Bruce Springsteen has not just made his mark on the musical world, but on the cinematic one as well. An Academy Award for Best Original Song, countless appearances on soundtracks, cameo appearances in movies and documentaries about his work; Springsteen lives up to his moniker – The Boss. With “Blinded by the Light” opening this week and celebrating his life/music, what better time is there to look at the man’s contributions to cinema?
Below you will see ten of the best uses of Springsteen and his music in cinema to date. Honorable mentions include “Dead Man Walking” (for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song) “Long Shot,” as well as “Ricki and the Flash.” Special citation goes to “The Indian Runner” from Sean Penn, as it’s based on the Springsteen song “Highway Patrolman.” It also goes without saying that the documentary “Springsteen & I,” as well as the Netflix special “Springsteen on Broadway” deserve a shout out as well.
10“Jersey Girl” (2004)
dir: Kevin Smith
Two New Jersey icons, it just made sense for Kevin Smith to eventually use Springsteen’s music in one of his films. Not only does the song “Jersey Girl” give the movie its title (and makes an appearance), Smith heart-wrenchingly utilizes “My City of Ruins” while Ben Affleck is visiting his late wife’s grave. A song originally written about the fall of Springsteen’s hometown in Jersey, it was repurposed after 9/11 as a New York City tribute. Here, it tells a smaller and more personal tale, though no less of a somberly evocative one.
9“American Honey” (2016)
dir: Andrea Arnold
A youthful, exuberant film like “American Honey” might initially seem like an unusual place to find a Springsteen deep cut. All the same, when Star (Sasha Lane) hitches a ride with a truck driver, The Boss is what he has playing during his long haul. The song is “Dream Baby Dream,” which resonates with the young woman. As Star listens, she recognizes the song and shares a moment with the driver in appreciation of the singer. It’s a quiet moment in a movie that knew exactly when to take the volume down and allow its protagonist a brief respite.
8“Big Daddy” (1999)
dir: Dennis Dugan
Adam Sandler films don’t tend to be especially deep. However, sometimes the right song can do a lot of the heavy lifting. Here, “Growing Up” plays during the final scene, a flash-forward, functioning as narrative shorthand for where Sandler’s character has found himself in life. “Big Daddy” may not be considered high art, but Bruce Springsteen helps elevate it in one fell swoop, merely by playing in the background of a happy ending.
7“25th Hour” (2002)
dir: Spike Lee
The aftermath of 9/11 looms large throughout Spike Lee‘s “25th Hour.” To that end, Lee chooses a song off of Springsteen’s 9/11 inspired album “The Rising” as the film is reaching its denouement. Edward Norton‘s protagonist is being driven to prison, listening to his father hypothetically depict an alternate future for his son. Then “The Fuse” plays, all while a fuse burns within Norton’s Monty. An unconventional choice by Lee pays major dividends at the end of one of his best movies.
6“Cop Land” (1997)
dir: James Mangold
The plight of the working class has long been a staple of The Boss. Cops, factory workers, fireman, really anyone who punches the clock. In “Cop Land,” the mocked sheriff of a small New Jersey town filled with crooked cops plays Springsteen after a hard day. In lesser hands, it could have been a major cliche. Instead, James Mangold and Sylvester Stallone find the heartbreaking sorrow in seeing a broken man play his vinyl of “Drive All Night.”
5“Jerry Maguire” (1996)
dir: Cameron Crowe
Springsteen and Cameron Crowe are a pairing that just goes together brilliantly. That the filmmaker would choose a lesser-known song of Springsteen’s makes perfect sense; so wonderfully curated are his soundtracks. It’s fitting too, to listen to a song about a man trying to level-up to his love interest as Tom Cruise‘s title character is struggling with how to balance work with his newfound relationship with Renee Zellweger‘s Dorothy. “Jerry Maguire” does so much right, with this musical choice simply one more fantastic decision by Crowe.
4“High Fidelity” (2000)
dir: Stephen Frears
Bruce Springsteen makes a cameo appearance here, lending John Cusack‘s Rob some advice while paraphrasing his song “Bobby Jean.” When Rob says “Thanks Boss” after Springsteen’s quick appearance, it rings as a sentiment from so many fans who have been touched by Springsteen’s music. In a film contemplating the importance of music, Springsteen appears as the musical God who leads the hero to salvation. “High Fidelity” captures the connection between fans of Springsteen and the man himself in a way that is instantly identifiable.
3“The Wrestler” (2008)
dir: Darren Aronofsky
The best of the original songs penned by Springsteen, and one snubbed by the Academy, is a chilling summation of Darren Aronofsky‘s film. After watching Mickey Rourke‘s Randy “The Ram” Robinson leap to an uncertain fate, the screen goes black. Then, the acoustic guitar and words of Springsteen begin, presenting another sparse anthem for a working class hero. Professional wrestlers may not look like the blue collar protagonists he usually sings about, but this track paints them with the same heartbreaking brush. It’s a perfect note for “The Wrestler” to end on.
dir: Jonathan Demme
Bruce Springsteen won an Oscar for this film’s tune “Streets of Philadelphia.” Jonathan Demme tapped him to write a song in part to help generate mainstream awareness for the AIDS drama. A superstar rocker providing an original song for an awards drama with tough subject matter was a stroke of genius. Springsteen’s words perfectly match Tom Hanks‘ onscreen desperation during an early sequence of “Philadelphia.” The Academy Award for Best Original Song was a well deserved win for all involved.
1“Blinded by the Light” (2019)
dir: Gurinder Chadha
No movie has ever been this loaded with The Boss’ music. Bruce Springsteen not only is featured throughout the soundtrack, but the very ideas of his songs are treated with profound care here. “Blinded by the Light” is a celebration of everything that makes Springsteen the legend he is today. No form of entertainment has more perfectly captured the feeling of loving the man and his words than this crowd pleaser. He’s used as a symbol, one that proved life changing for the real Sarfraz Manzoor, as well as his cinematic alter ego Javed Khan.