The 10 Best Movie Music Moments Of 2012

Javier Bardem smiles during an interrogation in Skyfall.
(Image credit: Danjac, LLC and MGM)

We are now just a few hours away from 2013, but we’re not entirely done celebrating the great year in cinematic history that was 2012 just yet.

For the last two weeks we have been applauding the best work of the year, from our individual critical top 10s to lists of our favorite action scenes, on-screen couples, facial hair statements, lines of dialogue, breakthrough performances and much more. And now it’s time to celebrate those very special moments of 2012 when cinema and music fell into perfect harmony.

Just as I’ve done for the last three years, I have traced back through all of the films that I’ve seen this year and brought together the Top 10 Best Movie Music Moments of 2012. Last year’s big winners include amazing titles like Drive, The Muppets, Moneyball and X-Men: First Class, but what will make the cut this year? Find out below!

WARNING: the very, very last page of this feature includes spoilers for two separate movies, so count as you go and tread carefully as you get towards the end!


Song: “Skyfall” by Adele

A big reason why director Sam MendesSkyfall works so well is because of how it pays loving tribute to the legacy of the James Bond character (while deconstructing it at the same time). In the movie we see 007 get his Walther PPK, ride around it in super spy-ready silver Aston Martin, visit exotic locales, sleep with strange women…really, this list could go on. But a truly great Bond film is nothing out with a truly great title theme, and Adele helped deliver just that.

After two straight films with more modern themes (Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” for Casino Royale and Jack White & Alicia Keys’ “Another Way To Die” for Quantum of Solace), Mendes wanted to make his audiences remember the great work that Dame Shirley Bassey did for the franchise and Adele’s track fits the bill in every way. Beyond its stirring sound, filled with beautiful strings, horns and a wonderful lone piano, the song becomes more amazing once the secret behind the film’s coded title is revealed, with theme’s relating to the relationship between Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Dame Judi Dench) and the battle with Silva (Javier Bardem), as well as a premonition about the third act. Without question one of the best Bond themes of all time.

Silver Linings Playbook

Song: “What Is And What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin

In Silver Linings Playbook the lead character is Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is psychiatrist-diagnosed with bipolar disorder and throughout the film is subjects to moments of what paranoid delusions brought on by stress and manic episodes in between times of normality and peacefulness. With that in mind writer/director David O. Russell couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate song to use in the scene where Pat frantically searching for his wedding tape at three o’clock in the morning.

The magic in Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be” is in its constantly changing tones. As Pat gets more and more panicked, scaring his parents, waking up all of his neighbors and getting the attention of the police, Robert Plant’s vocals and Jimmy Page’s guitar alternately speed up and slow down as the song goes between verse and chorus, brilliantly mapping out the protagonist’s fractured state of mind. The track’s psychedelic nature puts the audience right inside Pat’s head adds to the chaos in breathtaking fashion. Music can be used to say words that can’t be phrased, and that’s exactly what Russell did with this Zeppelin track in Silver Linings Playbook.

Moonrise Kingdom

Song: “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, op. 34: Themes A.-F.” by Benjamin Britten and the New York Philharmonic

Every time we start to watch a movie we a transported to a different universe. It doesn’t matter if it’s a massive sci-fi epic or a tough, gritty drama based on a true story – with each new film the audience is brought into a new world with new characters, new tales to be told, and new things to be seen. In his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, writer/director Wes Anderson took that idea to a very literal place and opened the story with the instructional track “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten and the New York Philharmonic.

With an almost completely dialogue-less opening sequence, Anderson utilizes the track to immediately establish the mood and then uses that mood to give us all the information we need, both for the plot and aesthetically. The music introduces Moonrise Kingdom’s theme as well as the director’s trademark tracking cinematography, while also opening us up to the story, with the troubled Suzy (Kara Hayward) shown looking through her binoculars at the end of almost every shot, before she finally goes to the mailbox and receives a private letter from Sam (Jared Gilman). It’s an ingenious opening that sets up everything for one of the finest films of the year.


Song: “Thunder Song” by Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg

Seth MacFarlane knew exactly what he had when he wrote the “Thunder Song” for his directorial feature debut – how else do you explain how it was the first scene in the film’s first trailer? For starters, any song that has the lyrics “Fuck you, thunder! You can suck my dick” and ends with a fart sound is gold off the bat, but it’s even better just because of how well the song fits the characters and their relationships.

While I don’t mean to offend anyone reading this, being afraid of thunder is a phobia almost exclusively found in children (mostly because adults know it just as the sound lightning makes). So what fear is perfect for an irresponsible 40-year-old named John (Wahlberg) who does nothing but smoke pot and chill with his anthropomorphic stuffed bear, Ted (MacFarlane)? And when else do you have the fear make itself known other than when John is in bed with his beautiful girlfriend (Mila Kunis) who wants nothing more than for him to grow up? The “Thunder Song” is featured on this list because it was one of the funniest scenes in Ted - which is a hysterical comedy all around anyway – but it’s good to find the intelligence behind it as well.


Song: “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin

The scene is set in the period political drama after CIA extraction agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) learns that his mission to help the Iranian hostages has been aborted. Still believing it’s their last night in country before making their escape, the “Canadian film crew” begins to drink and an album is put on the record player: playing the most perfect song you could possibly imagine.

Unlike Silver Linings Playbook, where it’s Zeppelin’s sound that’s being used to mold tone and emotion, it’s the lyrics of “When The Levee Breaks” that makes its use in Argo a seamless fit. Though the hostages don’t know it, with the government withdrawing support they suddenly find themselves behind a levee that’s ready to break. Hell, the song even includes the lyric “Don't it make you feel bad/When you're tryin' to find your way home/You don't know which way to go?” Even better, the song selection adds to the film’s realistic feel, having only been released a few years before the true events depicted. Led Zeppelin has become the first band to ever have two separate in one of my annual Best Movie Music Moments lists, but both are wholeheartedly deserved.

Les Miserables

Song: “I Dreamed A Dream” performed by Anne Hathaway

It would be pretty hard for me to avoid putting the biggest musical movie event of the year, Les Miserables, on my list of the Top 10 Movie Music Moments of 2012, and fortunately Anne Hathaway makes it practically impossible to do so. While the Oscar-nominated actress was only in Tom Hooper’s film for a few short scenes is mostly featured at the very start of the long runtime, it’s her performance of the tragic “I Dreamed A Dream” that audiences are still thinking about as they leave the theater.

In a quick series of scenes, Fantine (Hathaway) finds herself fired from her job at the factory for sending money to her young daughter, and unable to keep her head above water in Post-Revolution France, she is forced to start selling teeth and hair before finally turning to prostitution. The song is sung after the character has reached her lowest point, and while “I Dreamed A Dream” is pre-established as one of the highlights of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s original musical, Hathaway’s performance really does blow the doors off the theater. Performed live on set, the song is filled with every ounce of anguish and desperation that the actress could provide and it’s a stunning thing to see.

The Avengers

Song: “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC

Iron Man is unquestionably the A-list star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and I’m not just talking about the fictional masses that worship Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Of all Marvel Studios films leading up to The Avengers Iron Man’s were easily the most successful. But watching Joss Whedon’s film it’s strange how long it takes to see the metal man in action. Fortunately, when he does finally enter the fray and get involved with his first battle it’s to an awesome musical cue.

The scene is set in Stuttgart, Germany where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is doing battle with Captain America (Chris Evans) on the ground. After a quick fight it looks like the Asgardian has the upper hand over the super soldier… but that’s when we hear it. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who is flying above the fray in a quinjet, sees her P.A. system get an override as AC/DC’s “Shoot To Thrill,” Iron Man’s own little theme (set up in Iron Man 2), begins to play and the celebrity superhero comes in to blast Loki off his feet. It may not be the character’s first appearance in the film, but it’s a damn fine introduction.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Song: “Over The Misty Mountains Cold” performed by Richard Armitage And The Company of Dwarves

It’s impressive how religious Peter Jackson is, and is allowed to be, when it comes to adapting the work of J.R.R. Tolkien for the big screen. In his bringing the story to the big screen he and his fellow screenwriters dug through not only the book, but also the author’s appendices, which helped not only add even more depth to the story, but tie the tale to Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings trilogy. But in adding things like Azog The Defiler and expanding the story of The Necromancer the director didn’t ignore key elements that draw fans to the book – for example, the singing.

While the song admittedly comes during the film’s slow opening, when audiences are just waiting for the group to hit the road and start their adventure, that shouldn’t distract from how hauntingly beautiful the movie’s rendition of “Over The Misty Mountains Cold” is. Not only is it a beautiful song, telling the backstory and motive for their journey, it’s also a true gift for the fans, as it seemed from the outside like an element that the writers would just throw away because of Hollywood conventions. We’re lucky they didn’t, and what we have instead is one of the best movie music moments of year. COURTESY SPOILER WARNING REMINDER!!

The Cabin In The Woods

Song: “Roll With The Changes” by REO Speedwagon

I love a good contrasting soundtrack. While most of the music moments on this list are highlighted for using songs in scenes and matching tones and moods, movies that take the complete opposite approach on purpose are sometimes even better than the straightforward method. Take, for example, the use of REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With The Changes” in Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in The Woods. The happy, upbeat track begins to play as the technicians in the control room begin to celebrate another successful mission, all while poor, innocent Dana (Kristen Connolly) is getting the hell beaten from her by Judah Buckner on the big screen.

This song wouldn’t have made the list if it were just a funny track to play during the scene, but fortunately one can always rely on the cleverness of the Goddard-Joss Whedon team. Looking at the song’s lyrics one could interpret it as being about a man trying to get a woman to trust him after she has had a series of poor relationships, but the theme could easily be applied to the film’s final scene, where Dana and fellow victim Marty (Fran Kranz) decide that it’s time for the world to end and “to give someone else a chance.” Sometimes you just have to roll with the changes.

Django Unchained

Song: “Who Did That To You” by John Legend

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film opens with the track “Django,” the song written by Franco Migliacci and performed by Ricky Roberts for the 1966 Franco Nero movie of the same name, but the truth is that the escaped slave protagonist of Django Unchained doesn’t earn his theme until the third act, but does so in spectacular fashion. After being forced back into slavery and seeing his partner murdered, Django (Jamie Foxx) uses his wits to outfox the crew of Aussie slave traders (Tarantino, John Jarratt, Michael Parks) who are taking him to his next owners and just as he walks out of a cloud of dynamite smoke we hear “Who Did That To You” by John Legend blasting from the speakers.

This film actually marks the first time that Tarantino has used original music written directly for the movie, and in the way Legend’s song is used it’s clear that the writer/director had a very specific plan. As the track plays and Django reemerges on to the screen, he is no longer just the escaped slave turned bounty hunter: he is a mythical figure, like Siegfried from Dr. King Schultz’s (Christoph Waltz) fairytale. And every great mythical figure needs a theme, especially one with lyrics like “If he’s not ready to die, he best prepare for it/My judgment’s divine, I tell you who you can call.”

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.