From "Let It Go" to "Shallow," here are the most impactful songs made for films this decade.

By Marcus Jones
November 19, 2019 at 03:27 PM EST
Everett Collection; Clay Enos/Warner Bros.; Disney

A great song written for a movie is more than a transparent attempt by an artist to add the “O” to their prospective EGOT.  The best of these cinematic tracks don’t just capture the spirit of the film they’re written for, they hold up as their own cultural phenomenon. Here are the 10 best songs that capture the ways music and film intersected in the 2010s.

10. “Private Property” — Noni feat. Kid Culprit, Beyond the Lights (2014)

Films featuring some of the best original music of the decade were slept on at the box office (think Begin Again, Sing Street, or Wild Rose). But the hardest pill to swallow was a film about a pop star singing music written by the man behind Beyoncé‘s “Single Ladies” and Rihanna‘s “Umbrella” (The-Dream, a popular artist in his own right) flopping. While Beyond the Lights got an Oscar nomination for its credit song “Grateful,” sung by Rita Ora, its sultry song “Private Property,” performed by the protagonist Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her bad-boy boyfriend Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly), could still fit right into R&B playlists today. Also, a lyric like “why’d you come around here with an ass like that” wants what “I swear if they was the sex police they could lock a bitch up for the century” has.

9. “Cups (When I’m Gone)” — Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect (2012)

Anna Kendrick and her cups will go down as one of the wilder examples of an unexpected celebrity hitting the Billboard Hot 100 off a standout musical scene (shout out to the dance remix of Jennifer Lawrence singing “The Hanging Tree” in a Hunger Games‘ sequel). More an original arrangement than original record, turning a camp song into an earworm, “Cups” both cemented Kendrick as a leading lady and set the foundation for Pitch Perfect to become a surprisingly bankable film franchise.

8. “Young and Beautiful” — Lana Del Rey, The Great Gatsby (2013)

Much like the Fifty Shades of Grey or Hunger Games franchises, The Great Gatsby greatly benefitted from commissioning an album full of original music that elevated the film itself. While songs from Jay-Z, Florence + The Machine, and even Fergie all created a fun, modern soundscape for the classic story, it was Lana Del Rey who made the most of the opportunity to prove herself as one of this decade’s most cinematic singers. Aligning with what director Baz Luhrmann attempted in this film adaptation, Del Rey still hit the modern Americana cues she’s known for while perfectly capturing the voice of a fragile early 1920s starlet facing the same woes as Daisy Buchanan.

7. “Remember Me” — Anthony Gonzalez & Ana Ofelia Murguía, Coco (2017)

It’s hard to write about this song, specifically the “Reunion” version, without sobbing so hard that my tears fry my laptop keyboard. “Remember Me” is both proof of the stranglehold Pixar still has on its audience’s emotions and the benefits a film reaps by making authenticity a top priority when representing a culture that’s been denied a mainstream platform for far too long.

6. “See You Again” — Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, Furious 7 (2015)

With fans of the Fast and Furious films still reeling from the tragic death of Paul Walker, giving his character Brian a literal swan song may have been a necessary, but impossible task. Newcomer Charlie Puth cracked the code though, with a simple hook representative of the entire ethos of the popular franchise about a chosen family. Along with the rhymes of the underrated Wiz Khalifa, the record-breaking “See You Again” provides a catharsis that eases the pain for Walker fans and all listeners waiting to reunite with a loved one in their next life.

5. “Everything Is Awesome” — Tegan & Sara feat. The Lonely Island, The LEGO Movie (2014)

Fans of The Lonely Island may argue that a song from their cult film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping deserves a spot on this list, but that has the type of soundtrack where no one can agree on a favorite. Meanwhile, this song, made in collaboration with Tegan & Sara, plays on loop in The LEGO Movie and still never gets stale. “Everything Is Awesome” is just a vibe, one that makes getting through any situation easier, like one’s child demanding to watch The LEGO Movie on repeat all week.

4. “Happy” — Pharrell Williams,  Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Where “Cups” and “See You Again” were breakthrough moments for artists, “Happy” is more a return to form for Pharrell Williams, who proved that although he had a bit of a quiet period after ruling the charts in the early aughts, can’t nothing bring him down. That “Happy,” a song written for a film about a reformed villain, became so ubiquitous that it could be played on loop for 24 hours just seems right.

3. “Never Enough” — Loren Allred, The Greatest Showman (2017)

“Never Enough,” the big turning point within The Greatest Showman, is a one-two punch of musical elements that ruled movie music in the 2010s. Like the orchestral Bond themes that won both Adele and Sam Smith their Oscars, the vocal performance of Loren Allred hits dizzying operatic heights, making it a standout in the catalog of Oscar-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It certainly doesn’t hurt either that an actress as talented as Rebecca Ferguson gives the lip sync performance of her life to really sell the track.

2. “Let It Go” — Idina Menzel, Frozen (2013)

This decade, Walt Disney Animation Studios put in a lot of effort toward modernizing the standout numbers their trademark princesses get to sing. They’ve recruited the brightest of Broadway’s new talent like Lin-Manuel Miranda for “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, while still leaning on the ever-reliable Alan Menken for songs like “I See the Light” from Tangled. But their most unlikely success story is an anthem for a character (who is technically a queen) written by the composer of the (very much not kid-friendly) musicals Avenue Q and Book of Mormon, Robert Lopez (plus his accomplished wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez). There aren’t really any of the usual concessions parents have to make when introducing the powerful tune to their children, the message of self-love and freedom is pure in a way anyone of any age can get behind.

1. “Shallow” — Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, A Star is Born (2018)

Could it really be anything else? Given, it took incredible restraint not to include “Why Did You Do That?” on this list based on the power of the memes it spurred, but it’s hard to think of another song that captures millions of moviegoers off of its placement in the film’s trailer alone. Any of the adjectives used to compliment the songs above apply to the breakout hit from the fourth iteration of A Star Is Born. It just works on every level a movie song can hit, whether it’s the importance it holds in the film’s narrative, the masterful songwriting that allows it to stand on its own, or even just the massive karaoke potential — the tune is timeless. There is no way anyone at the beginning of the decade could predict that Bradley Cooper of all people would have a claim to a modern American standard, but with the decade ending, and “Shallow” still playing anytime we need to let out a primal wail à la Lady Gaga‘s character Ally, we can’t imagine it without him.

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