Images from 'Bottoms,' 'Our Flag Means Death,' 'Saltburn,' and 'TMNT: Mutant Mayhem' for a needle drop.

The 16 Best Needle Drops of 2023

Whether it’s an upbeat pop song or an introspective ballad, the right needle drop can turn a good scene into an unforgettable one. We’re big fans of needle drops here at The Mary Sue, so we’ve compiled some of our favorites from 2023.

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Some of these songs are from TV episodes, while others can be found in films. A few films and shows ended up with multiple entries, but we can’t help it if some stories have especially great soundtracks! All of these songs were chosen not just because they’re good on their own (although they are), but because they’re the perfect choice for the scene they accompany.

One quick warning: the blurbs accompanying our picks may contain spoilers for the films and shows they appear in. Proceed at your own risk!

Here are the 16 best needle drops of 2023!

“Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos (Yellowjackets season 2, episode 1)

Lottie, Shauna, and Taissa stand in the snow, looking distraught.
(Showtime)

Yellowjackets season 2 is all about betrayal, and Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,” which plays at the end of the season 2 premiere, sets the tone. The song comes from a cereal-based analogy that Amos and her friends came up with: Girls who betray you are as common as cornflakes, while true friends are as rare as raisins. It’s a fantastic song in its own right—one of Amos’ best—but to hear it playing while Shauna takes her first bite of Jackie’s body? Perfection. (Julia Glassman)

“Eye Know” by De La Soul feat. Otis Redding (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as little turtle babies next to an younger Splinter all eating pizza.
(Paramount)

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is filled to the brim with a head-boppin’ soundtrack and score, so much so that when we got into the car after watching the film, we played the soundtrack on the way home.

However, if I had to pick a single moment in the movie worthy of this list, it would be De La Soul’s “Eye Know” featuring Otis Redding (followed closely by this fight scene). The flashback scene begins with a literal needle drop as a Jheri-curled up Splinter puts on a record. Set to the throwback song layering decades of musical styles, the scene features a montage of Splinter’s early days with the turtles as little babies—who, by the way, look like little adorable misshapen nuggets in style with the movie.

“Eye Know” is about love and filled with pop culture references—like the TMNT! Like many other elements of the movie, the song is Black as hell and I love that. (Alyssa Shotwell)

“This Women’s Work” by Kate Bush (Our Flag Means Death season 2, episode 3)

Ed and Stede in the ocean together
(Max)

Hearing “This Woman’s Work” in a show like Our Flag Means Death isn’t surprising. The show loves to mix contemporary music with its time period, but the song is so moving because of the mix of the storyline with Stede and Ed. Did I expect to be sobbing over a mermaid version of Rhys Darby swimming towards Taika Waititi as the song was playing in 2023? Absolutely not, but it is what makes this needle drop so special to me and such a moving addition to the catalog of song moments in the year. (Rachel Leishman)

“Memory” from the musical Cats sung by Barbra Streisand (The Marvels)

Goose the Flerken and her kittens in The Marvels
(Walt Disney Pictures Studio)

Flerkens, aliens who look like standard Earth cats, play a big part in The Marvels, much to the delight of anyone who watches the movie. During a scene where the PEAK space station is in danger, flerken kittens overwhelm the station to try to save the people there. Saving people means the flerkens must unfurl their tentacles and “eat” the space station crew.

As everyone runs screaming from the flerkens, the song “Memory” from Cats plays. In Cats, it is a poignant and emotional ballad. Like Grizabella, the cat who sings the song, these flerkens are just looking for acceptance. It’s so beautiful and hilarious. (D.R. Medlen)

“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)

Rocket Raccoon talks to someone off camera in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is weightier than its two predecessors, with Rocket Raccoon finally confronting his traumatic past, and the team breaking up at the end. In the final scene, Rocket flips through decade-themed playlists on Peter’s Zune until he gets to the aughts, and then starts a dance party set to “Dog Days are Over.” The dance scene is a lovely, cheesy, uplifting way to close out the trilogy. It’s thematically appropriate, too, since the series marks time with musical eras: the ’70s for the first two films, a bit of ’90s for the third, and the 2000s for whatever the future might hold for our favorite space misfits. (J.G.)

“Complicated” by Avril Lavigne (Bottoms)

Main of the main characters of 'Bottoms' in their class.
(MGM)

Bottoms is a dark comedy that plays with many of the tropes found in ’90s and ’00s teen flicks and romantic comedies. So, nearly all its songs came from the Y2K era or earlier.

Near the end of Bottoms, there’s a moment where everyone is mad at the main two characters for conning them. Here, Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg choose the most angsty teenage song to back the scene—“Complicated” by Avril Lavigne. When this song came on in the theater I laughed out loud, because it was so silly in the best way. Still, the song’s use didn’t ruin the gravity of the situation. As someone who has a CD of this album (and the terrible one that came after it), I’m a big fan and totally biased. (A.S.)

“The Great Pretender” by Freddie Mercury (Fellow Travelers season 1, episode 3)

Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey stand closely in 'Fellow Travelers.'
(Showtime)

Sometimes a song and a fictional character fit so well together, that it is like they were made for each other. That is the case with “The Great Pretender” by Freddie Mercury and Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller (Matt Bomer) of Fellow Travelers. The song by Freddie Mercury is a cover of the original from the 1950s about a person who pretends to be okay after their lover leaves them.

When Mercury sang it, the song took on a new meaning about how he pretends to be someone he isn’t while on stage and to most of the world. That idea perfectly sums up Hawkins. The song plays while Hawkins lies about being a closeted gay man while getting an AIDS test. He pretends everything is fine, even if he’s dying inside without the man he loves. (D.R.M.)

“Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt (The Last of Us season 1, episode 3)

Bill and Frank pick strawberries in The Last of Us
(Max)

Oh, Bill and Frank. Although they’re only featured in one episode of The Last of Us, their post-apocalyptic romance is one of the most moving love stories of 2023. When they first meet, Bill plays Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” on the piano, and when Joel and Ellie take Bill’s truck at the end, they find the song queued up in the tape player. The song speaks to both Bill and Frank’s romance, and Joel and Ellie’s need for companionship in a hostile world. That last shot of the episode, with the curtain fluttering after them, feels like Bill and Frank giving the duo their blessing. (J.G.)

“I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton (Priscilla)

Priscilla driving out of Graceland in 'Priscilla.'
(A24)

Director Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, based on Priscilla Presley’s memoir, is a lot like her first historical coming-of-age story, Marie Antoinette. This includes the anachronistic but fun soundtrack. The best use of music, however, comes at the end of the film, with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” playing over Priscilla driving away from Graceland and leaving Elvis.

By a slim margin, I prefer Whitney Houston’s version, but Dolly’s worked so well here. It’s more somber and bittersweet. Parton’s performance perfectly punctuated that chapter of Priscilla’s life. After watching the movie, I’ve come to learn more about the song and its relationship to the pair. The history around the song makes it one of the best needle drops of the decade. (A.S.)

“Last Resort” by Papa Roach (Yellowjackets season 2, episode 1)

Jeff in yellowjackets
(Showtime)

Yellowjackets has the best soundtrack on television, hands down. But one song fits its scene so well that I can’t get it out of my head. When Jeff realizes the extent of what his wife Shauna has been doing, added to his own borderline illegal activities, he reaches a point where he can’t take anymore. This dude needs to get the rage out. He sits in his car and puts on a song.

When the first line of “Last Resort” by Papa Roach blasts over his speakers, he goes into full rock-out mode. This song is evocative of a certain period in the early 2000s. It’s nu-metal, it’s full of rage, and it’s now considered millennial dad rock. As an elder millennial and a metal fanatic, I can say this song perfectly summed up the angst of the time. We see you, Jeff, and we understand you. (D.R.M)

“Light the City Up” by Cut the Lights (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse)

Miles Morales falls through New York in promotional art for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

With the Spider-Verse movies, we have come to expect an absolutely incredible moment with the soundtrack. Luckily, Across the Spider-Verse did not disappoint! In the latest installment of the world of Spider-Man, we get to see as Miles Morales run from most of his fellow Spider friends in the Spider-Verse with an impressive needle drop using Cut the Lights’ song “Light the City Up.” It’s tense, fun, and one of the most iconic scenes in the entire movie, all made that much better by “Light the City Up!” (R.L.)

“Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” by Velvet Underground (Loki season 2, episode 5)

Sylvie stares at the camera in a dimly lit room in Loki season 2.
(Disney+)

One of the most powerful moments in Loki season 2 is in episode 5, when Sylvie tells Loki she’s not going to help him get his friends back. As she’s flipping through the bins at a local record store, the shop owner, Lyle, hands her Velvet Underground’s Loaded.

“Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” is a rich song with lots of possible interpretations, and it works on multiple levels in Loki. As Sylvie’s timeline disintegrates around her, she’s literally left with nothing, but the song also hints at her deeper loneliness. Plus, the timing of the song is interesting: she’s living in 1982, but the album came out in 1970. The fact that Lyle correctly guesses that she’s never heard the song before reinforces her outsider status. (J.G.)

“Murder on the Dancefloor” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Saltburn)

(Amazon MGM)

Saltburn, set in the early-mid 2000s, features all manner of iconic needle drops, including “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers and a particularly cruel karaoke surprise using The Pet Shop Boys’ “Rent.” But far and away the film’s most memorable needle drop is its last one—and it adds the perfect punch to a jaw-dropping reveal.

As it turns out, Oliver didn’t just happen to strike up a friendship with one of Oxford’s wealthiest students—he meticulously stalked Felix and planned a grandiose scheme to take out his family members one-by-one, with Oliver there to collect the inheritance when all is said and done. Successful at long last, Saltburn ends with a naked Oliver dancing through the Saltburn estate (which is now legally his) to “Murder on the Dancefloor.” It’s a quintessential early 2000s britpop anthem that doesn’t just match the time period, but cheekily references the film’s twist ending—and makes for one hell of a toe-tapping finale. (Lauren Coates)

“Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion (Dumb Money)

Sony

Set in the not-too-distant past of early 2021 (smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic) Dumb Money follows the bizarre true story of the GamesStop short squeeze—a financial upset that saw Redditors banding together to cost hedge fund managers millions by rallying the masses and investing in the penny stock GameStop.

Though the soundtrack is full of modern hip hop tracks like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” it’s Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” that’s the most memorable track. The film uses the bouncy, unapologetic track as a symbolic rallying cry for the protagonists, cranking the tune whenever the “little guy” gets one over on the rich and powerful. Combined with the fact that the “Savage” TikTok trend (which features in the film) was in its heyday when Dumb Money takes place, the song makes for the perfect recurring gag. (L.C.)

“Creep” by Radiohead (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)

Baby Rocket in 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3'
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

The soundtracks for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies are always beyond perfect. Yet “Creep” by Radiohead seemed extra special. In the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, our beloved Rocket Raccoon feels out of place and apart from everyone else. So, he does what any angsty teen from the 1990s would, and puts on “Creep.” The song is an anthem for anyone who has felt like they don’t belong and longs to be part of something bigger than themselves. It sets the tone for Rocket’s mental state and his journey throughout the rest of the movie. (D.R.M)

“What Was I Made For” by Billie Eilish (Barbie)

Margot Robbie smiles, dressed as Cowgirl Barbie.
(Warner Bros.)

Barbie taking her first breath as a woman as Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For” is playing will never not make me cry. Many women still wonder what we are made for, what we’re here for. It is a complicated question, but it is also one we don’t have to have an answer to, and that’s why the end of Barbie works. The moment is breathtaking, and the song is so beautiful and poignant and is one of the best songs of the year. It’s a perfect needle drop in a film filled with great musical moments. (R.L.)

(featured image: Paramount, MGM, Amazon, and Max)


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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>
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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.
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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.
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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.
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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates