8 Epic Movie Moments and the Music that Made Them Great

#6: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Composer: Clint Mansell

Director: Darren Aronofsky

“Last Scene” – Speaking of heady stuff, some of you must have guessed this was coming. Requiem for a Dream has been around for a while, sure, but this is the very first film that made me instantly fall in love with an instrumental piece (Bedknobs and Broomsticks notwithstanding). I’m talking, of course, about the razor-sharp strings in Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna,” as performed by Krono Quartet.

Requiem follows the story of four characters dealing with various forms of chemical addiction. It’s a brutally honest look at the complexities of drug abuse, and within the first 60 minutes you recognize that the odds of a happy ending are slim at best. By the movie’s (foregone?) conclusion, our protagonists have involuntarily hurled themselves into the abyss.


It’s a laundry list of worst-case scenarios: Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a disillusioned widow, is driven to amphetamine psychosis and committed to a psych ward; her son Harry (Jared Leto) gets his arm amputated thanks to unsanitary heroin injections; Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) finds himself incarcerated at a racist South Carolinian jail.

And Marion (Jennifer Connelly). Oh, Marion. Abandoned by her beau, she’s forced to sell her body for drugs. Remember that one-liner from Half-Baked that your freshman roommate thought was clever to shout every time you brought a girl back from the bar? Sure you do—it’s delivered by the deplorable Bob Saget: “I used to suck dick for coke! Now that’s an addiction, man.” Few words could be more appropriate here, and there isn’t really anything funny about the situation when it’s played out in earnest.

“My voice is equal portions honey and date rape.”

I’m also a huge fan of circular narratives, and a variation of this “Lux Aeterna” is used in the opening scene, at which point each of these characters still had a chance at redemption. Before the credits roll, their respective worlds have completely spiraled out of control. Yet there is a fascinating type of beauty, as Aronofsky surely recognized, in this dismal chaos.

Lastly, here’s a suggestion: try blasting this song in the background while you’re doing laundry. Boom! The delicates cycle just got real.

#7 and #8 Boogie Nights (1997), Love Actually (2003)

Artist: The Beach Boys

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (BN), Richard Curtis (LA)

OK, these picks are a little different. Both of these films’ closing montages feature the song “God Only Knows,” one of my personal favorites from the Beach Boys. But in truth, it only became a favorite because of these films (yes, regular straight dudes are allowed to enjoy Love Actually to some degree). The song works in both movies, but for mostly different reasons.


“Closing Montage” – In Boogie Nights, it’s been a long road for many well-developed protagonists (this cast is just mind-blowingly awesome). The common denominator between them is essentially the porn industry; some have moved on to more respectable career paths, some have not, yet most appear to stay involved in each other’s lives. The bouncy, whimsical nature of the song highlights the intentionally goofy parts (e.x., Don Cheadle’s stereo store commercial), while achieving a stark juxtaposition with some characters’ unhappy endings (e.x., Robert Ridgely’s new home in the slammer after getting arrested for possession of child pornography). It works exceedingly well as a reminder that sure, people can change, but it’s not always possible to escape from one’s past.


“Final Scene” – I know, I know, this is an over-commercialized snoozefest that our girlfriends could only talk us into with promises of on-screen boobage. Well-played, Brits. But when I first watched this scene, something very strange happened. I realized that I’d actually grown fond of some of these damn characters (you stole my heart, Bill Nighy). And as one bubbling couple after another gregariously embraced—save for Professor Snape, but I saw that coming a mile away—I felt that familiar tingling sensation on my arms, except it was somehow introverted. Was this a . . . a “warm fuzzy”?

Then I head-butted my ex-girlfriend’s cat, threw a Molotov cocktail into the front seat of her ’96 Jetta, and didn’t even glance back as I walked away from the explosion. Because I am a man.

Honorable Mention: Get Him to the Greek (2010)

Composer: Infant Sorrow (?)

Director: Nicholas Stoller

I assumed I would like this movie when I first heard about it, but I hadn’t anticipated how much. Deliberately raunchy as this comedy can be, there is a sprinkling of genuinely human moments throughout. My favorite starts at 1:38:30 on the DVD (sorry, no embed), when Russell Brand finally takes the Greek Theatre stage as famed rocker Aldous Snow. The two songs performed in this scene—“Going Up” and “Bangers, Beans, and Mash”—carry more weight and enthusiasm than I was expecting. But after all, as Snow confessed before dashing into the spotlight, it’s good to feel something.

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  1. Personaly i miss scene from How to train your dragon, when Hiccup brought fish for Toothless and then they started draw themselves to the ground. But either way, great article, love it.

  2. Thanks! Great to see an article about how music can be such a crucial element of a story. The work that John Murphy/Underworld did on Danny Boyle’s 28 X Later films and Sunshine remain some of my favorite to date.

    Check out Clint Mansell’s earlier work with Aronofsky on “Pi”. Great stuff there, too.

    And if you like the work of Murphy on Sunshine, take a look at this:


    Makes great use of the music.

  3. Great list.
    Just to add one of my personal favorites. While the whole Last of the Mohicans soundtrack is AMAZING! One of the best scenes, directing, and musical scores to come together was the final scene where the last 2 Mohicans chase down the rival tribe on the mountain. The musical score is “promentory” by Trevor Jones. Nothing is spoken, but I’ve never felt more emotion than watching that scene.

  4. “This video contains content from Studio Canal, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds ”

    Ok, that does it. I only wanted to listen to the song. Now I’m downloading the movie! And ten more! Take that! Suckers!!

  5. Good choices, haven’t seen Sunshine since it first came out; have to give it another look. For me though you should have included the first song from the credits in The Prestige (Analyse-by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke). The scene in Collateral where the coyotes walk in front of Max’s cab http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9qG52s3s2s
    Another great use of music in a Michael Mann film is in Heat at the end of the film (God Moving Over the Face of the Water-Moby)
    This one is a bit older, from a movie that by no means stands the test of time but still a great song and scene (White Discussion-Live) from Virtuosity (Denzel and Russell Crowe, theres no scene but heres the song anyway
    Most recently though the best song I’ve heard in a film is by the National-About Today
    A very underrated movie in my opinion, I read your review, I think you should give it another look.

  6. The only movie on this list I’ve seen is ‘Love Actually’, but when I saw the article’s title, I immediately thought ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Specifically, the super-long introduction to Omar Sharif’s character, riding his horse across a flat desert plane.

    Also mentioned should be the opening sequence of ‘Absolute Beginners’, showing the raucous goings-on of a London neighborhood at night, set perfectly to its’ music.

  7. when i read the title of the article, I thought of several of the ones you discussed… (1) lux aeterna, especially at the moment when they show Sarah come out into the hospital waiting room to the horror of her friends. (2) both Sunshine scenes/tracks that you discussed, but I’d also throw in the “Kanada’s death” scene/track and (3) the 28 Days/Weeks Later scene/track. RE the 28 Days/Weeks, I prefer the usage of the track in 28 Days (In the House – In a Heartbeat), but it was great for both scenes.

    Basically when John Murphy teams up with Danny Boyle, it’s fantastic… And same goes for Clint Mansell with Darren Aronofsky (plus Mansell with Duncan Jones for Moon).

    You mentioned Life Aquatic which came to mind immediately, too. Specifically, the submarine scene when they see the Jaguar Shark and the Sigur Ros “Staralfur” song plays over it.

    Needless to say, I like your selections. A few others you didn’t mention that also come to mind…

    I also loved the use of the Underworld “Born Slippy” track at the end of Trainspotting for the betrayal scene. The Trainspotting soundtrack overall was perfectly fitting for the film throughout though.

    The scene in The Thin Red Line when the US soldiers are plodding through foggy woods and uncover and attack a japanese encampment where all sounds slowly fade out to just the haunting Hans Zimmer track is brilliant.

    The final boxing match scene in Snatch between Mickey and Brick Top’s guy with the Oasis track “Fu**in in the Bushes” blaring over it is seared into my brain too.

  8. thought of a couple others that for some reason i feel compelled to share as well.

    From Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the scene where they travel to the future and meet the council and find out that they’re destined to save the world. Robbi Robb’s “In Time” fits this scene extremely well for some reason.

    From Oldboy, the opening scene from intro credits where the track starts slowly then cuts to a jolting fast-paced piece as Oh Dae Su mysteriously holds a guy up over the edge of the building by his tie.

  9. I can get with all these – or at least all that I’ve seen.

    If I may submit my own list, this is off the top of my head and in no particular order:

    – Any scene in Glory where the main theme plays.
    – Last Scene from The Fountain
    – Grand Prix finale from Speed Racer
    – That scene with the creepy lady in the hospital (been a while) from The Omen
    – Count to Three from X-Men: First Class
    – Opening titles from Titus (Good grief. Really, please watch this if you haven’t yet. The movie is absolutely bonkers and the opening scene is one of the best parts of it.)
    – Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace
    – Gabriel climbs the waterfall from The Mission

    Bonus: Young Flynn enters the grid from Tron Legacy

  10. I couldn’t agree more with Sunshine. Both Capa’s Jump and the end scene when they play back his voice message…I can watch either of those scenes by themselves anytime and still get chills.

    Music is awesome.

  11. Cannot endorse the ending montage of Donnie Darko enough.

    That was the first time i was literally left breathless through the end of a credits sequence. Patrick Swayze is a living superlative in this movie.

    Bonus: Sympathy for the Devil in Apocalypse Now. It just fits. So perfectly.

  12. The scene and track from 28 weeks later is absolutely spot on.

    Regarding Inception and the music I would say the scene in Mombasa and the track used for it has the most impact, for me personaly.

  13. Lots of awesome scenes mentioned here that I can totally get on board with! Compiling this list was tricky (particularly because my choices are somewhat subjective), but the title easily could have read “30 Epic Movie Moments” instead of 8.

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