Forget Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. The biggest pop star of 2017 is John Denver, the country folk singer-songwriter who died 20 years ago.
Denver’s iconic music has already been featured in five different major Hollywood films this year: Free Fire; Alien: Covenant; Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul; Okja; Logan Lucky. A sixth, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, hits theaters on Friday (Sept. 22).
In Kingsman, Denver’s popular folk anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” has a starring role. (Minor spoilers to follow.) The song is used several times throughout the film, including during its climax, when one of the main characters sings it (poorly) as he does something heroic. It was a great moment in an otherwise messy, superfluous movie, proving that Denver’s delicate and inspiring artistry can elevate just about anything.
Vulture got to the bottom of Denver’s unlikely cinematic renaissance in August. The musician’s estate recently partnered with Kobalt Music Group, a rights management company that represents artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Kelly Clarkson to Skrillex, and began to prioritize licensing Denver’s music to Hollywood:
To secure the rights to a Denver song, Abrams explained, the filmmakers must submit scene briefs. If they aren’t clear enough as to how the music will be used and further questions don’t clear the matter up, Denver’s children and their business managers are consulted as well. What’s most important, said Abrams, is that they remain in line with Denver’s ideals: He’s remembered as a philanthropist and humanitarian as much as he is a musician, and much of the content on his official web page is devoted to his messages of peace and compassion.
The Year of Denver kicked off with Free Fire, a British action film that ironically used Denver’s gentle, poignant “Annie’s Song” during a brutal action scene:
20th Century Fox used “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in its official marketing for Alien: Covenant. In the film itself, travelers on a spaceship pick up a rogue transmission from a mysterious planet: the voice of a woman singing Denver’s tune.
“Annie’s Song” was also used in the Netflix film Okja, about a young girl’s attempt to rescue her pet superpig from the clutches of a multinational corporation. Director Bong Joon Ho told the New York Times that he picked the song for its nostalgic qualities.
The most effective use of Denver’s music, though, came in Steven Soderbergh’s joyous heist film, Logan Lucky. The song bookends the film, appearing in its very first scene and again toward the end, as a young girl sings it for her father in a beauty pageant.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from or when you were born, apparently: John Denver’s music can always take you home.