Richard Roeper Blog

The music of “Watchmen”


I’m taking your nominations for the most overused songs in movies…

As some reviews of “Watchmen” have noted, the opening montage is one of the best things about the film — but as we follow the ups and downs of the Watchmen from decade to decade, the use of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” is about as subtle as a blow to the head from the Comedian.

“Watchmen” is peppered with musical cliches, including “The Sounds of Silence” (at a funeral, no less — though there is a connection between the character who has died and the Paul Simon song, which was written after JFK’s death), Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” Leonard Cohen’s beautiful but overused “Hallelujah” and “All Along the Watchtower” (the Hendrix version).

But this is the thing: In choosing the music, director Zach Snyder was often being faithful to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which contains snippets of lyrics and references to many of the songs that now appear on the film’s soundtrack. For example, as an article in Billboard pointed out, the Hollis Mason character in the book refers to “Ride of the Valkyries” as “the saddest thing I can think of.” And the first chapter has lyrics from Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

Then there’s Snyder’s use of “I’m Your Boogie Man” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band during a violent confrontation between Watchmen and protesters. Zany, but effective.

To my mind “Sounds of Silence” forever belongs to “The Graduate,” just as “Ride of the Valkyries” will forever be associated with “Apocalypse Now” (and to some extent “Birth of a Nation”). It’s nearly impossible to wedge these songs into another movie, even if in some cases you’re being faithful to the source material.

In my less-than-bestselling book 10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed, I listed a number of pop songs that have been done to death in the movies, including:

“I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown

“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf

“Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

“All Star” by Smash Mouth

Then there’s “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, which has been featured in at least 20 movies. Filmmakers just can’t resist that unmistakable opening riff, which shouts, “PSYCHEDELIC MAN!” Even if you were filming “The Norman Greenbaum Story,” you might want to think twice about using it in your movie.

Can you think of any other songs that have been overused on movie soundtracks? If so, drop me a note.

35 Responses to “The music of “Watchmen””

  1. Kyla Says:

    I find ‘What A Wonderful World’ is used in a wide variety of movies, from Bowling For Columbine to Madgascar to Dr. Strangelove to Meet Joe Black. It’s also usually used ironically…I think I’ve yet to see a version where the song is used as a metaphor for something actually wonderful.

  2. David Frandsen Says:

    Marvin Gaye’s “Lets get it on” is way overused. It seems to be the defacto slapstick “We’re about to have sex in a very comical manner,” song. I am tired of hearing it in movies.

  3. scrivener Says:

    It turns out that the Booker T. and the M.G.s classic “Green Onions,” which was the first to leap to my mind has only been in twelve films if the Wikipedia list is complete. However, I’ll bet if you added all the movie trailers it’s been in, it would have to crack the top twenty at least.

    ‘Though I cannot cite evidence, does it not seem that whenever guys in films get into a car for a long drive in bright sunlight, the only song that ever comes up on the soundtrack is the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica?”

    The use of either instrumental in films now is cheap. Rather than create a mood for whatever’s going on in the film, the song evokes memories of mood set by other filmmakers in movies we’ve already seen; it’s basically putting up a Burger King across the street from a long-established McD’s, and while I’ll still like the BK, I have very little respect for it.

  4. anaaki Says:

    Just to add to the movies using “Hallelujah”: Shrek. It’s used at the end. *eye roll* That movie is not that good once you watch it 10 years later.

    Overused songs I notice: ones that sound like they should be in a strip club. IE: “Shook me all night long.” “Pour some sugar on me.” Not always used in a strip club scene!

    And other crappy ’80s songs. Like “Back in black” (Beginning of Iron Man, for example).

    Although last night I was watching Role Models, which was surprisingly funny, and it had KISS’s “Detroit Rock City” which is probably one of the most kick ass songs ever. And I don’t even like them.

  5. Tommie Lee Says:

    Stones “Gimme Shelter”, Derek/Dominos “Layla”, Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes”…I love all three but OVERUSED…

  6. thigh master Says:

    ‘Gimme Some Loving’ by Spencer Davis Group is used in every other romantic comedy movie trailer, which may or may not include a scene of women singing into kitchen utensils

  7. David Hall Says:

    Three songs immediately came to mind, although I can’t cite particular movies. In no particular order,

    Fortunate Son by CCR

    California Dreamin’ by The Mama’s and Papa’s

    For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield – pretty much in every movie it seems.

    I love all three songs, but c’mon!

  8. Adam Says:

    There was a time when SR-71’s ‘Right Now’ was used in just about every teen comedy. YouTube it, the song is instantly recognizable from the opening guitar riff.
    Also, ‘Walkin on Sunshine’ comes to mind, (We’re gonna have a beach scene, etc).
    The current champion for me, though, is KT Tunstall’s – ‘Suddenly I See’ (A Wikipedia search shows that it’s been used in The Devil Wears Prada, Blonde Ambition, Grey’s Anatomy, Torchwood, Ugly Betty, Cold Case, The Hills, Ghost Whisperer, Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance).

  9. John S Says:

    Good Lovin by The Rascals is one song I have gotten sick of hearing through the years. THE BIG CHILL and GRUMPY OLD MEN are just two movies I can think of that have used it.

  10. A. Walker Says:

    I have just seven letters for you: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If I ever hear Aretha Franklin, or anyone else, sing those letters again in my lifetime, it’ll be too soon.

  11. Kilburn Hall Says:

    I think you hit it on the head of the most commonly over-used songs in the movies. Number #1 would have to be a tie between “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf and “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers used in everything from Terminator to anything that has a beefed up bad guy like the “Arnold.”

    Romantic comedies also recycle the same songs over and over in Everything from You’ve Got Mail to The Women. Lady In Red, Let’s Get It On, “I Want Candy, Ain’t No Sunshine, I Only Have Eyes For You, I Love You (Martina McBride), It Must Have Been Love (Roxette)Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, (The Police) Someone Like You by Van Morrison, Come Away with Me by Norah Jones, Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton, Can’t Get Enough of Your Love by Barry White.
    In Sci-Fi, the number #1 over-used song is Rode of The Valkyries by Richard Wagner.

    Number #1 overused song in the movies of late:

    Lux Aeterna (Requiem For a Dream) – composed by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet

    Heard in: Requiem For a Dream (original), Hitman, 300, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Da Vinci Code, Sunshine, Zathura, F**king everything ever, this song has been in so many different movies, TV shows, documentaries, and commercials that it must have made composer Clint Mansell (friend of “Requiem” director Darren Aronofsky and former singer/guitarist of the band “Pop Will Eat Itself”) more money than Oprah. Enough is enough! Will somebody please, for the love of god, put a rest to this song already?

  12. Kelly F Says:

    “At Last” — so romantic the first 80 billion times.
    “Brown Eyed Girl” — please, please stop.

    and not in movies but in an unbelievable amount of trailers: Carina Burana Fantasy

  13. sara Says:

    “walking on sunshine”
    etta James “at last” two movies I heard this in last are American pie and pleasantville

  14. Ed Hardy Says:

    Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What it’s Worth’ should never, ever be in a movie about war or the 60’s again. There is just nothing happening there.

  15. Robert Price Says:

    “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. Need to make your movie montage or opening title sequence seem super upbeat and full of great cheer? Then this is your go-to song. Can’t get more uninspired.

  16. sTeve Says:

    Requiem For a Dream is the most overused TRAILER music as well as anything be Sigur Ros.

  17. Mike Says:

    I really thought that Snyder used “Ride of the Valkyries” specifically *because* it has an ingrained association with “Apocalypse Now” in the minds of audiences.

    @Kyla: “12 Monkeys” used “What a Wonderful World” to great [mostly] literal effect.

  18. Fergus Says:

    As you say Leonard Cohen is overused – and often with inferior cover versions!
    First one that sprang to my mind was the first (and last) mentioned here:
    “What a Wonderful World” is overused in general (IMO);
    and the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole medley with Somewhere Over the Rainbow in particular.

  19. Liz Says:

    “We are the Champions” and “Maneater”

  20. Ranman Says:

    “Do Your Thing” by Basement Jaxx.
    It often serves as background music during a frenetic scene with people scrambling around in slightly faster than usual motion.

  21. Mark Carrier Says:

    Just a comment on the music in Watchmen, while some songs were very obvious, did you notice what was playing in the background during the scene in the lobby of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias when he is walking all of the Suits out (just before the gunman comes out of the elevator)?
    Faintly, you can hear Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”

  22. mystictweet Says:

    How can everyone here forget the song “This Will Be” by Natalie Cole. They played the HELL out of the song in almost every romantic comedy in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. They even used it in almost every commercial. Now I can’t even enjoy the song anymore. It’s been played to death!

  23. Mystictweet Says:

    “This Will Be” by Natalie Cole Almost every romantic comedy film of the 90’s and early 2000’s played it in their trailers.

  24. Kandice Says:

    Got to agree with everyone who said “walking on sunshine” it was the first song that came to mind.

  25. Maya Says:

    How about Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) by Orf? It’s been used over and over again in trailers lately!

  26. Stooge Says:

    Every single time a nebbishy white guy starts gettin’ his groove on, you can count the seconds until “Play That Funky Music” starts playing. Every. Single. Time.

  27. WiggleButt Says:

    “Low Rider” by War
    “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers

  28. Matt Says:

    I know that the question was regarding pop/rock songs, but as someone who studied classical music for years, I tend to notice whenever Mozart’s Requiem is used. (Watchmen, Elizabeth, and Amadeus, though that’s probably to be expected) Orff’s Carmina Burana, while I don’t hear too often in movies, is used a lot in trailers and commercials. And the Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite is used so often it’s tirned me off of listening to the piece.

  29. NIffer Says:

    Ain’t No Mountain High Enough or Spirit in the Sky for me. Hell pretty much anything from the soundtrack to Remember the Titans will do.

  30. Alejandro Carrillo Says:

    Garfield dancing I got you (I feel good) oooooooooh myyyyyyy Goshhhhhhhhhhhhh what a *****$%$·”%·$%·%·$%!!!!!!!!
    I just can’t take it!!

  31. Eric Says:

    “The Weight” by The Band (usually in ’60s nostalgia movies). It’s undoubtedly a great song, but a bit overplayed. The Band recorded several other great songs, and it’d be great to hear one of their lesser-known ones appear in a movie from time to time.

  32. Justin Banda Says:

    Some other songs that were heard in Watchmen’s trailers are:

    Trailer 1: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” by the Smashing Pumpkins
    Trailer 2: “Take a Bow” by Muse
    Trailer 3: “Pruitt-Igoe & Prophecies” by Phillip Glass

    Oh, and as for overused music in general, I haven’t seen the Vangelis song from Chariots of Fire on here yet, even though it’s been featured in at least five different movies, including Madagascar. Also, “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins is featured in some commercial that keeps playing on FOX. I’m still not sure what exactly it’s advertising, something about living your life to it’s potential. Or, finally, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, the song first used in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  33. Chris Musial Says:

    “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. Just my opinion.

  34. Matt Eckholm Says:

    Anything from the Nutcracker Suite. WAY overused in Christmas movies and their trailers.

  35. Hadmunt Says:

    thanks for that info! now i can stop searching!

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