When it comes to making a film, music is an important part of conveying emotion and setting the tone for the audience. The wrong song can ruin everything, while the right song can make a good scene great. But this relationship is not always one-sided. For musicians, having a song included in a popular movie can launch—or re-launch—their careers. Here are 17 times a movie led to a spike in music sales.
1. BOB SEGER // RISKY BUSINESS (1983)
Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear tends to get all the credit for making Bob Seger’s 1979 song “Old Time Rock & Roll” a hit four years after its release. Through a partnership with the film company, Seger’s label re-released the song in addition to having it appear on the soundtrack to capitalize on the film’s success and, according to Rolling Stone, the strategy worked; the song was introduced to a new generation and became so popular that it re-entered the Hot 100 chart.
2. SIMPLE MINDS // THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
With the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the band Simple Minds got lucky. Written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, the song had already been turned down by several other artists—including Billy Idol and Annie Lennox—before the Scottish band “reluctantly” agreed to perform it for the film. “We just did the song at the time because we thought it would help our relations with the record company,” vocalist Jim Kerr told Billboard back in 1995. “We never thought it would be so successful. In fact, we felt a bit of guilt because we didn’t write it.” The song topped U.S. charts for three weeks and stayed on UK charts for 65 weeks.
3. YELLO // FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (1986)
The introduction of the 1961 Ferrari 250-GT California in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which was actually a replica) was also America’s formal introduction to Yello, an electronic band from Zurich that was already on its fourth studio album at the time of the film’s release. According to the New York Post, John Hughes was a fan and chose the song “Oh Yeah” for the film, which led to Yello performing in the U.S. for the first time in 1986 and gaining a new fan base.
The soundtrack for the film was never released because Hughes didn’t think anyone wanted it, so buying Yello’s albums/singles was the only want to hear that catchy “chicka chicka” song. “We became very popular overnight,” band member Dieter Meier told the Post. “The song is about total, unconditional happiness in that moment, so it works very well in the film when the boy is stealing his father’s car.” The deep, elongated “oh yeah” quote from the song has been used in all forms of pop culture and the band is still receiving royalty checks, though Meier says that the recognition is more important.
4. THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS // GHOST (1990)
In 1990, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield’s rendition of “Unchained Melody” was used for the pottery scene in Ghost and The Righteous Brothers once again found their sales spiking. They couldn’t re-release the record because of licensing issues, so they re-recorded it and made the most of the moment. “We released it and it sold like crazy,” Medley wrote in his book A Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir. “That inspired us to re-record a whole ‘reunion’ album of our hits. Honestly, it was sh*t ... Artistically, a stupid idea; financially, a wonderful idea. The album went platinum.”
5. QUEEN // WAYNE’S WORLD (1992)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is not the only song on this list that was a hit upon its initial release, but it just might be the biggest. In 1975, the track by the British band Queen reached the number nine spot on the pop charts in the United States and spent nine weeks on the top of the British charts, according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly 20 years later, Wayne’s World gave the song new life, thanks to a great scene where the main characters sing along to it in a car. It returned to the U.S. charts at number 10, and two albums that featured the track (Classic Queen and the Wayne’s World soundtrack) sold 170,000 copies collectively.
6. WHITNEY HOUSTON // THE BODYGUARD (1992)
The success of The Bodyguard and the sales of Houston’s music went hand in hand, according to a 1993 report by Reuters. The icon starred in the film and contributed six songs to the soundtrack, which sold 5.5 million copies and topped the charts for six of its first seven weeks of release. The single “I Will Always Love You” sold 3.6 million copies at the time of the article, and was at the top of the Pop chart, the Rhythm and Blues chart, and the Adult Contemporary chart, which in turn made fans of the music buy tickets to see the romantic thriller on the big screen.
7. THE PROCLAIMERS // BENNY & JOON (1993)
Over the years, The Proclaimers' “I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)” has become inextricably linked with this Johnny Depp film. In 1993, Billboard reported that the band's career was “revived” by the film’s theatrical run, and accurately predicted that, like the film’s soundtrack (which rose 13 percent), the band would also see a boost for the home video release.
In 2013, the band reported another film-related boost, this time from the Scottish musical Sunshine on Leith. “A lot of people who watch musicals, older people, and children have got into what we’re doing,” vocalist Craig Reid told Scotland Now. “In our upcoming autumn tour, we’ll have the biggest crowds we’ve ever played to and the film has definitely had an impact on that.”
8. DICK DALE & HIS DEL-TONES // PULP FICTION (1994)
Tarantino fans will recognize “Misirlou” (or “Miserlou”) as the song from Pulp Fiction, but it was actually a pretty popular surf-rock tune back in 1962. According to the Los Angeles Times, having the track as “a keynote” in the film’s soundtrack helped sell 2.5 million copies in the United States. It also introduced Dale to a new audience and revitalized his career.
9. THE BETA BAND // HIGH FIDELITY (2000)
Want your band to do well? Trust in the power of John Cusack and director Stephen Frears. The Scottish “folktronic” group The Beta Band benefited greatly from High Fidelity's use of their “Dry the Rain” single and the mention of their album The Three E.P.s in the film. According to MTV, sales of the 1998 album quadrupled within a month of the film’s release.
10. DROPKICK MURPHYS // THE DEPARTED (2006)
As the opening credits rolled in the 2006 Martin Scorsese film The Departed, the Celtic punk tune “I'm Shipping Up to Boston” set the tone for the very hard, very Boston story that audiences were about to see. The song was played twice in the Academy Award-winning film, and the Dropkick Murphys say that it was one of the “biggest moments” of their career. It became a fight song for Boston sports teams and the band’s first (and so far only) platinum single.
11. ABBA // MAMMA MIA! (2008)
Having already seen a boost back in 2001 because of the Broadway musical, ABBA returned to the charts in 2008 thanks to the release of the big-screen adaptation of Mamma Mia!, which takes its name from the opening track on the band’s third album, the self-titled ABBA. According to Rolling Stone, the soundtrack of the film hit number one on iTunes, and the band’s Gold: Greatest Hits album returned to the Billboard charts after two years.
12. THE SMASHING PUMPKINS // WATCHMEN (2009)
According to Rolling Stone, after the 1997 Smashing Pumpkins song "The End is the Beginning is the End" (originally a part of the Batman and Robin soundtrack) appeared in the trailer for the 2009 superhero film Watchmen, it ranked in the top 40 most popular tracks in iTunes and became the band’s most downloaded song, which their management was very happy about. “This is a good example of the future of The Smashing Pumpkins,” band manager Jared Paul told the magazine. “We are looking for great marketing alliances to support the band's past and present musical offerings.”
13. WILSON PHILLIPS // BRIDESMAIDS (2011)
The final scene of Paul Feig's Bridesmaids features a cameo from Wilson Phillips and a performance of one of their most popular songs from the 1990s, “Hold On,” complete with lip syncing from the film's stars, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. Billboard reported that the trio saw sales of the 21-year-old single jump an incredible 620 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
14. BLUE SWEDE // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
Even before the Marvel superhero film smashed the box office, it was a godsend for Blue Swede and their 40-year-old rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling.” According to Billboard, hearing a snippet of the song play in the trailer was enough for fans to want to own it, and sales jumped 700 percent in a single day. The movie’s full soundtrack, titled Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1, made history by becoming the first soundtrack to top the Billboard 200 chart without a single new song. In January of 2015, it was certified platinum with over one million copies sold in the United States, so Blue Swede was not the only band to earn a few extra bucks. (The band's 1974 version of the song also appeared on the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs in 1992.)
15. NEWSBOYS // GOD’S NOT DEAD (2014)
Earlier this year, The Tennessean reported that Christian bands have been getting more exposure and selling more records when their songs are played in films, thanks to licensing deals and the growing audience for faith-based films. The Newsboys, a band that has been around since 1985, saw a higher level of success than ever before after appearing along with their music in the film God’s Not Dead, which takes its title from one of the band’s songs. “The biggest result from the Newsboys’ side of the world is the single was certified platinum, which was the first they’ve had,” the band’s manager said.
16. AMY WINEHOUSE // AMY (2015)
Asif Kapadia's music documentary Amy provided a deeply personal and heart-wrenching look into the life of the late singer Amy Winehouse, and made fans old and new want to revisit her tragically short catalog. The Straits Times reported that when the film hit theaters, Winehouse’s 2006 album Back to Black began to outsell new releases by Beyoncé, Adele, and Pitbull, and resurfaced on the Billboard 200 charts.
17. DR. DRE and N.W.A // STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)
As one of the members of the pioneering rap group N.W.A, and a producer on Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre stood to see profits from the Oscar-nominated film anyway, but according to the Los Angeles Times, the film also inspired fans to buy the artist's new music. Scheduling the release of his first album in 16 years to coincide with the film's premiere, Dre moved 295,000 copies in one week and landed at number two on the album charts. Fans also doubled back to pick up N.W.A’s 1988 album Straight Outta Compton, compilations by Ice Cube and N.W.A, and Dre's The Chronic and 2001.