21 somber cover songs used in movie trailers, ranked
The sad song cover is the biggest thing to happen to movie trailers since the Inception “braam.” It’s hard to pinpoint where it all began, but they’ve been prevalent since that choir hauntingly covered Radiohead's "Creep" in the trailer for David Fincher’s The Social Network — and the trend isn’t running out of steam. Simon Heeger of 2WEI, which created one such cover song, the dark remix of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” for Warner Bros.’ new trailer for Tomb Raider, spoke with EW to unpack this phenomenon.
“I think covering a classic is always really helpful to transfer the emotion that you had with that specific song,” Heeger says. “And since the whole trailer world is really about creating a very specific emotion, covers paired with a big impact and big dark sounds, I think that’s a very well-functioning combination.”
In early 2020 came Candyman‘s use of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” a tune that hits on the premise of the story perfectly. Love ’em or hate ’em, this trend is our lives now. So, here’s a ranking of 21 of ’em.
21. “Heartless,” The Girl on the Train
Much how The Girl on the Train ended up being a Gone Girl knockoff, so too did this song become a knockoff cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless.”
20. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Wrath of the Titans
Marilyn Manson’s wrathful take on Eurythmics isn’t awful, but maybe there was a better option besides a heavy-metal rocker anthem for this war between ancient gods and mortal men.
19. “This Little Light of Mine,” Snowden
Many of these covers are a bit too on the nose. “This Little Light of Mine,” for one, pairs with the story about how Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shed a little light on the NSA. Cut, print, release!
18. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” The Gallows
Eerie cover songs are the lifeblood of horror and supernatural movie trailers. Here’s one for The Gallows, a shaky-cam film about teens running from an evil spirit in their high school to the sound of Malia J. covering this Nirvana hit.
17. “I Started a Joke,” Suicide Squad
The Joker’s a clown, clowns make jokes, the Joker’s in Suicide Squad. Get it?
16. “What a Wonderful World,” Insurgent
Many singers have tackled “What a Wonderful World,” many trailers have used slowed-down cover songs to sell their films, and many films have sold a world that’s not-so wonderful as the song suggests.
15. “Don’t Panic,” X-Men: Apocalypse
Clairity took Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” and turned it into the solemn soundtrack to the apocalyptic X-Men movie trailer. The funny thing is that everyone very much is panicking over En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac).
14. “New World Coming,” Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
By the time the marketing campaign for this Tim Burton film finally exhaled, this cover of the Cass Elliot hit from Disa and Benjamin Wallfisch was probably fluttering about your head. It was used in practically every promo and really drove home the messaging: it’s a new world, and it’s coming.
13. “Born to Be Wild,” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Bennet daughters weren’t born to be housewives. They were born to be wild!
12. “Every Breath You Take,” Blair Witch
“Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take,” the Blair Witch is watching you.
11. “Paint It Black,” The Last Witch Hunter
It’s no Rolling Stones hit, but Ciara’s take on “Paint It Black” allows the tune to slip into the supernatural world of witches, witch hunters, and Vin Diesel. “I had never thought to cover this song. It was never on my radar to cover it, but when the opportunity came along, I was very thrilled,” the singer had said.
10. “Heroes,” Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“We can be heroes just for one day,” David Bowie sings in his original song from 1977. In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk from director Ang Lee, that one day was a celebration of heroes of the U.S. Army — even though it was for “the worst day” of these soldiers’ young lives. The trailer, with the dulcet tones of this cover song, bore added weight when it came out a few months after the death of Bowie, as well as its affecting message about the treatment of soldiers.
9. “I’d Love to Change the World,” Nightcrawler
Jetta’s “I’d Love to Change the World” is like Imagine Dragons — it’s everywhere! In addition to popping up in trailers for Nightcrawler, the cover of the Ten Years After song appeared in promos for Terminator: Genisys and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
8. “Once Upon a Dream,” Maleficent
For a film that flipped the Sleeping Beauty story on its head, Lana Del Rey turned the tables on this romantic symphonic waltz for Maleficent. Remember when the actual film itself was but a dream, the critics hadn’t lampooned the live-action fairy tale, and hype reached a height? Let’s live there again for a moment.
7. “Survivor,” Tomb Raider
Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft literally has to survive a mystical island off the coast of Japan, so she needs a booming chant to help push her to the limits. Three studio singers — two from Hamburg, Germany and one from Los Angeles, California — recorded the “Survivor” cover, which was composed by 2WEI for Warner Bros. and the trailer editing company Ant Farm. “We heard that Beyoncé barely ever approves any cover songs and she did it once for the Fifty Shades of Grey and never, ever did it again until our track, and we’re more than flattered that she chose our version,” Heeger said.
6. “Say My Name,” Candyman
In the lore of Candyman, much like Bloody Mary, anyone who faces a mirror and says the name too many times will conjure the creature's wrath. Now, why do that to yourself? We still don’t know, but the slowed down version of Destiny’s Child’s 1999 bop in the trailer does make it 100% less likely anyone on the EW staff will dare say his name any time soon.
5. “Crazy In Love,” Fifty Shades of Grey
The best person to cover Beyoncé? Beyoncé. Queen Bey gave her 2003 hit single an update for Fifty Shades of Grey, transforming her upbeat R&B hit into something more sultry and dripping with BDSM appeal.
4. “Creep,” The Social Network
Again, the title of the song here is appropriate, considering the “Creep”-y nature of Facebook stalking. Also, if we’re diving deeper into figurative ramblings, one could say the choir of angelic voices reflects a young generation of internet users turning into a culture obsessed with “Liking,” sharing, posting, and getting involved with things they don’t know much about.
3. “Crazy,” Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Riggan remembers when… he remembers, he remembers when he lost his mind. He’s going “Crazy,” hence the slowed-down version of the Gnarls Barkley song.
2. “Wild World,” Mad Max: Fury Road
Our undying love for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road extends to the trailers. While later previews utilized the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem to great effect, Junkie XL put his spin on Cat Stevens’ 1970 hit for the first look to debut at San Diego Comic-Con. Refraining from calling this post-apocalyptic desert a “mad, mad world,” the trailer instead went with a “Wild World.”
1. “I’ve Got No Strings,” Avengers: Age of Ultron
James Spader’s Ultron is a demented take on Disney’s wooden puppet-come-to-life, and Pinocchio’s signature song gets an equally eerie cover. Coupled with the excitement of this trailer being the first look at the Avengers sequel, Marvelites were foaming at the mouth by the time Tony Stark’s science-project-gone-wrong finished the once jolly Disney tune: “There are no strings on me.”