Iconic musician Tom Petty has died at the age of 66, according to multiple media reports. Petty was on life support after suffering a heart attack, and he was clinging to life for quite a few hours before passing away, leaving behind an incredible legacy and a long list of songs that have stood the test of time. For decades, Hollywood has turned to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to provide the perfect song for a number of films and television shows, though no one seems to have been a bigger fan than Cameron Crowe.
Crowe has used Petty tunes in Jerry Maguire, Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo, and while he may not have directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he did write the script for that seminal 1982 teen comedy, one of the earliest films to have used his hit song “American Girl.”
Adam Sandler is also a big fan, having used Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” in Mr. Deeds and “American Girl” in That’s My Boy, while Sandler’s Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore also starred in a pair of films that featured Petty’s music — Mad Love (“Here Comes My Girl”) and Boys on the Side (“You Got It”).
Apparently, Petty was even popular with kids, as his songs “Kings Highway” and “Stay With Me” were used in the animated movies Cars 3 and Sing, respectively. Here are some other memorable Petty moments on the big screen…
“Free Fallin’,” Jerry Maguire – From Top Gun to Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise has always seemed to enjoy singing on film, but look at the sheer joy on his face in Jerry Maguire. Driving alone on a deserted stretch of country road while singing “Free Fallin’,” Cruise has never looked more, well… free. It’s as good a time as any to lose yourself in the music and sing like no one’s watching, and Cruise embraces the magical moment. Jerry Maguire isn’t actually the first Cruise movie to feature Petty, as the singer’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was used in Cruise’s breakout 1981 film Taps.
“American Girl,” The Silence of the Lambs – To this day, I still can’t hear this song without thinking of Brooke Smith’s Catherine Martin driving home one evening under the watchful night vision-enhanced eye of Buffalo Bill. This is the last time we’ll see a smile on her face before she’s rescued from a well in the serial killer’s lair. Director Jonathan Demme used “American Girl” again 24 years later in Ricki and the Flash, albeit to far less chilling effect.
“Walls (Circus),” She’s the One – While the film takes its title from a Bruce Springsteen song, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers provided the entire soundtrack to Edward Burns’ 1996 indie starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz, though some of the songs were originally recorded for the band’s 1994 album Wildflowers. The film’s marketing campaign was built around this song, and more people arguably bought the soundtrack (which peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200 albums chart) than a ticket to the movie, which grossed just $9.5 million at the domestic box office. Hey, even walls fall down.
“Christmas All Over Again,” Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – When Kevin McCallister gets on the wrong flight and is once again separated from his family on Christmas, it’s this Tom Petty track that greets us when he lands in New York. This popular holiday song was also used in Jingle All the Way and Four Christmases.
“Fallin’,” Judgment Night – This one is a bit of a cheat, since the song is technically credited to Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul. But it samples “Free Fallin'” and that is Petty’s voice you can hear during the chorus, so we’re going to count it, if only to draw attention to the excellence that is the Judgment Night soundtrack. You wouldn’t expect to find Petty on that rap-heavy album, but his song kind of serves as a bridge between the sunny suburbs that Emilio Estevez calls home and the urban nightmare that he and his friends eventually find themselves in.
R.I.P. Tom Petty, and thanks for both the music and the memories over the years.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief