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10 Best Oscar-Winning Songs

From Eminem to Elton John, here are the top 11 songs to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song
 / February 25, 2014

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Some of the most enduring songs in American history come from films, where a number of them picked up Oscars for Best Original Song. With this year's Academy Awards approaching fast (where U2 will face off against Pharrell for Best Original Song), we look back at the 11 best songs to take home that award.

"Over the Rainbow," 'Wizard of Oz' (1939)

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One of the most famous songs in American history, "Over the Rainbow" is quietly wrenching as sung by Judy Garland. The Wizard of Oz favorite is a ballad about dreaming that is unmistakably tinged with sadness.

"When You Wish Upon a Star," 'Pinocchio' (1940)

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What can even be said about "When You Wish Upon a Star"? An unassuming, simple melody that climbs deliberately up the scale is brought into immortality by Cliff Edwards, who also voiced Jiminy Cricket. 

"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (1969)

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Written by Burt Bacharach, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" is a bouncy and optimistic song that has become an American standard. But the original version, performed by a slightly hoarse B.J. Thomas, is the most sublime.

"Theme From 'Shaft'," 'Shaft' (1971)

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"Theme From Shaft" is one of Isaac Hayes' finest productions. But the instrumentation, and even his own legendary voice, get overshadowed by the instant-classic backing vocals that introduce the film's titular character: Shaft! No movie character has ever been treated to a slicker entrance.

"Flashdance... What a Feeling," 'Flashdance' (1983)

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Giorgio Moroder would win two Oscars in the Best Original Song category during the 1980s, one for "What a Feeling" and another for "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun. It's this one, performed by Irene Cara, that is the better of the two, It's a true synth-pop classic that feels way less cheesy in retrospect than the more well-known "Take My Breath Away."

"I Just Called to Say I Love You," 'The Woman in Red' (1984)

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"I Just Called to Say I Love You" is one of Stevie Wonder's hokier hits. But it's a sweet song that rides an easy tempo and wins out thanks to the effervescent warmth of Stevie's voice, which makes the love tangible.

"A Whole New World," 'Aladdin' (1992)

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Composer Alan Menken is the god of Disney soundtracks, having picked up three Best Original Song trophies in the '90s for his work on Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and Aladdin. "A Whole New World" is the best of his Oscar-winning songs, with a swooping, instantly memorable melody suspended gracefully over strings and woodwinds that do nothing more than flutter.

"Can You Feel the Love Tonight," 'Lion King' (1994)

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The most famous song from The Lion King soundtrack is easily "Hakuna Matata," which has become so synonymous with the film that it's essentially a quasi-theme song. That one did get nominated for Best Original Song, but it and "Circle of Life" were beat out by "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," a sweeping, uplifting ballad that has all the hallmarks of an Elton John classic. Incidentally, he composed all three tracks.

"Lose Yourself," '8 Mile' (2002)

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Eminem's musical legacy is too great for 8 Mile—a very good movie that loosely tells his life story—to be anything more than a footnote in his career. But "Lose Yourself" may well be his most enduring single, a hypnotically detailed pump-up song that has achieved a life of its own as a stadium anthem.

"It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," 'Hustle & Flow' (2005)

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Three 6 Mafia are arguably the most unlikely Oscar winners in the show's history, but "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" was easily the rightful winner in a Best Original Song category that only had three nominees in 2005. The track doesn't showcase the steely, gothic party rap that Three 6 made their name on, but rather the soulful bedrock that their sound was built on.

Add these 11 classics to your Spotify account with our playlist below.

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