For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide we decided to take a look at some of our favorite winners of the Academy's Best Original Song category. We were originally going to stick to our four actor-specific posts, but a recent discussion about this year's nominees generated interest in this specific list - one that none of us could believe we never looked to do in the past. I won't get into specifics about the conversations we had, and I definitely don't want to speak for all of the writers associated with this post, but in general I don't think any of us are too happy that Sam Smith's James Bond theme, Writing's On the Wall, got a nomination and is considered by some to be the front-runner to win the award. It's not a great look for the category and for the Academy as a whole for a few different reasons. But in this section, we'll leave it at that. If you're curious about our more specific thoughts, sound off in the comments section and I'm sure most will be happy to chime in.
That aside, let's dig into some history on this award. It was first introduced at the 7th Academy Awards, recognizing the best in film from 1934. While most of the rules have been tweaked over the years, the general guidelines to be considered for the award are this: the song has to be written specifically for the film (not released prior), can't be remixed from previous compositions, and can't be a song adapted from a musical. Today, if your song meets those requirements, it goes to the committee to vote for their favorites, which then become the nominees. Up until 2012 there was a really terrible points system method for selecting the nominees - basically, if the voters all selected the same couple of songs at the top of their ballots, only those few songs would get a nomination. This process really showed its flaws in 2011 when only two songs were nominated for the award amid dozens of quality entries. After that year, the system was changed. Now, though still possible, it's almost assured that five nominations will be given each year.
Of all the nominees in previous years, Sammy Cahn is the most prestigious. Doing most of his work in the 1950's and 1960's, Cahn has been nominated for 26 Academy Awards and won four. That is by far the most total nominations by one person ever in this category and tied for the most wins. Alan Mankin, who's tied Cahn with four wins in this category, has probably been the most influential to our generation. He's been nominated for this award 14 times and some of his credits include "Little Shop of Horrors", "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin", "Pocahontas", "Hercules", and "Tangled". I would venture to guess that his songs will be well represented below.
Full disclosure: I'm not familiar with even most of the songs that have won this award over the years. Luckily, there was still so much to choose from. And while I'm not strongly tied to most of my selections, it was still tough narrowing this list down. Plus, was it more important to pick songs that I most enjoy listening to or songs that I feel best captured the spirit of the film they were featured in?
1. Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
If you come from the same generation that I do, how could you not have a Disney song at the top? This gets top billing for me because not only is "The Little Mermaid" one of my favorite animated films, but this song is one of the most entertaining to come from a Disney film – it's so catchy and fun to sing with. Plus, what a party that erupts when Sebastian gets into it! If anything, I hate that Ariel is so disinterested in the performance. Sebastian puts on a spectacle and she couldn't care less. That really bothers me. Still, of all the Disney songs that have won, this is easily my favorite.2. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King, 1994)
If Friend Like Me from "Aladdin" had won in 1992, that might have been in this spot. But since it was the inferior A Whole New World, which does nothing for me, it’s “The Lion King” getting the recognition here. When I was younger I obviously thought Hakuna Matata was the superior song from “The Lion King”, but now that I’m older I appreciate this one more. It’s so emotional. Elton John did a great job with it.3. My Heart Will Go On (Titanic, 1997)
I'm surprised this ended up so high on my list because overall I feel I love "Titanic" much less than the other writers at this site. But it just kept climbing. I feel like this song has to make every list, if for nothing other than the cultural impact it had on society. Actually, it would be hard to make the case against this being the most culturally significant song to come from a film. And boy, when she hits that chorus the final time through – if you don’t belt it out with her and get chills when you’re listening, there’s something wrong with you.4. Skyfall (Skyfall, 2012)
Another thing I'm not an expert on: James Bond theme songs. But my lack of expertise has never stopped me from making bold proclamations before, and it won't again today! Even with my very limited knowledge of these theme songs, I feel like this is the best James Bond song ever recorded. I listened to this song so much when it was released. Adele has an amazing voice and this song really showcased her abilities. It’s incredibly catchy, strong, and so fitting for the film. Maybe the reason I dislike Sam Smith’s Writing’s On the Wall so much is because Adele set the bar too high.5. Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
A beautiful song from a beautiful movie. Everyone knows this song. I feel guilty having it so low on this list (surely it’s still an honor just making the list at all), but it’s not like I’m tapping my foot to this tune on a regular basis. But if you’re making an argument against My Heart Will Go On as being the most culturally significant, this has to be the main contender. In ways it probably is far superior, but I feel like the definition of pop culture changed dramatically in the 80’s and 90’s with mass media consumption and over-indulgence. It’s to that point that I feel My Heart Will Go On saturated our culture to a greater extent.
I’m kind of upset that songs from animated movies dominated my entire list. Nostalgia is one hell of a drug.
1. Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
This is my sister’s favorite Disney movie. While growing up, this VHS had VIP access our VCR. It’s pretty common to be into the Disney sidekicks, and with "The Little Mermaid", Sebastian was my main man…er, crab. When it came to singing along, my sister took care of Ariel’s songs and I’d take on Under the Sea; little me, bouncing around the apartment, singing along with a hot crustacean band. And once I was worn out, I’d lay my head on my Sebastian bed pillow and finish the movie.2. A Whole New world (Aladdin, 1992)
Of the Disney movies I grew up with, this is the one I bought into the most. Like, I had a lot of the movie merchandise – stuffed Genie, stuffed Abu, etc., etc. So, I know the context doesn’t work, but A Whole New World was the perfect song for me and my sister to duet. I’d take on Aladdin’s part, my sister would sing Princess Jasmine’s. You really feel like you can sing when you’re belting this one.3. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King, 1994)
Both the in-movie and end credit (Elton John) versions are great. They were great when I was a child, and today they make my body ache with nostalgia as soon as the first note hits. And again, you really feel like you have some skills when you’re singing this one out loud.4. Beauty and The Beast (Beauty and The Beast, 1991)
I’m not sure if they’re both considered the Oscar winner or just one, but I mostly prefer the Mrs. Potts version over the Celine & Peabo version. Angela Lansbury has such a soothing voice – both singing and speaking.5. When You Believe (The Prince of Egypt, 1998)
The nostalgia for this movie isn’t so strong, so I’m sort of surprised a song from a DreamWorks animated film made my list. However, one of my favorite childhood memories is watching my sister being called to sing this in church to the congregation. She did it with no prep and completely from memory. She nailed it.
1. My Heart Will Go On (Titanic, 1997)
For me, this was a pretty easy choice to be number one. I've loved the song ever since the movie came out. I'm a big time sucker for love ballads, and in my opinion, this is one of the best examples from the genre. Also, there are few songs that are as fun to lip-sync to, right?2. Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
It's not a song that I care for that much, but I think it's probably the most iconic song to ever win and I absolutely love the movie as a whole. I think from a technical and historical standpoint it's the best film ever made.3. Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969)
I had no idea this song won an Oscar nor that it was originally from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", which is one of my favorite westerns. The reason it makes my list is because for as long as I can remember - long before I ever saw the movie - it will randomly pop into my head and I will sing it to myself. For reasons unknown even to myself, I always tend to sing it with a really deep southern drawl.4. Lose Yourself (8 Mile, 2002)
I went through a short rap phase when this came out; I thought I was so cool for listening to rap, mainly because I knew my mom hated it. While the phase was short lived, and now I think the genre as a whole is mostly garbage, I've always liked this song and think it's about as good as it gets for rap.5. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King, 1994)
You could make an entire list of purely Disney winners. This is my favorite classically-animated Disney film so the song wins for that. What stood out the most among all the Disney songs that won was that I almost always thought there were better selections than what ultimately won.
Ok. This was the hardest list I think I've ever had to assemble. I actually ended up making multiple lists over various days and averaging it out via a points system to find my selections. It was the only way I could narrow it down. Interestingly, as I was composing the different lists over the week, the version you see below never once showed up on a previous list. For that reason, I'm glad I did this one this way - each list was so different simply based on my current mood. This was the best way to get to the core of my feelings, I think. Obviously, there were so many others I wanted to give credit to, but I really am pretty darn happy with how this turned out!
1. The Way You Look Tonight (Swing Time, 1936)
2. Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
3. A Whole New World (Aladdin, 1992)
4. Skyfall (Skyfall, 2012)
5. You'll Be in My Heart (Tarzan, 1999)
1. My Heart Will Go On (Titanic, 1997)
I was twelve when "Titanic" came out, the perfect age for Titanic Mania to take over my life. So naturally, this has to be my number one song. I already liked Celine Dion (my very first CD was a Celine CD) and you’d better believe I bought the "Titanic" soundtrack as soon as I could. I wore that thing out. I also remember a radio station advertising exactly when they were going to play the special version of the song that included dialogue from the film; I sat at my stereo armed and ready with a brand new blank cassette tape to record it and I treasured that tape for years. This song still has the ability to cause tears to well up in my eyes, so I’d say that for me, it stands the test of time.2. You’ll Be In My Heart (Tarzan, 1999)
I never got super into "Tarzan", but I did love the soundtrack. I love Phil Collins. Years ago I was at a dolphin show at a zoo (kind of depressing, I know), and one of their dolphins had just had a baby. They were going to debut the baby to the public for the first time during this show, and as they released the mama and baby into the tank, they started playing this song. Dolphin show or not, I was crying and crying and still think of that moment whenever I hear it. Baby animals, man. What can you do?3. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King, 1994)
I grew up listening to Elton John (he’s my mom’s favorite) so Elton + Disney was a perfect combination. Who didn’t love this movie and this soundtrack and this song? Still one I like to listen to now and again, and it always makes feel wonderfully nostalgic and emotional.4. Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite animated Disney movie, so this had to make my list. There’s really no other reason. I love the movie, I love Celine, I love this song.5. Streets of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1993)
This is probably the actual best song on my list, but it places last because it doesn’t hold any nostalgic feelings for me. I really only truly discovered it a few years ago. I was never into Springsteen until I saw the director’s cut of "Mask", with the restored Springsteen soundtrack (instead of Bob Seger). For some reason watching that made his music click for me, and I started downloading loads of his songs, this being one of them. It’s such a beautiful, sad song, and one I can put on repeat while I’m working or writing and never really get tired of it. It creates such a lovely, slightly melancholy atmosphere. My favorite kind of feeling to get from a song.
So there we have it. Quite the list. And as expected, a good amount of Disney songs in the mix. Of the 25 total selections above, more than half of them (13) came from Disney animated films. If nothing else, it shows not only how dominating Disney was in the 1990's, but that we're clearly a group who's youth was impacted by them. For a site that promotes and encourages nostalgia, this was the perfect list.
Overall, we had eight different
Of the other seven titles that appeared on multiple lists, two of them, My Heart Will Go On and Over the Rainbow, appeared on three. It's funny that these two ended up paired together, because they're both equally significant to their cultures of the time. Two iconic songs that totally defined the films they came from and in some ways surpassed their films altogether. Otherwise, Under the Sea, Skyfall, A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast, and You'll Be in My Heart all appeared on multiple lists, each hitting on two.