Leonard Cohen, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, may be gone in body, but his spirit and songs are forever preserved onscreen in a myriad of movies. In fact, cinema has long been one of the primary ways that that the singer/songwriter’s music has been introduced and reintroduced to successive generations from ’90s teens wearing out their Pump Up the Volume VHS tape to 21st century kids playing Shrek on repeat. Here’s a brief sampling of some of the most famous Cohen-scored movie moments.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Cohen’s haunting ballad “The Stranger Song” plays over the opening credits of Robert Altman’s revisionist Western, expertly setting the tone for the melancholy character study that’s to come. Two other Cohen tracks, “Sisters of Mercy” and “Winter Lady,” are also heard as John McCabe’s downfall unfolds over the course of the film’s 121-minute runtime, their spare chords blending in and becoming part of the movie’s rugged landscape.
Renaldo and Clara (1978)
Next to “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne” is probably Cohen’s most-covered song, and few covers are superior to Joan Baez’s gorgeous rendition, which has long been a staple of her live concert set-lists. It’s heard in the background of this scene from Bob Dylan’s self-directed cult curiosity, in which he and Baez play thinly veiled versions of their real-life personas interspersed with concert footage shot during the Rolling Thunder Revue.
Pump Up the Volume (1990)
Christian Slater’s teen radio pirate announces his rebellious worldview to his late-night listeners by blasting Cohen’s cynical anthem “Everybody Knows.” The movie itself may be a ’90s time capsule, but that song is forever young.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Oliver Stone’s controversial media satire opens with “Waiting for a Miracle” as modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) turn the tables on a horde of attackers. The movie itself is something of a miracle — a kaleidoscopic fever dream that’s sometimes ridiculous and other times profoundly unsettling.
You may have heard that there’s a secret chord, but it’s no secret that “Hallelujah” has been overplayed over the decades since its 1984 debut, appearing in everything from Basquiat to Watchmen, where Zack Snyder cheekily employed it to accompany a distinctly R-rated sex scene. It even found its way into the animated realm via a Rufus Wainwright cover in the first adventure starring that grouchy green ogre Shrek. Cohen himself got so sick of hearing “Hallelujah,” he actually requested that people maybe pick another tune from his extensive back catalogue to cover.
Director Steven Shainberg’s off-kilter S&M-themed dark comedy uses Cohen’s 1988 track “I’m Your Man,” as a way to comment on its comedic, yet complex depiction of gender and sexual dynamics.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Director Taika Waititi’s acclaimed comedy — one of our favorite movies of the year so far — channels McCabe and Mrs. Miller by using a Cohen song, in this case “The Partisan,” for a montage that features orphan Ricky and his gruff uncle Hec traveling through the snowy New Zealand wilderness.