Thanks to the use of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” at the start of Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off its existence with an unexpected needle drop. Since then, this expansive saga has made heavy use of unorthodox needle drops, particularly in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It isn’t as if superhero films had entirely eschewed referencing famous tunes in the past. However, since most of these features (like ones in the Batman franchise) occupied fictitious cities, they tended to utilize originally crafted tracks rather than famous pop ditties to reinforce the sense that viewers were watching something divorced from reality.
Much like how Marvel Comics used New York City as a backdrop rather than Gotham or Metropolis, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has constantly reinforced that their movies take place in familiar cities and locations by utilizing recognizable songs. That’s not the only way the various properties in this franchise have utilized needle drops, however. They’ve also been used to establish a period-era setting for certain sequences or to underscore the emotions of pivotal scenes in a story, among other uses. These superhero yarns have gotten almost as much mileage out of needle drops as they have through action scenes and colorful costumes.
Breaking down the ten best needle drops in the Marvel Cinematic Universe allows one to appreciate the most effective ways this franchise has wielded familiar tunes for much more than just a quick boost of nostalgia-infused serotonin. Let’s now break down these top ten Marvel Cinematic Universe needle drops, starting with one mellow track from one of the biggest movies of all time.
10. “Supersonic Rocket Ship” by The Kinks (Avengers: Endgame)
In its start, Avengers: Endgame has a laid-back vibe as the superhero protagonists reckon with a world overhauled by the sudden loss of half of existence. In the wake of the surviving Avengers deciding to get the team back together, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) take a trip to New Asgard, a journey that sees them accompanied by a ditty from The Kinks entitled “Supersonic Rocket Ship.” It’s a quick needle drop, but also a fun one, with the plucking of guitar strings and soft vocals making a fittingly snug accompaniment for the intimate section of this blockbuster.
9. “Come On Get Happy” by David Cassidy (Ant-Man and the Wasp)
At the start of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has only one more weekend to go until his house arrest is finished. To help pass the time, Lang begins to engage in a series of fun activities that are spread out across a montage set to the toe-tapping tune “Come On Get Happy.” The song’s already a fun choice thanks to its buzzy contrast to the monotony of being stuck inside for so long, but it gets to be an especially enjoyable pick once Rudd briefly joins in to sing along while on a karaoke machine. How can you not “come on get happy” during this montage?
8. “Trouble Man” by Marvin Gaye (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
At the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) runs into future friend and Avenger Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). The two inevitably talk about what Rogers is catching up on in the modern world after spending so much time trapped in ice. As part of his pop culture exploits, Wilson suggests that Rogers explore the music of Marvin Gaye. In a welcome callback, a closing montage of The Winter Soldier begins with Wilson sitting beside Rogers in his hospital bed while “Trouble Man” by Marvin Gaye plays on Wilson’s iPod.
These two characters may have just donned superhero identities for an action-packed finale, but the use of this needle drop thoughtfully signifies that they’re still the same everyday people jogging from the start of the story. Plus, lyrics in the song like “I come up hard/I had to win/Then start all over/And win again” make for a fitting accompaniment to footage in the montage showing the various supporting characters in The Winter Soldier starting over with new lives in the wake of saving the world.
7. “Back in Black” by AC/DC (Iron Man)
The inaugural Marvel Cinematic Universe film begins with a few brief moments of silence as we see military jeeps coast across the desert landscape. Then, the opening beats of “Back in Black” by AC/DC kick in. In an era where ultra-patriotic tunes were meant to accompany any sight of the U.S. military, the dissonance of seeing these jeeps set to the beats of a famous 1980s rock tune was quite jarring. Of course, the song itself was a perfect fit for the personality of Tony Stark, who carried a devil-may-care attitude matching the morally flexible image AC/DC had cultivated for itself.
A unique Marvel protagonist got introduced to the world accompanied by an equally unusual choice for a superhero movie needle drop. Iron Man established itself as unique in several key ways, and that included the song it used to kick off its runtime.
6. “Escape” by Roy Ayers (Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp)
If you’re watching an Ant-Man movie and dialogue from Luis (Michael Peña) is accompanied by the sound of some drumming, you know you’re about to get one of the character’s iconic extremely detailed stories. These scenes have become the highlight of this franchise thanks to their whip-fast editing and Peña’s line deliveries. But what also helps these sequences out is the accompanying song, “Escape” by Roy Ayers.
Originally made for the Coffy soundtrack in 1973, this tune has taken on a whole new life thanks to how perfectly it pairs with the energetic narratives Luis spins. The high-paced rhythms of the track make even the most mundane aspects of Luis’s stories seem like they’re ultra-important. It’s the tiniest details that make these Luis-centric scenes so much fun, and that includes the needle drop that accompanies them.
5. “Blitzkrieg Bop” by Ramones (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
In the original Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man movies, the titular hero swinging across New York City was typically accompanied by sections of Danny Elfman’s sweeping score. Spider-Man: Homecoming immediately differentiates itself from that approach by setting the first montage of Spidey helping New Yorkers to the bustling beat of the Ramones‘ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The opening chants of “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” make for a perfect extension of Peter Parker’s excitement at getting out there and helping people. Even better, the song makes for an amusing contrast with the very mundane things Spidey ends up doing out on the town, like giving directions to an elderly woman. Homecoming is an extremely fun movie with a vibe distinct from prior Spider-Man adventures, and that gets crystallized through the use of “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
4. “Blue” by Eiffel 65 (Iron Man 3)
As Iron Man 3 begins, Tony Stark struggles in his narration to properly set up the story that’s to follow. After fumbling over his words momentarily, he decides to pause, start over, and back things up. That’s when “Blue” by Eiffel 65 kicks in on the soundtrack, playing over the Marvel Studios logo and the initial moments at a 1999 New Year’s Eve party. It’s a nice tune to establish the backdrop of 1999, but the lyrics that kick off the song also effectively crystalize Stark’s character. “All day and all night, everything he sees is just blue, like him,” croons the song, establishing the fractured mental state Stark is trapped in during the main portions of the story set in 2013 — in an extremely toe-tapping manner.
3. “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone (Guardians of the Galaxy)
For the first scene of Guardians of the Galaxy set in outer space, director and co-writer James Gunn had to establish that this cosmic blockbuster would offer something different from the countless other big-budget movies set in the distant corners of the cosmos. To accomplish this, the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy are set to Peter Quill rocking out in an alien temple to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.” On a storytelling level, this needle drop effectively establishes how Quill has kept his ties to Earth — but the song itself being so incredibly fun already justifies its existence. The fact that Quill proceeds to lip-sync along to the tune in a relatable, goofy fashion is just the cherry on top of this exceptional needle drop that kicked off Guardians of the Galaxy in style.
2. “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (Thor: Ragnarok)
Thor: Ragnarok didn’t just exploit the wonders of Led Zeppelin once, it smartly made use of the band twice! The tune “Immigrant Song” was employed at the start of this adventure to establish just how different director Taika Waititi’s vision of Thor would be compared to the character’s last two solo outings. Those two films had used grand orchestral scores to introduce viewers to the Prince of Asgard. Waititi, meanwhile, had Thor charge into battle against a fiery antagonist while the irresistible, pulsating energy of “Immigrant Song” blared. This particular needle drop works so well that Waititi was even able to utilize it once again for the climactic battle without it coming across as a retread. Sometimes, a song is so good that it deserves an encore, and that’s just what Thor: Ragnarok delivered in its second inspired usage of “Immigrant Song.”
1. “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Many needle drops in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been used to convey thrilling excitement to the viewer. However, the greatest needle drop in the entire franchise was employed strictly for pathos. This song emerged in the final scene of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, as Peter Quill plays the Cat Stevens tune “Father and Son” on a Zune, a gift from the now-deceased Yondu. Writer/director James Gunn smartly lets the song dictate much of the mood of the piece, only allowing one quick comedic line from Drax to depart from the otherwise melancholy ambiance of the sequence.
Committing to this tone and this song is a wise choice on several fronts, including in how “Father and Son” is such a moving tune. It also helps that the song itself chronicles a complicated father/son dynamic, a fitting accompaniment to the similarly nuanced relationships between the individual Guardians of the Galaxy members. As the scene goes along, the soft vocals and instrumentals of “Father and Son” also feel extra appropriate to the scene, particularly in the intimate beats that each of the principal Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 characters get.
Saying goodbye is never easy. However, saying farewell to Yondu was rendered an extra emotionally cathartic experience thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 deploying “Father and Son” for a much different use than typical Marvel Cinematic Universe needle drops.
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