Home / Culture / Flashback Friday: The Long Soundtrack Shelf Life of “Mad World”

Flashback Friday: The Long Soundtrack Shelf Life of “Mad World”


The story of a cover song from 1983 featured in a 2001 cult film that keeps being put into trailers in the 2010’s.

Earlier, I put out a notice to other LGM bloggers asking for song requests for Flashback Friday. Shakezula answered the call and suggested a wonderful song that I had no idea was originally a Tears For Fears track from 1983!

Twenty years after it was originally written, a stripped down cover for a film about disenchanted youth would rage like wildfire on the UK singles charts. Since the movie 2001 Donnie Darko, a fantastic mind-trip for older millennials like me, featured the song on its soundtrack I have heard a number of renditions. Most of them follow the Gary Jules’ style rather than the original T4F. And perhaps unsurprisingly, keep ending up in trailers for other things we are supposed to know are emotional.

The AV Club has a great bit of history from 2013 on just how much the song and film became identified with each other, completely reinventing the song and solidifying the iconicity of the film.


Gary Jules (2002)

Gary Jules created this version for Michael Andrews who was putting together the Donnie Darko soundtrack. You can also check out this fan-made video that features clips from the movie so you can get an idea of how the two mediums worked together to create such an arresting song.

I’m not sure how this is legally possible, but this version also appears on the video game soundtrack for Gears of War and in the 2016 trailer for them film American Pastoral. A trailer for Man In The High Castle also used the song, but sung by Ilana Tarutina.

Puddles & Hailey Reinhart for Postmodern Jukebox (2015)

You have no idea how excited I am to finally introduce you to Puddles, the sad clown with the golden voice. Many YouTube videos of him exist and the man is really really good at not breaking character even as people around him fall over in laughter. I’m also pleased to introduce Hailey Reinhart because of all the PMJ lady singers, her voice is among the most unique.


Besides PMJ, its nearly impossible to find a cover of the song that isn’t just a complete recreation of the Gary Jules/Michael Andrews version. Imagine Dragons adds an interesting guitar bridge.


Do you have any favorite versions? Or a favorite film/video game/TV show where the song has appeared?



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  • spencer_e9876

    I had no idea was originally a Tears For Fears track from 1983!

    Christ, I feel old now.

    • i had no idea either, and i’m old enough to have hated TFF in real time.

      the song just got no airplay on the radio stations i was listening to. and i don’t remember ever seeing it on MTV. seems strange that it’s as popular as it is, now.

      • kenfair

        I’m confused by this, because I’d always considered “Mad World” to be one of their most popular songs.
        I actually like both TFF’s version and the Gary Jules remake.

        • it didn’t even break the top 100 in the US. their first US hits, two years later, were “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To…”


          • stepped pyramids

            I think a lot of songs that were popular in the UK have eventually become well-liked over here in retrospect by people who like that kind of thing.

      • Linnaeus

        I knew it was originally a Tears for Fears song (I was a serious new waver in my youth), but you’re right in that it didn’t get nearly as much airplay as “Shout”, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” or even “Head Over Heels”.

        • As with many 80s New Wave bands their more upbeat/less dark things were picked up by Pop/Top 40s stations. Tracks like Mad World and Working Hour were not.

      • Bruce Baugh

        It got airplay on KROQ, and then on college radio in the Pacific Northwest, so I got to hear it a fair amount. :)

  • Just_Dropping_By

    I’m not sure how this is legally possible, but this version also appears on the video game soundtrack for Gears of War

    The song was first used in the TV ads for the game and got a lot of attention due to the contrast between the contemplative music and frenetic action on screen.

  • majeff

    Yay, Puddles!

    • wjts

      Counterpoint: boo, Puddles.

      • N__B

        If the nasty in Shit It sang like that, those meddling kids would never have gone after it.

        • wjts

          I just watched the trailer for It. I am, astonishingly, actually looking forward to it.

          • N__B

            I do not want to be forced into sympathy with a killer-clown-elemenatl-force. YMMV.

            • wjts

              I have very mixed feelings about It the novel. I really like horror stories where landscape and geography are important to both the atmosphere and the plot, and the novel does it really well. I also like stories that involve unraveling mysterious secrets of the past, where the true nature of what’s going on is parceled out over the course of the story (the “Derry Interludes” are probably my favorite parts of the book. I think King also has a real knack for young characters.

              On the other hand, it’s got some woman issues. And some race issues. And a lot of the clown stuff from the 1950s chapters is less scary than it is stupid (the Neiboldt St. set piece succeeds pretty much in spite of itself, what with the teenage werewolf). And it’s a little bloated, though I think I have less of a problem with that than you do.

              And of course, the scene in the sewers at the end. Ugh.

              • N__B

                Honestly, I’m over King as a fiction writer. I think he’s a good guy – his tweets on politics are often great – and I like his non-fiction on writing. I just can’t read horror longer than 200, 250 pages any more. Richard Matheson and early GRR Martin is more my speed these days.

                Given that, I’ll bow out of critiquing King’s novels. I’ve read a dozen of them, reread most of those, and I’m no longer a fan of any of them.

                • Anna in PDX

                  I really think Stephen King is better at short stories than novels. But I also like horror as a short story genre better in general. I think horror is basically about weird concepts that are explored well in short fiction and don’t sustain through longer fiction.

                • N__B

                  Yeah, King’s stories hold up for me much better than his novels. But I don’t think he writes stories much any more.

                • Anna in PDX

                  My fave short story horror writer is Clive Barker. Whew, they always give me chills and sometimes nightmares.

                • N__B

                  Have you tried 1950s-60s Matheson? “Born of Man and Woman” has haunted me for close to forty years.

                  ETA: “Where There’s a Will.” Matheson turned the desire to survive into horror.

                • Anna in PDX

                  Thanks, I will try to get some from the library!

                • wjts

                  Yeah, “Born of Man and Woman” is kind of amazing. “Through Channels” is a personal favorite and, more low-key, “Old Haunts”.

                • N__B

                  OMFG, “Old Haunts.”

                • wjts

                  I can’t think of any horror writer with a more impressive range than Matheson. “Old Haunts” and “Born of Man and Woman” are miles apart in tone and voice and they’re both great.

                • N__B

                  I like Barker but his stories don’t get under my skin the way that stories by Matheson or, say, Robert Bloch* do.

                  * Obligatory Bloch reference: his stories get under your skin by burrowing.

                • wjts

                  Bloch never did it for me.

                • N__B

                  I got Mrs__B hooked on Bloch with “The Night Before Christmas.”

                • wjts

                  If I can find a copy, I’ll check it out.

                • N__B

                  Fair warning: it’s a horror shaggy-dog story.

                • Bruce Baugh
                • N__B


                • wjts

                  I like Matheson a lot. I don’t think I’ve read any of Martin’s horror stories (pretty sure I’ve only read one or two short stories outside of his Game of Thrones stuff). You might enjoy John Langan. The Fisherman was a pretty brief read.

                • N__B

                  Try “Sandkings” by Martin. It’s 40-odd years old and prefigures some of his obsessions that show up in GoT. I’ll take a look at Langan.

                • wjts

                  I did read that one. I liked it, but I’d probably call it sci-fi rather than horror. (Kind of an arbitrary distinction in this case, I grant.)

                • N__B

                  Not for the protagonist.

                • wjts

                  Yeah, fair enough. For me, though, if there’s a spaceship or an alien in it, I usually put it in the sci-fi box, even things like Alien and The Thing.

                • Drew

                  Is Sandkings in a collection that’s currently in print by any chance?

                • N__B

                  No idea. I have it in a twenty-or-more-year-old paperback. I read it when it was first published in, believe it or not, Omni.

  • aachrisg

    fastgrass version

    • DJ

      Upvote for Duluth band

  • Attezz

    I once started a Pandora station for Kate Miller-Heidke (still my most played one), and I thought it was interesting that the first 5 songs it played were Mad World covers (Jasmine Thompson, and Adam Lambert are the only ones I remember).

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Was Alex Parks’s version another of them?


      • Greg Wellman

        Alex Parks is a favorite, but it is essentially a recreation of the Gary Jules/Michael Andrews version.

        • Just_Dropping_By

          I agree it’s not very different. I was just asking if it was another one of the five covers you got because it turns up in several of my Pandora playlists as do the Jasmine Thompson and Adam Lambert versions.

  • Brownian

    What timing! I spent most of yesterday listening to PMJ and P3! Looks like it’ll be more of the same today!

    • N__B

      PMJ captured me with the version of Creep that was well publicized a few months back.

      • Brownian

        For me it was their versions of Lorde’s “Royals” and “Team” with Puddles.

      • Brownian

        Listening to Creep now. Reinhart’s voice is giving me chills.

        • majeff

          Yeah, I hadn’t heard their version of Creep until just now. Wow!

  • I had no idea the cover was so popular. I appreciate what Jules did, but think the contrast is what makes the original a great song rather than an OK song.

    • N__B

      I appreciate a dirge as much as the next depressive…

    • Adam Short

      The cover is great in the context of the movie, but yeah, it’s just mopey on its own. Tears for Fears is always great

    • Lost Left Coaster

      Yes, I agree. Frankly I think the original represents the best of ’80s pop — dark, mysterious, and energetic.

  • Taylor

    If I had seen Donnie Darko as a teenager, it would have changed my life.

  • Downpup E

    Adam Lambert singing Mad World was, FWIW, the best ever on American Idol


    • Hornet_Queen

      I came and checked the comments, just for this, in case no one had shared it yet. I don’t even watch Idol, but the day after this performance all my internet friends had fallen in love, so I got to enjoy it. Fantastic talent.

      • Downpup E

        This was the year we got into Idol
        The interest started to end at the finals when we realized that 11 year old girls from Cobb County had taken over the voting

  • Anna in PDX

    First, I am starting to look forward to these Friday posts as it is neat to hear a bunch of different versions of a cool song.
    Second, I knew the Tears for Fears song but forgot about it. When I was living overseas I watched Donnie Darko on TV (2003 or 4 or so?) and I really thought it was an 80s movie that I had somehow missed in my youth. Finding out that it was made in 2001 blew my mind. My sons and I seriously loved that movie and I have re-watched it many times.
    I still remember a few years ago when my husband and I spent some time “down a YouTube rabbit hole” looking at covers of “Mad World” and found that weird one with the circus costumes.
    Thaks for these posts, they are so fun.

  • Hypersphrericalcow

    “Donnie Darko” was incredibly effecting when I first watched it, partly just because of my emotional state at the time.

    But hoo boy, did Richard Kelly fuck up the director’s cut (basically, he over-explained everything and ruined the mystery).

    • Anna in PDX

      Right? Also, don’t ever read the Wikipedia page. It just takes the joy out of it. I decided that I espouse Barthes’ “death of the author” theory for directors of open ended movies.

  • Jordan

    I love all these versions, but despite not (quite) being alive for the tears for fears original, I like that one the best.

    • stepped pyramids

      I agree. You have to have a taste for that era of electronic instrumentation, but I think the faster tempo fits the meaning of the lyrics better.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      Yeah the original is the best. Very dark, and it has energy in place of the simple plodding moroseness of the famous cover version.

  • Jordan

    You want actual video game footage, and this is the best one (imo) for gears of war and mad world:


    Here’s another video game one: for fallout 3

    There was a running dry (requiem for the rockets) one also for fallout 3 that is my favorite video game music video of all time, maybe, but it seems to have been removed : (.

    (fallout 3 is the best game of all time)

  • Harlequin

    Turns out the tune also works with the lyrics to the Muppet Show theme song: https://twitter.com/peripateticmeg/status/886386588003041280

    • wjts

      And “A Whiter Shade of Pale” can be sung to the tune of The Muppet Show theme:


      • i’d bet you can sing all of Emily Dickinson’s poems to it, too.

        • wjts

          I don’t think that quite works, but you can definitely sing some (most?) of them to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

  • Lost Left Coaster

    In general the soundtrack for Donnie Darko is just brilliant. Simple piano and keyboard pieces, really set an amazing tone for the film.

    I must have been slightly too old (in college) when I watched the film, though. I had a hard time getting past the teen soap opera aspect of it. I probably would have loved it had I been a high schooler when it came out.

  • Hob

    The Gary Jules version was also used in the trailer for the intermittently interesting 2010 remake of The Crazies (starting around 1:45 after way too much plot summary).

  • adolphus

    On the one hand I really like this cover. One of my all time favorites.

    On the other I blame this cover on the current trend of providing similarly stripped down, dirge-like edgy covers behind movie trailers. Good god. There are loads of terrible ones, but the worst was listening to some heartfelt female crooner whining her way through I Walk The Line while watching a trailer for Power Rangers. Then someone showed my the Brittany Murphy biopic trailer on Lifetime that includes a truly awful rendition of Hadaway’s What is Love super slow and whiney.

    I can’t prove that this trend started with the success of Jules’ Mad World, but until someone offers a counter argument it’s the explanation I plan on believing.

    Great song, though.

    ETA: Links provided. I don’t hate you people that much. Google it yourself.

    • Abigail Nussbaum

      The choral covers of alt-rock songs also have a lot to answer for in this context. The rot set in in the trailer to The Social Network, with the choral cover of “Creep”. Which, again, was pretty and evocative in isolation, but as a fashion trend is nearly unbearable.

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