24 of the Biggest and Best Movie Power Ballads

Once a blockbuster staple, the power ballad was the ultimate movie accompaniment. We look back at some of the classics...

For a glorious period from the mid-80s throughout the ’90s, the biggest summer blockbusters were only worth their salt if they had an equally gargantuan song at the head their soundtrack. Often the success of one was inexorably linked to the other, with the likes of Four Weddings And A Funeral‘s feats matched and even exceeded by Wet Wet Wet’s accompanying Love Is All Around.

The greatest and most successful songs belong to the power ballad genre, and are as emotionally charged and forceful as the gods of epic balladry such as Journey, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf. As the 90s became the 00s and the charts became increasingly irrelevant, the movie ballad became almost defunct, with even the song-dominant film soundtrack being usurped by the re-emergence of traditional scores. 

Until the likes of Adele, Katy Perry and company are recruited to help promote blockbusters that aren’t James Bond, we’ll have to make do with the enduring appeal of these essential power ballad classics.

Maria McKee: Show Me Heaven (Days Of Thunder)

The fact that it’s the standout song on an amazing soundtrack for the relatively mediocre Days Of Thunder (note that Tom Cruise films have a wealth of great ballads attached to them, see later), which includes power ballad immortals David Coverdale and Tina Turner, says a lot of McKee’s biggest hit. Perhaps not as ‘powerful’ as others on the list, there’s no denying the divine chorus that helped it stay top of the UK charts for four weeks in 1990.

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Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You (The Bodyguard)

The unstoppable hit from one of the quintessential romantic movies dominated the UK singles chart for ten weeks in 1992. An update of Dolly Parton’s country classic ups the ante and has some of the best examples of power ballad’s key components: the wonderful soft-porn saxophone solo in the middle, the dramatic key changes and ultimately the single thump of the drum that heralds Whitney’s specular “And IIIIIIIIIIII…”.

Aerosmith: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing (Armageddon)

Arguably the last unstoppable movie power ballad was the perfect accompaniment to the heartbreaking pomposity of Michael Bay’s Armageddon. Just think of those guys walking down the tarmac in their orange spacesuits while listening to Steven Tyler wail over the orchestral backing and you’ll either have your arms waving aloft, eyes welling up or both.

Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On (Titanic)

Not the Canadian’s best power ballad, with that accolade being battled out by Think Twice and It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, but still a song that was almost as big as the film it accompanied, winning Oscars, Grammys and number 1 positions worldwide. Understandably you might have bad memories of images of Di Caprio’s floppy curtains and James Cameron’s overblown dramatics, but try listening while executing a double-handed power grab and forget how uncool it is to admit to liking it.

Prince: Purple Rain (Purple Rain)

Though not a blockbuster in the traditional sense, the title track of Prince’s own biopic deserves its place for simply being one of the best power ballads ever written. The lyrics are absolutely heartbreaking, and this orchestral, gospel masterpiece is a flawless tearjerking epic from the late Artist. If you aren’t moved by the simple guitar melodies and Prince’s high-pitched crooning at the end you probably have no soul.

We miss you, Prince.

Tina Turner: We Don’t Need Another Hero (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)

To be fair Fury Road would have felt weird with a power ballad accompanying it, but we still watched hoping someone was going to break out a saxophone in homage to this thunderous ballad from the third Mad Max film. The fact this arms aloft slice of majesty from the Queen of Rock trumps the saxual, arena shaking monolith The Best for aorta pumping passion is testament to its appeal.

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Bryan Adams: Everything I Do (I Do It For You) (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves)

Under any other circumstances, someone claiming they’d die for you in the name of love would be rightly met with ridicule, but when it’s backed up by a film Russell Crowe would describe as a feature length Bon Jovi video (like that’s a bad thing?) you believe every single word of the unflinching heroism. The song still holds the record for the longest reign atop the UK singles chart, demonstrating the irresistible dual appeal of both movie and accompanying ballad.

Jon Bon Jovi: Blaze Of Glory (Young Guns II)

He’d go on to perfect the rock power ballad later with Bon Jovi, but the band’s lead singer got damn close on this country-tinged homage to the antics of the film’s rugged band of outlaws, in which he also made a cameo appearance. It’s a shame this mighty track wasn’t included on the superior and more historically accurate original.

John Cafferty: Hearts On Fire (Rocky IV)

The most over the top Rocky film deserved the most over the top soundtrack, which included not one but two Survivor songs and Robert Tepper’s heroic No Easy Way Out. However, the accolade for the best tune goes to this synth-tinkling heart-stopper that’ll make you want to run up snowy peaks and punch chemically-enhanced giants in the face in order to defeat Communism.

Kiss: God Gave Rock & Roll To You (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey)

Originally by British band Argent, the regal dual guitars of Kiss’ version were famously performed by Wyld Stallyns after they go back in time in order to become awesome musicians, thereby creating music that unites the world in peace. Obviously the real song hasn’t quite achieved that feat but we can only assume that’s only because the entire world is yet to hear it.

Stan Bush: The Touch (Transformers: The Movie)

A highlight of yet another 80s soundtrack you must seek out, with the majestic line “When all hell’s breaking lose you’ll be riding the eye of the storm” the ideal backing music to kicking Decepticons right between the circuits. Stan Bush even recorded an updated version of the song for Michael Bay’s live action franchise, but criminally it never made the cut, losing out to some forgettable nu metal plodders.

John Parr: Restless Heart (The Running Man)

I know, I know, you were expecting John Parr’s sky-scraping melodies on the namesake of Brat Pack classic St. Elmo’s Fire. However, Parr’s true gem is this lighters aloft anthem that comes from left field at the end of Schwarzenegger’s dystopian action classic. That the lyrics and vibe of the song have seemingly very little to do with the film only adds to its charm.

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Lionel Richie: Say You Say Me (White Nights)

Lionel has many ballads to his name, but this Oscar-winner just has that little extra oomph that elevates it to power ballad status. We can only assume that the song’s emotional power was what brought future couple director Taylor Hackford and actress Helen Mirren together on set.

Seal: Kiss From A Rose (Batman Forever)

The undisputed highlight of this mid-90s superhero dross was this belter of a tune. The subtlety of the strings and acoustic strum don’t distract from Seal’s soulful vocal in a song that he’d initially written a decade before and, unbelievably, hated. Thank goodness he saw sense and let Joel Schumacher film him next to the Bat-signal and a wind machine.

Faith Hill: There You’ll Be (Pearl Harbor)

Speaking of dross, this slightly overblown but affecting ballad from country star Faith Hill deserved far better than the film to which it’s attached. Building with strings, piano, acoustic guitar and the singer’s understated but powerful vocal it’s the percussion before the choruses that would make it perfect end-of-the-night-wedding-party-fodder had it not been so unfairly soiled by association.

Goo Goo Dolls: Iris (City Of Angels)

Enjoying somewhat of a renaissance nearly 20 years after its release. The tender harmonies and pomp of the song’s bridge perfectly suited this Nicholas Cage romantic drama and, coming off the back of the incredible run of The Rock, Face/Off, and Con Air, made up for the fact there were no massive action set pieces.

Eric Carmen: Hungry Eyes (Dirty Dancing)

The film has certainly led to many dance floor related injuries over the years, while the strength of the soundtrack meant it’s certified among the top 20 selling albums ever. Eric Carmen’s iconic number has keyboards that are so ’80s it hurts, while the flamboyant saxophone solo ensures its place among the power ballad pantheon.

Roxette: It Must Have Been Love (Pretty Woman)

One of two superb power ballads by the Swedish duo (probably the only two songs by them that anyone knows) unsurprisingly comes from another romantic drama that has gone down as one of the genre’s most beloved. The piano solo breakdown in the middle is moving enough on its own, let alone the delicate melodies and Marie Fredriksson’s deeply poignant vocals.

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Loverboy: Heaven In Your Eyes (Top Gun)

Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, Steve Stevens’ soaring guitar line and even Great Balls Of Fire are all synonymous with Tom Cruise flying jets and playing topless volleyball. However, the definitive power ballad on this exceptional soundtrack to Navy recruitment is this hidden ditty from Canadian rockers Loverboy, which has more than enough of the emotional clout needed to qualify for this list.

R Kelly: I Believe I Can Fly (Space Jam)

R Kelly loves a good old croon, and though The World’s Greatest from Ali packs a wonderful, gospel crescendo, we had to plump for this slice of fried ’90s balladry gold. Not only has it held up in spite of the singer’s troubled career since, but it still makes you want to shoot some hoops with Bill Murray.

Bryan Adams, Sting, Rod Stewart: All For Love (The Three Musketeers)

You can imagine the meeting now: “What shall we do for a song for the film lads? How about we assemble three singers to perform a song about the Three Musketeers? And instead of ‘All for one’ we’ll change it to ‘All for love’! Genius.” However the meeting went, hearing the three singing ‘all’ separately before coming in together for the rest of the chorus is stirring, heroic stuff.

Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes: Up Where We Belong (An Officer And A Gentleman)

Notice how a lot of these ballads are connected to Richard Gere films? The duet is the soundtrack to every man or woman who has dreamt about carried out of work in the arms of their loved one, who’s preferably dressed in an astonishingly white military uniform. A special mention for the rendition of Stewie Griffin and his nemesis Bertram in Family Guy season three.

Marc Anthony & Tina Arena: I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You (The Mask Of Zorro)

Not a great song, but just fits into the power ballad category due to the dramatic mid-song crescendo and the ridiculously long song title. Another duet that’s testament to the winning combination of blockbusting 90s action adventure and chart-bothering ballad.

Leona Lewis: I See You (Avatar)

A special mention here for Leona and James Cameron to trying to create a movie power ballad renaissance. Sadly, much like the film, Leona’s soaring voice and the song’s pomposity have plenty of force but no actual staying power. Also see Ellie Goulding for 50 Shades Of Grey for modern attempts, albeit not especially successful ones…

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