Every Oscar Winner for Best Original Song, Ranked
Looking back at the best and worst of 82 years of statue-winning movie themes
60. “Talk to the Animals” (Dr. Doolittle, 1967)
Written By: Leslie Bricusse
Performed By: Rex Harrison
Fun fact: Rex Harrison couldn’t actually sing. But his sing-speak abilities were so jauntily e-nun-ci-a-ted, that the Leslie Bricusse-penned “Talk to the Animals” picked up an Oscar in 1967. Upon learning from his pet parrot that animals can in fact speak to each other, Harrison has a grand ol’ time imagining what he’d do if the impossible were possible: “If I were asked to sing in hippopotamus / I’d say, Why not-a-mus! And I would.” Goals, people. RACHEL BRODSKY
Also Nominated From ’67: “Bare Necessities,” the super-fun Jungle Book sing-along, and “The Look of Love,” the oft-covered Bacharach/David ballad from the original Casino Royale.
Snubbed: A No. 1 hit in Lulu’s title song for “To Sir, With Love,” a No. 2 hit in Dionne Warrick’s “(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls,” and an unkillable Bond theme in Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.”
59. “It Goes Like It Goes” (Norma Rae, 1979)
Written By: David Shore & Norman Gimbel
Performed By: Jennifer Warnes
A pretty cool song about how nothing is really that big a deal (“Ain’t no miracle bein’ born / People doin’ it everyday”). The song’s sentiment has aged much better than Jennifer Warnes’ warble has. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’79: A truly timeless jam in the Paul Williams-penned, Kermit the Frog-croaked sing-along “The Rainbow Connection,” from the original Muppet Movie.
Snubbed: Not like the song’s all that great, but it’s hard to imagine what could have kept Bette Midler’s “The Rose” from getting recognized here. And neither was exactly a U.S. blockbuster, but it would’ve been pretty cool to see the Academy give some shine to the Ramones’ theme to Rock and Roll High School, a pop-punk go-to, or Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a morbidly optimistic U.K. chart-topper from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
58. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (Neptune’s Daughter, 1949)
Written By: Frank Loesser
Performed By: Ricardo Montalbon & Esther Williams
A very ingratiating and cleverly written song that has become an endlessly covered holiday-season standard, despite its well-earned bad reputation in recent years for perpetuating no-means-yes culture at best and actually excusing date rape at worst. At least the Red Skelton and Betty Garrett version from the same movie makes things a little more interesting by switching the genders up. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’49: “My Foolish Heart,” Victor Young and Ned Washington’s Great American Songbook contribution from the Susan Hayward melodrama of the same title.
Snubbed: Anton Karas’ zither-led instrumental theme from The Third Man may or may not have been eligible for Best Original Song, but there haven’t been many cooler pieces of music released in film, before or since.p
57. “Gigi” (Gigi, 1958)
Written By: Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner
Performed By: Louis Jordan
There’s a disturbing number of musicals (usually adapted from an equally disturbing number of plays and novellas) that tell stories of men grooming women to be better people. Perhaps most mediocre of all is Gigi, the adaptation of Colette’s novella about a girl trained to be a courtesan, whose titular song is performed by romantic interest Gaston and is the same as pretty much every other sweeping declaration of love in a musical. It’s writing by numbers, and not especially well performed by Louis Jourdan, who speaks more than he sings. D.G.
Also Nominated From ’58: The title song to A Certain Smile, a top-20 hit for Johnny Mathis, later covered by bossa nova legend Astrud Gilberto.
Snubbed: “Trouble,” the supremely bluesy, snarling Lieber/Stoller composition for Elvis Presley’s King Creole picture, a rare song with proto-punk cred from the King.
56. “Man or Muppet” (The Muppets, 2011)
Written By: Bret MacKenzie
Performed By: Jason Segel & Peter Linz
In the least-competitive year in the history of the Best Original Song race, this piece of faux-melodrama from Jason Segel’s Muppets reboot basically coasted to the statue. There have been worse winners, certainly, but “Man or Muppet” — written by Bret of Flight of the Conchords — isn’t really funny or catchy enough to function outside of the movie. At least the climactic key change (with Animal drum fill lead-in!) sells the Dianne Warren-esque power balladry pretty well. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’11: Amazingly, there was only one other nominee total this year: The samba-flavored Rio jam “Real in Rio,” co-written by legendary Brazilian instrumentalists Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, and former MJ duet partner Siedah Garrett.
Snubbed: Hardly Bruno Mars’ greatest moment, but given the utter lack of challengers, it’s curious that the top-five hit “It Will Rain” (from Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1) couldn’t even eke out a nomination.
55. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, 1955)
Written By: Sammy Fain & Paul Francis Webster
Performed By: Chorus
An unapologetically mawkish love theme, forgivable due to its appropriately sweeping sense of schmaltz, and the fact that the movie is just as egregious in its heartstring-yanking. (The official version of this in the film, credited just to “Chorus,” appears unavailable online, so the instrumental theme by Alfred Newman is embedded here instead.) A.U.
Also Nominated From ’55: “(Love Is) The Tender Trap,” a fixture for Frank Sinatra (and duet partner Debbie Reynolds) from the movie of the same name, and the original “Unchained Melody” from the prison flick Unchained, a song made far more famous by the Righteous Brothers a decade later.
Snubbed: “He’s a Tramp,” an ode to half the title duo from the animated favorite, Lady and the Tramp, sung by Peggy Lee.
54. “If I Didn’t Have You” (Monsters, Inc., 2001)
Written By: Randy Newman
Performed By: John Goodman & Billy Crystal
Randy Newman’s first Oscar win in 16 tries, for this eternal-friendship declaration from the imminently likeable Monsters Inc. It’s the typical I-Got-You, You-Got-Me buddy-buddy fare that’s become pretty rote from Newman, but the chemistry between Goodman and Crystal is winning, and c’mon, 16 nominations. Even Susan Lucci got to win eventually. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’01: Paul McCartney’s underappreciated theme to Vanilla Sky, a sweet mid-tempo number with Air-like sonics and a whole lot of whistling.
Snubbed: Moulin Rouge, one of the 21st century’s most successful musicals, seems like an obvious snub choice, until you realize that 98 percent of the soundtrack was ineligible for being a cover, and the other 2 percent — new song “Come What May” — was ineligible for the obscure reason of it having technically been written for director Baz Luhrman’s earlier Romeo + Juliet movie.
53. “It Might As Well Be Spring” (State Fair, 1945)
Written By: Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein II
Performed By: Louanne Hogan
For a future American songbook classic, Rogers and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well be String” has very little drive behind it. Sung by Louanne Hogan (who overdubbed actress Jeanne Crain), the lament simply aims to show how gloomy the character Margy is, and it does do that, though little else of note. It’s so perfectly crafted that the lyrics almost feel trite, and the singing is so flawless and honeyed that it lacks much emotion behind the stellar technique. D.L.
Also Nominated From ’45: Bing Crosby’s feel-good easy-listening favorite “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” from nautical musical Here Come the Waves. Also, the heart-rending “Love Letters,” initially included as an instrumental by Dick Haymes in the titular 1945 romance, made a soul smash by Ketty Lester (and then Elvis Presley) in the ’60s.
Snubbed: “The Worry Song,” soundtrack to Gene Kelly’s famous tap duet with Jerry (of Tom & Jerry) in Anchors Aweigh.
52. “The Weary Kind” (Crazy Heart, 2009)
Written By: Ryan Bingham & T-Bone Burnett
Performed By: Jeff Bridges
A little too stately and restrained to be plausible as the late-’00s money-making smash that it eventually becomes in Crazy Heart, but as a world-worn alt-country ballad it does just fine. Ryan Adams would be justified in being pissed off for not being asked to write or record this himself. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’09: Well, two different Randy Newman songs from The Princess and the Frog, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Snubbed: Just about anything from the surprisingly excellent Twilight: New Moon soundtrack, including a pair of gorgeously ethereal ballads in Lykke Li’s “Possibility,” and the Bon Iver / St. Vincent duet “Roslyn.” Karen O., a nominee last year for Her’s “The Moon Song,” also could have seen recognition for her previous contribution to a Spike Jonze flick, the giddy “All Is Love” from Where the Wild Things Are.
51. “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)” (Arthur, 1981)
Written By: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross & Peter Allen
Performed By: Christopher Cross
The most notable song ever written about getting caught between the moon and New York City, “Arthur’s Theme” became one of the biggest soft-rock hits of the early ’80s, though not a ton about it endures beyond its famously soaring chorus beginning. It was eventually covered in Glee, for some reason. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’81: “Endless Love,” title song from the titular over-the-top teen romance, and a nine-week No. 1 hit for Lioniel Richie & Diana Ross.
Snubbed: Uhh, let’s go with “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride),” theme to the 1981 cult fantasy flick, composed and performed by ex-Eagles guitarist Don Felder.
50. “Up Where We Belong” (An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982)
Written By: Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Saint-Marie & Will Jennings
Performed By: Jennifer Warnes & Joe Cocker
Arguably the most comically overwrought love theme from a decade that certainly had no shortage of contenders for the honors, almost impossible to begrudge for its pummeling sentimentality. That this song goes down as the biggest-ever U.S. hit for the legendary British blues-rock vocalist Joe Cocker is a confusing legacy indeed. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’82: Survivor’s jock jam all-timer, “Eye of the Tiger,” whose loss marks probably the second-biggest Rocky-related Best Original Song tragedy.
Snubbed: “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” David Bowie’s snarling new-wave theme to the Paul Schrader-produced erotic-horror oddity of the same name, produced and co-written by ’80s film-music immortal Giorgio Moroder.
49. “Into the West” (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 2003)
Written By: Frank Walsh, Howard Shore & Annie Lennox
Performed By: Annie Lennox
Annie Lennox’s haunting voice is elf-like in its ethereal majesty, and when this song goes big, the sweeping heights it reaches are fittingly epic. On the whole though, it’s somewhat dead, perhaps because it’s about passing on the next life. (Or, to be more accurate, it’s about traveling to the Blessed Realm of Aman and leaving Middle Earth, ya nerds.) J.G.
Also Nominated From ’03: “Belleville Rendez-Vous,” the fun ’40s girl-group-style romp from the animated French flick The Triplets of Belleville, and “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow,” one of the fictional folk songs written by Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole for A Mighty Wind.
Snubbed: The kiddie band School of Rock’s “School of Rock” (from School of Rock, natch), and Pearl Jam’s closing-credits song from Big Fish, “Man of the Hour.”
48. “Days of Wine and Roses” (Days of Wine and Roses, 1962)
Written By: Henry Mancini & James Mercer
Performed By: Henry Mancini
By itself, a woozy, slightly cryptic song about feeling nostalgic; in title-tune context, harrowing self-annihilating alcoholism rendered as sensual croon. Listeners impatient with its fuzzy dream-imagery — a mysterious meadowland, a door marked “nevermore” — should forget the words and let the queasy strings and distant harmonies bear them to melancholy oblivion. Best not to listen to before noon. T.W.
Also Nominated From ’62: The other “Walk on the Wild Side,” performed by soul legend Brook Benton for the movie Walk on the Wild Side.
Snubbed: Strangely, the Bacharach/David-written “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” performed by early-’60s pop star Gene Pitney, was not actually used in the movie of the same name, which was released before Pitney had finished recording the song. It went top-five anyway.
47. “Al otro lado del rio” (The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004)
Written By: Jorge Drexler
Performed By: Jorge Drexler
A rare foreign-language award-winner, “otro lado” is a very sweet little ditty (“On the Other Side of the River” en inglés) performed by singer/actor Jorge Drexler, the first-ever Oscar winner from Urugay. Super-lame that Drexler wasn’t allowed to perform at the ceremonies — deemed too minor a performer for the Academy Awards, the song was instead played by Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas — but at least he got to sing a couple of lines during his baller acceptance speech. (Which was presented by Prince, no less.) A.U.
Also Nominated From ’04: “Accidentally in Love,” the last-to-date top 40 hit for Counting Crows, from the Shrek 2 soundtrack.
Snubbed: Not sure if Kevin G.’s rap from the Winter Talent show in Mean Girls would have technically been eligible, but it certainly would have made for the most memorable performance at the ceremonies that year.
46. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (Dirty Dancing, 1987)
Written By: Franke Previte, John DeNicola & Donald Markowitz
Performed By: Jennifer Warnes & Bill Medley
As iconic a soundtrack single as was produced in the ’80s, one whose unforgettably effusive chorus was getting recycled by Black Eyed Peas chartbusters as recently as this decade. Undeniable enough, if a tad too clichéd to still be appreciated on its own merits at this point, but be honest: You have absolutely no clue how the verses to this thing go, do you? A.U.
Also Nominated From ’87: Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” a No. 1 hit for Starship from the immortal showroom-dummy love story Mannequin, and “Shakedown,” the Beverly Hills Cop II jam that gave Bob Seger the lone Hot 100-topper of his career.
Snubbed: Not like it had much of a chance, but LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” (from the fascinatingly all-over-the-place Less Than Zero soundtrack) would certainly have been a worthy first-ever hip-hop nominee in the category.
45. “All the Way” (The Joker Is Wild, 1957)
Written By: James Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn
Performed By: Frank Sinatra
A surprisingly affecting Sinatra ballad about the importance of total commitment when it comes to love; not as striking in its melody or personality as some of his signature tunes but still exceedingly lovely. Would have made a much less fatalistic-seeming (and therefore probably far inferior) theme to Married… With Children than “Love and Marriage.” A.U.
Also Nominated From ’57: A pair of dramatic No. 1 hits in Debbie Reynolds’ “Tammy” and Pat Boone’s “April Love,” both from movies of the same name, as well as the Johnny Mathis-sung theme to Wild Is the Wind, covered by David Bowie in 1976 for the closing track to Station to Station.
Snubbed: The Vic Damone-sung title song from the archetypal romance An Affair to Remember, and one of Elvis Presley’s signature songs in “Jailhouse Rock,” from the similarly named Elvis vehicle.
44. “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” (Dick Tracy, 1990)
Written By: Stephen Sondheim
Performed By: Madonna
Madonna is a natural fit for this intentionally old-school tune, as she imbues the jazzy throwback with a sultry, sexual energy. The subtext might’ve been a just little too risqué for the 1940s, but it gives “Sooner or Later” just the slightest bit of a modern feel. J.G.
Also Nominated From ’90: The second-most-famous Western-themed power ballad of Jon Bon Jovi’s career, the Young Guns II-featured solo breakout “Blaze of Glory.”
Snubbed: Roxette’s ubiquitous “It Must Have Been Love” wasn’t recorded specifically for Pretty Woman, making it ineligible, but the soundtrack’s second-biggest-hit, Go West’s effervescent pop smash “King of Wishful Thinking,” would have been fair game. Same with Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love,” his first and last crossover hit of the ’90s, from the Andrew Dice Clay-starring flop The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine.
43. “The Continental” (The Gay Divorcee, 1934)
Written By: Con Conrad & Herb Magidson
Performed By: Ginger Rogers
The Gay Divorcee, one of Fred and Ginger’s best-known movies, revolves around “The Continental,” the soundtrack to their big final dance of the film. The two-minute tune suffers from some really confusing scansion and an attempt to shunt as many words in as physically possible — really it’s the dance score that elevates it to worthy of award at all — but it does deserve some praise for its self-aware lyrics. “It’s very subtle, the continental,” purrs Rogers, “because it does what you want it to do.” Indeed. D.L.
Also Nominated: “Carioca,” a jazz standard (and failed dance craze) performed in another Rogers / Astaire dance number from Flying Down to Rio
Snubbed: “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” an eventual signature number for the then-six-year-old Shirley Temple, from the starring vehicle Bright Eyes.
42. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (Lady Be Good, 1941)
Written By: Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II
Performed By: Ann Southern
An exceedingly bittersweet ode to the glory of gay Paree, performed at the height of the Nazi occupation of France with trembling maudlinness by Ann Southern. Of course the song’s thematic resonance had virtually nothing to do with the rest of Lady Be Good, as the song was not even written for the movie — a disconnect that inspired writer Jerome Kern upon his Oscar win to successfully petition the Academy to only allow songs specifically composed for eligible films to be considered for future nomination. A.U.
Also Nominated From ’41: “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a monster big-band hit for Glenn Miller from Sweet Valley Serenade, and “Baby Mine,” the heart-rending mother-son lullaby from the Disney classic Dumbo.
Snubbed: “How About You?” a bantering Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland duet from Babes on Broadway, later featured in future Oscar-winning movies All About Eve and The Fisher King.
41. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Song of the South, 1947)
Written By: Allie Wrubel & Ray Gilbert
Performed By: James Baskett
A simple and innocent feel-good song from a movie that, in retrospect, is none of those things. Song of the South’s romantic and whitewashed take on slavery and the Reconstruction-Era South was problematic even at the time of its release almost 70 years ago. That the song is so well known and beloved despite the movie’s infamy really speaks to its raw, infectious positivity. J.G.
Also Nominated From ’47: “A Gal in Calico,” an Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin composition from the forgotten musical The Time, The Place and the Girl, which was a hit for artists like Johnny Mercer and Bing Crosby, and even covered by Miles Davis on 1955’s The Musings of Miles.
Snubbed: Anything from Road to Rio, one of the more successful entries in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s Road To… musical film series.