Since the beginning of movies, they’ve been accompanied by music. There are two forms of music in movies: diegetic, which is heard by the characters within the context of the movie; and non-diegetic music that cannot be heard by the characters, only the audience. Both are among the most important aspects of movie making and movie-going. That’s why needle drops can be a make-it or break-it moment in movies.
The term “needle drop” refers to the use of a song in a movie that wasn’t specifically made for that movie. One problem that many needle-drops have been running into is that some really have no point to them. But good needle drops, whether diegetic or non-diegetic, can really set the tone for a scene or tell the audience about the state of a character.
When thinking of the best needle drops in cinematic history, many film and music buffs will think of filmmakers like Martin Scorcese or Quentin Tarantino. But good needle drops aren’t exclusive to thrillers, comedies, and dramas. Some of the best movies with needle drops are those that elicit fear. Horror has a great collection of these moments, especially when trying to elicit a mood or tone. Many pop and rock songs have garnered new meaning after being featured in horror movies, such as those below.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out was an absolute breakout into the horror genre, and within one movie, cemented Peele’s name as a horror icon. In one memorable scene, the movie features quite a popular needle drop with Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” which plays in the first scene the audience meets the protagonist.
Not only is it a great song, but it also teases the themes and meaning of the movie with its “Stay Woke” lyric, as well as creating a tone set for the rest of the movie. It sets the expectation that Chris isn’t the same protagonist seen in horror movies past. He is smart and observant, which is another reason why Get Out is not just a great horror movie, but an incredible film overall.
What would this list be without this one? somehow, Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to be Square,” is the perfect choice for this crescendo of a scene, and would not be even close to the same without it. But past setting the perfect tone for the scene, audiences should do as Patrick says and listen to the lyrics.
As Patrick says, “It’s not just about the pleasures of conformity or the importance of trends, but a personal statement about the band itself.” But beyond that in the context of the scene, it also is about his conformity to hide his true murderous self without getting caught.
Edgar Wright is quite well-known for his needle drops, but perhaps not one of them is as popular as the one included in Shaun of the Dead. Although it was the preferred song for the movie in the script, it was never guaranteed that Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” would be available. But thankfully it was.
This classic hit is a very upbeat song about having a good time, and much of the movie is about Shaun not taking anything seriously. But it isn’t just great for alluding to Shaun; it is also just a great diegetic bop for the movie and the characters to have fun with.
Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is easily one of the most underrated horror movies ever. What starts as a fairly conventional slasher movie becomes a fantastic deconstruction of the slasher genre, especially deconstructing the “Final Girl” trope as this time, she is a trained survivor who can bring it right back to the killers.
With deconstruction comes filmmakers out to have a good time while creating cinema magic with You’re Next‘s needle drop “Looking for the Magic” by Dwight Twilley. The song is a reoccurring motif throughout the movie, and really creates an eerie feeling with the contrasting tone of the music and movie. For what the filmmakers were going for, it works amazingly well for this horror deconstruction. Horror fans who haven’t seen this movie should do themselves a favor and check out the magic.
This list would be incomplete without one of the most iconic needle drops in cinema history. Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” and Johnathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs are a match made in horror heaven. A song about transcending beyond oneself plays, all the while the movie’s antagonist Buffalo Bill dances around while he himself also transcends.
This needle drop creates an eerie tone as audiences can hear Bill’s victim pleading for help in the background. It is perfect for the scene, and perhaps one of the most iconic needle drops in all of filmmaking.
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