The Greatest Oscar-Winning Songs to Get Viewers Humming Along

Oscar-winning songs

Out of every category at the Oscars, Best Original Song consistently features more popular and mainstream films than other categories. Conversely, some films do not maintain this popularity, but the songs do, sometimes surpassing their origins exponentially.

From classic masterpieces to modern marvels, there’s no denying the impact of these Oscar-winning songs on the cultural zeitgeist.

1. “Over the Rainbow”- The Wizard of Oz (1939)

the wizard of oz
Image Credit: Loew’s Inc.

One of the most iconic and beautiful songs ever written, “Over the Rainbow,” almost didn’t make the final cut of The Wizard of Oz. That’s right, filmmakers thought the song slowed down the narrative and nearly deleted the tune. Thank goodness they came to their senses. The fact that it won an Oscar makes its possible deletion ironic and laughable.

With Judy Garland’s gorgeous and wistful vocals, the song expresses a longing for a place where troubles melt away “like lemon drops.” The song works beautifully in the film for Dorothy’s character arc, who dreams of such a place only to realize she’d had it all along. Outside the film, these lessons remain, but “Over the Rainbow” also proves an emblem of hope for people everywhere.

2. “When You Wish Upon a Star”- Pinocchio (1940)

Pinocchio Dickie Jones, Evelyn Venable
Image Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

Another emblematic song of hope won the Oscar a year after “Over the Rainbow.” “When You Wish Upon a Star” opens Pinocchio and serves as the film’s theme. The song features a gentle melody and profound, hopeful lyrics about the kindness of fate and the power of dreams.

As wholesome as they come, the music adds to the film’s emotional and poignant storytelling. Beyond Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon a Star” became the Walt Disney Company’s theme, making it one of the world’s most recognizable and universally beloved Oscar-winning songs ever.

3. “White Christmas”- Holiday Inn (1942)

holiday inn
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Many who know and love “White Christmas” may not realize the song’s origins. Some likely believe this Oscar-winning song originated in the film that shares its name, 1954’s White Christmas. Others do not even know this perennial holiday favorite comes from a movie. In truth, moviegoers first heard Bing Crosby sing the now iconic Christmas song in Holiday Inn.

While the film has not shared the same beloved status as the song over time, “White Christmas” became an instant hit and sold 50 million copies, still the best-selling single ever, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 1942, multiple artists have recorded “White Christmas,” making it one of the most well-known Oscar-winning songs in history.

4. “The Way You Look Tonight”- Swing Time (1936)

swing time
Image Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

Arguably, the most notable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, Swing Time, delights viewers with its toe-tapping numbers. It might surprise people that the Oscar win came with this ballad that features no dancing but rather a simple scene where Astaire sits at a piano and sings about his love for Rogers. Interestingly enough, “The Way You Look Tonight” has eclipsed the film in popularity and impact, with the most well-known version of the classic standard likely from Frank Sinatra.

5. “A Whole New World”- Aladdin (1992)

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Many Disney tunes have won the Best Original Song Oscar. While other films would rank higher than Aladdin, “A Whole New World” reigns as one of the most beautiful Oscar-winning songs in Disney and Academy Award history.

The duet features a lilting melody and vocals that slowly build and soar, mirroring the images and feelings of the characters. Likewise, the lovely lyrics showcase the elated and magical feeling of falling in love. Whether it’s the version heard during the film or the pop one that plays over the end credits, the beauty of “A Whole New World” will not fade.

6. “My Heart Will Go On”- Titanic (1997)

titanic scene
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Can anyone describe Titanic as anything other than a cultural phenomenon? Though many then and now balk at and criticize the film (a common occurrence for anything with the popularity of its magnitude), no one can deny the impact Titanic had on cinema. That significance includes Celine Dion’s powerful ballad “My Heart Will Go On.” Viewers first hear the melody throughout the film. Dion’s song plays over the credits, ending the movie on a high musical note that stays with the audience.

The song became a smash hit for the singer and helped the soundtrack sell 30 million albums. But such success does not guarantee a win, nor should it. Ignoring the juggernaut status of the film, the song itself features powerful vocals and gorgeous lyrics. Considering everything, an Oscar win will not surprise anyone, but it deserves the recognition.

7. “Moon River”- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

breakfast at tiffanys
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

When it comes to music, beautiful simplicity can wow moviegoers as much as lavish spectacle. In Breakfast At Tiffany’s, viewers first hear the instrumental version of “Moon River” in the opening scene. In the early morning hours, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly enjoys a breakfast pastry while peering inside the shop window of Tiffany’s- something that gives her peace. The song, therefore, becomes a symbol of her character’s search for something pure and meaningful.

The lyric version features a more relaxed, stripped-down tone, musically and character-wise. Sitting on a fire escape in comfortable clothes, Holly gently strums a guitar and sings about a “huckleberry friend “who’s after “the same rainbows.” As her neighbor Paul watches on, she transports the audience to that river along with her. Consequently, “Moon River” perfectly works in the film and also shines on its own.

8. “Into the West”- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

lord of the rings the return of the king
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Sweeping Oscar night in 2004, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won 11 Academy Awards, tying with Titanic and Ben-Hur for the most wins ever, triumphing in every one of its nominated categories.

Given the film franchise’s cultural status, “Into the West” winning Best Song did not surprise or disappoint fans of the film. No one should deny the song’s beauty, even without the movie’s impact. The profound lyrics and Annie Lennox’s transcendent vocals amaze anyone who listens. This soulful song about the bittersweet journey from one life to the next deserves every ounce of glory.

9. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”- Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze
Image Credit: Vestron Pictures.

Within the context of the film, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life “proves significant for the characters. It represents the end of Baby and Johnny’s dancing and romantic journey, but they do not shed tears. Instead, their song and dance showcase a celebration of everything they’ve gone through with no regrets.

The influence of this uplifting duet sung by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes has eclipsed far beyond the film to dance partners everywhere who long to try their own epic Swayze/Grey lift into the air.

10. “Shallow”- A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Powerful and poetic, “Shallow” rivals many Oscar-winning songs synonymous with its film’s status. However, those who’ve never seen A Star is Born have heard “Shallow.” In the movie, the moment catapults Lady Gaga’s Ally into the spotlight as she joins Bradley Cooper’s Jackson on stage. Their harmonies, combined with her rich vocals, create a powerhouse cinematic moment and a song that will live on far beyond the film.

11. “Let It Go”- Frozen (2014)

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Love it or hate it, “Let It Go” demonstrates the power of music within the context of a film and beyond. The undeniably clever and catchy lyrics, stunning animation, and Idina Menzel’s exceptional voice create a superb and unforgettable movie moment.

This moment also inspired millions of children (and some adults), as seen in the countless videos of singing and lip-syncing to the song with the same enthusiasm as Elsa. No matter what some think about mainstream media, “Let It Go” showcases how tremendous popularity and quality can go hand in hand.

12. “Falling Slowly”- Once (2007)

Image Credit: Buena Vista International.

The lovely indie film Once has its niche of admirers, especially since its Broadway adaptation opened the door for more recognition. But a film’s reach does not determine the quality of its elements, including music. “Falling Slowly” connects two lonely souls, the lyrics portraying the scary, hopeful, and mysterious nature of slowly falling in love.

People say all the songs suddenly make sense when you fall in love. “Falling Slowly” expresses those feelings through a song about how everyone starts as strangers but can eventually become the most important person in someone’s life.

13. “Beauty and the Beast”- Beauty and the Beast (1991)

beauty and the beast
Image Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

A pinnacle for the company, the Disney Renaissance reaches a zenith with Beauty and the Beast. In this film, every song amazes audiences. Truthfully, any one of the three nominated songs (which also included “Belle” and “Be Our Guest”) could have won the Oscar. “The loveliest and most emblematic song from the film, there’s a romantic purity to “Beauty and the Beast,” thanks to the delicate melody and Angela Lansbury’s sweet, heartwarming voice.

Notably, Lansbury recorded the song in one take, which alone makes the song award-worthy. Audiences feel comforted by one of the best Oscar winners of the decade.

14. “Under the Sea”- The Little Mermaid (1989)

the little mermaid
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

Though “Beauty and the Beast” represents a peak for the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman Disney collaboration, The Little Mermaid paved the way and swan into the audience’s hearts. Although many fans feel “Part of Your World” should have won, “Under the Sea” remains a spectacular piece of artistry.

The calypso-inspired instrumentation, infectious melody, and clever lyrics demonstrate the talents of these two men, especially as a songwriting team. How many writers could come up with “Each little snail here knows how to wail here. That’s why it’s hotter under the water?” The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” proves to be one the happiest and most smile-inducing Oscar-winning songs of the illustrious award.

15. “Take My Breath Away”- Top Gun (1986)

top gun
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Few Oscar-winning songs can match their titles in feeling. The 1980s had a penchant for including power ballads in movies of all genres. Top Gun may be a high-octane action drama, but a love story grounds the film.

This incredible song enhances the love scene where it features prominently, but the music stays with viewers lingering long after the credits roll. One of the decade’s finest Original Song winners, Berlin’s heavily synthesized instrumentation and rich vocal stylings sound undeniably 80s but continue to leave listeners breathless.

16. “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”- Mary Poppins (1964)

mary poppins song
Image Credit: Buena Vista Distribution Company.

In Disney’s most awarded film, this Mary Poppins song charmed audiences everywhere, including Academy Award voters. The indisputable and obvious winner for the year, “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee,” captures the essence of the film’s heart, fun, and whimsy, describing the luck of a chimney sweep.

Though some may think it a lowly, poor trade, with another perspective and positive way of thinking, a sweep gets to see a breathtaking part of the world- between pavement and stars on the rooftops of London. Mary Poppins deserved every award, and this song proves no different.

17. “You’ll Be In My Heart”- Tarzan (1999)

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Originally written as a lullaby for his daughter, Phil Collins breathed new life into this song as part of the Tarzan soundtrack. His distinctive, robust voice provides a singular sound for the film. Each song soars, but “You’ll Be in My Heart” gives Tarzan its gentle heartbeat and provides moviegoers with another beautiful, poignant Disney song to sing along with for years to come.

18. “All the Way”- The Joker Is Wild (1957)

the joker is wild
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The best example of an Oscar-winning song eclipsing its original film would be “All the Way” from The Joker is Wild. This film’s notoriety has faded considerably over the years, even for fans of Frank Sinatra’s film career. On the other hand, “All the Way” became a signature song for Sinatra. As one of his most memorable ballads, its Oscar status may be surprising, but the fact that it won should not be.

19. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

butch cassidy and the sundance kid
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

A film with both lighthearted and dark themes and scenes, Burt Bacharach’s dreamy “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” provides a reprieve for the characters and the audience.

The lyrics express hope for a bright, happy future despite the falling raindrops. It works splendidly within the film’s narrative. The clear winner for its year, no other nominated song has remained in the cultural consciousness the same way.

20. “Colors of the Wind”- Pocahontas (1995)

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Though opinions on Pocahontas as a film vary, most moviegoers would agree on the superb quality of the music. The supreme beauty of “Colors of the Wind” can echoes with the messages about nature and humanity.

In the song, Pocahontas imparts wisdom onto John Smith (or people like him), who believes the “earth is just a dead thing” and that the only real people are ones who “look and think like you.” Acceptance of others without judgment and respecting nature remain relevant in today’s society, making “Colors of the Wind” one of the most meaningful Oscar winners.

21. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”- The Lion King (1994)

the lion king 1
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

If “Circle of Life” had won the Oscar from The Lion King, ranking this film’s entry would deserve a higher spot. That being said, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” remains Oscar-worthy amongst that year’s other nominees from Junior and The Paper.

The song’s strengths lie in the variety of singers and Elton John’s memorable melody. Timon and Pumba bookend the tune, lamenting the “loss of their pal.” Simba and Nala’s inner thoughts of confusion, insecurity, and burgeoning feelings provide the song’s center. Ultimately, the chorus elevates the song to its deep, romantic vibrancy.

22. “The Way We Were”- The Way We Were (1973)

the way we were
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Sad, nostalgic love songs dominated the 1970s, especially in cinema, none better than “The Way We Were.” Barbara Streisand’s velvety voice creates a stunning musical experience, but the poignant lyrics take the song to another level. Mirroring Katie and Hubbell’s (Streisand and Robert Redford) story, the song speaks of the memories of a past love that so many viewers can relate to.

As time passes, people tend to become nostalgic for past relationships. They will remember the happy times not regretfully but with acknowledgment of a significant moment. Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch so beautifully capture these feelings, how could it not earn a Best Original Song win?

23. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”- Neptune’s Daughter (1949)

neptunes daughter
Image Credit: Loew’s Inc.

So many of those who unfairly malign “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” do not know the song’s origins or that it won an Academy Award. Context matters; if those critics knew where the tune originated, they would likely feel differently. Much like “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” became a Christmas staple despite having nothing to do with the holiday or winter season.

In Neptune’s Daughter, two couples sing this song, not wanting their love interest to leave. Ricardo Montalban tries to woo Esther Williams, while Betty Garrett attempts to stop Red Skelton from departing, showcasing both genders in a more dominant role. However, no genuine dominance exists. The flirtatious lyrics mirror their feelings, with the idea that “it’s cold outside” as a factious indicator of their intentions. The film takes place during the summer, so every excuse and protest merely acts as a mask for their true feelings.

Analysis aside, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” also remains a delightful and charming song that deserves its win.

24. “Secret Love”- Calamity Jane (1953)

calamity jane 1
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

One of Doris Day’s favorite films also gave her one of her loveliest and most popular songs. In Calamity Jane, the title character sings about a love so secret, even she does not know about it.

That relatable notion of being the last person to realize one’s feelings, combined with Day’s stunning, lilting voice, creates an enchanting musical moment. Despite the film’s waning popularity, “Secret Love” still manages to move and charm listeners, either from the original Oscar-winning version or numerous beautiful covers such as Mandy Moore’s stunning rendition.

25. “City of Stars”- La La Land (2016)

la la land
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

Some songs capture a particular essence, feeling more like a painting, sunset, or abstract state of being than a piece of music. “City of Stars” transports the audience to a dreamy, hazy world thanks to its gentle use of piano, whistling, and tender vocals from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The serenity of the melody, rhythm, and lyrics resulted in Oscar’s most peaceful winner. While not La La Land’s strongest song, “City of Stars” still stands out amongst the crowd.

26. “Remember Me”- Coco (2017)

Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Distribution.

A masterful and authentic film, Coco’s virtues do not only include its animation, storytelling, and cultural representation. The music plays a significant role in the movie, with the truth of “Remember Me’s” origins as a central plot point.

Something that important requires a song of the highest caliber, and “Remember Me” lives up to the task. Heard multiple times throughout the movie, what astonishes viewers stems from the song’s ability to inspire different emotions. In one moment, the music feels romantic and robust. At the same time, in another, it sounds nostalgic and heartfelt, eliciting cheers and tears.

27. “Lose Yourself”- 8 Mile (2002)

8 mile
Image Credit: Eli Reed and Universal Pictures.

Far from the typical Oscar-winning fare, “Lose Yourself’s” win proves that Academy voters can recognize quality in all forms of music. The song acts as a theme for 8 Mile’s protagonist, Jimmy, a Detroit rapper trying to make a name for himself. Straightforward and effective, “Lose Yourself” stands out as the best of the few similar Oscar-winning songs.

28. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)”- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

the man who knew too much
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

One of Doris Day’s most famous songs, audiences hear “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” twice in The Man Who Knew Too Much. In the first moment, Day’s character happily sings it to her son, leading viewers to think its inclusion merely gives the performer a chance to sing- a common practice in filmmaking.

However, at the film’s climax the song serves a significant purpose when it alerts their kidnapped song who whistles in response. Therefore, the song becomes more than a trite interlude. Beyond the film, “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” remains a light and breezy tune and one of the finest wins in Academy history.

Author: Marianne Paluso

Title: Writer

Expertise: Entertainment, Travel, Books


Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disney bound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.