FREE SHIPPING for all orders over $80

The 20 Greatest Uses of Bruce Springsteen Songs in Movies

By Vinh Nguyen on Jun 19, 2023

Bruce Springsteen's music has appeared on over 300 movie soundtracks, so pervasive is his influence on rock history and American popular culture. Born in New Jersey in 1949, Springsteen rose to prominence in the early '70s with the release of Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, making him not only a hero to New Jerseyites, but the world at large as his popularity grew to stratospheric heights in the '80s. Springsteen has long embodied tenets of American identity, with songs about working-class heroes that drew on early Rock 'n' Roll and Soul Music influences.

Affectionately known to his fans as "The Boss", Springsteen acquired the pseudonym from his E-Street Band, as during their early touring days he was the one tasked with collecting and distributing the band's payments after a gig. The name has remained fitting for the artist, who has always been clever about licensing the band's many cinematic songs for use in movies, helping to grow his legend and the band's popularity as he became one of America's most iconic rockers.

The following are the 20 greatest uses of Bruce Springsteen songs in film.

20. "Out in the Street" in Reign Over Me

Sony Pictures Releasing

"Out in the Street" was one of Springsteen's famous early tracks, coming off his 1980 album The River, which saw the artist reach the top of the Billboard album chart for the first time. The track was featured in Reign Over Me, a rare dramatic role for Adam Sandler, who played Dr. Charley Fineman, a man bereaved by the loss of his family during the World Trade Center attacks. The film was derided by most critics, but had a few powerful scenes, including one where Charley and his buddy Alan (Don Cheadle) rekindle their friendship by tossing back a few beers and jamming on Charley's drum set along to Springsteen. The scene is diagrammatic of how uplifting The Boss' music was, as Charley uses it to distract from his loss.

19. "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" in The Heartbreak Kid

Paramount Pictures

The Heartbreak Kid came during the height of the Farrelly Brothers' run of commercially successful comedies, with Ben Stiller playing Eddie Cantrow opposite Malin Åkerman as Lila, a couple who rush into a shotgun wedding before setting off on their honeymoon. Cantrow's haste to find love starts to backfire when they hit the road together. The scene kicks off with the two singing "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)", an uptempo track that has the two happily singing and air-drumming, before Lila's freak flag starts to fly, annoying the bejeesus out of Eddie with some borderline kray kray singing — and hinting at what's to come.

18. "Hungry Heart" in Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies
Summit Entertainment 

We're pretty sure Warm Bodies is the only movie in the paranormal romantic zombie comedy genre, but it's the only one we need, as R (Nicholas Hoult) and Julie (Teresa Palmer) fall in love despite R being slightly undead. Luckily, R falls for Julie, thanks to his first heartbeat since the zombie apocalypse. Despite eating her boyfriend's brains, R is nice enough to spare Julie, taking her back to his abandoned airplane fort. Naturally, she's afraid of him, but the two slowly start to bond, thanks to R's emo charm and a good ol' Bruce Springsteen record. Julie plays "Hungry Heart" on R's record player, and we get the requisite falling-in-love-montage to The Boss' sweet sounds.

17. "I'm on Fire" in Pig

AI Film

Sometimes a Springsteen cover can be just as powerful as his original recordings in film, with a prime example being Cassandra Violet's cover of "I'm on Fire" for the Nicolas Cage vehicle Pig. Violet's cover brings the vocals into a much higher register, with a soft acoustic guitar backing her silky voice. The solemn sounds and lyrics are fitting for the film, but were lampooned as being slightly creepy by Pete Holmes on CONAN. Give them a google and you'll see exactly why.

16. "Badlands" in Mask

Universal Pictures

Despite the preponderance of Springsteen songs in film, earlier in his career The Boss was reticent to license songs without a large cut of the soundtrack profits. That became an enormous legal issue during the release of Mask. "Bruce Springsteen was in the back of our minds from the beginning of the film", said Cher, as he was a favorite of the real-life Rocky Dennis. Several Springsteen songs were slated for the film, but Universal Pictures and Columbia records couldn't cut a deal, leading director Peter Bogdonavich to sue Universal for violating his contracted final cut privilege. Bob Seger's music was instead used for the original release.

Luckily, in 2004, Bogdanovich was finally able to release a director's cut with the original music, a much more fitting tribute to Rocky Dennis, with a scene featuring "Badlands" showing a perfect marriage of film and soundtrack. The movie is still a tear-jerker to this day, thanks in no small part to Springsteen's powerful music.

15. "Hungry Heart" in The Perfect Storm

Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney in The Perfect Storm
Warner Bros.

"Hungry Heart" is one of The Boss' most-licensed tracks, used to uplifting effect in The Perfect Storm when the crew set off on their dangerous fishing expedition. The track is literally the calm before the storm, mirroring the fearless, intrepid emotions of the Andrea Gail's crew. The song is also fitting as a track that the real-life crew of "Gloucestermen" may easily have had on the radio as The Boss has always appealed to blue-collar sensibilities.

14. "Because the Night" in Everybody Wants Some!!

everybody wants some
Paramount Pictures

"Because the Night" is Patti Smith's most famous track, replete with a storied history, detailed in the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones. Bruce Springsteen wrote the original version, with his producer Jimmy Iovine convincing The Boss to give the track to Smith. He reluctantly agreed, regretting the decision when the track vaulted higher up the charts than anything he had released at that point. The song made it into Richard Linklater's film, Everybody Wants Some!!, helping to bolster one of the 2010s greatest movie soundtracks.

13. "Dancing in the Dark" in The Place Beyond the Pines

Focus Features

The Place Beyond the Pines got a huge adrenaline shot from "Dancing in the Dark", an '80s Springsteen track most famous for its music video featuring a youthful Courtney Cox. When Luke (Ryan Gosling) and Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) pull off a big heist, they make a daring getaway when Luke rides his dirt bike onto Robin's truck. The Boss' track fades in as the two celebrate, cutting a rug to one of Springsteen's most famous tracks.

12. "Born in the U.S.A." Parody in Born in East L.A.

Universal Pictures

Cheech Marin wrote, directed, and starred in the 1987 film, Born in East L.A., riffing on the eponymous track from Springsteen's 17x Platinum 1984 album. In the film, Marin plays Rudy Robles, who is mistaken for a Mexican immigrant and deported. Cheech and Chong wrote the song in 1985 for a comedy album, with a hilarious video showing the chicano culture of the Southern California enclave. It may seem like an odd fit, but Springsteen's original song was less of a patriotic anthem than a track about the struggles of the American working class, making it surprisingly apt for the hard-working Mexican-Americans hailing from Los Angeles' East Side.

11. "Stolen Car" in Cop Land

Ray Liotta Cop Land

Cop Land was a film that took place right in Springsteen's backyard of New Jersey, where his music is still anthemic to this day. The soundtrack featured two Springsteen songs, with "Stolen Car" — one of Springsteen's saddest songs — providing the perfect backdrop for a scene when Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) and Liz Randone (Anabella Sciorra) realize their love for one another, years after Freddy saved her life. That courageous act cost him his NYPD career, as he lost hearing in one ear. The song is one of Springsteen's many tracks of longing, a bittersweet song that is one of The Boss' most cinematic.

10. "The Wrestler" in The Wrestler

Wild Bunch, Protozoa Pictures

While many of The Boss' tracks have been licensed after-the-fact, he has also produced original songs for film soundtracks, including "The Wrestler", which played over the film's closing credits. The film marked Mickey Rourke's comeback, mirroring his character Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who overcomes substance abuse to rekindle his relationship with his daughter. Being that The Wrestler took place in New Jersey, The Boss was the perfect choice to produce the title track, with Springsteen even shooting a music video to help promote the underdog story. Rourke, in turn, won a Golden Globe for the role, with Springsteen being the first to hug him when he won the award.

9. "Blinded by the Light" in Blinded by the Light

Viveik Kalra as Javed Khan blinded by the light
Entertainment One Films

While The Boss is largely seen as a prototypically American artist, his songs have also held major influence internationally, as evidenced by "Blinded by the Light", a song famously covered by England's Manfred Mann Earth Band. The song was also the inspiration for Blinded by the Light, a coming-of-age film about a Pakistani immigrant in England who is obsessed with Springsteen's music. He allowed 12 of his tracks to be used for the film, but the eponymous track was a song rarely used in film. Recorded in 1973, Springsteen was said to have written the lyrics using a rhyming dictionary, after record exec Clive Davis requested he add a track with potential to be a single to his Greetings from Asbury Park album.

8. "Badlands" in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

"Badlands" was featured in the post-credits scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3. Without spoiling the scene, we'll just say the song's lyrics are right on-topic for their place in the film. "Badlands" came off Springsteen's fourth studio album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, a departure from his earlier work. Springsteen credited the punk music he had been listening to at the time for the track's edge, while still maintaining his signature sound, complete with an unforgettable solo by saxophonist Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band.

7. "Hungry Heart" in Risky Business

Warner Bros.

While Risky Business is most-remembered for Tangerine Dream's synth-laden score, it also featured a few licensed tracks from contemporaneous artists, with Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" and The Boss' "Hungry Heart" backing two of the film's most memorable scenes. Seger and Springsteen seemed intertwined, as their songs dealt in Americana, blue-collar ambitions, and a revivalist sound of early Rock 'n' Roll, at a time when traditional Rock's popularity had dwindled thanks to the Disco Era and the Punk/New Wave movements of the late '70s and early '80s.

6. "Born in the U.S.A." in Air

Chris Tucker in Air

Air invoked all the trappings of 1984, Michael Jordan's rookie year, and the year "Born in the U.S.A." was released. The song made into the script, with Nike Marketing VP Rob Strasser explaining to Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) how the song is misinterpreted as patriotic for its chorus, when it's really about a disaffected Vietnam Veteran returning home. Given the scene in question, the film's music supervisor was tasked with cutting a deal with Sony Music, who had taken ownership of Springsteen's catalog. Eventually Sony didn't want to miss the boat on this hit film, allowing them to include the song over a montage of American popular culture in the '80s.

5. Blues Jamming in High Fidelity

Bruce Springsteen High Fidelity 1200 x 630(1)
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

While "The River" appears on the soundtrack of High Fidelity, the record store-themed film provides a much more exciting Bruce moment, when Rob Gordon (John Cusack) contemplates visiting his old flames, "Like in a Bruce Springsteen song." Suddenly Rob is conversing with The Boss in his imagination, as Springsteen appears on-screen, playing some bluesy riffs while trying to dissuade Rob from this nostalgic adventure. You can see Bruce playing his famous "Boss" Fender Esquire, his go-to axe that he's used since early in his career.

Speaking about the famous guitar, Springsteen said “I’ve held it aloft to the audience on thousands and thousands and thousands of nights, I suppose with the idea that it says something about the power of rock and roll and the power of us." Say no more, Boss. Say no more.

4. "Dream Baby" Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night


One of the most underrated rock docs ever, Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night saw Springsteen organize a concert film to celebrate the work of the elusive Roy Orbison, who had largely been forgotten by the '80s despite his centrality to the early days of Rock 'n' Roll. The doc brought together the moment's biggest rock stars, with Springsteen performing a rollicking duet on "Dream Baby". After Orbison spent years in obscurity, the Sun Records alum found his track "In Dreams" picked for David Lynch's Blue Velvet soundtrack, vaulting him back into the limelight and hastening this memorable reunion.

3. "Secret Garden" in Jerry Maguire

Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire
Sony Pictures Releasing

Springsteen released "Secret Garden" on his 1995 Greatest Hits album. Director Cameron Crowe was enamored with the ballad, including it on the soundtrack for Jerry Maguire, as the lyrics provided a perfect narration to the scene where Jerry (Tom Cruise) rushes from a career-defining moment to Dorothy's (Renee Zellwegger) door, before she delivers her famous "You had me at 'Hello'" line. Crowe proved that there's no better way to elicit tears from an audience than by laying the groundwork with a melancholy song by The Boss, and in turn vaulted the track to number 12 on the Billboard singles' chart for Springsteen.

2. "Dead Man Walking" in Dead Man Walking

Screen Shot 2023-06-05 at 5.17.57 PM
Gramercy Pictures

Another example of the gravitas in Springsteen's music being used to great effect in a dramatic film, "Dead Man Walking" was written and performed by Bruce for the soundtrack to the eponymous film. Dead Man Walking was the harrowing tale of death row prisoner Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), with Springsteen's track taking the point of view of the prisoner himself, a stirring ballad that recalls his earlier work on subdued albums like Nebraska. Springsteen performed the song at the 68th Academy Awards, but inexplicably lost to "Colors of the Wind" from the Pocahantas soundtrack. Springsteen had already won the award for Best Original Song two years earlier, a fact that may have influenced the voting.

1. "Streets of Philadelphia" in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Tom Hanks

Philadelphia has been heralded for its incredible opening credits, featuring Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" which guides the audience through the desolate streets of the "City of Brotherly Love" to the incredibly emotional song, told from the point of view of a man dying from HIV/AIDS. Director Jonathan Demme had begged Springsteen for an original song for the film, with Springsteen offering no promises, but eventually delivering one of the most beloved tracks in film history. Springsteen had some unique insight, growing up only an hour's drive from Philly in Freehold, New Jersey, and clearly understood how to make song with a tone to match the tragic film and the city where it takes place.

The Boss' Special Collection

For his efforts, Bruce won the Oscar for Best Original Song, along with four Grammys for the track, cementing him as one of the most cinematic artists ever to lay grooves on wax. The track remains an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community and victims of HIV/AIDS, with the film embracing a topic long swept under the rug of American society, and helping Tom Hanks to win his first Best Actor Oscar for the unforgettable role.

PreviousBruce Springsteen – ‘Birmingham, Villa Park’ live review & setlist

Related articles

Recent posts