There are few things on par with the thrilling adrenaline rush one feels when music and imagery come together flawlessly in a film. For this reason, most movie lovers will probably agree that the songs and bands in their favorite movie scenes have influenced their music taste in one way or another.
One director who seems to have always gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to how many transcendent songs can be included in a single movie is, of course, Wes Anderson. Whether it was introducing me to German art-rock goddess Nico, or simply reminding me how brilliant so many classic British Invasion songs are, Anderson has been a very formative influence on my taste in music over the years. And I’m certain many others feel the same way.
So without further ado, I present 25 of the best pop music moments in Wes Anderson films, unranked. And to answer your question, yes, I did want to include every single song used in The Royal Tenenbaums but restrained myself and only included 6. Thank you, my self-control impresses me as well.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
“2000 Man” by The Rolling Stones
The Wilson Brothers and The Rolling Stones. This trusty combo has gone on to produce many a memorable scene across Anderson’s filmography, so let’s look back at where it all began.
“Alone Again Or” by Love
A good song is necessity number one for a proper cinematic run toward your lover.
“Making Time” by The Creation
Max Fischer is “one of the worst students we’ve got,” says the Headmaster of the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Well, this montage of his truly impressive extra-curricular activities would beg to differ, Dr. Guggenheim. Also, it goes without saying that no montage is complete without a good song.
“Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worrying Bout That Girl” by The Kinks
God, Bill Murray’s Herman Blume hates his children. In this scene, he’s smoking cigarettes, drinking scotch and wearing a Budweiser bathing suit, all while being the only adult swimming at his kid’s birthday party. It is without a doubt a very baller move, and I respect it. This song by The Kinks always puts me in the existential headspace I feel I must occupy to truly appreciate this character.
“I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones
By his second feature, Anderson had already mastered something simple that often plays out beautifully on screen. An iconic line (Herman: “She’s my Rushmore, Max.” Max: “Yeah, I know. She was mine too.”) immediately followed by some powerful opening notes.
“Ooh La La” by Faces
The slow-motion music moment is another Anderson classic.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
“These Days” by Nico
If this list were ranked, this moment would undoubtedly earn the coveted spot of #1. Not only does the scene use an impeccable song, but it also combines the iconic-line-followed-by-a-music-cue move with Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) stepping off a bus in slow motion. I think I speak for everyone when I say it’s impossible to think of anything but Margot, Richie (Luke Wilson), and the Green Line Bus whenever you hear this Nico song. And as is customary in Anderson’s movies, a lot of the beauty in a moment like this is in the details: the sailors walking in unison behind Richie, the slow zoom as him and Margot approach one another. Magic.
“Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith
A heartbreaking song for a heartbreaking moment. The editing here is masterful. Dudley walks into the bathroom, and the music briefly pauses, but when he opens his mouth to scream, we hear no sound. This is followed by a quick cut to Richie being wheeled down a hospital hallway on a blood-covered gurney where the song resumes.
“She Smiled Sweetly” followed by “Ruby Tuesday” both by The Rolling Stones
These melodramatic Rolling Stones songs are perfect for that special moment when you and your adoptive sibling realize you are just “going to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that.”
“Judy is a Punk” by the Ramones
If you’re going to draw any conclusions about Margot Tenenbaum, chief among them will probably be that she’s incredibly cool. So the song more than fits.
“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon
Paul Simon and Alec Baldwin had a little Tenenbaums reunion on Baldwin’s podcast “Here’s The Thing,” where Simon revealed that this is one of his favorite movie scenes ever to use one of his songs.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
“Life On Mars?” by David Bowie
A forlorn Billy Murray in a red tuque in a gorgeous sweeping shot set to the tune of one of Bowie’s best tracks. A great song to smoke a cigarette to when your estranged son (politely) confronts you, and you need a quick second to yourself.
“Search and Destroy” by Iggy and The Stooges
A riled up Murray, and this time he’s fighting pirates (“Don’t point that gun at him! He’s an unpaid intern!”). This scene wasn’t simply complemented by Iggy Pop, it required him.
“The Way I Feel Inside” by The Zombies
R.I.P Ned. At least an absolute banger was played at his funeral.
Every cover by Seu Jorge
Is it cheating to include seven songs as one list item? Well, it had to be done for Brazilian musician Seu Jorge’s unforgettable Bowie covers. Included in the clip below are: “Ziggy Stardust,” “Rebel, Rebel,” “Rock & Roll Suicide,” “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars?,” “When I Live My Dreams,” and “Queen Bitch.”
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
“This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks
Simply a flawless opening sequence.
“Strangers” by The Kinks
Another Wes Anderson movie, another unparalleled song to walk to in slow motion.
“Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones
This brilliant and understated moment of wordless facial acting, with Anjelica Huston doing most of the heavy lifting, is eloquently punctuated by this soft but powerful song.
Hotel Chevalier (2007)
“Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt
When Natalie Portman’s character first hears this Sarstedt tune, she asks, “what’s this music?” through a giggle, probably mirroring most people’s first reaction to it. But once it’s played again after an emotionally charged moment between lovers, we all come to understand Jack’s (Jason Schwartzman) affinity for it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
“Heroes and Villains” by The Beach Boys
It’s a pleasure watch Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox (our heroes) do what they do best, that is until they end up caught in a trap set by one of the film’s many villains.
“Let Her Dance” by Bobby Fuller Four
Whenever the camera cuts to Mr. Fox’s holstered music player, we know we’re in for a treat.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
“Le Temps de L’amour” by Françoise Hardy
The song is simultaneously innocent and rebellious, just like our protagonists. Wouldn’t we all have liked for a Françoise Hardy song to have been playing in the background while we had our first kiss on a charming little beach?
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel is the only Wes Anderson film to feature zero pop songs. But it does boast an excellent original score by Alexandre Desplat as well as several pieces of classical music. And I’d be remiss not to highlight it.
“Concerto For Lute And Plucked Strings I. Moderato” recorded by Siefried Behrend & DZO Chamber Orchestra
Every moment between Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) and Zero (Tony Revolori) casts an enchanting spell, but especially so once the music kicks in over a warm and glowing close-up of Agatha in this one.
Isle Of Dogs (2018)
“I Won’t Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
Combine this dreamy soft-spoken tune with Courtney B. Vance’s soothing narration and some meticulously crafted stop-motion dogs, and you’ve got cinematic perfection.