9 of the most unexpected movie songs ever

Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Photo: supplied

Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Photo: supplied

Musical moments in film have the power to inspire, excite, and move you; perhaps even more so when they occur in non-musical films. Here’s a look back at unexpected breakouts into song.

Meryl Streep

Film: Silkwood (1983)
Song: Amazing Grace

Streep has sung many times on film (more than you probably think), and one the earliest instances was in her portrayal of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear power worker who voiced concerns on health and safety. Streep breaks into the hymn Amazing Grace early in the film after a visit with her ex-husband. The director Mike Nichols masterfully returns to Streep’s haunting version over a montage at the film’s end.

Rosel Zech

Film: Veronika Voss (1982)
Song: Memories Are Made of This

If you have never seen this film, seek it out. German actress Rosel Zech portrays the title character, an actress spiralling out of control with drugs and alcohol addiction. Director Michael Fassbinder himself died at the young age of 37 from that addiction, with this dramatic film his penultimate. Zech sings the popular 1950s song Memories Are Made of This at her own farewell party. A sad journey nears its end.

Doris Day

Film: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Song: Que Sera, Sera

Would you believe that an Alfred Hitchcock film won an Academy Award for best song? This 1956 film was a remake of his own film from 1934 and sees Doris Day as a singer caught up in the kidnapping of her child. The song is introduced in the middle of the film in a rather lovely scene between Day and child actor Christopher Olsen. It then reappears in a pivotal scene late in the film guaranteed to tear at the heartstrings.

Tom Cruise

Film: Top Gun (1986)
Song: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

Does this really need any explanation? It’s cringeworthy, corny, but oh so memorable. Tom Cruise (Maverick) spots Kelly McGillis in a bar, turns to his flying mate Anthony Edwards (Goose) and says “Goose, she’s lost it, man”. And the realisation hits Goose; it’s time for Cruise to turn on his charm. The song returns much later in the film, playing from a jukebox. Most people forget that Maverick and Goose also sing Great Balls of Fire in the film.

Charlie Chaplin

Film: Modern Times (1936)
Song: The Nonsense Song

It may surprise you to know that Chaplin sings in one of movies – but to make this even rarer, he does so in a silent film. The film focuses on life during the Great Depression and the oncoming of an industrialised world. Near the end of the film he ends up as a singer and waiter at a cafe (don’t ask how), and after losing his cuffs which contained the song lyrics for his performance, he improvises with total gibberish. His character calls it The Nonsense Song, but it is in fact the comical French song Je cherche après Titine (1917). It is the first time movie-goers heard Chaplin’s voice.

Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider

Film: Jaws (1975)
Song: Show Me the Way to Go Home

At night on the ocean, a shark hunter, an oceanographer and a police chief are hunting the great-white shark that is terrorising Amity Island. It’s been a long night without much success, and the three men break into singing the 1925 song Show Me the Way to Go Home. Their hand-thumping on the table masks the sound of the shark approaching which leads to a near catastrophic attack. Decades later, Richard Dreyfuss makes a cameo in the opening scene of Piranha 3D, singing the same song, as a different creature approaches.

Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle 

Film: Young Frankenstein (1974)
Song: Puttin’ on the Ritz

Mel Brooks shatters the classic horror genre with Gene Wilder as Dr Frankenstein (pronounced Fronkensteen), and Peter Boyle as the inarticulate monster. The film descends into its most famous scene – the two men in tuxedos, on stage launching into Irving Berlin’s 1929 song Puttin’ on the Ritz. The set up parodies Fred Astaire’s musical performance in the 1946 film Blue Skies. You don’t have to have seen that film to get the joke – Boyle’s masterful monster singing will make you laugh out loud.

Michael J Fox 

Film: Back to the Future (1985)
Song: Johnny B Goode

A signature moment in a brilliant film. Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) backed by The Starlighters literally stops the show with his version of an ‘oldie’ – Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode. But because the film takes place in the past, Berry hasn’t even written the song yet. Michael J Fox’s singing is dubbed by musician Paul Hanson, and while he plays the guitar on screen, it’s actually guitarist Tim May we are hearing.

Eric Idle, Graham Chapman 

Film: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Song: Always Look on The Bright Side of Life

Let’s end this list with the song that ends Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Condemned to death by crucifixion, Brian (Graham Chapman) is cheered up when other men, also being crucified, break into song. It culminates with some 23 men whistling, singing, and (trying to) dance as the end credits roll. At Chapman’s funeral in 1989, the remaining Monty Python crew sang the song in his honour. At the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony, Eric Idle sang it after his “failed” attempt to be fired out of a cannon.

Rhett Bartlett can be heard on ABC Radio Melbourne, and he writes obituaries for The Hollywood Reporter. You can follow him on Twitter.

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