There have been many incredible songs that have won the Best Original Song Academy Award. In fact, this Academy Award has been awarded since 1934 at the 7th Academy Awards. The Best Original Song Oscar is a songwriters award, for their specific composition for the film. The performer of the tune doesn’t get an award. Of course, unless they contributed in some way to the music or lyrical composition.
The Award eligibility has changed throughout the decades. Before 1941, any song that appeared in a Motion Picture could get a nomination. But now, it has to be a specific original composition that musicians record for the film. The song must be used in the motion picture or be the very first music played in the end credits of the film.
For this list, critical acclaim, commercial success and cultural influence of the winning songs was taken into account. This list consists of Best Original Song Academy Award winners from the 1980’s and 90’s. The 80’s and 90’s Best Original Song winners feature epic romantic power ballads, self-expression and the height of Disney’s musical renaissance.
*Please recognize these films and songs are of their respective eras and may include negative outdated cultural depictions.
10. “When You Believe” – The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Stephen Schwartz & Babyface (Music & Lyrics)
Musical Theatre composer, Stephen Schwartz composed and wrote “When You Believe”, And he did it for the Dreamworks animation film The Prince of Egypt. The main melody is based off of a traditional Chinese Folk composition, “Dance of the Yao People”. The version in “The Prince of Egypt” film was performed by Sally Dworsky, Michelle Pfeiffer and a Children’s Chorus. The film version features the Children’s Chorus singing in Hebrew, lines from the”Song of the Sea”, a poem from the Book of Exodus. Babyface produced the Pop version that plays during the film’s end credits. And the great Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey perform it as a duet, featuring a gospel choir.
“When You Believe” is a soaring inspirational ballad. It has vocal melodies that only talents like Carey and Houston can deliver. Their incredible duet version takes the song to new and exciting heights through their outstanding vocal prowess. “When You Believe” won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Song. It was also nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes and for two GRAMMY awards. “When You Believe” peaked at number fifteen on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Adult Contemporary Chart.
The tune had a lot more chart success in Europe where it reached the top ten and top five in various countries and notably hit number one in Hungary, number two in Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Greece and Iceland and number four in the U.K. “When You Believe” has been covered by numerous times, and was actually recorded by the U.K. X Factor Winner, Leon Jackson in 2007, whose version hit number one on the U.K, Scotland and Ireland charts. “When You Believe” continues to provide inspiration for listeners worldwide.
9. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” – Dirty Dancing (1987)
John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz, Franke Previte (Music), Franke Previte (Lyrics)
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” features as the theme song in the hugely successful film, “Dirty Dancing”. John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz and Franke Previte wrote “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. And Michael Lloyd produced the song. Performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes as a fun-loving duet that emphasized the central romance in the film, the tune became a huge hit. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” hit number one on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and on the Adult Contemporary Chart where it stayed number one for four weeks.
The tune was also a hit worldwide reaching number one in quite a few countries like Australia and Canada. The song won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” got a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. It also won ASCAP award for “Most Performed Songs by Motion Pictures”. In the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Songs list, it placed at number eighty-six.
8. “Up Where We Belong (1982)” – An Officer and a Gentleman
Jack Nitzsche & Buffy Sainte-Marie (Music) Will Jennings (Lyrics)
Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes recorded a duet of “ Up Where We Belong” for the romantic drama film, An Officer and a Gentleman. Their powerful vocal performance won them a GRAMMY award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings wrote the uplifting pop ballad. Stewart Levine produced the song. The songwriting team ended up taking home various awards for the tune, including Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTA’s. The song was also a commercial success hitting number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, number one on the US Cashbox Top 100 and number three on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
“Up Where We Belong” was included at number seventy-five on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Songs list and was also including in the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century” list where it placed at number three hundred and twenty-three. The song was also featured on Billboard’s list for the “25 Greatest Love Song Duets”. In 1984, Bebe & CeCe Winans recorded a Gospel cover version and then later in 1996 re-recorded a Gospel version that won a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Contemporary Gospel Song of the Year. Lastly, shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park parodied the ending of An Officer and a Gentleman using the song.
7. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” – Lion King (1994)
Elton John (Music) Tim Rice (Lyrics)
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is a moving romantic ballad. And the gorgeous Disney animated film The Lion King features the song. In the film, Kristle Edwards, Joseph Williams, Sally Dworsky, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella performed the beautiful ballad. Elton John performed the version playing during the end credits. He also composed the music for the song along with lyrics by Tim Rice. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
John’s version of the tune won him a GRAMMY award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The song reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent eight weeks at number one on the Adult Contemporary Chart. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was also a number one hit in Canada and France. The beloved tune has been covered by numerous artists including Christina Aguilera and Il Volo. Beyonce, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner performed a version for the 2019 live-action remake.
6. “Fame” – Fame (1980)
Michael Gore (Music) Dean Pitchford (Lyrics)
“Fame” is the theme song for the movie “Fame” and its follow-up television series. This catchy dance-pop tune written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford became a smash hit. “Fame” was performed by Irene Cara who also starred in the film. The tune was also her first single as a solo recording artist. “Fame” hit number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the US Dance Club Songs Chart. Following the song’s re-release in 1982 coinciding with the release of the television series, it hit number one on the U.K. singles chart and stayed at the top position for three weeks.
“Fame” was the third best-selling song in the U.K. for all of 1982. “Fame” also hit number one in various European countries like Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands. The song won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. Cara also received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance for the tune. It was ranked at number fifty-one on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list of the best songs from American Cinema of the 20th Century.
5. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” (1983) – Flashdance
Giorgio Moroder (Music) Irene Cara & Keith Forsey (Lyrics)
“Flashdance…What a Feeling” danced into the hearts of audiences through the film,“Flashdance” in 1983. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” is empowering. It’s a feel-good tune about the joys of dancing, moving your body and going after your dreams. Irene Cara, who also provided the lyrics alongside Keith Forsey, delivers a strong vocal performance that takes the song to the next level. The tune is also masterfully produced by the great Giorgio Moroder. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for six weeks. It also hit number one on the Billboard US Dance Club Songs and Cash Box Top 100 Singles charts.
“Flashdance…What a Feeling” was placed third on Billboard’s Hot 100 year-end chart of 1983. It also reached number one in nine countries around the world and reached number two on the UK charts. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” won the Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Cara also won a GRAMMY for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance for her great performance on the tune. It was placed at number fifty-five on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list featuring the best songs in American Cinema of the 20th Century.
4. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” – The Woman in Red (1984)
Stevie Wonder (Music & Lyrics)
“I Just Called to Say I Love You”, the endearing eighties pop ballad written for the film “The Woman in Red” was a global chart-topping hit. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” hit number number one on charts in over twenty countries. In the United States, the song was number one for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Adult Contemporary and Cash Box Top 100. It was also a number one smash in the U.K. and the third most successful single of the entire 80’s decade.
The music and lyrics were composed by the incomparable Stevie Wonder. Wonder also performs every single instrument on the track including his stellar vocals. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is Wonder’s best-selling single of his career to date. The song won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes and also received three GRAMMY nominations. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is a universally loved gem.
3. “A Whole New World” – Aladdin (1992)
Alan Menken (Music) Tim Rice (Lyrics)
Sung beautifully by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga, “A Whole New World” soars in the classic animated Disney film “Aladdin” during a scene where lovers Aladdin and Jasmine take a magic carpet ride. Alan Menken and Tim Rice masterfully crafted the beloved tune. It follows the footsteps of the popularity of the pop duet of “Beauty and the Beast”. So Disney released a duet version featuring Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle with production by Walter Afanasieff. The Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle version of the tune impressively hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 making it the first and so far only animated Disney tune to do so on the Billboard Hot 100.
Belle and Bryson’s version also topped the Adult Contemporary and Mainstream Top 40 Billboard Charts. “A Whole New World” won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Song of the Year at the GRAMMY awards. “A Whole New World” is also the first and only Disney song to win Song of the Year at the GRAMMY awards. There have been countless cover versions of the tune from all over the world. In the 2019 live-action remake version of “Aladdin” pop stars Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward covered the tune. “A Whole New World” continues to inspire audiences around the world.
2. “Beauty and the Beast” – Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Alan Menken (Music) Howard Ashman (Lyrics)
Performed by Angela Lansbury in the film as Mrs. Potts, during a stunning ballroom scene in the film, “Beauty and the Beast” captivated listeners worldwide. A successful pop ballad duet version of the song is on the film’s soundtrack. And Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson recorded that version that came out as a single. The soundtrack version also included production by Walter Afanasieff with arrangement by Robbie Buchanan.
Dion and Bryson’s version was a commercial success, hitting number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. A testament to the strength of the song written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, both versions of “Beauty and the Beast” have received accolades. “Beauty and the Beast” won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
The RIAA voting body nominated it for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards. But it ended up winning for Best Song Written For Visual Media and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or a Group with Vocals. An instrumental version conducted and arranged by Richard S. Kauffman also won a GRAMMY award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. “Beauty and the Beast” was placed at number sixty-two on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list from 2004. Critically acclaimed and universally loved, “Beauty and the Beast” is a timeless romantic ballad.
1. “My Heart Will Go On” – Titanic (1997)
James Horner (Music) Will Jennings (Lyrics)
Introduced in the hugely successful Oscar-winning blockbuster film “Titanic” as the theme song for the film, “My Heart Will Go On” became a worldwide smash hit. The romantic ballad features one of the most dramatic and well-known key changes in pop music. Canadian music icon Celine Dion provided incredible vocals to the James Horner and Will Jennings collaboration while Walter Afanasieff, Simon Franglen and Horner masterfully handled the production of the track. A global phenomenon, “My Heart Will Go On”, topped the charts in over twenty countries. It is one of the best selling singles of all-time, with sales of eighteen million worldwide.
In the United States, the tune hit number one of the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks and Top 40 Mainstream. The song also hit number one on the Hot Latin Pop Airplay and Hot Latin Tracks chart, becoming the first English language song to do so. “My Heart Will Go On” won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. At the 1999 GRAMMY Awards, the tune impressively picked up four awards including Record of the Year, the first time a Canadian won the award. It also won Song of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
“My Heart Will Go On” also won a Japanese Gold Disc Award for Song of the Year and Billboard Music Award for Soundtrack Single of the Year. Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment of the Arts make their record lists. And they name the tune as one of the Songs of the Century. “My Heart Will Go On” placed at number twenty-one on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s”. It also placed at number fourteen on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Songs list. “My Heart Will Go On’s” legacy will continue to “go on.”