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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Soundtrack Songs

Picks include ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ ‘Lose Yourself’ and ‘Streets of Philadelphia’

8 Mile, Eminem, Isaac Hayes, Shaft, Prince, Purple Rain

Universal/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

This year's Academy Awards ceremony was ostensibly a celebration of music in film, but that seemed to amount to little beyond bringing in Shirley Bassey to sing "Goldfinger" and reuniting the casts of recent big-screen musicals. (The press also teased us for weeks about a James Bond reunion that never happened.) Disappointment aside, we figured this was a good time to poll our readers about their favorite songs from motion pictures. We used the Academy Award rules here and took out any songs that didn't first appear in a film. Click through to see the results. 

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10. Bob Dylan – ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’

Bob Dylan's career was in a very weird place in 1973. He hadn't released a new album in three long years, and his last two albums were seen as huge disappointments. Many saw him as a Sixties relic. Not quite sure what to do with himself, he accepted director Sam Peckinpah's offer to take a minor role in his Western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He headed down to Durango, Mexico, to film the movie and cut the soundtrack over a handful of days in January and February of 1973.

The movie was ultimately taken away from Peckinpah in post-production and butchered by the studio, but the song "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" became one of the biggest hits of Dylan's career. It's the story of a sad lawman who feels he can no longer carry out his duties, and it's easy to see how it sort of reflected Dylan's state of mind at the time. It's since been covered by countless other performers, including Guns N' Roses, Eric Clapton and Warren Zevon. It was a regular part of Dylan's setlist for years, though he hasn't touched it once in the past decade. 

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9. Eminem – ‘Lose Yourself’

Eminem took a bit of a risk when he made 8 Mile in 2002. This was near the peak of his fame, and a big-screen flop could have kicked off a downward spiral. Britney Spears and Mariah Carey both made movies right around the same time, and they were absolute disasters. Needless to say, those were terrible movies and Eminem made a pretty great one. "Lose Yourself" – a song that wraps up most of the movie's plot in five-and-a-half minutes – became his first Number One hit. It was so massive that moms across America were blasting it in their mini-vans, and it became the first hip-hop song to win an Academy Award. 

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8. Judy Garland – ‘Over the Rainbow’

Judy Garland's performance of "Over the Rainbow" is the most iconic moment of the actress' long career, but it was nearly cut from the film. Studio chief Louis B. Mayer didn't like seeing the star sing in a barnyard, and he felt that it slowed down the picture. He was ultimately overruled, and the song became Garland's signature number. It was often performed in the encore section of her live show in the Fifties and Sixties, and as her life became more difficult toward the end, it seemed to take on a new, tragic meaning. She was a 17-year-old with her whole life in front of her when she sang it originally, but at some shows in the late Sixties, it came across almost as a cry for help. The version in her legendary Carnegie Hall concert of 1961 is particularly powerful. 

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7. The Bee Gees – ‘Stayin’ Alive’

The Bee Gees weren't originally a part of Saturday Night Fever, but when "You Should Be Dancing" started taking over the airwaves in the summer of 1976, the producers decided they should create the film's soundtrack. The Gibb brothers wrote the songs in a single week at a studio in France, having little idea that the music would change their lives forever. The movie became a huge hit, but the soundtrack became an absolute global sensation. Three songs hit the Number One spot, but it was "Stayin' Alive" that went on to become the most famous song of the disco era. It made the group millions, but also embalmed the band in the disco era, and it became very hard for them to move on once the craze went away. 

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6. Simon and Garfunkel – ‘Mrs. Robinson’

Film director Mike Nichols became obsessed with Simon and Garfunkel's music while filming The Graduate in 1967. He begged Paul Simon to contribute a new song for the soundtrack, but the group was touring and Simon said he was too busy. He did have one new song, however, called "Mrs. Roosevelt." It was a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt and days gone by, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie.

Mike Nichols didn't care one bit. He convinced them to change the title to "Mrs. Robinson," and he used it prominently in the movie. The film was a box office smash, and it helped Simon and Garfunkel reach new heights of success. Strangely enough, it also led to their dissolution. Nichols became close friends with the duo and he cast them both in his 1970 movie Catch-22, though he cut Paul's part shortly before filming. Art remained in the picture, refusing to drop out just because Paul lost the job. This didn't sit well with Simon, and both parties now claim the ensuing fight was a key factor in their split. 

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5. Isaac Hayes – ‘Theme From Shaft’

Isaac Hayes was one of the key creative forces behind Stax Records in the mid-Sixties, co-writing "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and many more. By the early Seventies, he was hoping to transition into acting work, and when the 1971 blaxploitation film Shaft began casting, he begged for a chance to audition. Producer Joel Freeman told him he could try out if he agreed to write the movie's theme.

The audition never came, but Hayes still wrote the song. Beyond being one of the funkiest songs in history, it has one of the greatest opening lines ever: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" It scored Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

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4. Simple Minds – ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’

Scottish New Wave band Simple Bands weren't the first act approached to record "Don't You Forget About Me" for the soundtrack to the 1985 John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. The Fixx, Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol all declined the track, leaving it to Simple Minds, who were largely unknown in America. The movie was a huge hit with teenagers all over the country, and with a lot of help from MTV the song hit the top spot on the Hot 100. Billy Idol lived to regret the decision, and in 2001 he cut his own version of the song. Simple Minds, meanwhile, have an uneasy relationship with the song since they didn't write it, and it's overshadowed so much of their other work. It's still a regular part of their set list, though. 

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3. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Streets of Philadelphia’

Bruce Springsteen was dangerously close to seeming like an Eighties has-been in 1994. Born in the USA was now a decade in the past, and his record sales had slipped exponentially since then. Few fans were happy with his dual 1992 albums Human Touch and Lucky Town, and the supporting tour received a very mixed reaction. After taking some time off to lick his wounds, he went into the studio with members of his touring band and a drum machine to cut a song for Jonathan Demme's movie Philadelphia. It was Hollywood's first movie about the AIDS crisis, and it was a huge critical and commercial hit. The song also became an unlikely radio smash, earning Springsteen a much-needed hit and an Academy Award. It was the first step of his slow comeback, though it would take another eight years for him to record a big commercial album. 

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2. Paul McCartney & Wings – ‘Live and Let Die’

Every James Bond movie has a title song, but few have entered the public consciousness quite like "Live and Let Die." Hard as it is to believe, the film's producer originally didn't want Macca to record the explosive song, feeling that Shirley Bassey should be given the track. Wiser heads prevailed, and the song was used during the opening credits. It shot to number two on the Hot 100 and was impossible to escape in the summer of 1973. The song also marked Paul McCartney's first time working with George Martin since the Abbey Road sessions four years earlier. "Live and Let Die" has been a central part of McCartney's live set for the past 40 years, and is usually accompanied by massive fireballs. Guns N' Roses brought the song back to the charts in 1991.

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1. Prince – ‘Purple Rain’

Opinions vary wildly about the quality of Prince's 1984 movie Purple Rain, but hardly anyone on earth has a negative thing to say about the soundtrack. It's a masterpiece, and many argue it's the high-water mark of Prince's incredible career. Nearly every song is a classic (and a hit), but the nearly nine-minute title track stands a bit above the best. It's the "Stairway to Heaven" of the Eighties, and the shortened radio version just doesn't do it justice. It's also an incredible showcase for Prince's guitar work and his mind-blowing vocal range. Basically, everything brilliant about Prince is showcased in this one song. It's been featured at most of his concerts during the last 30 years, and he closed out his stellar Super Bowl halftime show with the track.