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Academy Award for Best Original Song

Academy Award for Best Original Song
Country United States
Presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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The Academy Award for Best Original Song is one of the awards given annually to people working in the motion picture industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is presented to the songwriters who have composed the best original song written specifically for a film. The performers of a song are not credited with the Academy Award unless they contributed either to music, lyrics or both in their own right.

The award category was introduced at the 7th Academy Awards, the ceremony honoring the best in film for 1934. Nominations are made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, and the winners are chosen by the Academy membership as a whole.

Requirement for nomination

The original requirement was only that the nominated song appear in a motion picture during the previous year. This rule was changed after the 1941 Academy Awards, when "The Last Time I Saw Paris", from the film Lady Be Good, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, won. Kern was upset that his song won because it had been published and recorded before it was used in the film. The song was actually written in 1940, after the Germans occupied Paris at the start of World War II. It was recorded by Kate Smith and peaked at No. 8 on the best seller list before it was used in the film Lady Be Good. Kern got the Academy to change the rule so that only songs that are "original and written specifically for the motion picture" are eligible to win.[1][2]

Songs that were published prior to a film's production having nothing to do with the film, such as "Unchained Melody" in the 1990 film Ghost and "I Will Always Love You" in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, cannot qualify (although "Unchained Melody" was nominated when first released for the 1955 film Unchained). In addition, songs that rely on sampled or reworked material, such as "Gangsta's Paradise" in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, are also ineligible.

When a film is adapted from a previously-written stage musical, none of the songs from the stage version of the musical (and other sources) are eligible. As a result, many recent film adaptations of stage musicals have included original songs which could be nominated, such as "You Must Love Me" in the 1996 film Evita, and "Listen", "Love You I Do", "Patience" in the 2006 film Dreamgirls and "Suddenly" in the 2012 film Les Misérables.

There was a debate as to whether or not Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who were awarded the Oscar in 2008 for "Falling Slowly", were in fact eligible. "Falling Slowly" has been released on two other albums – The Swell Season, Hansard and Irglova's duo project and The Cost, by Hansard's band The Frames. The Swell Season was released in August 2006, and The Cost in February 2007, before the release of Once. However, the AMPAS music committee determined that, in the course of the film's protracted production, the composers had "played the song in some venues that were deemed inconsequential enough to not change the song's eligibility".[3] The same issue arose two years earlier with "In the Deep" from Crash, which appeared on Kathleen "Bird" York's 2003 album The Velvet Hour after being written for Crash, but before the film was released. The current Academy rule says an eligible song "must be recorded for use in the motion picture prior to any other usage", so recordings released prior to the film will not disqualify a song as long as the film version was "recorded" before then.[2]

Rules and number of nominations

Until the Academy Awards for 1944 (awarded in 1945) any number of songs could be nominated for the award. For the 1944 awards, 14 songs were nominated. Since then only five are nominated each year, except for 2011 when only two were nominated; 1988, 2005, and 2008, when only three were nominated; and 2010 and 2013 when only four were nominated.[4][5]

In recent years, the number of nominations varied from two to five. This was due to the rules set by the Academy, which stipulated that each member of the Music Branch of the Academy was asked to vote for their favorite songs, using a special points system using 10, 9.5, 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5, 7, 6.5 or 6 points. Only those songs that received an average score of 8.25 or more were eligible for nomination. If no song received an average of 8.25 or more, there would be no nominees. And if only one song achieved that score, it and the song receiving the next highest score would be the two nominees (this was the case in the 2011 Oscars, awarded in 2012).[citation needed]

Following the two song competition in 2011, however, a rule change was made by the committee. Instead of the math system that was set in place the number of nominations is now contingent upon the number of submissions. Depending on the amount received by the Academy there would be a minimum of five, three or none for any given year. The number of submissions for the award in 2011 doubled the necessary minimum for five indicating it unlikely that the category would have fewer than five nominees in the future.[6]

Not every song used in a film is eligible for this category. According to Academy rules, a song should be "original and specifically written for a motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyrics and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits." [7]

Though this is one of the few Oscar categories where one film can receive multiple nominations, the first to do so was Fame in 1980. Only four films have featured three nominated songs: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Dreamgirls, and Enchanted. Dreamgirls and Enchanted lost on every nomination: An Inconvenient Truth original song "I Need to Wake Up" defeated all three of the nominated songs from Dreamgirls, while "Falling Slowly" from Once defeated all three of Enchanted's nominations. After these two consecutive defeats, a new rule was instated in June 2008 that a film could have no more than two songs nominated in the Best Original Song category in one year.[8]

Performances at the awards ceremony

Nominated songs are usually performed live at the televised Academy Awards ceremonies. Although pre-televised ceremonies were broadcast on the radio, the tradition of performing the nominated songs did not begin until 18th Academy Awards in 1946, in which performers included Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dinah Shore and Dick Haymes.

In the early years, the songs were usually not performed by the original artists as in the film. For example, in 1965, Robert Goulet performed all the nominated songs at the ceremony. (Ironically, in the case of "The Look Of Love", sung by Dusty Springfield in Casino Royale, the positive reaction to the performance by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 on the 1968 telecast led to their version being released as a single and eventually becoming the bigger hit.) In 1970, this was reversed and only the people who had performed the piece in the film were permitted to perform the song on the live telecast, even if a hit version was performed by another act.

However, since Oscar nominees for 1970, 1971 and 1972 had all been major hit records by other artists, in 1973 the rule was amended again and it became standard to first offer either the original artist or artists who performed the song in the film a chance to perform it at the ceremony, followed by the artist or artists who had the hit record with it.

When neither of those are able to do so (or in rare cases where the telecast producers decide to go with someone else), the Academy chooses more well-known entertainers to perform the song at the ceremony. For example, Robin Williams performed "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut at the 72nd Academy Awards instead of the film's voice actors, Trey Parker and Mary Kay Bergman (Bergman actually died a few months before the show). Beyoncé Knowles sang three nominated songs (one of which was a duet with Josh Groban) during the 77th Academy Awards even though she had not performed these songs in any of the respective films.

That same year, the song "Al otro lado del río" (On The Other Side Of The River), which was featured in the film The Motorcycle Diaries, won the award, becoming the first song in Spanish and the second in a foreign language to receive such an honor (the first winner being the title tune to Never on Sunday, which was sung in Greek in the film by its star, Melina Mercouri). It was written by Uruguayan composer Jorge Drexler, but the producers would not let Drexler perform the song during the show for fear of losing ratings. Instead, the song was performed by Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas. Drexler's acceptance speech for the award consisted of him singing a few lines a cappella and closed by simply saying "thank you."

At the 80th Academy Awards, "That's How You Know" from the film Enchanted was performed by Kristin Chenoweth, rather than the film's star, Amy Adams. However, Adams performed "Happy Working Song" which was nominated from the same film.[9]

In 1985, Phil Collins was passed over to perform his nominated composition "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)". According to representatives of both Collins' record company and Columbia Pictures, this was because the producers of the telecast were not familiar with his work. Ann Reinking performed the song instead, with Collins sitting in the audience.[10] In 2009, Peter Gabriel, who was originally scheduled to perform his nominated song "Down to Earth" during the live broadcast, declined to perform after learning that he would be allowed to sing only 65 seconds of the song during the ceremony's Best Original Song nominee performance medley.[11] Gabriel still attended the ceremony, with John Legend performing the song in his place, backed by the Soweto Gospel Choir.

The 84th Academy Awards did not feature performances from either nominated song ("Man or Muppet" from The Muppets and "Real in Rio" from Rio).[12] No reason for this was given by Oscar producers. This was only the third time that Best Original Song nominees were not performed (the others: 1989 and 2010). At the 2013 Oscars, only three of the five nominees were performed, with the eventual winner, the theme from Skyfall, being the only one performed separately on its own as opposed to being part of a musical montage sequence.

List of winners and nominees






Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1970 "For All We Know" – Lovers and Other Strangers
– Music: Fred Karlin • Lyrics: Robb Royer and Jimmy Griffin
1971 "Theme from Shaft" – Shaft
– Music and Lyrics: Isaac Hayes
1972 "The Morning After" – The Poseidon Adventure
– Music and Lyrics: Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
1973 "The Way We Were" – The Way We Were
– Music: Marvin Hamlisch • Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
1974 "We May Never Love Like This Again" – The Towering Inferno
– Music and Lyrics: Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
1975 "I'm Easy" – Nashville
– Music and Lyrics: Keith Carradine
1976 "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)" – A Star Is Born
– Music: Barbra Streisand • Lyrics: Paul Williams
1977 "You Light Up My Life" – You Light Up My Life
– Music and Lyrics: Joseph Brooks
1978 "Last Dance" – Thank God It’s Friday
– Music and Lyrics: Paul Jabara
1979 "It Goes Like It Goes" – Norma Rae
– Music: David Shire • Lyrics: Norman Gimbel


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1980 "Fame" – Fame
– Music: Michael Gore • Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
1981 "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" – Arthur
– Music and Lyrics: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen
1982 "Up Where We Belong" – An Officer and a Gentleman
– Music: Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie • Lyrics: Will Jennings
1983 "Flashdance... What a Feeling" – Flashdance
– Music: Giorgio Moroder • Lyrics: Keith Forsey and Irene Cara
1984 "I Just Called to Say I Love You" – The Woman in Red
– Music and Lyrics: Stevie Wonder
1985 "Say You, Say Me" – White Nights
– Music and Lyrics: Lionel Richie
1986 "Take My Breath Away" – Top Gun
– Music: Giorgio Moroder • Lyrics: Tom Whitlock
1987 "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" – Dirty Dancing
– Music: Franke Previte, John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz • Lyrics: Franke Previte
1988 "Let the River Run" – Working Girl
– Music and Lyrics: Carly Simon
1989 "Under the Sea" – The Little Mermaid
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1990 "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" – Dick Tracy
– Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
1991 "Beauty and the Beast" – Beauty and the Beast
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (posthumous recognition)
1992 "A Whole New World" – Aladdin
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Tim Rice
1993 "Streets of Philadelphia" – Philadelphia
– Music and Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen
1994 "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" – The Lion King
– Music: Elton John • Lyrics: Tim Rice
1995 "Colors of the Wind" – Pocahontas
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
1996 "You Must Love Me" – Evita
– Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber • Lyrics: Tim Rice
1997 "My Heart Will Go On" – Titanic
– Music: James Horner • Lyrics: Will Jennings
1998 "When You Believe" – The Prince of Egypt
– Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
1999 "You'll Be in My Heart" – Tarzan
– Music and Lyrics: Phil Collins


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
2000 "Things Have Changed" – Wonder Boys
– Music and Lyrics: Bob Dylan
2001 "If I Didn't Have You" – Monsters, Inc.
– Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman
2002 "Lose Yourself" – 8 Mile
– Music: Eminem, Jeff Bass, and Luis Resto • Lyrics: Eminem
2003 "Into the West" – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
– Music and Lyrics: Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, and Annie Lennox
2004 "Al otro lado del río" – The Motorcycle Diaries
– Music and Lyrics: Jorge Drexler
2005 "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp" – Hustle & Flow
– Music and Lyrics: Juicy J, Frayser Boy and DJ Paul (Juicy J & DJ Paul are members of Three 6 Mafia. Frayser Boy has collaborated with Three 6 Mafia but is not a member.)
2006 "I Need to Wake Up" – An Inconvenient Truth
– Music and Lyrics: Melissa Etheridge
2007 "Falling Slowly" – Once
– Music and Lyrics: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
2008 "Jai Ho" – Slumdog Millionaire
– Music: A. R. Rahman • Lyrics: Gulzar
2009 "The Weary Kind" – Crazy Heart
– Music and Lyrics: Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
2010 "We Belong Together" – Toy Story 3
– Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman
2011 "Man or Muppet" – The Muppets
– Music and Lyrics: Bret McKenzie
2012 "Skyfall" – Skyfall
– Music and Lyrics: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
2013 "Let It Go" – Frozen
– Music and Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Note: A nomination for "Alone Yet Not Alone" from the film of the same name, written by Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel, was revoked prior to voting when the Academy alleged that Broughton's request "For Your Consideration" was inconsistent with promotional regulations.[13]

2014 "Glory" – Selma
– Music and Lyrics: John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn


Most awards won

Number of nominations in parentheses

Multiple-winning songs

Several songs that won the Academy Award for Best Original Song have also ended up winning the various Award ceremonies, such as the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song; and most notably, the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media, an accolade presented by the Grammy Awards (for the most outstanding achievements in music).

These songs include, "The Windmills of Your Mind" (1968), "The Way We Were" (1973), "I'm Easy" (1975), "Evergreen" (1976), "You Light Up My Life" (1977), "Last Dance" (1978), "Fame" (1980), "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" (1981), "Up Where We Belong" (1982), "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (1983), "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (1984), "Say You, Say Me" (1985), "Take My Breath Away" (1986), "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" (1987), "Under the Sea" (1989), "A Whole New World" (1992), "Streets of Philadelphia" (1993), "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (1994), "Colors of the Wind" (1995), "You Must Love Me" (1996), "When You Believe" (1998), "You'll Be in My Heart" (1999), "Into the West" (2003), "The Weary Kind" (2009) and "Skyfall" (2012).

"My Heart Will Go On" (1997) is the only Academy Award for Best Original Song to also win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Song Written for Visual Media and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. Another Academy Award for Best Original Song winner "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but managed to win the Best Song Written for Visual Media as well as Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals aside from winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. Celine Dion sang the lead vocals on both songs. Skyfall (2012) is the only Brit Award winning song to win an Academy Award.

The song "White Christmas" went on to become one of the biggest selling singles of all time.

Female winners

Dorothy Fields was the first female songwriter to win the Best Original Song Oscar. She wrote the lyrics for the 1936 winner "The Way You Look Tonight" (music by Jerome Kern) sung by Fred Astaire in the film Swing Time. It was thirty-two years before a second woman was honored, Marilyn Bergman, who co-wrote with husband Alan the lyrics for "Windmills of Your Mind" (music Michel Legrand) from The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. Alan & Marilyn Bergman also wrote the lyrics of 1973 winner "The Way We Were" (music Marvin Hamlisch) from the film of the same name (and the lyrics for the film musical Yentl, which won the Oscar in a different category, Best Original Song Score, in 1983).

Barbra Streisand is the first woman to be honored as a composer rather than lyricist (for "Evergreen" from A Star Is Born in 1976).

Female winners since then:

Foreign-language song winners

See also


  1. ^ Susan Sacket, "1941: 'The Last Time I Saw Paris'", Hollywood Sings!, Billboard Books, New York, 1995, pp. 42–43.
  2. ^ a b Rule Fifteen: Special Rules for the Music Awards | Rules for the 86th Academy Awards | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  3. ^ ""Once" Again, a Legit Nominee". The New York Times. 2008-01-29. 
  4. ^ Sacket, "Preface", p. xvii.
  5. ^ BBC2012Noms. "Oscars 2012: Nominees in full". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ 2011 Academy Awards rules (PDF)
  8. ^ Academy press release
  9. ^ "Oscar Show Participants Revealed" (Press release). Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2008-02-14. Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  10. ^ Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits (5th ed.). New York: Billboard Books. p. 586. ISBN 0-8230-7677-6. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  11. ^ (2009-02-14). "Gabriel cancels Oscar night performance". United Press International Inc. Archived from the original on 15 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  12. ^ Oscar nominee Brett McKenzie in Billboard Magazine
  13. ^ Feinberg, Scott (January 29, 2014), "Academy Disqualifies Oscar-Nominated Song 'Alone Yet Not Alone'", The Hollywood Reporter