Are chart-topping Best Song nominees a thing of the past?

My favorite thing about my Sirius/XM satellite radio subscription has been the rebroadcasting of Casey Kasem’s old American Top 40 radio shows. (Side plea to Sirius/XM: Please bring them back to the ’80s channel!) A few months ago I caught an AT40 show from 1984 and was astonished at how many of the chart entries were from movies (The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” from Beverly Hills Cop, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain, Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You” from Streets of Fire, etc.). Earlier this week I checked out the Best Song nominees from that year (exactly 25 years ago, by the way) and they were:

“I Just Called to Say I Love You,” from The Woman in Red (performed by Stevie Wonder)
“Ghostbusters,” from Ghostbusters (performed by Ray Parker, Jr.)
“Footloose,” from Footloose (performed by Kenny Loggins)
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” from Footloose (performed by Deniece Williams)
“Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” from Against All Odds (performed by Phil Collins)

What do all five songs have in common? They all topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for at least two weeks. And the Best Score winner that year? Prince’s hit-laden Purple Rain. Compare that to this year, where the Best Song candidates include forgettable new numbers from Nine, an okay track from Crazy Heart, and the Avatar theme, “I See You,” which is essentially a musical retread of Titanic‘s “My Heart Will Go On.” Even though it’s sung by Leona Lewis, I haven’t heard it on the radio once.

Now, I know many people would debate whether the five nominees from 1985 are all of the highest quality, but it’s undeniable that they all were massively popular. But an Oscar nominee that’s also a hit song seems a thing of the past; there hasn’t been a top 40-charting nominee since Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love” (from Shrek 2)  in 2004.

So what killed the chart-topping Oscar nominee? Is today’s dance and R&B based radio climate too tough for songs from films to penetrate? Are the Academy’s qualification rules for the category just too strict? I’m fearing we may have to suffer through painful performance numbers at the Oscars for the foreseeable future.

Image credit: Everett Collection

Comments (53 total) Add your comment
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  • Bjork’sSwanDress

    “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from “Once” is literally the only time in the last probably 10 years or more that the Academy/Music Branch has gotten this thing right. I was shocked when it won — mostly because it was the absolute most deserving, and I’ve come to expect the Music Branch to screw this category up. Thankfully, the Academy at large voted on the winner, and chose this song… not only an extraordinary song that genuinely impacts the film, but also a great song in its own right.

  • Sal

    I have wondered why songs from movies do not get airplay like they used to “way back when”. It helps spark interest in the movie and the movie sparks interest in the song and soundtrack. Listening to the Hairspray soundtrack there are a few songs which could have been top forty hits..( remember “One Night in Bangkok” which was from Chess…

  • wg

    It’s hard out there for a songwriter.

    • lefty

      Hahahaa I love it.

  • wg

    Sorry – couldn’t resist. But maybe if the Academy wouldn’t nominate garbage, there wouldn’t be only garbage to choose from.

    • mike

      They had a chance to nominate Garbage with The World is Not Enough.

      • Seanti


      • Aprilcot26

        GREAT song…TERRIBLE movie!

  • Cat

    You forgot about Eminem’s Lose Yourself (not sure if it was top 40 though). At leasat we’re getting away from every treacly balad from a Disney movie winning!

    • Sarah

      “Lose Yourself” Hit #1 and won an Oscar. Nice catch.

      • Heat

        That was prior to 2004.

  • mike

    Didnt the gap start when rap ruled the mucic charts and Disney movie songs won Oscar?

    • paige

      all the disney songs deserved it

      • craig

        I disagree Phil Collins treacly, saccharine “Your’e in my Heart” from “Tarzan” in did not deserve the Academy Award in 1999, Aimee Mann’s haunting “Wise Up” from “Magnolia” and the biting “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” were way more deserving!

    • Michael

      …and the first few Disney songs did well on the charts. Beauty and the Beast went Top 10. A Whole New World hit #1. Colors of the Wind and You’ll Be in my Heart went Top 40. Today’s pop scene is way different than it was 15 years ago. In the early 90s, it was AC-heavy and now it’s more filled with hip hop.

  • Scott in LA

    they need to drop the Best Song category, but they won’t

  • Marc

    A great question and one that has perplexed me for years too. The only reason that comes to mind is the segmentation of musical genres on radio. Hit songs used to be a great way for studios to market films to a wide audience, and Top 40 radio used to provide that very audience. Nowadays, that market has been chopped up into tiny pieces, making the star-laden movie song an inefficient dinosaur…remember how kitchy it was to have Huey Lewis record a title song for ‘Pineapple Express’ a couple of years ago? Nowadays, TV ads and online campaigns are much better options for movie studios wanting to promote their wares.

    It’s funny…I became a fan of Casey Kasem’s AT40 in late ’84, around the same time as that AT40 broadcast you mentioned. Back in the 80’s, I loved the variety of musical genres featured on both that show and Top 40 radio in general. Back then, it wasn’t unusual to hear Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Van Halen and the Pointer Sisters played on the same station within the same hour. Yes, there still exists a Hot 100 Singles Chart, but Top 40 radio (which at least approximated what EVERYBODY was listening to) has been dead for almost 20 years. These days, I’m not even sure ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ would get played on the same station.

  • Sarah

    Just generally speaking, movie soundtracks don’t seem as popular nowadays. There aren’t very many songs I hear on the radio that are “from or inspired by” a motion picture. As much as I hate the “Twilight” franchise, at least it inspired Paramore’s “Decode” which is a fantastic song.

  • graeme

    The Academy never nominates commercial songs. They’ve snubbed songs by Madonna, Alanis Morissette, Bruce Springsteen to name a few in recent years.
    And “I See You” is a terrible song. It doesn’t deserve radio play.

    • warped

      Leona Lewis performed it on So You Think You Can Dance and it was enough to make me say I don’t think I want to see Avatar.

    • Ben

      True dat. Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” was awesome, fit the movie perfectly, and won the Grammy for Best Song for a Movie, beating Phil Collin’s treacle, “You’ll Be in my Heart,” which had won the Oscar.

      • Ed

        Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger and Live To Tell deserved Oscar nominations. Love Oscar winning songs Take My Breath Away from Top Gun, What a Feeling from Flashdance, and the title track Fame. All hits!

    • Suzanne

      Bruce Springsteen is an Oscar winner.

  • Laura

    I think the fact that the Academy’s music rules are way too strict is the biggest problem here. In the past couple of years, they’ve ruled out popular songs from the likes Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, and Miley Cyrus, to name a few. It’s pretty silly and arbitrary, if you ask me.

  • James

    Miley Cyrus’s The Climb off of the Hannah Montana Movie was a top 10 hit, but wasn’t eligible. I remember Beyonce’s Pink Panther song Check On It wasn’t eligible. Even Linkin Park’s Transformers song. There are still hits from movies, they just don’t get nominated (or haven’t since Eminem’s Lose Yourself).

    • Suzanne

      Why aren’t they eligible? Because they were released for a CD before used in a movie?

  • Doris

    I must agree with Sirius in general. The variety on Satellite Radio is so refreshing these days and brings back radio from the recent boredom years. I hope they continue to add more creative shows like this!

  • Ian

    This might seem like a ridiculous question-but is there anyway they could nominate “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover? Catchy and funny

  • paige

    Unfortunately the academy knows nothing about Music- which is why James Horner gets nominated all the time for repeating the same dreck he’s been “composing” for years… That horrid turd of a song “I see you” is almost guaranteed a nomination. What the hell is eligble anyway?

    • Ceballos


      I honestly admire the sheer doggedness of your anti-Horner, “he composes the same thing every time” campaign.

      If you need a (virtual) shoulder to cry on when he picks up his nomination(s) for “Avatar”, I’m here. (Unless I’m COMPLETELY swamped at work that day – then, I’m afraid you’re on your own.)

      • paige

        ugh i’m already crying. It seems like its a shoe-in and poor Michael Giacchinno gets $hit- AGAIN!!!

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