By Gail Rubin
Timeless music helps make a good movie great. The following “funeral films” all share a great range of memorable songs – and the death of a character as part of the plot. The links will take you directly to corresponding Amazon.com pages for the films and soundtracks.
The Big Chill (1983)
Probably one of the greatest collections of rock and roll and rhythm and blues songs in one film! College friends come together for the funeral of one of their peers who committed suicide.
Songs include The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” The Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
Harold and Maude (1971)
In this cult classic Harold, a young man bored with wealth but interested in death, and Maude, a wonderful old lady who can see nothing but good intentions in the world, meet while attending the funerals of people they don’t know. Her philosophy of life and death is instructive for us all.
It’s a sweet and unconventional love story with lots of songs by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf). Songs include “Where Do the Children Play?,” “On the Road to Find Out,” “Trouble,” “Miles from Nowhere,” “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” “I Think I See The Light” and “Tea for the Tillerman.”
This light romantic comedy provides insights into the clash of traditionalists who want to bury their dead and those who think cremation is the way to go. This being a comedy, all family conflict is forgiven by the end. It has a great soundtrack that ranges all over. Songs include The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You,” Tom Petty’s “I’m Learning to Fly,” Elton John ‘s “My Father’s Gun,” Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” (1854) and Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.”
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
This charming romantic comedy follows the lives of a group of friends in England. It features, as you might guess from the title, four weddings and one funeral. The soundtrack features Elton John singing “Crocodile Rock,” “Chapel of Love” and the Gershwins’ “But Not For Me.” Other tunes include Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and the classic “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
The Big Lebowski (1998)
In this cult classic comedy about bowling and other things, a team member dies and is cremated. One particularly instructive scene shows how NOT to give a eulogy and do ash scattering. The Big Lebowski soundtrack includes “Hotel California” performed by The Gipsy Kings, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Oye Como Va” by Santana and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles.
Specific Songs in a Funeral Film
“Suicide is Painless” became the theme song for the 1972 television program based on this award-winning comedy about life and death in a mobile hospital unit during the Korean War. The song was sung during “The Last Supper” scene for the dentist who doesn’t want to live after he finds he’s having trouble in the sack. He’s given a solemn send-off and takes a drug that he thinks will kill him, but it actually renews his will to live.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine is a comedy that’s not really a funeral film. It’s more about dealing with unexpected end-of-life issues. The whole family is taking a road trip with a deadline to get daughter Olive to California in time to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Grandpa, who helped Olive create her dance routine, dies of a heroin overdose en route to the competition. Rick James’ “Super Freak” is the tune for the hilarious climactic competition number.
Got any other funeral films with great tunes? Let me know your movie music bucket list!
Gail Rubin, “The Doyenne of Death,” is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is https://agoodgoodbye.com.