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The Top 25 Songs Used in This Year’s Movie Trailers, Starting With 'Saltburn'

Hollywood marketers still love classic rock, as Blue Oyster Cult, Bon Jovi, Boston, Rush, and Scorpions are all on the list.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I’ve missed you, and I hope you all had a Merry Christmas. I can’t believe there are only a few more days of “vacation” left before 2024 begins and Hollywood is forced to grapple with some very difficult decisions.

Leaving all the big-ticket M&A talk aside for now, will Universal move forward with another Fast & Furious movie starring Vin Diesel? Will Marvel move forward with reshoots for Captain America: Brave New World with Julius Onah at the helm, or is someone else coming in to help reshape that movie? And if you’re Warner Bros. are you bringing back Paul King to direct the inevitable Wonka sequel (look for that announcement after the holidays) or do you ask him to trade in his golden ticket for the keys to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? These are just some of the questions on my mind tonight.

There are a few days left to enjoy this newsletter free of charge, but seeing as I haven’t had any income for the past few months, I expect the paywall to go up next week. I may offer a weekly edition of this newsletter for half the price, too. It all depends on how flexible the Beehiiv platform is, and I won’t really know that until I flip the switch and leave my fate in your hands. But again, I’m truly grateful to the thousands of you who have already subscribed to this newsletter, which always aims to be unique, if nothing else.

Given the news slow-down across the industry, there’s just one feature in tonight’s edition, but it’s a fun one that you won’t see anywhere else. Read on for more… especially if you’re a music fan!

The Top 25 Songs Used in This Year’s Movie Trailers

How thirsty would you have to be to drink Barry Keoghan’s bathwater? Or anyone’s?

This is not a list of the best trailers of the year. If that’s what you’re looking for, Variety and The Playlist have you covered, among others.

No, this is a special kind of list that no one else does — as far as I know. I did it for TheWrap in 2014 and 2015, and now I’m bringing it back, baby! Just for you guys.

It’s a list of the best songs that were used in this year’s movie trailers.

See, I’m a movie trailer fanatic. When I go to visit my family in Boston, we have “Trailer Time” together and I spend an hour or two putting movies on their radar that they would otherwise simply scroll past late at night.

I truly believe that a great trailer can add millions to a film’s opening weekend. Trailers are an art unto themselves, and the people who make them often fly under the radar, as do many of the songs that help drive throngs of people to theaters. If I can introduce you to just one song with this list, the hard work of watching every single trailer released this year will have been worth it.

Now, a few caveats before we get started. Movies like Flora and Son and The Color Purple were disqualified from contention because it’s not like another movie could use the song "High Life” or “Push Da Button.” The degree of difficulty simply isn’t as high when you’re handed original songs to choose from, since those songs are what you’re supposed to showcase. The choice is practically made for you.

For this list, I took into account how long we heard each song, and I also considered each song’s context related to both the movie as a whole and the trailer itself — how does it complement the actual footage it's playing over?

Without further ado, it’s time to open your Spotify app and search for the Top 25 Songs Used in Movie Trailers This Year, as listed below…

1. Saltburn - “The Pioneers” (M83 Remix) by Bloc Party

Key Lyric: “We will not be the first.”

This was a stunning teaser for Emerald Fennell’s sophomore feature that paired M83’s remix of Bloc Party’s “The Pioneers” with the glamorous excess of British aristocracy and colorful font that rotated between primary colors — red, blue, and yellow. Saltburn has enjoyed a very striking campaign from Amazon MGM Studios, but whether that will translate to attention from Oscar voters remains to be seen. The film has certainly proven to be a hot topic on social media.

2. Leave the World Behind - “Oh Baby” by LCD Soundsystem

Key Lyric: “You’re already gone.”

The trailer starts with the opening beats of this LCD Soundsystem song that plays like a relaxing vacation gone horribly wrong. “You’re having a bad dream,” goes the song, before repeating “You’re already gone” as Kevin Bacon says “Haven’t you been picking up on what’s going on out there.” It makes you wonder, ‘What is going on out there,’ followed by ‘Who has to leave the world behind,’ and ‘Why?’ The editing is great, with the slam-cut to Julia Roberts’ name as the Teslas begin to crash into each other. And if the world really is ending somehow, then “Oh, Baby” indeed! I don’t know who sees this trailer and then goes, “Pass.” That’s probably why the movie opened to solid numbers on Netflix…

3. American Symphony - “Butterfly” by Jon Batiste

Key Lyric: “Butterfly all alone. But can you fly on your own?”

The piano strings of “Butterfly” play over the Netflix logo as this trailer establishes the documentary’s life-and-death stakes. As Jon Batiste’s music career takes off, his wife wages war with cancer. The trailer promises an epic love story, and this trailer needs a song befitting such a story. This is that song, and I bet a studio uses it for a scripted feature in the next two years. I actually haven’t worked up the courage to watch American Symphony yet, but I’ve seen this trailer probably a half-dozen times and it still makes me cry. That’s a testament to this song as much as it is the hopeful yet heartbreaking footage.

4. Past Lives - “Stay” by Cat Power

Key Lyric: “I want you to stay.”

Cat Power’s haunting voice chimes in halfway through this trailer as the earnest lyrics declare, “I want you to stay,” which is what we know Teo Yoo’s Hae Sung wants to hear from Greta Lee’s Nora Moon. He has traveled halfway around the world to reunite with her and he just wants her to want him back. Watch the movie to see how that conversation goes.

5. All of Us Strangers - “Always On My Mind/In My House” by Pet Shop Boys

Key Lyric: “Little things that I should have said and done…”

It takes nearly a minute before the opening notes of this Pet Shop Boys song play, and the song captures a sense of nostalgia — a yearning for a time that perhaps never was. The key feeling that this movie evokes is regret. “You were always on my mind.” It’s a film about the things left unsaid and the weight of those unsaid things. This is the perfect song for this moving trailer.

6. Love Lies Bleeding - “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat

Key Lyric: “Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away”

“More passion. More energy.” That’s what this song conveys. It’s sexy. It’s dangerous. It’s cool. The song lyrics evoke action, which is paired nicely with all the gunplay. The trailer promises a Sundance movie with style. It’s a great piece of marketing from A24, which will be hoping for a breakout hit when Love Lies Bleeding arrives in theaters this March.

7. I.S.S. - “Winds of Change” by Scorpions

Key Lyric: “The world is closing in…”

This is just a brilliant song choice for a relatively small movie from Bleecker Street. “I follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park…” makes the point that it’s America and Russia up there together on the international space station. The trailer is bookended by some eerie whistling that effectively communicates “Don’t miss this thriller!” And fear not, I won’t…

8. Tetris - “The Final Countdown” by Europe

Key Lyric: “Will things ever be the same again?”

This trailer opens with those iconic notes from Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” and it goes on to put a Russian-sounding techno spin on the song. Tetris the game doesn’t necessarily have a timer but time is, obviously, a consideration, and since it involves colorful shapes falling “down” the screen, the song choice kind of works on multiple levels, as it also alludes to war between Russia and others. The repeating of the word “countdown” at the end of this trailer is next-level. Get it?

9. The Fall Guy - “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi

Key Lyrics: “Shot through the heart…” and “You give love…”

This would be a hugely successful trailer no matter what song Universal put over it, but this Bon Jovi jam is a fun choice that works on multiple levels, as Ryan Gosling’s stuntman risks being shot through the heart by bad guys and Cupid’s arrow. The trailer ends with Bon Jovi repeating “You give love…” to reinforce the idea that his movie is as much for female audiences as it is for male audiences who like big explosions and wild stunts. There is a good deal of romance here, which is maybe what David Leitch’s last film Bullet Train was missing. This is shaping up to be a four-quadrant hit, and for that, you need a four-quadrant song. That’s a select group of artists, but JBJ is definitely on it.

10. Anatomy of a Fall - “Prelude (Asturias) (3:46)” by Isaac Albeniz as arranged by Paul Mauriat

Key Lyric: N/A/

This piano track is simply fantastic, establishing tension from the outset and ratcheting it up over the next two minutes. It says, ‘Yes, this is an art film, but it’s going to be a deliciously wicked one.’ Anatomy of a Fall’s second trailer was undeniably more effective, but it didn’t have the sonic hook that this one did, which left a lasting impression.

11. Sharper - “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande

Key Lyric: “I want it, I got it.”

This song choice is perfect for a sexy thriller like Sharper where you’re never sure who can be trusted, or if what you’re even seeing is real, which makes it tricky to know who to root for. The song is about greed and materialism, which is appropriate for a movie set in a world of extreme wealth. It’s a very clever pairing.

12. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie - “More Than a Feeling” by Boston

Key Lyric: “I closed my eyes and I slipped away.”

The trailer does a great job of building up Michael J. Fox only to set him up for a giant fall — though he acknowledges that very conventional arc and calls it “boring.” Boston’s classic rock song “More Than a Feeling” is used halfway through the trailer and it’s anything but “boring,” taking the trailer up to 88 m.p.h. and making this documentary feel more inspirational than depressing.

13. The Holdovers - “Silver Joy” by Damien Jurado

Key Lyric: “Let me sleep in the slumber of the morning.”

This trailer has an extremely high degree of difficulty, as it has to walk a tonal tightrope, shifting from misfit comedy to poignant drama to a feel-good holiday film. As soon as newcomer Dominic Sessa says “My father’s dead,” the trailer kicks into Damien Jurado’s “Silver Joy,” which has practically become an anthem for The Holdovers, as it captures the ‘70s vibes that director Alexander Payne was going for. The trailer only features “Silver Joy” for 32 seconds, and it’s bookended between Traffic’s “Glad” and Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” but it stands out all the same. And though its key lyric (that we hear in the trailer) is relatively innocuous, the song’s next two verses start with “Lay your troubles on the ground” and “And if you need a place to land,” which are two phrases that sum up The Holdovers quite nicely.

14. American Fiction - “Tell the Truth” by Jon Batiste

Key Lyric: “Tell it like it is.”

This funky tune kicks in about a minute into the trailer, giving it a burst of energy as the story takes a turn and reveals more of itself. The trumpet in this song is fantastic, and it makes it clear that despite some weighty issues and themes, this is still a satire at the end of the day. One in which singer Jon Batiste is practically imploring writer-director Cord Jefferson and Jeffrey Wright’s Monk to “tell it like it is.” That’s why this film is so successful, in my opinion. It doesn’t hold anything back as it tells a very human tale.

15. Challengers - “S&M” by Rihanna

Key Lyric: “‘Cause I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.”

Zendaya knocks on a hotel room door and two guys answer it before Rihanna starts singing, “Come on!” Rihanna’s songs are sexy and that’s what this trailer is trying to sell — a sexy love triangle between Zendaya and a couple of “white boy” tennis players. Frankly, Challengers needs all the help it can get in that regard, as neither of these guys is exactly Timothée Chalamet. “S&M” is another smart song choice from MGM that plays on the old adage — sex sells.

16. The Beekeeper - “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails

Key Lyric: “You’re going to get what you deserve.”

This is such a great choice for an action movie that I’m shocked it hasn’t been used before — again, as far as I know. The lyrics themselves are a promise from Jason Statham’s protagonist — a member of an elite group known as the Beekeepers. The Nine Inch Nails song definitely helps make this trailer more memorable than your average Liam Neeson revenge flick.

17. Sometimes I Think About Dying - “Remember the Day” by Sybille Baier

Key Lyric: “Considering if one shouldn’t die or if one should.”

This song reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan,” which is used in the Brian Cox prison movie The Escapist. I imagine that suicidal ideation is its own kind of prison, in a sense. There’s a sense of tragic melancholy to Sybille Baier’s song that compliments the tone of this film and conveys the utter despair of Daisy Ridley’s protagonist. The lyrics “I did what I could” suggest a resignation of sorts, which helps sell the vibe this indie is, I think, going for.

18. Afire - “In My Mind” by Wallners

Key Lyric: “Love’s gonna make us, gonna make us blind.”

The trailer for Christian Petzold’s latest opens with the soothing sounds of this song from Wallners, a band made up of four Vienesse siblings. It conveys a certain relaxed attitude that conflicts with the trailer, which intensifies as tempers begin to flare. there’s a sense of mystery to this slinky, dreamlike song, which may explain why it’s called “In My Mind.”

19. Creed III - “Sinner & Saint” by Tommee Profitt feat. Beacon Light & Moiba Mustapha

Key Lyric: “These are family ties…”

This trailer has already established the relationship between Adonis and Damian by the time this badass song kicks in, taking their rivalry up a notch and promising an epic confrontation. “Do what I gotta do, some of my methods you might disagree with,” read the lyrics as the singer yells “I ain’t scared of death.” There’s an intensity to this song that does a nice job of capturing the fact that there’s no love lost between Michael B. Jordan’s hero and Jonathan Majors’ villain.

20. The Iron Claw -  “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Mystery Cult followed by Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”

Key Lyric: “Here but now they’re gone.”

Sure, this classic Blue Oyster Cult song is in danger of being overused, but it fits this story really well, as there’s a sense of foreboding to it — one that conveys that this family of promising wrestlers may, in fact, be doomed. The trailer shifts from “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to “Tom Sawyer,” which is equally iconic and in danger of being overused, but it’s all about how A24 uses these golden oldies. And ending the trailer on “The river!” as the family embraces on a freeze-frame? Genius.

21. Dream Scenario - “Dreams” by The Cranberries

Key Lyric: “‘Cause you’re a dream to me.”

This song choice may be a little on the nose, but who could blame A24 for making the connection? It conveys the underlying lightness of this film, even as it ventures into nightmare territory, and I like how it ends with a few notes of singer Dolores O’Riordan yelling over the film’s title card.

22. Argylle - David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” followed by Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds”

Key Lyric: “Why can’t you see what you’re doing to me?”

Matthew Vaughn knows how to make a splash, that’s for sure. I don’t know whether the director cut this trailer himself, but it starts with a ton of energy thanks to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and then it sticks the landing with Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” which works well for a spy thriller and asks the question, “Why can’t you see what you’re doing to me?” That’s because Bryce Dallas Howard is playing an author who can “make” the hero (Henry Cavill) behave however she sees fit. This is a high-concept movie that may prove to be a tricky sell, but I’ve learned not to doubt Vaughn, and remain thoroughly excited for it.

23. Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire - “Children of a Revolution” by T. Rex

Key Lyric: “No, you won’t fool the children of the revolution.”

This is a somewhat inspired choice for a Netflix sci-fi movie, but I’m not surprised Zack Snyder signed off on it, as it speaks to the rebellious core of this movie. These are the characters who have inherited this genre and they will be the so-called children of the revolution as Snyder attempts to make a Star Wars movie without the rights to Star Wars. How’s that for rebellion?

24. The Royal Hotel - “A True Love” by David Lavaysse and Laure Darves Botton

Key Lyric: N/A

You don’t really hear any of the lyrics of this song, which only plays for 30 seconds in the middle of this trailer, but it grabs your attention and has an eerie vibe to it — one that befits a bar in the middle of nowhere. It’s little choices like this song that someone is paid to make, and very few notice or acknowledge… except yours truly.

25. The Creator -  “Dream On” by Aerosmith

Key Lyric: “All the feelings come back to you.”

You hear Steven Tyler’s distinctive howl before the studio logo flashes and we realize we’re in the middle of a war between humans and AI. Feelings are the one thing that separates man from machine. That’s why the choice of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” which I’m surprised A24 didn’t use for Dream Scenario, actually fits this epic-feeling sci-fi movie. The song is defiant, urging us to “Dream until your dreams come true” and that’s what the film is — a rallying cry for humans to fight back against AI.

Honorable Mention: The Last Voyage of the Demeter - “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins

Key Lyric: “The world is a vampire.”

OK, so it didn’t take a rocket scientist to think of this one, but I wanted to throw it a bone as an honorable mention, since this movie is actually worth a look in case you missed it this summer.

That’s do it for me, folks! I’ll be back with more tomorrow as I do my year-end movie sprint, and stay tuned for new episodes of both The Hot Mic and For Your Consideration later this week!

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