“I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen.”
Ah, the movie singalong. So very calculated and yet — done correctly — seemingly so spontaneous, it’s a shared moment of musical unity between characters that’s often as unlikely as the choice of song itself. We’re not talking about straight-up musicals here, either; the singalong is a moment that can occur in any movie genre — and frequently does, sometimes in the most unexpected places. For every obvious feelgood chorus in stuff like My Best Friend’s Wedding (Say a Little Prayer) there’s an absurd comedy a cappella (Anchorman’s Afternoon Delight), drunken yelling (Animal House’s Louie, Louie), or even something more sinister (remember Scorpio leading a school bus full of kids through a rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat in Dirty Harry?) In each case, the best movie singalongs work because they never feel forced: be they funny, strange, exuberant or scary, we get swept up along with the characters — and sometimes end up discovering songs we never knew we loved. The list could go on and on, but here, at least, are a few of our favourites.
10. “Twist and Shout”, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Bueller’s medley atop a downtown parade float begins as more of a lip-synch — serenading forlorn buddy Cameron Frye with Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” — but once the Sausage King of Chicago tears into the Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” — complete with marching bands, fraulein back-up singers and a street chorus that apparently includes every demographic in the city — it’s turned into such an irrepressible singalong spectacle that we can’t exclude it on a technicality.
09. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, Top Gun (1986)
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Tom Cruise could charm his way into a lady’s heart with a well-chosen warble through a Righteous Brothers classic. But it was the ’80s, and that’s how things went: thus Cruise’s cocksure pilot Maverick — abetted by his wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards) and a bar full of fellow fighter jockeys — is able to woo his hot instructor (Kelly McGillis); or at least win an invitation to join her for a drink.
08. “The Winner Takes It All”, The Trip (2010)
Steve Coogan’s and Rob Brydon’s road-trip take on the bittersweet late-period ABBA epic is an earnest tribute that evolves organically, and fittingly, out of their conversation on midlife crisis — prompting Coogan to remark, “there’s a shiver down my spine” mid-song. The best part, though, is the way the song devolves into a petty argument over who had the better range of octaves. Feuding Björn and Agnetha would be so proud.
07. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Of all the movie singalongs on our list, only one unites two Hollywood icons, a dog and a cat — though the result is a cacophony of comedic proportions. Hoping to lure their escaped leopard “Baby” down from a roof (and away from terrifying the neighbours), Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn rustle up a rather creaky standard — which only succeeds in eliciting atonal howls from their dog, yowls from Baby, and the ire of sleeping suburbia.
06. “Day-O”, Beetle Juice (1988)
The only way you’re likely to see any singing soul in greedy 1980s movie yuppies is if they’ve been supernaturally possessed, which is exactly what happens in this dinner table singalong from beyond the grave. One moment, Catherine O’Hara is talking bad art and real estate deals, the next, her and the odious guests are shimmying around the room singing Harry Belafonte’s here-spooky Banana Boat song… before our friendly ghost-host sends claws up from their plates to freak them all out.
05. “Wise Up”, Magnolia (1999)
Oh the pain, the pain of it all! Whatever your thoughts on Paul Thomas Anderson’s alternately touching and overwrought mega-montage of all the world’s woe, he sure does orchestrate one of movies’ more original singalongs: give it up, folks, for a dying dad, a coke-sniffing daughter, lonely cop, seedy game show host, burned-out child star, prescription junky, and even Tom Cruise (again!), all plaintively mewling Aimee Mann’s Wise Up. Good times, y’all…
04. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, Life of Brian (1979)
Jesus himself couldn’t have put it any better: “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble — give a whistle.” So implores Eric Idle of Graham Chapman’s cheeky Brian and his fellow victims as they hang crucified waiting to expire, leading into one of Monty Python’s best-loved movie moments. The sight and sound of a cheerfully unified chorus whistling away their final moments while nailed to crosses is perhaps film’s most surreal singalong.
03. “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Wayne’s World (1992)
“I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen,” says Mike Myers, mere moments into Wayne’s World, and Queen’s bombastic opera is soon rocking the suburban metalheads’ tiny hatchback as it hurtles across downtown Illinois. The kicker is when they pick up a “partied-out” pal, whose sickly protests to “Let me go” complete the quintet’s epic harmonies. And then the headbanging begins. The scene was such a hit that it helped return the band’s then-17-year-old track to the top of the charts.
02. “Tiny Dancer”, Almost Famous (2000)
This scene practically defines the art of the movie singalong. It couldn’t begin with any less energy: a tour bus full of rock-n-rollers, groupies and roadies nursing a torrid hangover and various personal hangups gaze zombie-like out the windows, while Elton John echoes in the background. Then, in a moment of pure onscreen chemistry, they all start feeling the tune, resulting in a unified chorus — and a whole new generation of fans realising Elton wasn’t just that guy who sang Disney soundtracks.
01. “Heigh-Ho”, Gremlins (1984)
Proof that music really does sooth the savage beast — and that fans of Disney movies are generally twisted, scaly and evil — the rare moment of respite from the gremlins’ trail of wanton destruction in Joe Dante’s classic comes when the nefarious little critters find themselves in the local movie theatre watching and loving… Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With the first call of “Heigh Ho!” the gremlins are suddenly mesmerized, lost in the transformative magic of song and cinema. The sequel had a go at replicating the trick by having the gremlins do a Busby Berkley-romp through New York, New York, but nothing could quite capture the strange sweetness of the raucous singalong here.
Originally published in Empire, August 2011