Academy Award for Best Original Song

Academy Award for Best Original Song
Country United States
Presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
First awarded 1934
Currently held by Jimmy Napes
Sam Smith
Writing's on the Wall” (2015)
Official website

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.


"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."[1]

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.

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.[2][3] Songs that rely on sampled or reworked material along with cover versions, remixes and parodies, such as "Gangsta's Paradise" in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, are also ineligible.

This rule means that when a film is adapted from a previously-produced stage musical, none of the existing songs from the musical are eligible. As a result, many recent film adaptations of 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".[4] 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.[3]

Number of nominations

Until the Academy Awards for 1945 (awarded in 1946) any number of songs could be nominated for the award. For the 1945 awards, 14 songs were nominated.

From 1946 to 2011, each member of the Music Branch of the Academy was asked to vote using a points system of 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 qualified, 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 system usually resulted in five nomnations each year, except for 2010 when four were nominated, 1988, 2005, and 2008, when only three were nominated; and 2011 when only two were nominated.[5][6]

Following the two song competition in 2011, the rules were changed once more. The number of nominations is now contingent upon the number of submissions. Depending on the amount received by the Academy there would be five, three or no nominations each year.[7] Since then, there have always been five nominees, except in 2013 when one was disqualified.

The first film to receive multiple nominations 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.[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 the 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 is 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 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 those 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 was 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 or "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 were in 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. The 88th Academy Awards also had three of the five nominees performed. Anohni, performer and writer of "Manta Ray", one of the two nominated songs cut from the ceremony, boycotted the ceremony for this reason.[13]

List of winners and nominees


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1934 "The Continental" – The Gay Divorcee • Music: Con Conrad • Lyrics: Herb Magidson
1935 "Lullaby of Broadway" – Gold Diggers of 1935 • Music: Harry Warren • Lyrics: Al Dubin
1936 "The Way You Look Tonight" – Swing Time • Music: Jerome Kern • Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
1937 "Sweet Leilani" – Waikiki Wedding • Music & Lyrics: Harry Owens
1938 "Thanks for the Memory" – The Big Broadcast of 1938 • Music: Ralph Rainger • Lyrics: Leo Robin
1939 "Over the Rainbow" – The Wizard of Oz • Music: Harold Arlen • Lyrics: Yip Harburg


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1940 "When You Wish Upon a Star" – Pinocchio
– Music: Leigh Harline • Lyrics: Ned Washington
1941 "The Last Time I Saw Paris" – Lady Be Good • Music: Jerome Kern • Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
1942 "White Christmas" – Holiday Inn • Music & Lyrics: Irving Berlin
1943 "You'll Never Know" – Hello, Frisco, Hello • Music: Harry Warren • Lyrics: Mack Gordon
1944 "Swinging on a Star" – Going My Way • Music: Jimmy Van Heusen • Lyrics: Johnny Burke
1945 "It Might as Well Be Spring" – State Fair • Music: Richard Rodgers • Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
1946 "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" – The Harvey Girls • Music: Harry Warren • Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
1947 "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" – Song of the South • Music: Allie Wrubel • Lyrics: Ray Gilbert
1948 "Buttons and Bows" – The Paleface • Music: Jay Livingston • Lyrics: Ray Evans
1949 "Baby, It's Cold Outside" – Neptune's Daughter • Music & Lyrics: Frank Loesser


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1950 "Mona Lisa" – Captain Carey, U.S.A.
– Music & Lyrics: Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
1951 "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" – Here Comes the Groom
– Music: Hoagy Carmichael • Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
1952 "The Ballad of High Noon" – High Noon
– Music: Dimitri Tiomkin • Lyrics: Ned Washington
1953 "Secret Love" – Calamity Jane
– Music: Sammy Fain • Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
1954 "Three Coins in the Fountain" – Three Coins in the Fountain
– Music: Jule Styne • Lyrics: Sammy Cahn
1955 "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" – Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
– Music: Sammy Fain • Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
1956 "Qué Será, Será" – The Man Who Knew Too Much
– Music & Lyrics: Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
1957 "All the Way" – The Joker Is Wild
– Music: Jimmy Van Heusen • Lyrics: Sammy Cahn
1958 "Gigi" – Gigi
– Music: Frederick Loewe • Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
1959 "High Hopes" – A Hole in the Head
– Music: Jimmy Van Heusen • Lyrics: Sammy Cahn


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1960 "Never on Sunday" – Never on Sunday
– Music & Lyrics: Manos Hatzidakis
1961 "Moon River" – Breakfast at Tiffany's
– Music: Henry Mancini • Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
1962 "Days of Wine and Roses" – Days of Wine and Roses
– Music: Henry Mancini • Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
1963 "Call Me Irresponsible" – Papa's Delicate Condition
– Music: Jimmy Van Heusen • Lyrics: Sammy Cahn
1964 "Chim Chim Cher-ee" – Mary Poppins
– Music & Lyrics: Sherman Brothers
1965 "The Shadow of Your Smile" – The Sandpiper
– Music: Johnny Mandel • Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
1966 "Born Free" – Born Free
– Music: John Barry • Lyrics: Don Black
1967 "Talk to the Animals" – Doctor Dolittle
– Music & Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
1968 "The Windmills of Your Mind" – The Thomas Crown Affair
– Music: Michel Legrand • Lyrics: Alan & Marilyn Bergman
1969 "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
– Music: Burt Bacharach • Lyrics: Hal David


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
1970 "For All We Know" – Lovers and Other Strangers
– Music: Fred Karlin • Lyrics: Jimmy Griffin & Robb Royer
1971 "Theme from Shaft" – Shaft
– Music & Lyrics: Isaac Hayes
1972 "The Morning After" – The Poseidon Adventure
– Music & Lyrics: Joel Hirschhorn & Al Kasha
1973 "The Way We Were" – The Way We Were
– Music: Marvin Hamlisch • Lyrics: Alan & Marilyn Bergman
1974 "We May Never Love Like This Again" – The Towering Inferno
– Music & Lyrics: Joel Hirschhorn & Al Kasha
1975 "I'm Easy" – Nashville
– Music & 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 & Lyrics: Joseph Brooks
1978 "Last Dance" – Thank God It’s Friday
– Music & 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 & Lyrics: Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross, & Carole Bayer Sager
1982 "Up Where We Belong" – An Officer and a Gentleman
– Music: Jack Nitzsche & Buffy Sainte-Marie • Lyrics: Will Jennings
1983 "Flashdance... What a Feeling" – Flashdance
– Music: Giorgio Moroder • Lyrics: Irene Cara & Keith Forsey
1984 "I Just Called to Say I Love You" – The Woman in Red
– Music & Lyrics: Stevie Wonder
1985 "Say You, Say Me" – White Nights
– Music & 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: John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz, & Franke Previte • Lyrics: Franke Previte
1988 "Let the River Run" – Working Girl
– Music & 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" – Dick Tracy
– Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
1991 "Beauty and the Beast" – Beauty and the Beast
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Howard Ashman (p.r.)
1992 "A Whole New World" – Aladdin
– Music: Alan Menken • Lyrics: Tim Rice
1993 "Streets of Philadelphia" – Philadelphia
– Music & 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 & Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
1999 "You'll Be in My Heart" – Tarzan
– Music & Lyrics: Phil Collins


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


Year Winning songwriter(s) Nominees
2010 "We Belong Together" – Toy Story 3
– Music & Lyrics: Randy Newman
2011 "Man or Muppet" – The Muppets
– Music & Lyrics: Bret McKenzie
2012 "Skyfall" – Skyfall
– Music & Lyrics: Adele & Paul Epworth
2013 "Let It Go" – Frozen
– Music & Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
2014 "Glory" – Selma
– Music & Lyrics: Common & John Legend
2015 "Writing's on the Wall" – Spectre
– Music & Lyrics: Jimmy Napes & Sam Smith


Winners of multiple awards

Number of nominations in parentheses

Foreign-language song winners

Revoked song nomination


  1. 2011 Academy Awards rules (PDF)
  2. Susan Sacket, "1941: 'The Last Time I Saw Paris'", Hollywood Sings!, Billboard Books, New York, 1995, pp. 42–43.
  3. 1 2 Rule Fifteen: Special Rules for the Music Awards | Rules for the 86th Academy Awards | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Archived October 25, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ""Once" Again, a Legit Nominee". The New York Times. 2008-01-29.
  5. Sacket, "Preface", p. xvii.
  6. BBC2012Noms. "Oscars 2012: Nominees in full". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  7. Academy press release
  8. "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.
  9. 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.
  10. (2009-02-14). "Gabriel cancels Oscar night performance". United Press International Inc. Archived from the original on 15 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  11. Oscar nominee Brett McKenzie in Billboard Magazine
  12. "Why Best Song nominee Anohni is sitting out the Oscars". Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  13. Feinberg, Scott (January 29, 2014), "Academy Disqualifies Oscar-Nominated Song 'Alone Yet Not Alone'", The Hollywood Reporter
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