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In this filmmaking video essay, we look at some of the best movie soundtracks to see how filmmakers’ music cues — or “needle drops” — create iconic cinema. The term “needle drop” refers to when a popular song is placed strategically in a scene. Here, our case studies of epic movie soundtracks are American Psycho, Thor: Ragnarok, and Almost Famous.
In a scene that famously features Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square,” the American Psycho soundtrack creates cognitive dissonance for viewers, juxtaposing the song’s upbeat tone with a grisly murder. The Thor: Ragnarok soundtrack uses Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to celebrate its fallen hero’s return to glory. And the Almost Famous soundtrack cues up Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” to create a moment of release for its characters at the film’s climax.
The needle drops in truly great movie soundtracks are designed to affect audiences in an extremely specific way. Some of these movie songs are tied directly to the plot, while others may intentionally offset the film’s tone to create irony.
Discerning directors also use music to introduce leitmotifs, and we’ll take a look at that, too — from Jaws to The Godfather to The Royal Tenenbaums. So, with our eyes and ears open, let’s explore the monumental importance of soundtrack in film.
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