All’s Well That End’s Well: Bittersweet Music and End Credits


Great movies are often made even greater by way of a killer song to take us into the end credits. And vice-versa.

I’m listening to the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man” right now, a song which I always used to consider one of the filler tracks on Magical Mystery Tour. In fact, if the Beatles needed to cut one of the songs from the album, and they turned to me for advice, I would have told them to get rid of “Baby You’re a Rich Man.”

That was the old me. The me before I saw David Fincher’s pretty awesome The Social Network. Had a few little things that annoyed me, but overall I thought it was a well crafted film. And one of the important things I felt it did right was break into a poignant  rock song during the transition into end credits. Even if you weren’t completely sold on the movie, hearing “Baby You’re a Rich Man” creep up right there at the end is sure to leave you with some good vibrations, which will, in turn, convince you that you liked the movie more a little more than you actually did.

It’s a kind of gravity assist, and many movies make good use of it. Stand By Me breaks into its heartstring-tugging, feel-good song right as we’re about to break into credits. If you didn’t already love the movie before, now you’re convinced. How bout My Girl? Cute-but-mediocre film, yet as soon as the Temptations’ “My Girl” starts rolling right there before the end credits, you suddenly feel like you’ve just finished watching an oscar caliber picture.

I’m telling you, many movies do this and it always works to some degree. No, a well-placed classic rock gravity assist won’t fool you into thinking a terrible movie was, in fact, amazing; but it’ll probably lead you to believe that the movie sucked less than it actually did. As the credits roll and Otis Redding sings his heart out, you might turn to your friend and say, “Eh, it sucked, but it wasn’t the worst.”

Incidentally, the movie ending gravity assist doesn’t even have to be a song at all. It could be a surprising last-second revelation or a perfectly timed joke. It doesn’t have to be limited to the last few seconds of the movie either (though that’s your best bet). Think of the climactic lightsaber battle at the end of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Terrible terrible movie, but that lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and Obi Wan was so entertaining most people walked out of the theatre thinking they actually liked the whole movie! It took the general public a while to come to terms with how bad the film actually was.

Flip side of that is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which ended with a terrible CGI swirling vortex of aliens and disintegrating russians and crumbling waterfally mountains. Great images to remember the movie by as you exit the theater. Nobody needed a second viewing to realize that movie was HORRIBLE.

But let’s stick with end credits music. As a filmmaker you’d have to be an idiot to write and shoot and edit a whole movie, and then fail to take full advantage of the end credits gravity assist. Don’t just settle for lame Casio keyboard-sounding generic orchestral music. Spring some extra money and get a legit song in there! And it doesn’t even have to be classic rock, either. Just a legit piece of music that solicits some kind of bittersweet emotion.

And it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Use the right song as you fade to black and your audience will not only like your movie more, they’ll probably like that song more too. This was the case with “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” which has become my favorite song on Magical Mystery Tour. This would have been impossible if not for David Fincher. Clearly drawing on his experience as a director of music videos, he knew how and when to use the song. And to use that song and not another song.

I’m telling you, in the past I specifically went out of my way to not like “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” I thought it was stinking up the whole Magical Mystery Tour. But The Social Network sort of sent me a signal that it was okay to like that song. That song was cool now. David Fincher poured the Kool Aide and I drank hell out of it. Then I asked for more.

Now, quite fittingly, I will end this otherwise mediocre post with a kick-ass tune. I may just get Freshly Pressed.


What about you, Reader? Any favorite movie ending/song pairings?



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10 Responses to All’s Well That End’s Well: Bittersweet Music and End Credits

  1. Although I like a good movie, I don’t think I’m as much of a buff as you are. Music, on the other hand, now that I can relate to. There are not many Beatles songs that I dislike, but I would probably put ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ more into the filler category. Do you know about the ending chant and the ‘secret’ message to Brian Epstein?

  2. Doobster418 says:

    Fine post. I do usually stay through the credits at the end of a movie and I do notice whatever music is playing at the end. Did you ever see the movie Pitch Perfect? If not, you should. There’s a whole back story behind the music at the end of a movie, in this case, the movie is The Breakfast Club and how the song at the end of the movie perfectly sums up and wraps up the movie. Here’s a short clip from Pitch Perfect that sets it up. For some reason, the volume on the clip is very low, so turn up your speakers (after the brief commercial).

    • Bill Carson says:

      I’ve never seen Pitch Perfect, I’ll have to check it out! And you’re totally right about Breakfast Club. That’s a major example of impactful end credits music. It was a pretty great movie in the first place, but then “Don’t You Forget About Me” totally seals the deal.

      • Doobster418 says:

        You should check out Pitch Perfect, especially if you’ve ever done or enjoy a cappella. It’s a good, light, fun move with music at its core (and at the end).

  3. ginjuh says:

    Did you happen to watch the television show “Alphas?” We just finished watching it on Netflix. Anyway, the last episode (and it wasn’t meant to be last, it just didn’t get picked back up, which sucks, it was a cool show) ends with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York.” And I love that song. I wanted to find it corny, because in that scene the character is *literally* the only living person in Grand Central Station, but yeah, it was so satisfying. And I’m sorry if I spoiled the end of “Alphas” for anyone.

    • Bill Carson says:

      I never really saw that show but for a few snippets here and there, but Simon and Garf are never a bad idea for end credits music! Television shows, in general, often employ killer end-credit songs. Mad Men, in particular, ends quite a few episodes with legit music-fade-outs which must seriously hurt their episodes’ budgets, but are always worth it. One episode actually had the balls to break into a Beatles song as we faded to black.

      Pretty sure Dawson’s Creek-type shows do it all the time, too: musical montages that take us into the credits. I bet that’s more than half the reason people thought they liked Dawson’s Creek!

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