Sometimes, the perfect song at the perfect moment can make all the difference in a film, and 2015 brought a plethora of great examples, from the pink-hued, out-of-nowhere dance scene in Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" -- punctuated by Oliver Cheatham's "Get Down Saturday Night" -- to the use of David Bowie's classic "Starman" in a montage from Ridley Scott's "The Martian." Below, we've rounded up 10 particularly memorable examples from the past year.


  • "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper ("Anomalisa")
    Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

    Performed a cappella by Jennifer Jason Leigh in a key moment in the movie, what begins as a sort of joke about Lisa's taste turns out to be one of the sweetest scenes of 2015. There is such vulnerability and humanity in the performance that we instantly get a picture of who this woman is and just how afraid she is to let herself dream of love.
    - Drew McWeeny


  • "Get Down Saturday Night" by Oliver Cheatham ("Ex Machina")
    Photo Credit: Universal Studios

    This 1983 disco song has never been particularly iconic, having only reached the  mid-30s on the R&B charts when it came out. But you add Oscar Isaac and a dancing robot, and it suddenly becomes one of the year's most magical moments. It may be the most malice-filled invitation to shake yo' ass in any movie in 2015.
    - Drew McWeeny

  • "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes ("The Final Girls")
    Photo Credit: Stage 6 Films

    Kim Carnes' melancholy version of Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon's "Bette Davis Eyes" is one of those monster '80s hits you don't hear much anymore, but it's never had a better showcase than in director Todd Strauss-Schulson's heartfelt mother-daughter drama/slasher parody. The song is used as an emotional cue to keep us invested in the core relationship between Taissa Farmiga's character and her late "scream queen" mother (played by Malin Akerman) -- a beautifully wrought conceit that exposes the film's soft underbelly. It's a good thing, then, that Schluson didn't go with the screenwriters' original choice: Nena's 1983 anti-war anthem "99 Lufballons."
    - Chris Eggertsen


  • "Free Bird" by Lynryd Skynyrd ("Kingsman: The Secret Service")
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Lots of people have used this cue over the years, and in some very memorable ways. There's a pretty terrific use of it in Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects," but Matthew Vaughn may have claimed it for his own by using it to score a test of a weapon that drives crowds of people to violence in his insane spy movie, "Kingsman." Watching Colin Firth kill an entire church full of people would be shocking enough, but realizing just how well "Free Bird" works as the score of a massacre is a very strange delight.
    - Drew McWeeny

  • "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" by Bing Crosby ("Krampus")
    Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

    Michael Dougherty's surprise holiday horror hit starts off on a delightfully ironic note: as frantic Black Friday shoppers explode through the doors of a department store, Bing Crosby's caramel-voiced 1951 classic plays over scenes of slo-mo, consumerist carnage.
    - Chris Eggertsen


  • "Starman" by David Bowie ("The Martian")
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    There were several standout music moments in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of “The Martian,” including comedic use of disco tracks plucked right from the book. (The novel’s author, Andy Weir, told us it was he who suggested “I Will Survive” for the closing credits.) But it’s the film’s apt use of David Bowie’s “Starman” that’s particularly memorable. Featured during a montage of preparations to rescue Damon’s character, the song has just the right spirit of hope and optimism — and slick Bowie style — to be a perfect fit for the film.
    - Emily Rome

  • “Nessun dorma” by Giacomo Puccini (“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation”)
    Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

    In the best set piece of the movie, at the Vienna Opera House, Ethan and Benji attempt to foil a scheme to assassinate the Austrian Chancellor, and a thrilling action sequence ensues during a performance of “Turandot.” Puccini’s ominous notes punctuate each dramatic movement in Ethan’s pursuit of the snipers (yes, snipers plural) and provide the perfect backdrop to Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious presence in the scene. Composer Joe Kraemer also worked pieces of “Nessun dorma” into the score later when Ferguson’s Ilsa asks Ethan to run away with her — though that unnecessary proposal and the romantic tone of the moment felt a little off to “M:I” fans wondering why Ethan’s wife went unmentioned the whole film.
    - Emily Rome

  • “Back in Black” by AC/DC and “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin (“Riley’s First Date?”)
    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios/Pixar

    “Inside Out” left us wanting to see more of how this Pixar brain works, and that wish was granted with the short film “Riley’s First Date?” (included on the “Inside Out” DVD). We get a family-friendly peek at what’s going on in Mom and Dad’s heads while they’re smooching — an amusing end to the short thanks to some solid editing and clever use of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” There’s also a fun air guitar moment when Dad and the boy who shows up at Riley’s house bond over AC/DC.
    - Emily Rome

  • "Toyland" by Victor Herbert ("Tangerine")
    Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

    The moment when Alexandra (Mya Taylor) breaks out into a low-key rendition of the song made famous by Doris Day to a nearly-empty bar on Christmas Eve comes as a surprise: we go into the scene expecting a big number, but what we get instead is exactly right. It provides a rare moment of peace in a frenetic film, and draws out the darker undercurrents of the holiday standard to transform it into a heartrending song for the disavowed.
    - Chris Eggertsen

  • "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel ("Trainwreck")
    Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

    Though Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) spends much of "Trainwreck" proving what a rad, normal guy he is, it can't be denied that his penchant for performing surgeries while "Uptown Girl" plays is disturbing. Pangs of weirdness like this keep "Trainwreck" from feeling like an average, overlong Apatow comedy, and I'd argue that the inclusion of Billy Joel's perky jam is stranger (and funnier) than LeBron James' and Tilda Swinton's entire roles. 
    - Louis Virtel