Overkill: Using “Adagio for Strings” in Movies and TV

I want you to take a look at the list of movies and TV shows that have used Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” or its choral arrangement, “Agnus Dei”:

  • A Very Natural Thing (1974)
  • The Elephant Man (1980)
  • El Norte (1983)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
  • Wild Reeds (1994)
  • Falling for You (1995) (TV)
  • “ER” episode “Do One, Teach One, Kill One” (1995)
  • The Scarlet Letter (1995)
  • The Hunters (1996)
  • “Seinfeld” episode “The Fatigues” (1996)
  • The Closing Down of the Renault Factory at Vilvoorde Belgium – The Sexual Life of the Belgians – Part 3 (1999)
  • “Red Dwarf” episode “Only the Good…” (1999)
  • “Spaced” episode “Battles” (1999)
  • Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000)
  • Amélie (2001)
  • S1m0ne (2002)
  • 3 episodes of “The Simpsons”: “The Strong Arms of the Ma” (2003), “Marge Gamer” (2007), “Little Orphan Millie” (2007)
  • Swimming Upstream (2003)
  • Reconstruction (2003)
  • “South Park” episode “Up the Down Steroid” (2004)
  • Ma Mère (2004)
  • Peace One Day (2004)
  • Liubi (2005)
  • Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)
  • Sicko (2007)
  • “Big Love” episode “Outer Darkness” (2009)
  • “American Dad!” episode “In Country… Club” (2009)
  • “How I Met Your Mother” episode “Jenkins” (2010)

That’s not everything, but it’s enough. As beautiful as Barber’s music is, I’m sick of its overuse. I haven’t even seen most of what’s on the above list, but after recently hearing “Adagio for Strings” used all throughout Lorenzo’s Oil, I was really tired of it. I still think that the way the piece is used in The Elephant Man is incredibly effective, but how will I ever be able to watch Amélie or Platoon without rolling my eyes? (And of course I don’t want that to happen.) On the other hand, the way that “Seinfeld” uses the music – presumably an homage to Platoon – is great, especially because of Jerry Stiller.


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