Five of the most iconic needle drops in film of all time

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Five of the most iconic needle drops in film of all time

Best needle drops in films
Words by Jack Thynne

We're taking a look at some of the most iconic needle drops in films of all time - from tone setters, to rip-roaring finale tracks.

Films and music compliment each other in a way to evoke tone and build tension, give depth to a character or situation and provide a release in a moment of catharsis, sometimes in the most subtle of ways. Take music out of any film and it can be jarring how different the experience is. Score is predominantly used in this sense, but many films also use licensed tracks in the same way, commonly referred to as “Needle Drops.” Let’s take a look at a few memorable examples of needle drops in films.

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“The End” The Doors, in Apocalypse Now (1979)

There’s nothing like an unforgettable tone setting needle drop; just as the lights go down, and the film begins, a song might just kick in to let you know what you’re about to get into. The Lion King with “The Circle of Life”, or Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. However, there is no greater example of this than the opening sequence of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now and the use of The Door’s classic “The End”.

The mix of helicopter blades, and the psych rock group’s signature sound build until the scene of the jungle explodes into a fireball as Jim Morrison sings “This is the end…” From here the scene moves to various shots of utter destruction as our protagonist, Captain Willard, lays in his bed, staring at the fan above him, matching the sounds of the helicopter blades. The songs nihilistic lyrics continue to draw us into the troubled man’s psyche as it sets the tone for this bleak journey and the horror at the end.

“You Make My Dreams”Hall & Oates, in 500 Days of Summer (2009)

Ever find a film just decides it’s time to break out into a dance number? Pulp Fiction has the famous twist contest to Chuck Berry and Risky Business made Tom Cruise slide across the floor in his underwear to Bob Segar. Even Ferris Bueller managed to Twist & Shout his way across Chicago. As far as random dance numbers go – there’s few as euphoric Joseph Gordon Levitt dancing his way to work with this Hall & Oates hit, “You Make My Dreams” in 500 Days of Summer. 

Marc Webb’s innovative romantic dramadey, centred around Tom and his fantastically one-sided love story with Summer includes a lot of absurd and wonderful moments that break the mould of the typical boy-meets-girl story. One of these moments is a fantastic dance number set to this 80’s bop. Tom dances along the street, cheerful strangers joining in, flash mob style. The choreography wouldn’t be out of place in a classic musical, and even includes a marching band and the appearance of a Disney-esque animated blue-bird to top it all off. 

“Hungry Eyes” – Eric Carmen, in Dirty Dancing (1987)

A montage can be a fun way to showcase the passage of time in a film in a quick and effective way and is heightened by the use of a great song. “You’re The Best” from The Karate Kid or “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky 3 have both become go-to examples of movie “training scene” montage songs. “Push It to the Limit” from Scarface chronicles the quick rise of Tony Montana, and Roy Orbison swoons over a Julia Roberts shopping spree in Pretty Woman.

However there’s few montages quite as iconic as this one in Dirty Dancing, using Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes”. In one of the most important moments in the film, we montage through the dance lessons Johnny is having with Baby. As she gets better and finds herself taking the lessons more seriously, their love for each other is also growing, and their connection deepens. The song reflects this stage of their relationship, with the lyrics matching their intimacy.

“Jessie’s Girl” Rick Springfield, in Boogie Nights (1997)

There are plenty of films that use a needle drop to simply release a mass of built up tension, in a flurry of action, such as in Star Trek: Beyond’s use of The Beastie Boy’s “Sabotage”, or a moment of relief, such as in Almost Famous, when the band sings “Tiny Dancer” on the tour bus after a big on stage blow-up. “Hip to Be Square” could never be heard the same again after a viewing of American Psycho.

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, we have a scene of complete edge of your seat tension set to a mixtape of 80’s classics, but predominantly “Jessie’s Girl”. The scene slowly creeps towards a shootout between unhinged drug dealer Todd and his friendly but well armed buyer – with the bumbling Dirk (Mark Wahlberg) and Reed (John C. Reilly) stuck in the middle. Firecrackers, guns and drugs combine, as we wait for Todd to attempt his poorly planned double-cross. When the scene finally explodes into violence, it’s all set to the sound of Rick Springfield’s catchy up-beat tune, making for an exciting and action packed scene.

“Wake Up” – Rage Against The Machine, in The Matrix (1999)

That moment before the credits roll can be the perfect time to lead the audience into one last moment of brilliance through song. Think Fight Club’s epic destruction paired with the Pixies, or Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” playing over the end credits of the titular film. Goodfellas ends with Sid Vicious’s take on the Sinatra classic “My Way” – a cheeky subversion of the classic 60’s and 70’s hits used throughout the rest of the film. 

However, this Rage song is the perfect send off to one of the most influential action/sci-fi films of modern cinema. The song matches the themes and motifs from the Wachowski’s 1999 film, The Matrix in a more literal sense, but with the same undercurrent of uncovering the truth and reclaiming identity. Keanu Reeves Neo, literally awoken from the simulation in the film, takes flight, just as the track kicks in with it’s punchy riffs and Zack de la Rocha’s hip-fire lyrics, we cut to black and roll credits. Cue applause.

Read more about the four different cuts of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now here.