Classic songs are being used as the soundtrack to trailers for Hollywood’s biggest movies, and the trend is bringing them back to the forefront of pop culture decades after they were originally released.
Oftentimes, the versions of the songs differ slightly from the original. This is due to a process now referred to as “trailerization,” where composers add arrangements, remix tracks and update classic tunes to better fit a trailer. “If we were able to remix an Elton John song or a Beatles song, these are iconic artists,” Sanaz Lavaedian, the senior vice president of music for the trailer house Mocean, explained to The New York Times. “The second you hear their voice, you know who it is, and there’s a lot of weight in that. More weight than if it were a cover.”
The popularity of classic songs in trailers is also good for artists, who often earn upward of six figures to sign off on the use of their material.
We’ve rounded up some of 2023’s biggest trailers featuring classic songs below.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Feb.10)
Donna Summer, “Last Dance”
Donna Summer‘s 1978 hit single has already cemented its place in cinematic history. The song was featured in the film Thank God It’s Friday and went on to win Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Flash forward 45 years and the track – which begins as a sorrowful lament before opening into disco dance glory – is being used in the trailer for the final chapter of the Magic Mike franchise. This is the third film centered on Channing Tatum’s male stripper Mike Lane. Considering the movie’s title is Magic Mike’s Last Dance, they pretty much had to use Summer’s hit.
Ant-Man and Wasp: Quantumania (Feb. 17)
Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
For the trailer to the third installment of Marvel’s Ant-Man series, movie executives opted to use Elton John’s classic “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The song, released in 1973, used the classic Wizard of Oz story to parallel the pitfalls of fame. In the trailer for Ant-Man and Wasp: Quantumania, the connection is more linear. Like Dorothy, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is sucked into an alternate world and is tasked with finding a way back home.
Jesus Revolution (Feb. 22)
Edgar Winter Group, “Free Ride”; Doobie Brothers, “Listen to the Music”
An often-forgotten development that took place alongside the hippies of the late ’60s and early ’70s was the so-called Jesus movement in which young Americans became drawn to modernized evangelical teachings. Jesus Revolution finds Kelsey Grammer starring at Chuck Smith, a pastor who opens his church to the hippie counterculture. A pair of songs from the era are featured in the film’s trailer: “Free Ride,” a 1973 hit by the Edgar Winter Group, and the Doobie Brothers‘ 1972 classic “Listen to the Music.” Both songs work well in the clip, but we can’t help but wonder if producers were hellbent on using a Doobies track, why not “Jesus Is Just Alright”? It’s right there!
We Have a Ghost (Feb. 24)
The Doors, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)”
The opening track to the Doors‘ 1967 debut album, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” remains one of the band’s most popular songs. The classic’s familiar organ part is instantly recognizable in the trailer to We Have a Ghost, Netflix’s fantasy-dramedy premiering in February. But the version used in the trailer is not the Doors’ rendition but a cover that sticks close to the original.
Cocaine Bear (Feb. 24)
Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel, “White Lines”
Cocaine has inspired a long list of classic songs, but perhaps no tune is more commonly associated with the drug than “White Lines.” The 1983 hit and its familiar bass line – appropriated from the song “Cavern” by Liquid Liquid - instantly brings to mind images of the narcotic getting snorted during the Reagan decade. When producers were putting together the trailer for Cocaine Bear - which, yes, is about a rampaging bear on cocaine – “White Lines” became the obvious choice for the soundtrack.
John Wick: Chapter 4 (March 24)
Terry Jacks, “Seasons in the Sun”
The lyrics to “Seasons in the Sun” – originally released as a Belgian song called “Le Moribond” before being reworked and turned into a hit for Canadian Terry Jacks – follow a man as he says he goodbye to loved ones and friends and heads toward death. It’s morbid, yet catchy – so catchy that Jacks’ version became a No. 1 hit in 1973. The song’s dark vibe is matched perfectly with the tone of John Wick: Chapter 4, the latest installment of the action franchise starring Keanu Reeves. “Seasons in the Sun” is prominently featured throughout the trailer, which finds Reeves’ titular character once again pulled into the dark world of assassins.
Champions (March 24)
In 1997, British rock act Chumbawamba scored an unexpected global hit with their song “Tubthumping.” The inescapable track reached the Top 10 in 18 countries, including a peak at No. 6 in the U.S. Although Chumbawamba proved to be one of the era’s most notable one-hit wonders, “Tubthumping” has endured. In the upcoming movie Champions, Woody Harrelson stars as a formerly successful basketball coach who is ordered by the court to lead a team of players with intellectual disabilities. In the trailer, Harrelson’s character is seen being invited to karaoke night, where one of his players belts out the lines to “Tubthumping.” The song then plays in the background throughout the remainder of the trailer.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (March 31)
Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love”
There have already been several unsuccessful attempts to turn Dungeons & Dragons, the popular role-playing game, into a profitable movie franchise, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from giving it another go. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves certainly has star power in its corner, with an ensemble cast led by Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez. Adding to the hype surrounding the movie is an emphatic trailer featuring Led Zeppelin‘s classic ”Whole Lotta Love.” We’re pretty sure Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham weren’t envisioning black magic or fire-breathing dragons when they wrote the 1969 song, but you never know. It works nonetheless.
Spinning Gold (March 31)
Kiss, “Rock and Roll All Nite”; The Isley Brothers, “It’s Your Thing”; Donna Summer, “Last Dance”
Spinning Gold depicts the rise of music executive Neil Bogart and Casablanca Records, the label credited with bringing such acts as Kiss, Village People, Donna Summer and George Clinton to fame. With such colorful musical history at the film’s backbone, it’s understandable that the trailer to Spinning Gold is full of classic hits, including “It’s Your Thing,” “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Last Dance.”
Beau Is Afraid (April 21)
Supertramp, “Goodbye Stranger”
“Goodbye Stranger,” with its distinctive falsetto vocal, has been used in many movies and television shows over the years. Supertramp’s 1979 single has popped up on everything from The Office to films like I, Tonya and Magnolia. In the trailer for Beau Is Afraid, the track helps heighten the surrealist adventure of Joaquin Phoenix’s lead character, an anxiety-ridden man who is forced to confront his fears during a trip home.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (April 28)
George Harrison, “What Is Life?”
Originally released in 1970, Judy Blume’s book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was a groundbreaking portrayal of a young girl facing the highs, lows and challenges that come with puberty. Like Margaret, George Harrison‘s life reached a major turning point in 1970 with All Things Must Pass, his first solo album following the breakup of the Beatles. One of the classic album’s many highlights is the soaring, upbeat “What Is Life?” The song’s sweetly earnest portrayal of love perfectly scores the trailer for the film adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, starring Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathy Bates.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 (May 3)
Spacehog, “In the Meantime”
Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” offered a timeless appeal as an alternative hit in the ’90s. “It’s me trying to reach people,” frontman Royston Langdon explained to Songfacts. “It’s using some kind of metaphor of a worldly or inner-worldly search for the end of isolation, and the acceptance of one’s self is in there. At the end of the day, it’s saying whatever you gotta do, it’s OK, it’s all right.” The song is used to perfection in the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3. It also marks a notable change for the Marvel franchise. Guardians famously used songs from the ’60s and ’70s in the first two films; perhaps the third will skip a generation.
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