A brief history of Tom Petty's songs in movies and TV
Tom Petty’s music has soundtracked many people’s lives — and its fair share of movies and TV shows, too.
Petty and the Heartbreakers composed the entire soundtrack for 1996 romantic comedy She’s the One and their songs have also notably appeared in everything ranging from Parks and Recreation to this year’s Emmy-winning drama The Handmaid’s Tale.
To celebrate the life of Petty, who died Monday at age 66, we’ve rounded up the best TV and movie moments set to his songs.
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
“American Girl” didn’t make the official soundtrack cut, but it did memorably help bring the titular high school to life, marking one of the first times a Petty song appeared in a feature film.
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) / “The Handmaid’s Tale” (2017)
“American Girl” is used prominently in both the 1991 thriller and the season 1 finale of the 2017 drama in eerily similar ways: In Silence of the Lambs, Catherine (Brooke Smith) is singing along to the 1976 track as she drives unknowingly to the
moment she’ll be captured by serial killer Buffalo Bill; the song begins to play at the very end of The Handmaid’s Tale as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) sits in the back of a van, assumedly en route to an unfortunate fate.
“Jerry Maguire” (1996)
This is another instance of someone singing along to Petty in the car, but it’s thankfully much less ominous than its predecessor — in fact, it’s downright giddy: Maguire (Tom Cruise) cycles between a few songs on the radio before landing on 1989’s “Free Fallin,” manically smiling as he belts along.
“She’s the One” (1996)
That same year, Petty released some new music via the soundtrack for She’s the One, a rom-com starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Not all of the album’s 15 tracks appear in the film, though as writer J.D. Considine noted in a 1996 review of the soundtrack for EW, it provides “a taste of the film’s music while still delivering something that feels like a Tom Petty album.” Standouts include a cover of Beck’s “A—hole” and a version of “Walls” featuring Fleetwood Mac legend Lindsey Buckingham.
“The Sopranos” (2000)
This season 2 episode sees Tony (James Gandolfini) having a pleasant dream — eating Chinese food around the kitchen table with his happy-go-lucky family — only to abruptly wake up in the back of a truck as “Free Fallin'” plays on.
The movie version of the HBO series ended with a previously unreleased Petty song, “Somewhere Under Heaven,” a cut originally intended for 1994’s Wildflowers.
“Parks and Recreation” (2014)
Leslie (Amy Poehler) gifted Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe) a mix full of Sarah McLachlan for their road trip, but it was Tom Petty who helped bid the two friends goodbye in season 6 episode “Ann and Chris.” “Wildflowers” quietly plays in the background as Ann and Chris drive away, leaving a crying Leslie left to seek comfort in Ben (Adam Scott) and — what else? — breakfast food.