Like movie scores, a great song can transport us back to the experience of watching the film, reliving the feelings it brings up or helping the audience connect with the characters on a deeper level. A powerful song can tell a story, stir our emotions and have a life of its own on the pop charts or in dance clubs or coffee houses. And for better or worse, an entire generation of kids knew every word to “Let it Go.” So, whether it’s a sultry new track for a James Bond adventure or a fast-paced earworm, here’s a sampling of some of the best songs of the decade.
10.”Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”
The “Fifty Shades” series gave us at least two great surprises: The discovery of Dakota Johnson and the first movie’s soundtrack, which had no business being as enjoyable as it turned out to be. A number of its songs could be heard in just about every other store or car for months (even a few years) after the movie was no longer in theaters, like Ellie Goulding’s infectiously danceable “Love Me Like You Do” and The Weeknd’s sexy slow jam, “Earned It,” which went on to nab an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
9. “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”
Disney’s fearless young leader, Moana, needed an adventurous anthem to accompany her on her quest away from home and everything she’s ever known. Written and produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and sung by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go” is just what the character calls for, connecting Moana to her ancestors and helping her find the courage to save her people from the curse of an ailing goddess. “How Far I’ll Go” isn’t the only catchy tune in the movie’s soundtrack, finding good company alongside songs like “You’re Welcome” and “Shiny.”
8. “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
To set the tone of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s tender drama “Beyond the Lights,” this Diane Warren–penned R&B ballad sung by Rita Ora hits all the right notes, subtly mirroring the movie’s emotional journey of a pop star in pain and the security officer who’s one of the few people to notice and help her through it. The lyrics “I’m grateful for the storm/ Made me appreciate the sun/ I’m grateful for the wrong ones/ Made me appreciate the right ones” sum up the movie quite nicely. “Grateful” went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
7. “Everything Is Awesome” from “The LEGO Movie”
This Oscar-nominated techno-pop theme song is the auditory equivalent of eating too much sugar in the middle of a candy store. It’s a rush of energy and a zippy high of fast beats, with the digitally altered voices of Tegan and Sara singing cheery lyrics like “Everything is cool when you’re a part of a team” and a frenetic rap of nonsensical lyrics by The Lonely Island. Produced by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, the colorfully perky odds-and-ends nature of “Everything Is Awesome” fits with the ridiculously random yet clever ethos of “The LEGO Movie.”
6. “Please Mr. Kennedy” from “Inside Llewyn Davis”
If you weren’t watching “Girls,” chances are that the Coen Brothers’ morose tribute to a folk singer who didn’t make it, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” may have been your first introduction to the tall, distinct presence of Adam Driver. It’s a presence that’s very much a part of the goofy protest song co-sung by Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac’s titular grouchy artist, who begrudgingly signs up for this gig as a back-up singer and musician. Between Isaac’s side-eyes and Timberlake’s upbeat and earnest performance, Driver pitches in by bellowing extra refrains of nonsense like “Outer!” “Space!” It’s an endearingly funny moment in a movie that isn’t always so lighthearted.
5. “Glory” from “Selma”
How do you match a powerful rap and gospel-infused song with one of the most recognizable leaders in the civil rights movement? That was the challenge Common and John Legend took on when they created “Glory,” the accompanying anthem to Ava DuVernary’s “Selma,” an ambitious retelling of one of the most momentous turning points in the movement, Martin Luther King Jr.’s march in the Alabama city. The duo made the song a bridge of its own, connecting past struggles with current ones, invoking the past to understand our present. Around 50 years after the March on Selma, the ballad honoring the event won Best Original Song at the Oscars after a show-stopping performance broadcast around the world.
4. “Remember Me” from “Coco”
Remember all that crying you did when watching the first eight minutes of Pixar’s “Up?” Well, this lovely sentimental song in “Coco” packs about as many sobs over the course of the movie, which first introduces it as a well-known popular song but peels back the layers of covers and revised history to see its true, heartwarming origins: as a lullaby sung from a father to his daughter. By the time the song is played at the end of the movie, you’ll be hard-pressed not to weep from how much the tune (which went on to win an Oscar) has come to mean to the story and how beautifully simple it sounds with just an acoustic guitar.
3. “Skyfall” from “Skyfall”
It’s the job of a good theme song for a new James Bond movie to tease what the new adventure will be about, to get stuck in our heads and make us think of the movie months before and after the movie premieres. With “Skyfall,” Adele aced her mission, sending the number onto the charts, winning an Oscar for Best Original Song and giving audiences one of the best Bond themes in recent memory. Some might even say her song was better than the movie, but I’ll leave that for the diehard fans to settle.
2. “Let It Go” from “Frozen”
This cross between a power-ballad and a Broadway-influenced empowerment anthem found fans in audiences young and old — theater kids, assorted misfits and many more — when Disney’s “Frozen” became one of the biggest animated hits in the studio’s history. Broadway veteran Idina Menzel belted her way through Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s catchy number, which starts slow and then builds into a celebration of independence. In its 2013 and 2014 heyday, there was probably not a playground in the country — or perhaps in many parts of the world, as dubbed versions of “Frozen” were quite popular, too — where someone wasn’t singing the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”
1. “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”
Decades since this classic Tinseltown movie got its more recent remake, Bradley Cooper resurrected “A Star Is Born” and chose Lady Gaga to be the next singer after Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand — no small shoes to fill, but fill she did — to lead his directorial debut. The song became one of Lady Gaga’s biggest hits, breaking into the charts and staying there for weeks on end. The show-stopping power ballad comes at a pivotal point in the movie, but her vocal chops are so powerful, they almost steal the rest of the movie from her co-star. “Shallow” went on to earn Lady Gaga a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Song, and it’s probably still playing on some radio station right now.