There are three types when it comes to songs in feature films: The first is the song that you just know isn’t only going to be nominated for an Academy Award but in all likelihood will win it; the second is the song that’s snubbed by the Academy in a year jam-packed with standard Oscar fare (sometimes love songs from Disney movies); the third is the song that somehow isn’t even considered and might just get the person who suggests it kicked out of the room for doing so. See: “Scotty Doesn’t Know” from the 2004 film EuroTrip. Damn, you’d think Matt Damon’s involvement alone would have made it a shoo-in. But here are 18 tracks that did get the nod, and you probably never even knew.
“Eye Of The Tiger” – Rocky III
Sure, you know the song. You turn it up and pump your fist whenever it comes on. But admit it: You’re surprised to see it on this list. The Oscars, especially in the early ’80s, cared little for rock anthems, no matter how high they charted. Film lovers and music lovers alike were high on Survivor’s theme for Rocky Balboa’s 1982 outing. Simply put, even the Academy couldn’t ignore this four-minute shot of adrenaline set to music. Interesting fact: Sylvester Stallone had actually wanted to use Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” to open the third installment of his still-going-strong series, but the band declined. So he actually requested that Survivor come up with something. They sure did and are flying high now as a result.
“Blaze Of Glory” – Young Guns II
Another shocker, right? Who knew the Academy could flip their hair and raise a lighter with the best of them? Hell, Jon Bon Jovi even won the Golden Globe for this solo effort from the film Young Guns II. Not only that, but Bon Jovi provided fan (and Billy The Kid himself) Emilio Estevez with an entire soundtrack to the film, including tunes that saw Elton John and the late Little Richard performing right alongside him. But it was this one that was front and center and rightfully topped the charts. If you don’t agree, watch JBJ bring down the house when he performed it live at the Oscars, even if he did wind up going home empty-handed.
“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” – Armageddon
This power ballad from legendary Boston rockers Aerosmith earned them not just an Oscar nomination, but also their one and only No. 1 song. You read that right. They’d never had a No. 1 song up until that point in 1998, including back when Run-DMC trailblazed and covered their hit “Walk This Way.” Other Aerosmith songs were included in the bloated spectacle of a film that was Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv: their classic “Sweet Emotion,” their cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” and another original tune, “What Kind Of Love Are You On.” That last song was one just hanging around, left off their latest LP at the time, Nine Lives, which the band have definitely proven to have.
“Live And Let Die” – Live And Let Die
Theme songs from James Bond flicks are always a pretty solid bet for an Oscar nod, yet Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles rocker with Wings from the 1973 007 movie of the same name was the first to snag one. Sure, it lost to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” but it also laid down the groundwork for the many nominations that followed—and the subsequent wins by both Sam Smith and Adele for their Bond beats. Guns N’ Roses had a hit with a cover of what many might agree is the hardest Bond tune ever rocked, and both versions were nominated for Grammys. McCartney continued contributing to soundtracks, too, with songs such as “Spies Like Us” and even “Vanilla Sky,” the latter of which also scored an Oscar nod.
“Wise Up” – Magnolia
Former ‘Til Tuesday singer Aimee Mann sees a ton of her material make its way into many movies and sometimes two times over. “Wise Up,” for instance, graced both this film’s soundtrack and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. Interestingly, the common denominator here isn’t just Mann but also Tom Cruise, who sang along to “Wise Up” in the film’s most memorable scene. Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson let the whole thing play, with each character singing along wherever they were in the picture at the time. But it was this tune that earned the Academy’s attention and subsequent nomination.
“Accidentally In Love” – Shrek 2
Fact is, Counting Crows’ “Accidentally In Love” had Oscar contender written all over it, with Adam Duritz in a considerably happier place than he usually is. But who wouldn’t be when crafting—and then singing—a song about an ogre in love? Accidentally or not. As mentioned, the Academy has long since been a sucker for a song attached to an animated feature, but in the strangest turn of events, the band lost to an Uruguayan doctor’s composition that year. It’s true. Jorge Drexler won for the film The Motorcycle Diaries.
“Dead Man Walkin’” – Dead Man Walking
Having already nabbed an Oscar for “Streets Of Philadelphia” from the film Philadelphia, The Boss tried for as close to a Tom Hanks twofer as he could get. This brooding blast of melancholy came two years after his win for the film that saw Hanks win his second Best Actor Oscar, doing so back to back (the previous being for Forrest Gump). It’s not like Dead Man Walking came away empty-handed, though; Susan Sarandon won the statue for Best Actress, after being nominated four times previously yet never winning. Animation ruled again this year, with the Best Original Song award going to “Colors Of The Wind” from the Disney film Pocahontas. In its defense, it was a big hit for Vanessa Williams.
“Lost Stars” – Begin Again
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine pulled underappreciated double-duty on this equally underappreciated gem of a film from Irish indie storyteller extraordinaire John Carney. Not only does he play the roguish lead opposite Keira Knightley, but he performed music as the fledgling singer-songwriter who loves her (just not enough) in the film. The performance of this song comes at the end of the film and is one of two highlights (the other featuring then-newbie Hailee Steinfeld). Plus, it was co-written by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, both expatriates from New Radicals.
“Til It Happens To You” – The Hunting Ground
Lady Gaga scored her first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for this powerhouse tune that she co-wrote with legendary songwriter Diane Warren—for a documentary no less. The Hunting Ground laid the groundwork for a win that would come a mere three years later, when she took the statue home for “Shallow” from her A Star Is Born remake with Bradley Cooper. She even got herself a Best Actress nomination that night. But at both award ceremonies, she brought down the house with her live performances. They both contain the same pensive, plaintive Gaga at the piano moment, but with her Warren collab, it ends with a crowd of assault victims joining her onstage, and for her Cooper collab, it ends with…him.
“That Thing You Do!” – That Thing You Do!
This fun film about a fictional ’60s band known as The Wonders got tons of hype for being the first film to be directed by Hollywood hero Tom Hanks. It wound up performing perfectly fine, but the song of the same name, written for the fictional band by the late Adam Schlesinger, might have eclipsed it, cracking the Billboard charts and getting both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. The Fountains of Wayne bassist submitted the song for fun, but it was indeed selected, and the scene where the band first hear it played on the radio illustrates what that moment must actually be like for musical artists perfectly. It would later get covered by many, including Billie Joe Armstrong, New Found Glory and, get this, the Knack.
“The Moon Song” – Her
Karen O went solo from her day job with Yeah Yeah Yeahs for this quasi-lullaby for an absolutely bonkers film by Spike Jonze. It’s basically Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with Alexa. It’s just that here Alexa’s voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson. She understands every single request of his, plus is capable of meeting most of them. Street cred doesn’t end with O, either. Arcade Fire provided the score for the film, and the Oscar-nominated song is actually a duet with Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig. The whole thing was ahead of its time and is awash in alt-rock majesty. With it being Jonze’s first solo writing project, none of this should’ve come as any surprise.
“Fight For You” – Judas And The Black Messiah
Speaking of Her—or H.E.R.—this funk-filled single has a very ’70s vibe, but how could it not considering the film it accompanies? Taking place in close to very decade (1968-1969), it’s the story of Black Panthers Chairman Fred Hampton and the FBI informant who brings him down in the worst of ways. While H.E.R. beautifully captures the era, the song also manages to be rooted firmly in the now, vacillating between Earth, Wind & Fire horns and Beyonce-esque vocal stylings. H.E.R. has even cited ’70s stalwarts such as Marvin Gaye and Sly & The Family Stone while raving about her soul music influences. It shows with the extraordinary film’s closing number. Hell, it might just win Best Original Song this year. The Oscars haven’t happened yet, after all.
“Purple Rain” – Purple Rain
When news of Purple Rain broke, critics were quick to call out the late, great Prince for the obvious Jimi Hendrix nod. They were also quick to retract that once “Let’s Go Crazy” hit radio stations across the country, wherein the Minnesotan ax-wielder ends the song with such a tasty, seemingly endless riff, one could only tip their hat to him. “Purple Rain,” the song from the movie of the same name, brings about the end of the actual flick, where The Kid follows up his father’s attempted suicide by playing the song to a dumbfounded crowd. Interestingly, “Purple Rain” wasn’t even nominated for Best Original Song but was for Best Original Song Score. And promptly won, too.
“I’ve Seen It All” – Dancer In The Dark
Even with inimitable Radiohead singer Thom Yorke splitting duties, Björk somehow went home empty-handed from the 2001 Academy Awards. She did, however, go home with the most buzz. After all, this was when she attended the prestigious event wearing that “swan dress” and sent the late Joan Rivers over the edge. Performing the song Yorke-less (perhaps he knew about the dress in advance), the quirky Icelandic singer came off as out of her element and quite nervous. The former can be said about many an Oscar performer but not so much the latter. That said, the competition was steep that year, and she did lose out to no less than Bob Dylan.
“Miss Misery” – Good Will Hunting
Good Will Hunting is remembered for so many huge Oscar nominations. There was Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, two veritable newcomers, snapping up a win for Best Original Screenplay and stealing the night with their acceptance speech(es). There was the gone-too-soon Robin Williams getting his one moment in the Oscar sun for his role as Will’s therapist. Lost in the shuffle was Elliott Smith’s stab at his own “The Sound Of Silence” with the nominated “Miss Misery.” He’s Paul Simon enough, and director Gus Van Sant selected him largely out of being a fellow Portlander. Smith also managed to work with esteemed former Oingo Boingo lead Danny Elfman on the film’s score. Alas, this was the year Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic was nominated—and promptly sunk his chance.
“Mystery Of Love” – Call Me By Your Name
The hypnotic “theme” to Timothee Chalamet’s breakthrough (and Oscar-nominated) film earned Sufjan Stevens both Oscar and Grammy nods in 2017, the very same year Radiohead pianist and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood was nominated for scoring Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (Day-Lewis retired with that film). So, was the Academy acknowledging some serious alt- and indie-rock artists, or were said artists merely spreading their considerable wings to a span that easily encompassed Oscar fodder? Greenwood was a name surely already known by them, as he’d already worked with both Day-Lewis and Anderson on There Will Be Blood, but this was Stevens’ first, and only, time at the dance. So far anyway.
“Everything Is AWESOME!!!” – The Lego Movie
OK, so you probably knew that this infectious bopper was nominated for an Oscar, but did you know that it actually lost? Egregious. With all due respect to Common and John Legend, who won for their song for the film Selma, this borders on criminal. Tegan And Sara (featuring the Lonely Island) gave film lovers—and the entire species, for that matter—a song for the ages in “Everything Is AWESOME!!!.” Yet, everything wasn’t awesome for them when the winner was announced. Oh, who are we kidding? They probably popped the song on in the limo afterward and got right back into the zone. Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh was also back in the studio to score the entire 2014 hit.