Classic Rock Songs Inspired by Movies We Love

Here are some classic rock songs inspired by movies we love. Some are obvious, and others you would never guess.

But first: We’re not talking about songs written for movies. We’re talking about times when an artist went to see a movie and was so inspired that the artist went home and wrote a great song.

OK? Let’s roll with this list of classic rock songs inspired by movies we love.

Bob Dylan — ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’ (1964)

Janet Leigh in Psycho. Paramount Pictures

This 1964 Dylan song overtly mentions La Dolce Vita, but pulls even more from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and even name checks its star and most famous scene:

There stood Rita, looking just like Tony Perkins / She said, “Would you like to take a shower? I’ll show you up to the door / I said, “Oh, no, no, I’ve been through this movie before”

David Bowie — ‘Space Oddity’ (1969)

2001. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“Space Oddity,” the story of a doomed astronaut named Major Tom, was inspired by the Stanley Kubrick epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, as Bowie recounted in the book David Bowie: Starman, by Paul Trynka.

“I went stoned out of my mind to see the movie and it really freaked me out, especially the trip passage,” Bowie recalled.

“Space Oddity” was rushed to radio stations in time to capitalize on the moon landing in July 1969. British television even used the song in its coverage of the historic event — because apparently none of the producers realized, at first, that the song was about an astronaut who becomes stranded.

Aerosmith — ‘Walk This Way’ (1975)

Teri Garr and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. 20th Century Studios

Mel Brooks’ 1974 hit Young Frankenstein was still playing in theaters through 1975, when members of Aerosmith saw it and borrowed one of the best jokes in the film for the title of their hit “Walk This Way,” as guitarist Joe Perry told The Wall Street Journal in 2014.

Brooks says in his memoir, All About Me!, that the joke was a throwback to one from vaudeville, and noted that he has re-used it several times.

Blue Oyster Cult — ‘Godzilla’ (1977)

Godzilla. Toho Credit: Toho

Do we really have to make a case for this one?

The lyrics include:

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound / He pulls the spitting high tension wires down /Helpless people on a subway train / Scream bug-eyed as he looks in on them / He picks up a bus and he throws it back down / As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town / Oh no, they say, he’s got to go /
Go go Godzilla, yeah / Oh no, there goes Tokyo /Go go Godzilla, yeah

Deep Purple — ‘Why Didn’t Rosemary’ (1969)

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. Paramount Pictures

Inspired by the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski and the 1967 novel of the same name by Ira Levin, this 1969 Deep Purple track ponders the fate of poor Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow, above), a woman impregnated with the child of the devil:

Why didn’t Rosemary ever take the pill? / Laying there waiting, waiting for the kill / Oh, man won’t do it but the devil will, yeah

Roxy Music — ‘2HB’ (1972)

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Warner Bros. Credit: Warner Bros.

Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry makes no secret of the Casablanca influence on this exquisite 1972 number, which shares initials with Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart and includes in its chorus the line “Here’s looking at you kid,” Bogart’s most famous line from the classic 1942 film.

The lyrics also, spoiler alert, give away Casablanca‘s ending:

Ideal love flies away now… / You gave her away to the hero

Rush — ‘Cinderella Man’ (1977)

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Columbia Pictures. Credit: Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Columbia Pictures.

This one’s charmingly obvious. The 1936 classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town stars Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds, a man from Mandrake Falls, Vermont who inherits $20 million and dreams of using it to help his fellow Americans through the Depresson. Cynical newspaper reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) dubs him “the Cinderella Man.”

And here are the opening lyrics of Rush’s “Cinderella Man”:

A modest man from Mandrake / Travelled rich to the city / He had a need to discover / A use for his newly found wealth / Because he was human, because he had goodness / ‘Cause he was moral they called him insane

Bonnie Tyler — ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart‘ (1983)

Nosferatu. Film Arts Guild. Credit: Fine Arts Guild

Written by Jim Steinman, this 1983 hit owes an overt debt to the 1922 F.W. Murnau silent vampire film Nosferatu, which was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and is one of the first vampire films.

“Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu,” Steinman told Playbill in 2014. “If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in the dark…”

The song ultimately did end up in a vampire musical, Dance of the Vampires, which had a short Broadway run in late 2002 and early 2003 and used “Total Eclipse of the Heart” a lot. Based on Roman Polanski’s 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers, Dance of the Vampires has since played all over the world.

Bruce Springsteen — ‘Nebraska’ (1982)

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands. Warner Bros. Credit: Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacey in Badlands. Warner Bros.

Springsteen has been very open about the fact that the “the soundscape for Nebraska really came from Badlands” — Terrence Malick’s film about a 15-year old girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek) who goes on a killing spree with Kit (Martin Sheen).

When Holly first appears in the film, she is expertly twirling a baton — just like the girl Springsteen describes at the start of his title track, “Nebraska”:

I saw her standing on her front lawn just twirling her baton /Me and her went for a ride, sir, and ten innocent people died / From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska, with a sawed-off .410 on my lap / Through to the badlands of Wyoming I killed everything in my path

In the movie, they go to the Badlands of Montana, not Wyoming. But close enough.

Bruce Springsteen — ‘Reason to Believe’ (1982)

Credit: Warner Bros.

The closing track of Nebraska, “Reason to Believe,” includes an image that is reminiscent of one of the opening images of Badlands, Kit standing over a dead dog at the side of an alley:

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog / By the highway in a ditch / He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled / Pokin’ that dog with a stick

Interestingly, the first single from Nebraska, “Atlantic City,” was initially called “A Fistful of Dollars,” like the Sergio Leone film starring Clint Eastwood. But “Atlantic City” isn’t on this list of songs inspired by movies because it’s based on real-life stories of organized crime, not the beloved Spaghetti Western. (Or the movie Atlantic City, for that matter.)

Metallica – ‘One’ (1988)

Donald Sutherland looking pretty metal in Johnny Got His Gun. Cinemation Industries Credit: Cinemation Industries

Metallica has written several great songs based on movies, but this is the band’s most obvious film tribute — and the greatest.

Released on 1988’s “…And Justice for All,” it draws inspiration from the 1971 Dalton Trumbo anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun, based on his 1938 album of the same name. The book and film are about a patriotic young man who goes off to war and returns home blind, deaf, and limbless — trapped with his dark, desperate thoughts. Metallica liberally excerpted the film in the stunning, utterly terrifying video for “One.”

The book and film were powerful enough, but in the lyrics for “One,” Metallica drilled home the horror of “Johnny Got His Gun” for another generation:

Darkness imprisoning me / All that I see /Absolute horror / I cannot live / I cannot die / Trapped in myself /
Body my holding cell / Landmine has taken my sight / Taken my speech / Taken my hearing / Taken my arms / Taken my legs / Taken my soul /Left me with life in hell

Guns N’ Roses – ‘Civil War’ (1990)

Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Warner Bros. Credit: Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Warner Bros.

Movies are a huge part of the Guns N Roses story, as lead guitarist Slash told us in a 2022 interview — the group has been richly influenced by movies, and many, many films have been improved by Guns N’ Roses songs.

But “Civil War,” a fascinating product of early ’90s hip-hop inspired sampling culture, is the only Guns N’ Roses song to outright borrow lines from a film. The song is about a lot of things — the murders of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, among them — but also about the hollow justifications for war. It opens with Strother Martin’s speech in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke:

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.”


Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein. 20th Century Studios Credit: 20th Century Fox

If you’re racing to the comments to say Metallica and Guns N Roses are too new to be classic rock — hey, we hear you, and it took adjusting for us, too. We were in junior high when these songs came out.

But we hope you at least agree that they’re instant classics, and so deserve their place on this list of classic rock songs inspired by movies we love.

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Behind the scenes of Blazing Saddles. Warner Bros.

You may also like this gallery of true stories about the making of Young Frankenstein, the inspiration for Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

Main image: Teri Garr in Young Frankstein. 20th Century Studios.