A well-timed, well-placed piece of recognizable music can cement an ordinary moment into the realms of cinema history. As we’ve seen with the rise of TikTok, sometimes it only takes a clip of a song to land a joke or to evoke a deeper emotional reaction. Action movies (especially comedic ones) have been using the needle drop for decades, and now that most major action movies are also superhero movies, we've decided to put together a list of the top ten most memorable needle drops in superhero movie history.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – 'Barracuda' by Heart
There’s nothing more fun than seeing superheroes fight to a great song, and the cast members of Birds of Prey look like they’re legitimately having a rocking time in this wonderfully choreographed funhouse action scene. The baddies are wearing creepy masks, which fits the carnival vibe well, and there are plenty of trampolines to jump on, giant hands to hide behind, and mirrors to shatter as the Birds of Prey learn to fight on the same side for the first time.
Watchmen – 'The Times They Are A’Changing' by Bob Dylan
While this isn’t a traditional needle drop, there are few opening scenes to a superhero movie that are as memorable as the one in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. While the rest of the movie may not hold up to the promise of this stylishly shot and thematically rich intro as it’s set to Dylan’s deep rumbly voice, “The Times They Are A’Changing” still stands up as one of the best uses of a recognizable song in a superhero movie.
Iron Man 2 – 'Shoot to Thrill' by AC/DC
Iron Man is cool, and clearly Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. don’t want you to forget it. Iron Man 2 begins with this sleek AC/DC needle drop, as Iron Man takes a running leap out of a jet, launches into the night sky, and sets off fireworks as he goes. He makes his landing in a stadium full of cheering fans and backup dancers doing high kicks. You know, normal millionaire stuff. Plus, there’s a nice call back to the use of this song when Iron Man makes his hero entrance in The Avengers.
Spider-Man 3 – 'People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul' by James Brown
Best? Worst? These are terms that change over time, and this wonderfully terrible scene from Spider-Man 3 has really spider-swooped from being one of the worst superhero needle drops to being one of the best. Just thinking about Tobey Maguire dancing down that street, shooting the world’s silliest finger guns at random passersby makes me grin. It is a truly iconic scene, and definitely deserves its place on this list.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 'Trouble Man' by Marvin Gaye
This scene may be the least action-packed out of this bunch, but the set-up of the song and the payoff are great. Steve Rogers has just survived his big battle, and the first thing he gets to see is his brand-new BFF sitting next to the hospital bed playing some tunes on his phone. As the music plays on, we get a nice little montage that neatly ties up the movie’s remaining loose ends. The song provides just the right amount of triumphant emotion, and Steve gets to cross an item off his list. Plus, who doesn’t love Marvin Gaye?
Guardians of the Galaxy – 'Come and Get your Love' by Redbone
The Guardians movies are pretty much just one long string of needle drops, but the use of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” in the opening scene makes for a memorable and fun introduction to Peter Quill. As Quill lip-syncs and twirls on the surface of an alien planet, taking a break here and there to kick at some lizard aliens, we immediately get the feeling that he’s a different kind of hero than we’ve seen before. It’s a funny scene paired with some really groovy music, making it one of the more memorable character introductions in recent superhero movies.
Batman – 'Partyman' by Prince
You all knew this one was coming. Who can ignore Prince? Certainly not Tim Burton, who mentioned in a 1992 interview with Rolling Stone that he felt pressured by the studio to use Prince’s soundtrack even though he thought it wasn’t a good fit (though he was a fan of Prince’s music). Still, having Jack Nicholson’s Joker wreck priceless works of art to the funky beat of “Partyman” really helps set the contrast between the Joker’s chaotic and joyful destruction and Batman’s more serious protective vibe. The scene, especially three decades later, is cheesy for sure, but it’s also great fun. While not technically a needle drop (as the song was written for the film), I’d argue that having Prince score a Batman movie may be the most titanic needle drop situation of all time.
Thor: Ragnarok – 'Immigrant Song' by Led Zeppelin
This is perhaps the most badass use of a badass song on the list. At the climax of Taika Waititi’s gorgeously colorful movie, we get a big battle that, unlike the ones in many other superhero movies, is actually fun to watch. Things are starting to look bad for the Revengers, and Thor is forced to look inside himself for his power. The music begins to swell, and BOOM -- the biggest lightning blast in the history of lightning. Everyone gets to fight to the scream of the music, and everyone gets to look cool (except Hela). Everyone wins.
The LEGO Batman Movie – 'One' by Harry Nilsson
I stand by my argument that The LEGO Batman Movie is the best on-screen adaptation of Batman so far. This hilariously dramatic scene pokes fun at Batman’s famous brooding and answers the question of what Batman’s life would be if he had no crime to fight. He’s alone! He has no family! He’s barely even touched his lobster thermidor! The use of this song to highlight how alone Batman really is makes for one of the most delightful surprises in an already delight-filled movie.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – 'What’s up Danger?' by Blackway & Black Caviar
Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies, and the “What’s Up Danger” scene is the best moment in the film. Miles Morales has just hit rock bottom. He’s been left behind by the other Spider-beings, and he knows he has to rise to the occasion. We’ve seen him try to jump from the top of buildings before and be scared off by the dizzying heights. But now, he’s climbed to the top of a skyscraper, and this time he’s ready to take that leap of faith. It’s a scene full of hope, bravery, and fun, and it speaks so clearly to exactly why Miles Morales makes a compelling and inspirational Spider-Man.
If this list has inspired you to do a DC movie rewatch, check out our guide on how to watch the DC movies in chronological order.