Music Monday: The Most Overused Piece of Music in Film History

Here’s a list of movies that have something in common – at one point in the movie they all played the same song:

  • 1981: In Excalibur, when King Arthur and his knights ride into battle.
  • 1984: In Speed.
  • 1989: in Glory.
  • 1991: In The Doors, Oliver Stone’s biographical film of the American rock band.
  • 1992: In Last of the Mohicans, the piece ‘Massacre/Canoes’ by Trevor Jones draws from it directly.
  • 1995: In the ending scene of Tales from the Hood.
  • 1999: In The General’s Daughter.1999: In The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
  • 1999: In Detroit Rock City, the scene where the four boys, after losing their concert tickets, and apparently having no way of recovering them, beat each other up to make it appear as though they had been mugged so they can get into the concert.
  • 2002: In Jackass: The Movie, during the opening credits when the men are riding in a gigantic shopping cart.
  • 2003: In Cheaper by the Dozen, at the end of Dylan’s party scene.
  • 2007: In Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, as Beowulf discovers the sword to slay the Helldam.
  • 2009: In Capitalism: A Love Story.
  • 2009: In Disney’s live-action film G-Force, when the Guinea Pigs in the balls race against the car through the fireworks.
  • 2011: In the opening scene of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps.

I’d be quite impressed if anyone knew what the song was. Here are some more clues.

Besides appearing in so many movies, the song has also been used in movie trailers such as in 1999 in the trailer for the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. and in 2009 in the trailer for the film Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Still not sure? It’s also been used in TV shows such as in a 2003 episode of the television series The King of Queens, entitled “Clothes Encounter” (Season 5, Episode 21) when an infant is about to spit up on Carrie Heffernan’s brand-new expensive designer dress, in a 2009 episode of The Simpsons (season 20, episode 13), “Gone Maggie Gone”, and in a commercial in season 21, episode 2, “Bart Gets a ‘Z'”.

The song has also been used in ads, video games, and at sporting events.

OK, so none of those clues helped.

The song is the 13th-century poem “O Fortuna”, set to music by the German composer Carl Orff for his twenty-five-movement cantata Carmina Burana.

Here is a YouTube video of the song:

And here is the song being used in an episode of King of Queens, followed by a video showing its use at every Pittsburgh Pirates home game.

It’s a good song, but it is surprising that it is so popular. After all, I would think that there are so many pieces of music that could create the same atmosphere that O Fortuna does.

So why does this song continued to be used over and over?

My guess is that once people find something that works, they tend to stop looking for something else. As a result, once a good piece of music for setting a scene is found, it starts to be used more and more; then others hear about it and its popularity just built on itself.

 

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