and about a million “Best of the ’80s” compilation albums.
21. ‘Who’s That Girl?’ (1987)
Written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard
Most of Madonna’s terrible movies were only worthwhile for the great Madonna songs that she made as part of their soundtracks. Case in point: The title track from this 1987 romantic comedy about a woman (Madonna) who convinces a stuffy attorney (Griffin Dunne) to help her clear her name after she’s wrongfully accused of murder. Bored already? Me too. Let’s just hear the song.
22. ‘Pet Sematary’ (1989)
Written by Dee Dee Ramone, Daniel Rey
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ felt too close to a musical to include, but that’s cool; that gives us the space to praise this great Ramones track from the Stephen King adaptation of the same name about a haunted graveyard. I agree with Joey Ramone: No one wants to be buried in a pet cemetery (or sematary). That’s not cool.
23. ‘That Thing You Do!’ (1996)
Written by Adam Schlesinger
Tom Hanks’ directorial debut was this dramedy about a rock-and-roll band that skyrockets to fame with a catchy pop hit named ‘That Thing You Do!’ Songwriter Adam Schelsinger from the band Fountains of Wayne was charged with coming up with a believable vintage ditty and one catchy enough to actually become a hit. He succeeded so well on the latter point that the song actually did become a radio hit, in spite of its retro sound. WARNING: Playing this video will result in this earworm getting trapped in your head for days or possibly weeks.
24. ‘Pineapple Express’ (2008)
Written by Johnny Colla, David Fredericks, and Huey Lewis
To spoof the many “plot songs” that littered (and explained) the buddy comedies of the ’80s and ’90s, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg got one of the masters of the form, Huey Lewis, to poke a little fun at himself with this slyly self-referential throwback. Bonus points to Lewis (and the rest of The News) for adding smoking and coughing sounds during the breakdown.
25. ‘Skyfall’ (2012)
Written by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
Some Bond films have more song-friendly titles than others. A few composers have gotten around the more awkward Ian Fleming names by just leaving them out of their compositions entirely (the theme to ‘Octopussy,’ for example, is simply ‘All Time High’). But Adele bravely accepted the challenge of writing a song called ‘Skyfall,’ and produced one of the franchise’s loveliest and most soulful ballads. Also worth noting: It makes an absolutely fantastic karaoke song. Trust me on this; I speak from experience.