The pipeline dried up in the early 2000s, however, when adult contemporary music was largely purged from the charts, making room for teen pop and hip-hop. Bizarrely, the film industry—at a time when comic-book adaptations seemingly outnumbered serious adult dramas—didn't follow the music industry's lead and embrace younger artists. Instead, with the exception of family films, it largely abandoned tacking an obligatory song onto its summer blockbusters.
Meanwhile, the major-label music industry—in the midst of what may be its final bubble—was enjoying unprecedented boom years in album sales. Record labels had successfully rid the marketplace of singles, forcing consumers to purchase albums at extreme mark-ups in order to possess a favorite song or two. This practice also limited the need to lend out individual tracks in any way, even to films, which had provided a decades-old revenue stream and a prominent stage. The two institutions have run a parallel course throughout most of the 21st century, rarely intersecting in any meaningful let alone profitable way.
Just exactly how scarred is this relationship? The Motion Picture Academy could only locate two 2011 nominees for Best Original Song at this Sunday's Oscar ceremony: the glorified Carnaval ad "Real in Rio" from Rio and "Man or Muppet?," another existential Muppets song to slot alongside "Bein' Green" and "Halfway Down the Stairs." A great deal of the blame there lies in the convoluted and bizarre formula used to determine those nominees, but with all due respect to composers Sergio Mendes and Brett McKenzie, neither of these songs are going to be placed into the pantheon of great Oscar-winning numbers alongside "Over the Rainbow," "White Christmas," or "The Way You Look Tonight." And, flawed methodology or not, it's damning that the Academy only deemed two of the 39 Best Song finalists worthy of a nomination. (Among the artists who failed to break into the final shortlist were the team of Lady Gaga and Elton John, Zooey Deschanel, Sinead O'Connor, and The National, and if you can hum any of those songs you were paying very close attention to cinema in 2011.)
In 2011, a number of films—Shame, Drive, 50/50, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to name a few—did include distinctive musical sequences, marrying images and non-diegetic sound in interesting ways. For the most part, however, those films followed the now-common practice of using previously published songs. And except for in the case of Carey Mulligan's glacially paced take on "Theme From 'New York, New York'" (itself penned for a film), the songs were unfamiliar to audiences but still left an impression—proving the obvious point that yes, pop songs can enhance a movie.
The other thing those examples have in common is that they were art-house rather than popcorn films. Ironically, though, popcorn movies stand to benefit the most from the smart use of music. In today's tech-driven Hollywood environment, blunt spectacle and effects often crowd out fully dimensional characters and sharp dialogue, which don't as easily translate to homegrown teen or foreign markets. This is essentially how music was cast in numerous '80s blockbusters, with original songs soundtracking action sequences: everything from Top Gun dogfights to climactic karate bouts to preparations for a heavyweight boxing match. It's rare that a film like Drive comes along and wraps all of this into an artistically worthy package, but considering that even dreck like The Woman in Red ("I Just Called to Say I Love You") or A Night in Heaven ("Heaven") spawned No. 1 singles in the '80s, good filmmaking isn't a prerequisite for chart success.