Songs About Movies

by Amanda Flinner

Inspiration rarely shows up when you're looking for it. Many songwriters have been smacked over the head with an idea while listening to someone else's music or, in this case, watching someone else's movie. The unfolding of a story, the fate of a character or even a snippet of dialogue has been known to cause a spark of creativity and inspire a song.

And don't think the quality of the movie matters. A cheesy romantic comedy can get the wheels turning just as easy as an Oscar-winning drama. A movie you hate can bring out more emotion than one that you love. These are the stories behind some of the many songs inspired by movies.
"One and Only" by Adele (2011)
Movie: Never Been Kissed (1999)

I know it ain't easy giving up your heart,
Nobody's perfect,
(I know it ain't easy giving up your heart),
Trust me I've learned it,
Nobody's perfect

Adele isn't fooling anybody. She really likes the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed, so much so that she wrote a song about it. "One and Only" is actually based on a real-life romance, but part of it was written after she stayed up late watching Barrymore masquerade as a high school student in the romantic comedy.

"You know at the end when she describes being kissed as the whole world slows down and goes in slow motion, everything else goes blurry? I kind of see it like that. Whenever I hear the bridge it really is sort of like that, and it's quite epic. I mean, I don't think Never Been Kissed is a particularly epic movie," she explained.

Uh-huh. Next, she'll be saying Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion isn't epic, either.

"2012" by The Word Alive (2010)
Movie: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Your days are numbered so make them last
No one will recognize me
A new face a cold heart to stand in your way

Law Abiding Citizen follows a man's (Gerard Butler) quest for revenge against the justice system that let his family's murderer walk free and a lawyer's (Jamie Foxx) attempts to stop him. The Word Alive's "2012" gets inside the main character's head and describes his thirst for vengeance. Even from a jail cell, he kills off each and every person involved in the murder case.

You thought you could get away and you thought you could escape
Your time is up (your time is up)
You can't hide from me

Tyler "Telle" Smith told Noisecreep he wrote the song while the movie was still fresh in his mind: "I wanted it to be something that was straightforward, something where anyone could get a pretty clear meaning of what it's about...I wanted to put into words the way that movie made me feel."

"99" by Toto (1979)
Movie: THX-1138 (1971)

I never thought it would happen
I feel quite the same
I don't want to hurt you anymore
I never knew it would work out
No one to blame
You know I love you 99

No, this is not Maxwell Smart's ode to the fetching Agent 99 of Get Smart. Toto's David Paich was really inspired by a George Lucas film when he wrote "99" for the band's Hydra album in 1979. Lucas actually did have a career before Star Wars. His first full-length feature film didn't deal with a galaxy, far, far away but with a dystopian state hundreds of years into the future. THX-1138 shows the dismal fate of man under totalitarian rule. Paich explains: "...Mankind is stripped of any individuality. People are numbered drones, and a government-enforced program of sedation controls the populace."

"99" is about the forbidden love between two drones who haven't quite given up on their humanity. The band also made a music video that recreated the sterile, white-washed world of THX-1138.

Despite the song's success (it reached #28 on the Billboard charts), Steve Lukather later admitted that he hated "99" and removed it from Toto's live shows.

"A New Hope" by Blink-182 (1997)
Movie: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Princess Leia, where are you tonight?
And who's laying there by your side?
Every night I fall asleep with you
And I wake up alone

There's a creepy feeling when you first hear blink-182's "A New Hope" when you realize the lyrics might be sung from Luke Skywalker's point-of-view. For those of you who've resisted the Force for the past three decades and haven't seen Star Wars, Luke and Leia are siblings, though Luke does some serious crushing on his sis before he's clued in to this information later in the trilogy.

The song references many Star Wars locales, like Luke's home planet of Tatooine and its famous Mos Eisley cantina, and the Ewok-infested Endor. It also name drops Han Solo ("even though I'm not as cool as Han, I still want to be your man") and Lando Calrissian (Drinking Colt 45's with Lando). Sounds like this person who's lusting for Leia is indeed a part of the Star Wars universe. Then there's the curious lyrics, "every night I fall asleep with you and I wake up alone." Remember, the only time we see Leia sleeping with anyone is in Return of the Jedi - when she's chained to Jabba the Hut. On second thought, I'd be more comfortable if this song was coming from Luke Skywalker.

"Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers (1971)
Movie: The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
It's not warm when she's away.
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And she's always gone too long
Anytime she goes away.

Bill Withers had addiction on his mind when wrote "Ain't No Sunshine" in 1971, but it wasn't his own. He was inspired by the story of two alcoholics, played by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, told in The Days of Wine and Roses. He told Songfacts:

"They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It's like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you. It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."

The lyrics reflect Lemmon's dilemma; he must decide to stay with his wife and alcoholism or stay sober and risk losing her. He tells her: "You remember how it really was? You and me and booze — a threesome. You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank. I got hold of something that kept me from going under, and I'm not going to let go of it. Not for you. Not for anyone. If you want to grab on, grab on. But there's just room for you and me — no threesome."

"After Midnight (It'll Burn)" by Travie McCoy (2010)
Movie: Gremlins (1984)

After midnight we're out of control
We outta control

There are three rules you must follow to care for Gremlins: no water, no food after midnight and no bright light. Travie McCoy compares his friends to the creatures in the 1984 movie. Only he's not giving them water, he's giving them alcohol.

"You're not supposed to see gremlins after midnight - or get them wet - and I feel like that's what's happened with my friends. If you see them after midnight, it's trouble," he told the Alternative Press.

His song "After Midnight (It'll Burn)" is about the kind of trouble he and his friends get into after hours.

It's midnight
It feels right
Everybody's acting other
If you're a freak be proud of it
You got it from your mother
And I have rather good manners
I just choose not to employ them
It's about that time for you to embrace your flaws and enjoy

But if they're as hardcore as the Gremlins, they'll make sure no appliance is left unharmed by the morning.

"As You Wish" by Alesana (2008)
Movie: The Princess Bride (1987)

"That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying 'As you wish', what he meant was, 'I love you.' And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back."
~ The Grandfather (The Princess Bride)

Alesana's "As You Wish" is an homage to one of the classic movies of the '80s: The Princess Bride, which was adapted from William Goldman's (aka S. Morgenstern) novel. Fred Savage plays the reluctant grandson who'd rather play Nintendo than listen to his grandfather's (Peter Falk) fairy tale of Wesley and Buttercup's true love. The lyrics to "As You Wish" follow Wesley's adventure:

I will climb the hills, draw my sword and take down
Anyone who tries to stand in front of me

Disguised as the Man in Black, Wesley scales the perilous Cliffs of Insanity to track Buttercup's kidnappers. He then duels with the infamous swordsman Inigo, the giant Fezzik and a wily little fellow named Vizzini who claims no one is a match for his brain.

I've slain the most unholy things, endured such terrific pain
Finally I'll feel your caress again
I've braved the cold and lonely seas, I have prevailed against the odds

Wesley had already prevailed against the odds when he was taken captive by the Dread Pirate Roberts and, instead of being murdered, was taken under the pirate's wing. When he reunites with Buttercup and flees into the Fire Swamp to escape the evil prince's men, he kills the "most unholy things": the ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size). He later endures "terrific pain" at the hands of Count Rugen and his machine in the Pit of Despair. The song even mentions the four white horses used to escape the castle near the end of the movie.

One day lovers will dream of this undying kiss

The grandfather explains: "Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind."

"As You Wish" is part of Alesana's fairy tale-themed album, Where Myth Fades to Legend.

"Baby Cakes" by 3 of a Kind (2004)
Movie: Babycakes (1989)

Confused don't know what I'm feeling
Confused relationships without meaning
In the mist I can see it gleaming
Time to wake up and stop the dreaming
Coz your my lil Baby cakes
And I know you got what it takes

By the late-'90s, Ricki Lake was the female equivalent of Jerry Springer, tackling hard-hitting topics like "Cheaters Come Clean" and "Surprise! I'm a Drag Queen" on her talk show. Ten years earlier and 100 pounds heavier, she was trying to make a career out of being "the fat girl." She had a successful debut as the lead in Hairspray, but it was a more obscure role that would inspire 3 of a Kind's hit song "Baby Cakes."

In the made-for-TV movie Babycakes, Lake is an overweight introvert who tries to snare a hot subway conductor. 3 of a Kind's Liana Caruana (Miz Tipzta) wrote the lyrics to "Baby Cakes" after watching the movie. She says:

"The words are written about someone I knew, but generally it's based on the film's love story. Basically, the girl knows the man is 'The One' but he doesn't realize it."

"Between Angels and Insects" by Papa Roach (2000)
Movie: Fight Club (1999)

Life-style and obsession
Diamond rings get you nothing but a life long lesson
And your pocket-book stressin'
You're a slave to the system, working jobs that you hate
For that shit you don't need

Papa Roach's "Between Angels and Insects" is a warning against greed and materialism inspired by the popular movie Fight Club. In this case, Edward Norton plays the part of the downtrodden office worker who hates his job, while Brad Pitt's character offers him a way out through an underground fight club. In particular, Pitt's speech about the perils that beset the everyday working man inspired Tobin Esperance to write the song.

Tyler Durden (Pitt): "Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

"Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire (1979)
Movie: Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)

Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men
Who need more than they get
Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman
Who has laid too many bets

Songwriter Allee Willis wasn't happy with the status quo in 1978. Every time she turned on the radio, there was a nonsensical song playing with "boogie" in the title. She wanted to create something different, something relevant for Earth, Wind & Fire but still wanted to keep the "boogie." She told us:

"I really wanted to write a disco song, but I wanted it lyrically to be almost in a different genre than what the standard was. So we kept thinking of other ways that we could use the word 'boogie' other than just to dance."

Then, Willis saw Looking for Mr. Goodbar, starring Diane Keaton as a schoolteacher by day and a sex addict by night. She was fascinated by people like Keaton's character, who reveled in their own destruction night after night and lost themselves in a haze of music, drugs and sex. Willis and Jon Lind were inspired to write "Boogie Wonderland," but hoped to shine a little light in the darkness.

"'Boogie Wonderland' for us was this state of mind that you entered when you were around music and when you danced, but hopefully it was an aware enough state of mind that you would want to feel as good during the day as you did at night," Willis said.

"Buffalo Bill" by Eminem (2009)
Movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Once again they call me Buffalo Bill,
Buffalo Bill, Buffa-Buffalo Bill.
Skin 'em up, hem 'em, sew 'em up in those kilts,
Up in those kilts, uppa-up in those kilts.

In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling sought the help of Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter to track down a sadistic serial killer dubbed "Buffalo Bill." Bill murdered women and sliced off their skin to create a new body for himself. He was sick, he was twisted, he was terrifying. And he was the perfect subject for an Eminem song. In "Buffalo Bill," the rapper follows the killer on his hunt for new victims and his systematic slicing and dicing.

This wasn't the first time Eminem used Bill as an inspiration. In "3am," he quotes the famous lines:

She puts the lotion in the bucket
It puts the lotion on the skin
Or else it gets the hose again.

"Bury Me Alive" by We Are the Fallen (2009)
Movie: Drag Me to Hell (2009)

You bury me alive,
And everybody's gotta breathe somehow,
Don't leave me to die,
Too consumed by your own emptiness and lies.

American Idol finalist Carly Smithson already wrote a version of "Bury Me Alive" with We Are the Fallen before she saw the horror movie Drag Me to Hell, but one scene was so striking, she had to use it in the song. It was the image of a girl falling into a grave and struggling to get out while the rain battered her down. Time and time again, Smithson watched her friends get caught up in the trappings of success and fame only to be destroyed in the end. She told Artist Direct:

"I'd watched the industry consume them and them consume themselves. It's like that line, 'I watched you let yourself die.' You let the awesome person you are just waste away and now you're just that networker or social butterfly. It's basically that 'You stabbed me in the back to get ahead' kind of lyric. After seeing Drag Me to Hell, I changed the lyric to 'Bury Me Alive' at the beginning. It means the same thing, but it's a little bit more visual."

"Caught Somewhere in Time" by Iron Maiden (1986)
Movie: Time After Time (1979)

What do Iron Maiden and Cyndi Lauper have in common? They were both inspired by the 1979 movie Time After Time. Lauper borrowed the title for her first #1 hit, while Iron Maiden used it as the basis for "Caught Somewhere in Time." In the movie, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) unveils his time machine just when one of his colleagues is in desperate need of an escape. Unfortunately for Wells, his pal turns out to be the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper (David Warner). Wells must follow Jack through time before he can bring his reign of terror to 20th century San Francisco. Iron Maiden's lyrics are a taunting message from the killer to the inventor.

Can I tempt you, come with me,
Be Devil may care, fulfill your dream,
If I said I'd take you there,
Would you go, would you be scared?

"Caught Somewhere in Time" was part of Somewhere in Time, which unintentionally turned into a concept album with several songs about the nature of space and time.

Several other Iron Maiden songs were borne out of movies: "Man on the Edge" was taken from Michael Douglas's unhinged character in Falling Down; "Out of the Silent Planet" has roots in the classic sci-fi thriller Forbidden Planet; "Quest for Fire" shares its title with a 1986 French film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud; "The Mercenary" is allegedly about the action flick Predator; "The Number of the Beast" was inspired by the horror sequel Damien: Omen II; "The Wicker Man" is based on the original version of the horror movie of the same name; "Where Eagles Dare" is also the name of the 1968 film that prompted Steve Harris to write the song.

"Chinese Democracy" by Guns N' Roses (2008)
Movie: Kundun (1997)

Cause it would take a lot more hate than you
To win the fascination
Even with an iron fist
All they got to rule the nation
But all I got is precious time

As Guns N' Roses fans were anxiously awaiting the band's return from a hiatus spanning for more than a decade (since 1993's Spaghetti Incident?), Axl Rose was killing time watching movies. The title song from Chinese Democracy was inspired by Martin Scorsese's Kundun, a movie about the life of Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama and his struggle under Chinese oppression. Rose told a live audience how the film deeply affected him:

"And its not necessarily pro or con about China, its just that right now China symbolizes one of the strongest, yet most the oppressive, countries and, governments in the word. And we are fortunate to live in a free country. And so in thinking about that it just kinda upset me, and we wrote this little song called 'Chinese Democracy.'"

"Chosen Ones" by Megadeth (1985)
Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

You doubt your strength or courage
Don't come to join with me
For death surely wants you
With sharp and pointy teeth

And the only way to defeat death is with a Holy Hand Grenade. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur leads a group of knights on a perilous journey to find the grail while the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog lies in wait to devour them with "sharp and pointy teeth."

Megadeth's "Chosen Ones" was inspired by the scene when the knights prepare to battle the vicious beast. Incidentally, a real rabbit was used in the movie and was actually quite violent. In real life, he was known as "Harvey the Killer Rabbit" and bit several people before he was donated to the ASPCA in 1977. The song is featured on the band's debut 1985 album, Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good!

Similarly, a Tolkien-style battle inspired Megadeth's "This Day We Fight!" Dave Mustaine had Lord of the Rings on his mind when he penned the song, specifically Aragorn's speech to his soldiers before the fight: "We may die tomorrow, but not today. This day we fight."

"Cinderella Man" by Rush (1977)
Movie: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Cinderella Man
Hang on to your plans
Try as they might
They cannot steal your dreams

Long before Adam Sandler played the title character in Mr. Deeds, Gary Cooper originated the role of a mild-mannered tuba player who inherits a fortune in 1936's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Suddenly thrust into the spotlight, his money and his story become the focus of every greedy opportunist in the big bad city.

Rush's "Cinderella Man" is the story of Mr. Deeds and his awakening to the harsh realities of life in the real world where "because he was human, because he had goodness, because he was moral, they called him insane."

Geddy Lee wrote the song for the Rush's 1977 album, A Farewell to Kings, which was a rare occurrence since Neil Peart joined the band a few years earlier and took over songwriting duties.

"Dull Boy" by Mudvayne (2008)
Movie: The Shining (1980)

All work and no play makes me a dull boy...

In Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Shining, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a frustrated writer who hopes to get some work done during a long winter as caretaker at a lavish hotel. Unfortunately, the seclusion starts to drive him mad and, similar to the opening lyrics of Mudvayne's "Dull Boy," he begins to repeatedly type "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" before he goes on a rampage with an axe.

Thankfully, Mudvayne didn't make it that far, but they felt close to going over the edge when they, too, were isolated during the wintry months in Idaho while preparing the album The New Game.

"Dull Boy" debuted on Mudvayne's 2007 album, By the People, For the People before it appeared on The New Game the following year.

"E=MC2" by Big Audio Dynamite (1985)
Movie: Insignificance (1985)

Take director Nicolas Roeg's IMDB profile and put it to music and you have Big Audio Dynamite's "E=MC2." The song is chock full of references to Roeg's movies, like Performance, Don't Look Now, Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth. The title is a nod to Albert Einstein, one of the main characters in Insignificance (labeled "King of Brains" in the song). Other lead characters are Marilyn Monroe ("Queen of the Sack"), Joe DiMaggio ("Hall of fame baseball") and Joe McCarthy ("Senator's a hoodlum").

Songwriter Don Letts explained his source of inspiration to Uncut magazine in 2009: "Mick's songwriting partner was Joe Strummer. I didn't want to let Mick - or Joe - down. It was very hard working in his shadow. I approached lyrics like film treatments, which is why they had that cinematic quality. Probably two-thirds of it's mine, with Mick's guidance. I wrote it after me and Mick went to see Nick Roeg's film Insignificance. I was so moved by the concept of it, and I'd loved Roeg since Walkabout. The song lists all his films in a cryptic way. I called it an homage to Roeg."

"E=MC2" is also significant for another reason. It's one of the first songs to feature prominent sampling. The song became a top 40 hit from the band's debut album, This is Big Audio Dynamite in 1985.

"Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner" - Fall Out Boy (2005)
Movie: Dirty Dancing (1987)

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner" is the most memorable line from Dirty Dancing, right up there with "I carried a watermelon." Fall Out Boy's song captures the insecurities between the star-crossed lovers in the 1987 movie. Dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze) is considered a low-life by the country club elite, except for the wealthy married women he sleeps with for money. Baby (Jennifer Grey) is a guest at the club who's life has been planned out by her successful father. Her first grown up decision without her father's consent is to start a secret affair with Johnny.

Can I lay in your bed all day?
I'll be your best kept secret
And your biggest mistake.
The hand behind this pen relives a failure every day.

I keep my jealousy close,
'Cause it's all mine.
And if you say this makes you happy,
Then I'm not the only one lying.

Johnny is torn between being true to his feelings or letting Baby go for her own good. He eventually stands up to her father at the last club dance and utters the famous line "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" before pulling Baby up on stage to dance.

The song is featured on Fall Out Boy's 2005 album From Under the Cork Tree, which contains another passing reference to a popular '80s movie. "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More 'Touch Me'" was partly inspired by the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles.

"You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl" by Brooks & Dunn (2003)
Movie: Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

She lives in L.A. she flies to New York City
That woman's been around the world
You can take that girl out of the honky tonk
But you can't take the honky tonk, can't take the honky tonk
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Out of that girl

Soaring to #3 on the Country charts, "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl" was a big hit from Brooks & Dunn's 2003 album, Red Dirt Road. Songwriter Bob Del Piero was inspired by the movie Sweet Home Alabama, the story of a New York socialite (Reese Witherspoon) who reluctantly goes back to her country roots. Del Piero hated the movie. After one too many Southern stereotypes, he high-tailed it out of the theater but not before hearing the line: "Well you can take the girl out of the honky tonk, but you can't take the honky tonk out of the girl."

He and co-writer Burt Allmand came up with a story built around the line. He told The Boot: "I just invented this story about this girl. The model for this story lives in Branson, Missouri, and she's that girl in the song. We just took off on this story and came up with this song. It's got a got a cool Keith Richards/country/rockin' thing that Brooks & Dunn do so well. The song just grew its own wings and flew up the charts."

Here are more songs inspired by movies.
March 21, 2013

More Song Writing

Comments: 8

  • Cullen M from Auburn, Al"The Union Forever by The White Stripes is inspired by Citizen Kane big time.
  • Kpp from HollandBat country from Avenged Sevenfold is based on Fear and Lothing in Vegas
  • Hellwyck from Bolton, Lancashire, EnglandNope, Rob Zombie did Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red, Kroovy).
  • Alex from North DakotaRob Zombie's 'Never Gonna Stop' is about Clockwork Orange... or was that White Zombie?
  • Johnny from UsaNeil Peart did not "take over songwriting duties" in Rush. He wrote the lyrics to the songs while Geddy and Alex wrote the music.
  • Colby from MaineDeep Blue Something's "Breakfast At Tiffany's" about the movie 'Breakfast At Tiffany's'
  • Me from HoustonMetallica's 'One', about the movie (and book) Johnny Get Your Gun
  • Emily from PaPrinces of the Universe, A Kind of Magic, and Gimme the Prize by Queen about Highlander.
see more comments

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