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The Best Uses of Tom Petty Songs in Movies, From ‘Silence of the Lambs’ to ‘Jerry Maguire’

Silence of the Lambs American Girl
Orion

Rock icon Tom Petty passed away yesterday at the age of 66. Petty made some amazing music over the course of his too-short lifetime, and many of his best songs found their way into films over the last several decades. Here are just a few of the movies elevated by the presence of Tom Petty music.

Rest in peace, Tom. Thanks for the music — and the movies.

“American Girl”
From The Silence of the Lambs

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Perhaps the most notable usage of a Tom Petty track in cinema, this scene from The Silence of the Lambs is often referred to as the “American Girl” scene, in which young Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) is cruising down the highway, unaware that she’s about to be abducted, starved, and (almost) skinned by the serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).


“American Girl”
From Fast Times at Ridgemont High

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“American Girl” also featured prominently in another beloved classic, the Amy Heckerling–directed high school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The film was written (and based on a book) by Cameron Crowe, who knows a thing or two about using music in movies (and left a touching tribute to Petty on his Twitter account).


“Free Fallin’”
From Jerry Maguire

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Speaking of Cameron Crowe, he would later get to apply a Petty track to one of his own movies as director, 1996’s Jerry Maguire. He even got Tom Cruise to sing along with the chorus. (He doesn’t have a bad voice either!) This scene captures an essential truth of Tom Petty: If “Free Fallin’” comes on the radio while you’re driving alone, it is impossible not to sing (or scream) along.


“Won’t Back Down”
From Barnyard

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The 2006 animated flick Barnyard utilized “Won’t Back Down” effectively, by having a depressed cow take the lead. You laugh but watch the clip. It works!


She’s the One (Soundtrack)

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The lovely “Walls” was the lead single for the soundtrack to Edward Burns’ follow-up to his breakthrough The Brothers McMullen. Petty wrote and performed every song.


“You Got It”
From Boys on the Side

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Petty wrote “You Got It” as a member of the all-star group the Traveling Wilburys, with bandmates Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. This is an example of a song playing a direct role in the plot, bringing Mary Louise Parker and Whoopi Goldberg’s characters together.


‘Christmas All Over Again’
From Four Christmases, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Jingle All the Way

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“Christmas All Over Again” is the gift that keeps on giving, at least to mainstream Hollywood holiday movies of questionable quality.


As himself in FM 

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Petty appeared as himself in the 1978 film FM, doing a radio interview. He didn’t perform any songs onscreen, but man, does he look exactly like the walking embodiment of ’70s rock.


As Himself in The Postman

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He also played the role of “Tom Petty” (sort of) in the 1997 post-apocalyptic flop The Postman, playing himself again. He’s never officially called “Tom Petty,” but it’s pretty strongly implied that the Mayor of Bridge City is, in fact, the leader of the Heartbreakers.


“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

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This isn’t technically a movie, of course, but it does star Kim Basinger as a dead woman who Tom Petty dresses up all nice and dances with. Then at the end (SPOILER alert) she wakes up! It’s a pretty awesome video.

Additionally, his music was featured in movies like It’s Complicated, Elizabethtown (more Cameron Crowe) and Taps, plus television shows like The Sopranos, The Simpsons, and WKRP in Cincinnati. He also had a recurring role on King of the Hill as Elroy “Lucky” Kleinschmidt. His movie and TV appearances represent just a small portion of his cultural legacy, but they’re an important one nonetheless.

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SEE ‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ CAST THEN & NOW

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