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Beethoven at the Movies

Beethoven is the face of Western classical music, the power of his music resonating throughout the ages. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth, we are taking a look at some uses of Beethoven’s music in film … and one notable television special.

The King’s Speech (2010)

The dramatic second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 underscores a climactic scene in The King’s Speech. King George VI—Colin Firth in his Academy Award– winning role—addresses the British public on the eve of World War II, and the music perfectly heightens the scene’s tension.

Brief archival clip of Vladimir Horowitz performing at the reopening of Carnegie Hall in December 1986.

That same musical passage also accompanies a moving scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) when the title character—played by Richard Dreyfuss—explains the nature of Beethoven’s deafness to his class.

Mr. Holland’s Opus

Die Hard (1988)

You might not connect the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as music to accompany a safe-cracking, but that’s just what happens in Die Hard. Hans Gruber—deliciously portrayed by the late Alan Rickman—and his villainous crew finally bust open the vault of the Nakatomi Corporation’s headquarters as the famous passage resounds. Their joy is short-lived as super cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) foils their plans. Yippee-ki-yay, Beethoven!

Die Hard

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The set-up for Beethoven’s most iconic tune comes in one of The Breakfast Club’s most famous scenes. While serving detention, bad boy John Bender (Judd Nelson) starts to whistle the “Colonel Bogey March” (which also can be heard in The Bridge on the River Kwai), and each one of his fellow students pick up the tune. The hardnosed principal interrupts them and Bender changes the tune to the “da da da dum!” opening of the Fifth Symphony—the sound of fate knocking at the door.

The Breakfast Club

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Director Stanley Kubrick frequently utilized classical music in his films, but in his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel he uses Beethoven’s music as an actual plot point. The film’s anti-hero—played by Malcolm McDowell—worships Beethoven’s music, and various passages of the Ninth Symphony provide the soundtrack to some unforgettable scenes.

A Clockwork Orange

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Perhaps the most famous Beethoven fan in all of popular culture is Schroeder of Peanuts fame. Schroeder expressed his love for the composer in countless cartoons, but most famously in the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schroeder plays the beloved “Für Elise” as Lucy chides him, “Beethoven wasn’t so great … He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he?”

A Charlie Brown Christmas