From the moment in the late 1960s when a British blues band called Earth renamed themselves after a Boris Karloff fright film—Black Sabbath, to be exact—heavy metal music has been profoundly intertwined with the medium of motion pictures.
Since then, no top-tier headbanger ensemble has tapped into that movie-metal connection more regularly, powerfully, or to more awesome effect than Iron Maiden.
Although the only major film named The Iron Maiden that’s not directly related to the group (such as their 2009 big-screen documentary Iron Maiden: Flight 666) is a 1962 romantic comedy, England’s supreme hard-and-heavy heroes have been paying tribute to cinematic milestones from their first album onward.
Hear Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith discuss the band’s longevity in this That Metal Show bonus clip and then, in chronological order, check out the Top 10 Iron Maiden songs inspired by movies.
“Phantom of the Opera” (1980)
Album: Iron Maiden
Although the enduring horror phenomenon Phantom of the Opera debuted in 1909 as a serialized novel by Gaston Leroux, the 1925 silent film adaptation with Lon Chaney truly rendered Phantom iconic.
The movie’s sudden, surprise revelation of Chaney’s monstrous, unmasked face in Phantom—the same visage that still dominates Halloween each year—was one of scary cinema’s first shock moments powerful enough to make audience members faint and/or flee from their seats.
Surely, it’s Chaney’s Paris Opera House creeper to whom original Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno wails: “I’m running and hiding in my dreams you’re always there/ You’re the Phantom of the Opera, you’re the devil, you’re just out to scare/ You damaged my mind and my soul it just floats through the air/Haunt me, you taunt me, you torture me back at your lair.”
Phantom of the Opera (1925)
“Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1981)
Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is often pointed to as the first modern detective fiction. Its eerie saga of a two slain women and a non-human suspect in Paris has been adapted for the stage, radio, and television, as well as a video game, and multiple movie versions.
The most famous film take on the tale is 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, a Universal Pictures horror classic starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist who experiments with transfusions of ape blood into humans. No such diabolical doctor exists in Poe’s original piece, but the movie remade the material indelibly as its own and, since then, has inspired others to create new characters and new realms within the Rue Morgue universe.
Iron Maiden does just that in the song “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The lyrics chronicle an eyewitness to the aftermath of the central crime who panics and flees. The end packs a twist as, after singing “I can’t speak French, so I couldn’t explain,” the narrator reveals, “but I know that it’s on my mind/that my doctor said I’ve done it before.”
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
“Children of the Damned” (1982)
Album: The Number of the Beast
Children of the Damned is a thoroughly British sequel to the thoroughly British chiller Village of the Damned (1960), which in turn is based on a novel with a thoroughly British name, The Midwich Cuckoos.
Village chronicles a supernatural event in an English hamlet that strikes every female resident pregnant. Nine months later, they all give birth at the same time to blonde babies who, in time, grow up to be dangerously intelligent, coldly emotionless youngsters who share a psychic link and the power to control the minds of others by staring at them until the kids’ eyes become spinning vortexes.
Children follows the original story by focusing a group of kids who have emerged from similar incidents all over the world as London scientists study them. Gathering and centralizing such an international cabal of hyper-advanced, telekinetically lethal beings, of course, proves problematic.
Interestingly, Village of the Damned portrayed the kids as pure alien menace, while Children ponders the possibility that they may be the next leap forward in human evolution. When the children commit their whirling-eyed violence, it’s proposed, it may simply be as a means of collective self-defense.
Iron Maiden’s “Children of the Damned” explores this theory further. Inspired entirely by the movie, vocalist Bruce Dickinson sings, “He’s walking like a small child/but watch his eyes burn you away/black holes in his golden stare/God knows he wants to go home/Children of the Damned.”
Children of the Damned (1964)
“Quest for Fire” (1983)
Album: Piece of Mind
While nobody expects Iron Maiden to be evolutionary scientists, it’s pretty funny that their musical tribute to the big-screen prehistoric adventure Quest for Fire opens with the lines: “In a time when dinosaurs walked the earth/when the land was swamp and caves were home/in an age when prize possession was fire/to search for landscapes men would roam.”
No dinosaurs actually appear in the movie Quest for Fire, nor the 1911 novel on which its based, but the heroic cavemen played by Everett McGill and Ron Perlman due encounter mastodons, sabre-tooth tigers, and cannibal tribes on their titular mission.
The song “Quest for Fire” otherwise accurately recounts the action in the movie, nicely summing up the saga’s overall theme in its closing lines, “Drawn by quest for fire/they searched across the land/drawn by quest for fire/discovery of man.”
Quest for Fire (1981)
“Where Eagles Dare” (1983)
Album: Piece of Mind
The 1968 World War II epic Where Eagles Dare stars Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton as commandos who parachute into the Bavarian Alps to free a flying ace held captive by Nazis.
Iron Maiden’s “Where Eagles Dare” matches the grand Cinemascope scale of the movie bringing the mission to listener’s ear with riffs and rhythms that alternate between being hard charging and suspenseful.
The words also closely reflect the film, getting as specific as: They’re closing in the/fortress is near/It’s standing high in the sky/the cable car’s the only way in/it’s really impossible to climb” before offering a final salute with, “They dared to go where no one would try/they chose to fly where eagles dare.”
Where Eagles Dare (1968)
“Aces High” (1984)
The official music video for Iron Maiden’s soaring, dive-bombing “Aces High” begins as the group’s ’80s concerts famously did: with actual audio of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill rousing the English people during World War II by declaring, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
The song tips its leather pilot goggles to the Royal Air Force fighters who heeded Churchill’s call by borrowing the title of a 1976 UK-France co-production starring Malcolm McDowell and Christopher Plummer as seasoned airmen take on Nazi fighter planes.
“Rolling, turning, diving,” Bruce Dickinson wails as the music keeps pace. “Run, live to fly/fly to live, do or die/Won’t you run?/Live to fly, fly to live/Aces high.”
Aces High (1976)
“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (1986)
Album: Somewhere In Time
The soul-crushing brutalism of how 20th century England dealt with wayward students has spawned outrage-inducing art from A Clockwork Orange to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),”
More understated, but delivering no less devastating a wallop, is the stark, black-and-white 1962 drama The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Tom Courtenay stars as teenage Colin Smith, the young athlete of the title who robs a bakery, gets deemed “rebellious,” and thereby sentenced to Ruxton Towers, a dire reform school. He survives by excelling at long-distance running.
Ruxton, naturally, aims to exploit Colin’s talent for its own gain, which leads to a climactic moment of refusal and resistance that strikes an earth-shaking blow for freedom and individuality.
Iron Maiden reflects the film’s intensity with their varyingly paced “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” England’s most English of bands addresses the story’s national issue from Colin Smith’s point-of-view, recounting his longing for liberty, and his exhilaration continually hurling himself forward.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
“The Evil That Men Do” (1988)
Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The familiar phrase “the evil that men do” comes from the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. As Roman official Brutus eulogizes the emperor he helped to assassinate, he says: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Introducing the Iron Maiden tune “The Evil That Men Do” in concert, frontman Bruce Dickinson typically quoted the Bard’s line, but flipped its order so that it ended on an evil note.
The song itself makes no specific reference to Shakespeare or Caesar—its most direct inspiration—let alone Charles Bronson. Still, the title did arise just as a singularly savage Bronson blowout called The Evil That Men Do was picking up steam as a cult film.
That could easily be a coincidence or, then again, the song’s moniker may well have popped into the group’s consciousness as a result of headbangers worldwide being enthralled by Bronson’s Evil adventure, wherein he travels to Latin America to relentlessly hunt down a master of torture. Maiden’s music certainly keeps pace with the movie’s two-fisted affronts, blow for brutal blow.
The Evil That Men Do (1984)
“Run Silent Run Deep” (1990)
Album: No Prayer for the Dying
Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster co-star in the 1958 Hollywood classic Run Silent, Run Deep, a beneath-the-sea saga of a U.S. submarine running a stealth mission against Imperial Japanese forces.
Perpetually inspired as they are by World War II, Iron Maiden’s “Run Silent Run Deep” recounts the film’s happenings in considerable lyrical detail, putting the listener right inside the sub along side the crew.
The song even addresses the movies striking underlying cynicism when it ends not on a note of great patriotic triumph, but with the words: “They can pin some medal on your chest/but in two more weeks – dead like the rest.”
Run Silent Run Deep (1958)
“The Wicker Man” (2000)
Album: Brave New World
Hailed as the peak of a short-lived 1960s and ’70s genre known as “British folk horror,” The Wicker Man is a heady, bone-chilling cult classic that seems tailor made for an Iron Maiden musical interpretation.
On screen, The Wicker Man details the descent of Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward), a proper Christian detective who searches for a missing teenage girl on Summerisle, a pagan respite off the coast of the UK. Lord Summerisle, who’s in charge there, is played by no less a titan of doom than Christopher Lee.
Sgt. Howie’s undoing results in one of cinema’s the most heinously harrowing and horribly unforgettable sequences. Iron Maiden’s “The Wicker Man” doesn’t so much retell the film’s plot as it does wax philosophic about the larger themes of forced sacrifice, cosmic rebirth, and the hand of fate that awaits, bearing a torch, for us all.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points). It will iron your maiden.
[Photo: Getty Images]