These movies are not musicals, no. But each has one single musical performance that’s integral to its iconic caliber. Indeed, in some instances, the one single scene outshines the very flick it’s in.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Anything Goes
Big budget musicals of the ‘50s and ‘60s by super-studios like Universal and MGM often feature similar music hall extravaganzas, but the unexpected opening act of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was directed by Stephen Spielberg, using the kind of advanced cinematography available in the ‘80s. Belting out the title number from Cole Porter’s 1934 musical, Anything Goes, the nightclub songstress Willie Scott performs a Mandarin translation of the song (the nightclub is in Shanghai, owned by Chinese crime boss, Lao Che), all backed by a dazzling set and a bevy of showgirls, ending in a wild gun flight and a quick getaway in an aeroplane, naturally.
Back to the Future: Johnny B. Goode
Marty McFly is one of the most endearing teens of ‘80s cinema, and though much of his time is spent either time traveling with eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett L. Brown, or batting off advances from his unbeknownst mother 30 years in the past, it’s his rendition of Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll classic, Johnny B. Goode, that’s the movie’s most iconic moment. At his parents’ prom in 1955, Marty grabs an electric guitar, tells the crowd the song is “an oldie…where I come from”, throws out anachronistic guitar moves, and kicks over an amp to an ultimately stationary and stunned audience. “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Twist and Shout
A generation’s hero for teens who dreamed of days skipping school, Ferris Bueller’s elaborate truancy included synthesized cough and vomit sounds, a mannequin ‘marionetted’ to his bedroom door, and a Ferrari ‘borrowed’ from his best friend’s father. The suspicious Dean is attacked by Rottweilers, and the Ferrari ends up crushed at the bottom of a ditch, but the most exhilarating moment is an impromptu lip-sync aboard a float during the Von Steuben Day parade. Ferris performs The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’ with a street full of marching bands and surrounding crowds of people shimmy-and-shaking by the thousand.
Beetlejuice: Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
One of the most ‘Burtonian’ of director Tim Burton’s extensive oeuvre, this genre-bending romp is still a one of a kind. As Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin return home from a car crash to discover that *spoiler alert* they did not survive, they must navigate this Netherworld, and with the ‘help’ of titular poltergeist Micheal Keaton, haunt the new owners out of their house. As such, the family are involuntarily animated, unwillingly performing Harry Belafonte’s 1956 recording of Jamaican folk song ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). Catharine O’Hara gyrating, singing “Come Mister Tally Man, tally me banana” is absolutely classic.
Wayne’s World: Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen’s 1975 hit single, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is enjoying a renaissance since Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning turn as band frontman Freddie Mercury. The song peaked at number nine in 1976, but after the now cult status opening scene of 1992’s Wayne’s World, the operatic rock ballad reached a new peak of number two, spurring a resurgence in the band’s popularity with a new generation. In the scene, Wayne and Garth get into their compact car – “I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen.” What ensues is a head-banging tour around such Chicago landmarks as White Castle and Dustin Schuler’s Spindle sculpture.
The Mask: Cuban Pete
After discovering an enchanted wooden mask, Jim Carrey’s downtrodden bank clerk character is transformed into the green-faced, yellow zoot-suited demi god-cum-gangster, wreaking havoc on the city, pranking people who’ve tormented him, and robbing a bank to impress love interest Cameron Diaz. But it is as he escapes the police chief who tries to capture him that the film’s musical centerpiece takes place. With a pair of maracas and a quick costume change into a blue silk ruffled rumba shirt, Carrey slides and shimmies in front of a squadron of armed police officers singling ‘Cuban Pete’. The officers all join in.
The Fifth Element: Diva Dance
Released 22 years ago, director Luc Besson’s Sci-Fi thriller is still one of the most celebrated films in the genre. Bruce Willis battles to keep an orange-haired humanoid known variably as Leeloo, The Fifth Element, and Milla Jovovich, alive. Other highlights include Gary Oldman’s antagonist, Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg, and Chris Tucker’s flamboyant talk show host, Ruby Rhod. But the movie’s pièce de résistance stars a blue tentacle-headed singer, Diva Plavalaguna, who performs an opera by French composer Éric Serra. Intended to be impossible to sing without editing, opera singer Jane Zhang has since achieved the impossible.
The most affecting performance on this list is Carey Mulligan’s cover of American standard, ‘New York, New York’. An optimistic original when performed by Liza Minnelli in 1997’s film of the same name, it’s slowed down here to a heartbreaking ache, filled with desperate longing, and underlying regret, with tones even deeper of some bitter amusement at an untold past experience. The film, an unflinching exploration by director Steve McQueen of themes like abuse, addiction, and human needs, explores the relationship of a brother and sister. As she sings the song, a single tear falls from Fassbender’s eye. I’m not crying, you are.
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