Skewing old: A brief look at the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie songs

June 25, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 25, 2014

The other day, I was tweeting about films when Groundhog Day came up.

I’m not fond of that movie, and I said so. A disgruntled follower complained that we might tell him that The Blues Brothers wasn’t the greatest movie of all time.

I got curious and checked the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best comedies. Much to my surprise, I found that The Blues Brothers doesn’t appear on the list at all.

I also stumbled onto “100 Years…100 Songs,” the institute’s list of the best American movie songs, which was released in 2004. This caught the eye of another of my Twitter followers, who groused that a song from The Muppet Movie was ranked, but nothing from Purple Rain.

Frankly, I’m a huge fan of The Muppet Movie’s “Rainbow Connection,” which appears at No. 74 on the list. I certainly think it deserves to be there.

My theory is that Purple Rain, the 1984 feature starring the artist (then, formerly and once again) known as Prince got snubbed because the AFI jurors aren’t in the movie’s demographic. In other words, the panelists were too old and too white to appreciate Prince’s movie and music.

I haven’t found information on the jurors, so I can’t verify this theory. What I did do, however, was sort the top 100 songs by year. (To be specific, that’s the year in which the relevant movie appeared.) This did reveal some favoritism for older movies.

The 1950s had 17 songs on the list; the 1960s, 20; and the 1970s, 16. The 1940s had 14 songs, edging the 13 from the 1980s that were ranked. Bringing up the rear: The 1930s, with 11 songs; the 1990s, six; and the 2000s, with three.

Because the AFI’s list was released 10 years ago, it’s understandable that only a handful of 21st-century songs are represented. But also bear in mind that the 1930s represent the dawn of sound in cinema; given that, it seems to be pretty well represented.

So there’s evidence of bias toward older movies, but it’s relatively minimal, especially if one excludes the 2000s from consideration.

I also divided the list by tens, quartiles (slices of 25) and halves and averaged the songs in those sections. This also showed a modest favoritism toward older movies.

The top 50 songs had an average (movie) release year of 1959. The average year was 1969 for the bottom 50. The top quartile’s average was 1958; the second quartile, 1960; the third, 1967; and the fourth, for songs ranked 76 through 100, was 1971.

The top 10 songs and those ranked 41 through 50 had an average release year of 1956, the lowest for all the deciles. Slots 51–60, 61–70 and 81–90 had a mean release year of 1969. The last decile, 91–100, came out around 1976, which was the highest figure by several years.

What does this all mean? Not much. But it was a fun excuse to noodle around with a spreadsheet for a few hours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: