The 10 Greatest Lip-Sync Scenes in Pop Culture History

By
Share:

This weekend, the Bill Hader-Kristen Wiig dramedy The Skeleton Twins rolls out in limited release, and it’s well worth a look. When I saw the film at Sundance earlier this year, I had one immediate thought: that lip-sync scene is gonna be huge on YouTube. It’s part of a long tradition in pop culture, wherein a mood of camaraderie, eccentricity, or affection is established by having our characters throw themselves into a live, mimed performance of a recorded classic. These are a few of our favorites.

The Skeleton Twins

The trailer above doesn’t show nearly enough of it, but Hader and Wiig’s lip-sync of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” really is the movie’s highlight — and not just because it’s a funny rendering of a kitschy song. Director Craig Johnson and his co-writer Mark Heyman build drama and history into the scene; it comes at a moment when Wiig has had it with Hader’s character, so her reluctance to join in makes for a truly satisfying beat. But more importantly, it gives us a clear grasp on their relationship, both in the closer days when this little routine was created, and in its current, more strained iteration.

American Hustle

Jennifer Lawrence’s gum-chewing, nail polish-sniffing, bored housewife takes out her frustrations and enjoys her own deviousness by furiously scrubbing her home while singing along with Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” in David O. Russell’s 2013 con comedy/drama American Hustle. But that wasn’t the only version of the scene the improv-reliant Russell shot for the film; its Blu-ray release includes this alternate version, where Ms. Lawrence lip syncs and gets down to Santana’s “Evil Ways.”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

For us children of the ‘80s, this is the ultimate lip-sync sequence — and perhaps the most impressive feat of the titular day off, since it’s not everyone who can take over a parade in a major metropolitan city for not one, but two numbers. In one ridiculously entertaining sequence, writer/director John Hughes introduced the Beatles to a whole new age bracket (with horns, alas) and made Wayne Newton cool again, for the first time in decades.

Pretty in Pink

Mr. Hughes knew the value of a well-placed lip-sync scene. The year after Ferris Bueller, he wrote (but did not direct) Pretty in Pink, and gave Jon Cryer his best movie moment to date: a full-throttle, all-out rendition of one of the greatest of all soul numbers. And yet, that twit Andie still chose dumb ol’ Blaine.

Blue Velvet

David Lynch has a special relationship with Roy Orbison — one of the many unforgettable scenes in his Mulholland Drive, for example, is the Spanish-language interpretation of “Crying.” But the definitive marriage of Mr. Lynch and Mr. Orbison is in 1986’s Blue Velvet, as Dean Stockwell drops in to do a bit of “In Dreams.”

Dirty Dancing

Even those of us in the minority on this dubious ‘80s classic must admire the energy and charm of this adorable scene, in which “Baby” and “Johnny” take on the roles of Mickey and Sylvia in the 1957 hit “Love Is Strange.” It’s playful and sweet and more than a little sexy, and who knows what it would’ve led to, had that worm Neil not shown up to spout all that pachenga nonsense.

Wayne’s World

You might think we’d go “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but you’d be wrong — that’s a sing-along, jeez. No, the lip-sync highlight of Penelope Spheeris’ 1992 SNL-based comedy is Garth’s, um, inventively choreographed ode to the hair-blowing, backlit “Dreamwoman” played by Donna Dixon (Bosom Buddies co-star, and Dan Aykroyd’s wife). Ya gotta give Dana Carvey this much: he always, always commits.

Risky Business

Hey, lookie, it’s the scene that made Tom Cruise a superstar — and kept “Old Time Rock and Roll” in the public consciousness, to the detriment of every wedding reception since 1983.

The Cosby Show

Real talk: the entire reason this is a “pop culture” list rather than merely a film list is solely to merit the inclusion of this clip, which made me laugh the first time I saw it 30 years ago, and every single damn time since. The whole thing is the definition of charming; you can just imagine the Huxtable family rehearsing this little anniversary tribute after dinner one night. But it’s the scene’s deft use of little Rudy, performing Margie Hendricks’ duet part with uproarious gusto, that makes it such a great scene — and one that, of course, they shamelessly attempted (and failed) to replicate with awful Olivia years later.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

We’ve seen performances both good and bad of the Dreamgirls showstopper “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)” — from the heights of Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar-winning performance in the 2006 film version to the lows of, um, these white ladies. But no one does it quite like Will Smith, who busts out the Jennifer Holliday original for Uncle Phil in this 1990 episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. And it wasn’t just a throwaway sitcom moment, but a pop-culture convergence — that episode is when Hudson says she first heard the song.