20th Century Fox

The most memorable songs from '80s movies

Updated 4 days ago  |  By Chris Morgan

The image is indelible. John Cusack standing with a boom box over his head. He’s trying to win back Ione Skye’s heart. You may not remember that he actually fails in this moment, but you definitely remember the song he’s blasting is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. It’s a quintessential film moment, and the fact the song is so good helps. It is just one of many memorable songs from '80s movies that we detail here.

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Columbia Pictures

Well, Huey Lewis may not be too high on this song. After all, he sued Ray Parker Jr. over plagiarism, claiming “Ghostbusters” ripped off his song “I Want a New Drug.” Eventually, they reached a settlement. For us, we just know the song is catchy. When Parker asks who we’re gonna call, we all know the answer.

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“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”
Vestron Pictures

We could have chosen a few songs from “Dirty Dancing”; it’s pretty music heavy, since people rarely dance in silence. The clear choice, though, is “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the theme song. You can see Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey right now as Bill Medley's and Jennifer Warnes’ voices echo in your head. The song won an Oscar. No arguments here.

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Paramount Pictures

Just reading the name of this song puts to mind leg warmers pumping up and down. You may not remember the name Michael Sembello, but you definitely remember his song “Maniac.” Originally written after having watched a horror movie, he tweaked it for “Flashdance.” Suddenly it was about dancing like you’ve never danced before.

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“The Power of Love”

After the “Ghostbusters” fiasco, Huey Lewis and the News decided to get in the movie soundtrack game themselves. While the band also provided “Back in Time” to “Back to the Future,” Lewis didn’t want to write a song that simply describes what happened in the movie. As such, he also wrote “The Power of Love” for the film, and it paid off big time. It’s the epitome of ‘80s power pop.

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Paramount Pictures

We don’t need to tell you what movie this is from. After Kevin Bacon brings dance to a repressed town, all the kids get to celebrate by cutting a rug. Naturally, Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” plays during this. Loggins is the king of ‘80s soundtrack songs. We will not accept arguments otherwise.

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“Danger Zone”
Paramount Pictures

See, we told you Loggins was the king of the ‘80s. There was no way we could get away with not including at least two of his songs. “Top Gun” includes the iconic “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. However, when you think about Tom Cruise’s action flick, we know the first song that comes to mind is the pounding strains of “Danger Zone.” Sterling Archer agrees.

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“When Doves Cry”
Warner Bros.

OK, given that Prince made his own movies in the ‘80s maybe this isn’t fair. However, all we take from his movies, including “Purple Rain,” is the music. Prince wasn’t much of an actor, and the movies are silly, but there are few better movie soundtracks. “When Doves Cry” was a No. 1 Billboard hit, and it’s maybe his most iconic song.

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“I Melt With You”

“Valley Girl” was many people’s introduction to Nicolas Cage. It also clued a lot of people into the culture of the San Fernando Valley and the whole “Valley Girl” thing. However, Martha Coolidge’s romantic comedy did more than that. Modern English’s “I Melt With You” was not written for the movie, but it was included in the film in a significant fashion. “Valley Girl” helped put the song into the popular consciousness and gave Modern English its one memorable hit. If not for the movie, “I Melt With You” wouldn’t still be on oldies stations.

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“Eye of the Tiger”

You’re already getting pumped to work out. That’s the power of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Those opening notes just pound into your skull and reach for your heart. Its whole purpose is to score Rocky Balboa getting into shape to face Clubber Lang in “Rocky III.” That was a lot to live up to, but they pulled it off.

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“Holiday Road”
Warner Bros.

If you’ve ever seen a movie from the “Vacation” series, you’ve heard “Holiday Road.” The song was written by Lindsey Buckingham for the original movie in the National Lampoon series — the one where the Griswolds are actually on a road trip. Buckingham knew what he was doing, because the song just feels tailor-made for driving.

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“Axel F”
Paramount Pictures

You don’t need lyrics for an iconic song. “Beverly Hills Cop” is a classic ‘80s film, mostly because it helped power Eddie Murphy into true superstardom. It also had an infectious theme song, “Axel F,” which is named for Murphy’s character, Axel Foley, and was written by Harold Faltermeyer. If you know the song, it’s already wormed its way into your head. You’re welcome for now, and we’re sorry for when it’s still stuck there in 10 hours.

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“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)”
Columbia Pictures

The “Man in Motion” part of the title seems unnecessary, because people only know this song as “St. Elmo’s Fire.” That’s the name of the ‘80s Brat Pack movie that it was written for, after all. It’s also what people remember from the chorus. John Parr’s song become a No. 1 hit, even if “St. Elmo’s Fire” hasn’t held up as well as other ‘80s movies.

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“In Your Eyes”
20th Century Fox

The aforementioned scene from "Say Anything". You definitely remember the song he’s blasting is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, but what you may not remember that Cusack's character actually fails in the moment. 

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“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Universal Pictures

Speaking of iconic images, we give you Judd Nelson pumping his fist into the sky. After he and the rest of “The Breakfast Club” have learned some lessons and left detention, the movie fades into its credits. The song that plays then is this one from Simple Minds. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is now a symbol of the ‘80s to this day, and it’s a slice of all-time ‘80s nostalgia.

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“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
TriStar Pictures

Tears For Fears was a successful band that didn’t need a big movie to give it a boost, as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” made waves on its own. That being said, we’re talking about memorable songs from movie, and if you’ve seen “Real Genius,” — and if you haven’t you really should — you remember that the film ends with the Tear For Fears’ hit playing. For a movie about corruption and the military industrial complex, and also Val Kilmer being really funny, it’s a great choice.

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“Old Time Rock and Roll”
Warner Bros.

Bob Seger’s nostalgic song was released in 1978, and we assume its infectious nature got some people’s attention then. However, most people are aware of “Old Time Rock and Roll” for just one reason, and it involves Tom Cruise sliding across the floor in his underwear. Cruise’s performance in “Risky Business” to Seger’s tune became the thing everybody remembers from the movie. In fact, it got “Old Time Rock and Roll” on AFI’s “100 Years…100 Songs” list.

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“Twist and Shout”
Paramount Pictures

Yeah, it’s a Beatles song. Sure it was huge basically from the second that people heard it. Teenage girls went nuts for the Fab Four’s early rock hit. Then Ferris Bueller, that lovable teenage sociopath, made it his own during a parade in Chicago. Bueller’s performance of “Twist and Shout” is very much an indelible ‘80s film moment. We could have also gone with “Oh Yeah” by Yello from this movie.

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“Wind Beneath My Wings”
Touchstone Pictures

Several different people have recorded versions of “Wind Beneath My Wings," which was written in 1982 and is not a Bette Midler original. You may not have even known there were earlier versions, as Midler made the song her own in her 1988 weepie “Beaches.” She took it to another level when she sung it for Johnny Carson when he retired from “The Tonight Show.”

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United Artists

“Fame” will, indeed, live forever. The song comes from the film of the same name, a 1980 flick that looked at some aspiring young folks hoping to become actors, singers, dancers...all sorts of creative stuff. In short, they wanted fame. The song was performed by Irene Cara, who also played Coco Hernandez in the film. Later, “Fame” was used as the theme song for a TV show based on the movie. Naturally.

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“9 to 5”
20th Century Fox

Parton did it all in “9 to 5.” She wrote this song for the film, and she’s one of the co-stars. The infectious song brought her a ton of success, and not just in the movie world. “9 to 5” got four Grammy nominations as well. In fact, she even won for Best Country Song.

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Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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