My Heart Will Go On — But Not For These 9 Other Unbearable Theme Songs

Kate Winslet broke a PR commandment earlier this week while promoting the release of Titanic 3D: She dismissed the movie's Oscar-winning theme song, claiming that Celine Dion's overplayed ballad "My Heart Will Go On" makes her "feel like throwing up." Citing the inescapability of fans serenading her with the massive hit wherever she goes, Winslet's sentiments are understandable. Frankly, I heard that song enough times 15 years ago to never hear it again, no matter how riveting and powerful Dion's vocals are. To say that song never once gave you chills is probably a lie. But be that as it may, the song hasn't given anyone chills since post-Oscars April 1998, when we'd all had just about enough of it. All we have left for it now is just a reflexive groan of antipathy.

When it comes to much maligned movie theme songs inducing cringing during the end credits, we're generally more than familiar with such usual suspects as Bette Midler and Bryan Adams. As such, consider this alternative list of nine musical offenders whose disastrous contributions to soundtracks deserve "a massive internal eye roll" from Kate Winslet — or anyone else with discerning musical taste.

9. "Too Close to Paradise" by Sylvester Stallone, Paradise Alley
Sylvester Stallone set out in 1978 to become a quadruple threat: After his success with Rocky in 1976, Stallone wrote, directed, and starred in the period film Paradise Alley about blue-collar brothers who turn to professional wrestling to make something of themselves in New York. Stallone also sang the theme song, "Too Close to Paradise," and thus accomplished his goal — in that this little Neil Diamond-like ditty was a threatening assault upon the ears.

Most nauseating: All of it.

8. "Batdance" by Prince, Batman
In 2004, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost approved Prince’s Batman soundtrack for use as a weapon against zombies, because what other use can you get out of it? Although “Partyman” is a true musical highlight, Prince’s most offensive contribution to the album is the “Batdance” track, which blends house music with a funked-up version of the 1966 Batman theme. Ultimately a mash-up of several existing pieces of music written for the soundtrack, the “song” is 90 percent movie dialogue samples — including Jack Nicholson exclaiming that “this town needs an enema” and Kim Basinger repeating her character’s name, “Vicky Vale.” Inexplicably, this messy hodgepodge of music styles and Joker one-liners made it to number one in the U.S in 1989.

Most nauseating lyric: The repeated 1966-style chant of “Bat-maaaan” throughout.

7. "The Morning After" by Maureen McGovern, The Poseidon Adventure
On first listen, this Oscar-winning theme strikes tedious, AMPAS-approved notes of inspiration and hope that match the film’s messages of perseverance and communal survival aboard a foundering cruise liner. On second listen, McGovern’s schmaltzy folk vocals help distinguish the song as a true product of its time, with possible subtextual reflections on the Vietnam War and the political upheaval of the times. On third listen, the repetitive lyrics set your mind adrift and thinking about the morning-after pill. On fourth listen, you suspect Amnesty International opposes this song for its usefulness as a form of torture.

Most nauseating lyric: “It's not too late, we should be giving / Only with love can we climb”

6. "Brothers" by Patrick Swayze and Larry Gatlin, Next of Kin
Patrick Swayze always got a lot of flak for having the time of his life with Jennifer Grey and suggesting "she's like the wind" in the power ballad of the same name on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. But that's hardly a misdemeanor compared to Swayze's collaboration with Larry Gatlin on the 1989 country-styled song "Brothers" featured in Next of Kin. Liam Neeson, one of Swayze's kin in the film, was into punching things early in his career just as much as he is today, but it's a shame he didn't knock some sense into Swayze to avoid such a syrupy theme as "Brothers."

Most nauseating lyric: "No one will ever keep us from standing / Shoulder to shoulder against all others"

5. "Will You Be There" by Michael Jackson, Free Willy
It’s a dreadful fact that I was born in 1988, and was thus eventually introduced to the King of Pop late through the bombastic, toothless theme song to Free Willy. Early memories of the “Will You Be There” music video on MTV amount to flashes of Jackson’s outstretched arms with his white shirt billowing grandly behind him in the breeze onstage. Gaudy stuff. Jackson preaches a positive message about cooperation and compassion, and needs a full choir to do so, but the song is undone by a lyrical hollowness that doesn’t come close to matching the emotional oomph of the song's instrumentals.

Most nauseating lyric: "Hold me / Like the river Jordan"

4. "The Neverending Story" by Limahl and Beth Anderson with Kajagoogoo, The Neverending Story
This classic movie theme, positively dripping with 1980s guitar, electro-pop and androgynous vocals from Kajagoogoo lead Limahl, is equal parts whimsy and monotony. More reminiscent of an obnoxious children’s television theme song than a sweeping soundtrack single, "The Neverending Story" is a form of parental torture.

Most nauseating lyric: "And there upon the rainbow is the answer / To a neverending story"

3. "Can't Fight the Moonlight" by LeAnn Rimes, Coyote Ugly
You know when you're drunk and you hear a song — or maybe you're just young and impressionable — and you hear a song, and you think, "Yeah, that's catchy, I like that"? And then years later when you're sober and/or older and you have better taste in music, you hear that same song again, and suddenly you're embarrassed you ever liked it? Well, that's what I call "coyote ugly": In 2000, LeAnn Rimes needed a poppier single to cross over from gospel and country into the mainstream, so she recorded this movie single penned by the reliably mainstream Diane Warren (writer of the odious Armageddon theme "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and multiple other pop hits). Most surprisingly, "Can't Fight the Moonlight" has never been repackaged for a werewolf movie.

Most nauseating lyric: "Deep in the dark / You'll surrender your heart." (This is code for sex, kids.)

2. "Die Another Day" by Madonna, Die Another Day
There is writing a good song, and writing a good James Bond song, and Madonna failed at both tasks with this unmemorable electronic club remix masquerading as a Bond theme. Maybe Madonna thought she was making an innovative creative statement by bucking the system and writing a flat tune without any tangible thematic relation to the film it's based on, but we all know Madonna hasn't been associated with innovation in quite a while. Madonna's disjointed auto-tuned vocals with bondage-y undertones and lack of storytelling in the chorus and verse writing make for a lifeless theme too restricted to a musical style of the time.

Most nauseating lyric: The words "another day" repeated 27 times in absence of an actual melody hook.

1. "Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" by Britney Spears, Crossroads
Since Spears's long-forgotten and misguided 2002 starring vehicle Crossroads, the singer has recovered from a notorious nervous breakdown, hospitalization and baldness to reign as queen of the dance remixes. But long before she started auto-tuning the hell out of her vocal cords, Spears was a confused 21-year-old struggling with the same existential question every female asks: At what point do we stop being a girl and become a woman? For Spears, we're thinking somewhere closer to 2009.

Most nauseating lyric: "All I need is time / A moment that is mine / While I'm in between"
Most truthful lyric: "But now I know / Life doesn't always go my way, yeah..."

Michelle Welch is a freelance writer who has also contributed at The A.V. Club and PopMatters. She tweets her pop culture ramblings as @stayfrostymw.


  • Jen Yamato says:

    Crossroads, "long forgotten?!"


    Good work, though let's agree to disagree on Batdance. And I'd better not say how many of these songs I've sung at karaoke. 🙂

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Now I have "Neverending Story" stuck in my head. And I didn't even play the song!


      • Hey--having that "Neverending Story" thing stuck in your
        head, do you have visions of the Flying Hairy Wienerdog,
        too? Ghastly stuff.
        KRIS the KLINGON

      • Mike Ryan says:

        I will admit, I love the theme to The Neverending Story. Anytime that song plays, Artax still lives -- at least in our hearts.

        • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

          Artax lives in my colon with the rest of the utterly undigestable parasites of yore.

  • ILDC says:

    "I See You" was one of the few things in Avatar that failed to "top" Titanic.

    • KevyB says:

      I'd replace Morning After with that any day of the week! But the only time we've ever heard that song was at the end of Avatar, so we've been saved!

  • martiniShark says:

    I offer up the bends-inducing, milk-curdling "rap" theme that is DRAGNET: CITY OF CRIME. This mines depths that the producers of "Super Bowl Shuffle" knew better than to explore. Tom Hanks mugging while shrieking his caucasian dope-rhymes is so repellent I defy anyone to watch it to the end.

  • SD says:

    In the UK Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It for You from Robin Hood spent 16 weeks at #1 and Wet Wet Wet's Love is All Around from Four Weddings spent 15 weeks at #1.

    With their absence from your list I can only hope you were spared a similar agony.

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Dammit, I love that Bryan Adams song. That and the love song from Don Juan DeMarco. And the Rod Stewart/Adams/Sting song from Three Musketeers.

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Re: Frankly, I heard that song enough times 15 years ago to never hear it again, no matter how riveting and powerful Dion's vocals are. To say that song never once gave you chills is probably a lie.

    I gather we can infer from this that it once gave you chills, affected you deeply; still, it's strange this refering to yourself first-hand and then perhaps even a chance, not at all, when you subsequently brought on the heat.

    All we'll remember from this article is that rather than redeeming that earlier self and distinguishing yourself from errant, errroneous Winslet, you've given the appearance at least of going all in with the jackals.

  • dukeroberts says:

    I like The Neverending Story theme. I also kind of like "Die Another Day", but I am a Bond apologist, so you might want to excuse me on that one. I also still like "Everything I Do". Okay, I like Bryan Adams. Shoot me. Where can I get the Stallone song on 8-track?

  • Max Renn says:

    I apologize for contributing to the 1989 Batman soundtrack's success. I bought the cassingle of 'Bat-dance' after getting caught up in the hype and frenzy at the time.

  • Daniel Montgomery says:

    You must really be fond of Prince to rrank him so generously. The worst you can accuse Madonna, Britney, and LeAnn of is mediocrity, but "Batdance" ascends to an entirely different level of heinousness.

  • Michelle Welch says:

    Ooh, I should mention I wasn't really thinking in terms of ranking when I put these together. It's more of a random list of awful. Though, if I had to choose, Stallone's is just unforgivable in every way. Jinkies.

    Also, as I mentioned in the intro, I wanted to ignore the usual suspects that tend to pop up on these lists. Everybody thinks of Steven Tyler and Bryan Adams when thinking of memorably corny movie themes. I wanted to draw attention to some less considered ones.

    And if I were writing a list with more than nine items, that Dragnet rap would have appeared for sure. It explains Chet Haze in so many ways.

  • N says:

    I was born in 1988, and agree with most of the songs and their positions on the list, except Neverending story should be higher and bryan adams should be on the list, both 'all for love' and 'everything i do' are awful.

    Furthermore, 'Can't fight the Moonlight' isn't that bad comparable to the other crap that was floating around in 2000 or are you forgetting 'the thong song' and 'who let the dogs out?' compared to that and other songs of the year 'Can't fight the moonlight' is a gem albeit not a very valuable one

    for a movie song it's bad but the number 3 spot was a bit excessive.

  • Bib Fortuna says:

    This list means absolutely nothing without an appearance by El Debarge with Who's Johnny from Short Circuit.

  • Remy says:

    The dreadful "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun may be my least favorite song of all time.

    "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is genius.

  • MaryAnn says:

    Well, I was just nauseated seeing three of my favorite songs of all time -- "My Heart Will Go On," "The Morning After," and "Neverending Story" on this list. Considering I'm not familiar with the others, maybe I should check them out to see if there are more I can add to my favorites. But what I will definitely be doing is skipping any more lists from this author.