This year’s Oscar race for Best Original Song is an exciting one, as tunes from Best Picture front-runner “La La Land” face off against tracks from the likes of “Moana,” “Hidden Figures,” “13th” and even “Sausage Party” for one of the five slots. The category was introduced at the 7th Academy Awards in 1934 and “The Continental,” a Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers duet from “The Gay Divorcee,” took home the first prize.
Let’s take a look back at the top 10 greatest winners in the 83-year history of the award. Be sure to sound off in the comments if your favorite is not among these or if you disagree with our rankings.
1. “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
One of the most timeless tunes to ever grace the airwaves and perhaps the greatest song ever featured in a motion picture, “Over the Rainbow” resonates today just as powerfully as it did upon its first release 77 years ago. With music and lyrics by the incomparable team of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, “Over the Rainbow” was ranked number one on the Recording Industry Association of America and National Endowment for the Arts’ list of “Songs of the 20th Century” and took the top spot on the American Film Institute’s 2004 list of “100 Years…100 Songs.” The tune has been covered countless times, perhaps most memorably by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole in 1993, but no one can top Judy Garland‘s truly unforgettable original.
2. “The Way You Look Tonight” from “Swing Time” (1936)
1936 Best Original Song marked an embarrassment of riches, with legendary standards like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from “Born to Dance” and Bing Crosby‘s title track for “Pennies from Heaven” among the nominees. It’s tough to knock the Academy’s selection, however – the delightful “The Way You Look Tonight,” performed by Astaire in “Swing Time,” one of his many screen vehicles alongside Rogers. He has rarely sounded more charming and the music and lyrics by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields are spot-on. Countless musicians have covered the tune, from the expected likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to more surprising artists such as ’80s English pop band Dexys Midnight Runners and Maroon 5.
3. “Streets of Philadelphia” from “Philadelphia” (1993)
Jonathan Demme‘s “Philadelphia,” the first mainstream, big-budget motion picture to address HIV/AIDS, is perhaps best-known today as the film that netted Tom Hanks the first of his two consecutive Best Actor Oscars (he prevailed the following year for “Forrest Gump”.) Just as extraordinary as Hanks’ performance, however, is the film’s soundtrack, headlined by “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen. One of his most stirring records to date, “Streets of Philadelphia” vividly captures the pain, heartbreak and sense of helplessness that countless men and women felt at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Springsteen would go on to win four Grammy Awards for the song, including Record of the Year.
4. “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile” (2002)
Prior to Eminem‘s victory at the 2002 Oscars, no hip-hop/rap song had even been nominated in Best Original Song. Such made it all the more amazing when he, alongside fellow “Lose Yourself” composers Jeff Bass and Luis Resto, managed to top the legendary likes of John Kander and Fred Ebb (nominated for “I Move On” from “Chicago”); Paul Simon (“Father and Daughter” from “The Wild Thornberrys Movie”); and U2 (“The Hands That Built America” from “Gangs of New York”) to Oscar glory. Arguably among the all-time greatest songs of its genre, not to mention one of the finest tunes of the 2000s, “Lose Yourself” is also an incredibly accessible piece of music – it had great appeal to even listeners who did not consider themselves fans of Eminem or hip-hop/rap. Eminem shattered something of a glass ceiling here, paving the way for future hip-hop/rap artists to garner nominations in Best Original Song.
5. “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
By 1956, Doris Day was hardly a stranger to Best Original Song. She’d made her first appearance in the category nearly a decade earlier, performing the nominated “It’s Magic” in her film debut, Michael Curtiz‘s “Romance on the High Seas” (1948). And she’d introduced the 1953 Best Original Song winner “Secret Love” in “Calamity Jane.” However, her most memorable appearance in the category was with the iconic “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” from Alfred Hitchcock‘s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” The catchy, exquisitely performed tune was composed by the songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who’d previously won Oscars for “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948) and “Mona Lisa” from “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” (1950). Day herself adored the tune so much, she used it as the theme song to her self-titled sitcom that ran from 1968 to 1973.
6. “Mona Lisa” from “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” (1950)
The World War II drama “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” may not have left a significant impression on moviegoers upon its release in 1950 but that did not stop “Mona Lisa,” composed for the Alan Ladd-headlined film, from becoming one of the all-time great standards. Sumptuously performed by Nat King Cole, the tune, which marked the second career Oscar victories for composing duo Livingston and Evans, topped the Billboard singles chart in 1950 and went on to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992. Covers over the years were performed by the likes of Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Willie Nelson, among others, and the song was featured prominently in the Oscar-nominated film “Mona Lisa” (1986).
7. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
In 1944, long before he would go on to write the music and lyrics and win Tony Awards for the legendary Broadway tuners “Guys and Dolls” (1950) and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1961), composer Frank Loesser penned a song that, over the decades to come, would emerge a classic standby during the holiday season. Initially, Loesser and wife Lynn Garland performed the duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” at showbiz parties in New York and Hollywood. Garland was none too happy when Loesser sold the song to MGM, for placement in the Esther Williams musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” but it was a move that resulted in sheer silver screen magic. As performed by Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, it is a charming delight.
8. “High Hopes” from “A Hole in the Head” (1959)
By 1959, Frank Sinatra had introduced half a dozen Best Original Song nominees with two picking up trophies – “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954) and “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957). The best Sinatra winner, however, was the third (and final) one, the irresistible “High Hopes” from Frank Capra‘s “A Hole in the Head.” A duet in the film between Sinatra and adorable child actor Eddie Hodges, the tune was so admired by then-U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy that he requested the song be slightly rewritten and used as the theme song to his 1960 presidential campaign. “High Hopes” was composed by the same duo of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that picked up Oscars for “All the Way” two years earlier.
9. “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968)
No composers were recognized more throughout the 1970s and 1980s than the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. To date, the duo has garnered 16 career Oscar nominations, scoring wins on three occasions – for “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair”; “The Way We Were” from “The Way We Were” (1973); and “Yentl” (1983) in the now-defunct category of Best Adapted Score. While the Bergmans shared their “The Way We Were” victory alongside Marvin Hamlisch, their “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Yentl” prizes were collaborations with French composer Michel Legrand. (Legrand also won Best Original Score Oscar for “Summer of ’42” (1971).) The Bergmans’ very first Oscar nomination came for “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the dazzling theme to the Steve McQueen–Faye Dunaway film that was later covered by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Dusty Springfield but first performed by Noel Harrison with an unusual vocal turn and bold musical arrangement that set the song apart.
10. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
This sleeper hit spent 16 weeks in the box office top 10. Beyond the winning chemistry of stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, integral to the picture’s smash success was its soundtrack, a compilation of oldies like The Ronettes‘ “Be My Baby” and new tracks like Swayze’s own “She’s Like the Wind.” Perhaps the most iconic part of the whole film, of course, is its grand finale, set to Oscar-winner “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life.” Composed by the trio of Frankie Previte, John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz and performed by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and Jennifer Warnes, the song represents the epitome of 1980s adult contemporary-pop, saxophone solo and all, and it’s tough not to fall head-over-heels for it, just as Gray’s Baby does to Swayze’s Johnny.
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