The 10 Best & 10 Worst Oscar-Winning Songs

Paramount Pictures/Photofest
Leonardi DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic.

This year will mark the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, and with it, an original song from a motion picture will join the ranks of Oscars history.

The best original song Oscar, which made its debut at the 1934 Academy Awards, has seen a wide range of musical genres get gold, from “Over the Rainbow” to “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.”

As we prepare for the 2018 Oscars, we’re taking a trip down memory lane with the 10 all-time best winners of the best song Oscar…and the 10 worst, in no particular order.

THE 10 BEST

"Falling Slowly" music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová from Once

Every song from ‘Once’ is Oscar-worthy (yep, even “Broken Hearted Hoover Sucker Guy”) but the quietly soaring ballad “Falling Slowly” is the one that made everyone fall in love with the duo and their lovely little film. The tune not only translated effortlessly to the big screen, but eventually, The Great White Way, as well.

“Lose Yourself” music and lyrics by Eminem from 8 Mile

Not only one of the best rap songs of all-time, but one of the best Oscar winning songs of all-time, and a historic one, at that. Eminem’s 2003 victory for “Lose Yourself” was the first hip-hop track to win the Academy Award for best original song. Fifteen years later, the song is still as powerful, mom’s spaghetti be damned.

“Over the Rainbow” music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg from The Wizard of Oz

The legendary Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz is the very definition of movie magic. It’s timeless. It’s perfect. It’s not only the theme song for one of the most beloved films ever, but for nearly eight decades of dreamers.

“Theme from Shaft” music and lyrics by Isaac Hayes from Shaft

Can ya dig it? The grooviest, funkiest, and all-around coolest best song winner not only made the soundtrack to Shaft an essential record, but it made history when Isaac Hayes became the first African-American to win in this category.

You’re damn right.

“My Heart Will Go On” music and lyrics by James Horner and Will Jennings from Titanic

Celine Dion’s power ballad was as ubiquitous in 1997 as, well, all things Titanic that year. No, you couldn’t avoid it, but you’re a damn liar if you didn’t get verklempt when she hits those high famous notes. Twenty years later and we’re still never letting go of this staple of cheesy, tearjerker silver screen perfection. 

“Moon River” music and lyrics by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Audrey Hepburn plucking her guitar and crooning out of her New York City window made its mark on cinema in 1961, and its various recordings throughout the years (including a recent one from Frank Ocean) have kept it a pop culture staple. Still, nothing beats this dreamy original. 

“Streets of Philadelphia” music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen from Philadelphia

Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” (which was also nominated) may actually pack the biggest emotional wallop in the devastating drama, but you can’t argue with the power of The Boss and the aching sense of hope lost in this powerhouse single.

“The Way You Look Tonight” music and lyrics by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields from Swing Time

If anyone could make audiences feel like they were floating, it was Fred Astaire. One of the most romantic songs ever, be it on the big screen or played at your own wedding, the original version is still two minutes of pure whimsy. 

“When You Wish Upon a Star” music and lyrics by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington from Pinocchio

Disney is no stranger to their animated films taking home the best song Oscar, including monster hits like “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King, but it’s hard to top the OG: “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio. Still the song most associated with Disney, that small cricket and his ballad have been packing a big punch since 1940.

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” music and lyrics by Franke Previte, John Nicola & Donald Markowitz from Dirty Dancing

The '80s best song winners have had some serious staying power on easy listening radio for the past 30-plus years ("Take My Breath Away” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling” are still legitimately great guilty pleasures), but none have quite elevated to the status of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” You know, because of the lift. You got it.

THE 10 WORST

“You’ll Be in My Heart” music and lyrics by Phil Collins from Tarzan

A forgettable song from a forgettable movie, Phil Collins’ snoozer inexplicably beat out both Aimee Mann’s haunting “Save Me” and Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman’s hilarious “Blame Canada.” It’s the Crash of best original song winners: its victory remains baffling as ever.

“The Morning After” music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn from The Poseidon Adventure

Talk about a disaster: this waterlogged ballad not only does the action-drama no favors, but it bested Michael Jackson's far superior “Ben."

“We May Never Love Like This Again” music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn from The Towering Inferno

Kasha and Hirschhorn, you sneaky bastards! Yet another musical mishap from a '70s disaster flick toppling a better song, in this case: the gut-busting theme to Blazing Saddles.

“You Light Up My Life” music and lyrics by Joseph Brooks from You Light Up My Life

About as corny as they come, while other wistful ballads have managed to stand the test of time, this cheese-fest has become the insufferable soundtrack to a visit to the dentist or the bank Plus, it beat a Bond song?! (In this case, Carly Simon's perfect “Nobody Does it Better.”)

“I Need to Wake Up” music and lyrics by Melissa Etheridge from An Inconvenient Truth

This song means well, it really does. But for a song that’s supposed to capture the urgency of the global warming crisis, it barely scratches the emotional surface of the rapidly melting iceberg. While we hate to think of anything related to Al Gore coming in second place, this one ultimately belonged to “Listen” from Dreamgirls.

“You Must Love Me” music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice from Evita

Must we? Because, honestly, Madonna has had infinitely better and more deserving songs from movies (including the 1990 winner “Sooner or Later I Always Get My Man” from Dick Tracy) and this drowsy ballad unreasonably won over the pop perfection that is “That Thing You Do!”.

“Writing’s on the Wall” music and lyrics by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith from Spectre

Never mind that this is one of the more lackluster Bond songs ever (seriously, can you recall this song from memory alone?), but it was downright cringe-worthy to see it win over Lady Gaga’s harrowing ode to survivors of sexual assault “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground. Not a good look, Oscars.

“Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star is Born)” music and lyrics by Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams from A Star is Born

With all due respect to Babs—and we hate to strip her of her only best original song Academy Award—but this song is okay at best and 1976 all but belonged to “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky…and so did that Oscar.

 “The Shadow of Your Smile” music and lyrics by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster from The Sandpiper

This cocktail lounge dud toppling “What’s New, Pussycat?” Whoa-ah-ohhhh-ah-no.

"Sweet Leilani" music and lyrics by Harry Owens from Waikiki Wedding

Like being stuck in the luau from hell, this sappy island tune is as outdated and cheesy as the 1937 Bing Crosby movie musical it appeared in. 
 

2018 Academy Awards