When it comes to movies, it’s easy to get caught up in the cinematography or “edge of your seat” plot twists. But there’s another component that deserves equal, if not more, attention – the soundtrack.
A great movie soundtrack sets the tone, and most importantly, becomes an integral part of our connection with the film. In this article, we’re shining a light on some of the best movie soundtracks of all time, proving just how influential they are in shaping our cinematic experiences.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The soundtrack for “A Hard Day’s Night,” a film featuring The Beatles and directed by Richard Lester, is as famous as the band itself. The album, essentially a Beatles’ record, is filled with some of their early hits and contributes immensely to the overall energy and appeal of the film. The title track “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “And I Love Her” are among the standouts that defined not only the soundtrack but also the band’s early musical style.
It’s impossible to think about ‘Footloose’ without mentally choreographing Kenny Loggins’ infectious title track. Directed by Herbert Ross, the film resonated with the younger generation, fueled by a soundtrack that championed the rebellious spirit of youth.
Its impact was evident as it topped the Billboard charts for ten weeks and spawned six Top 40 hits, effectively shaping the pop landscape of the era. Standout tracks like “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” by Deneice Williams and “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, are why it makes our list as one of the best soundtracks of all time.
Purple Rain (1984)
Prince’s semi-autobiographical ‘Purple Rain’ married visuals and sound like few others. The film’s soundtrack, featuring hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry,” was a cultural phenomenon, securing Prince’s legendary status. The album, a blend of pop, funk, and rock, established the ‘Minneapolis Sound,’ while the title track stands as one of the greatest power ballads ever composed.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
“The Breakfast Club,” directed by John Hughes, has a soundtrack that perfectly captures the spirit of 1980s teen angst and rebellion. A vital component of this nostalgic 80’s film, the soundtrack is largely constituted by new wave and rock. The standout song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds has become synonymous with the film, largely due to its poignant use in the final scene.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Another John Hughes classic, featuring a blend of new wave, pop, and post-punk tracks, the soundtrack complements the movie’s exploration of class divides and romantic angst. The Psychedelic Furs’ song “Pretty in Pink,” from which the movie draws its title, is notably significant. Other prominent songs in the soundtrack include “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, which plays during the famous prom scene, when Duckie let’s Andie go.
Top Gun (1986)
Any 80’s kid can attest that “Top Gun” and Kenny Loggins go hand in hand. From the moment “Danger Zone” kicks off, the soundtrack sets the high-flying, adrenaline-fueled tone of Tony Scott’s film. Beyond Loggins, Berlin’s classic “Take My Breath Away” perfectly captures the romantic tension between Cruise and McGillis, in one of the steamiest love scenes of that era. This Oscar-winning ballad cements the soundtrack as a pop cultural artifact.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Directed by Emile Ardolino, the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack played a pivotal role in the movie’s popularity and success. Featuring a medley of modern pop music and memorable 1960s hits, the soundtrack reflected the film’s theme of a coming-of-age narrative in a 1960s resort, where Baby falls for Johnny.
Among the standout tracks, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen, “She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze, “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, and “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia are worth mentioning.
Say Anything (1989)
Directed by Cameron Crowe, “Say Anything” features a soundtrack that immerses audiences in the mood and emotions of the 1980’s with its selection of pop, rock, and new wave hits.
The iconic boombox scene, where “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel is played, has etched itself into our emo hearts. Other standout songs include “All For Love” by Nancy Wilson, “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour, and “One Big Rush” by Joe Satriani.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Tim Burton’s gothic romance ‘Edward Scissorhands’ boasts an ethereal soundtrack that befits its dreamy narrative. Composed by Danny Elfman, the score with its haunting orchestral pieces echoes the melancholy undertones of this enchanting tale of alienation. Elfman, Burton’s long-time collaborator, has often been the composer behind the surreal sonics of his dark and whimsical universe.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Under the helm of Michael Mann, this historical drama was brought to life with a breathtaking soundtrack. Composed by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, the score transcends traditional movie music, offering a blend of native American sounds with sweeping orchestral pieces. The track “The Kiss” remains one of the most beautiful and simple scores, capturing the film’s grandeur with a simple violin to start.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic ‘Pulp Fiction’ boasts a soundtrack as famous as the film itself. Ditching the typical score, Tarantino compiled an eclectic mix of surf rock, soul, and pop, creating a timeless, aural pop-culture artifact. From Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” to Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” the album underscores Tarantino’s skill as a music curator.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” features a soundtrack that masterfully melds contemporary music with the film’s Shakespearean themes. The soundtrack comprises a diverse range of genres, including alternative rock, pop, and gospel, to create a mood that is both modern and timeless. Standout songs include “Lovefool” by The Cardigans, “Kissing You” by Des’ree, and “Talk Show Host” by Radiohead. This soundtrack contributed significantly to the film’s style and has been acclaimed for its blend of music and Shakespearean drama.
The “Trainspotting” soundtrack, accompanying the film directed by Danny Boyle, plays a vital role in defining the movie’s gritty, frenetic energy. This soundtrack is known for its mix of Brit-pop, electronic, and alternative rock music that embodies the chaotic world of the film’s characters.
The track “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop is notably synonymous with the film, setting the tone right from the opening scene. Other prominent songs include “Born Slippy NUXX” by Underworld, “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop, and “Sing” by Blur.
Into the Wild (2007)
Sean Penn’s directorial effort ‘Into the Wild’ offered a soundtrack as moving and profound as the film itself. The album, entirely written and performed by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, captures the essence of Christopher McCandless’s journey into the Alaskan wilderness. Vedder’s husky vocals and poignant lyrics added a layer of raw emotion to this tragic true-story of wanderlust and discovery.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark exploration of greed and obsession was enhanced by another Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) score. A discordant symphony of tension and dread, Greenwood’s soundtrack masterfully echoed the unraveling of Daniel Day-Lewis’s character, Daniel Plainview.
The “Inception” soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, is a fundamental part of the mind-bending experience offered by Christopher Nolan’s film. Known for his bold, orchestral scores, Zimmer employs a blend of electronic music and traditional orchestration in this soundtrack to create a sense of tension and disorientation fitting the film’s complex narrative about dreams within dreams. The soundtrack’s most memorable piece is “Time,” a haunting and emotional composition that perfectly showcases the film’s themes of loss and regret.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic continued the trend of immersive sonics with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch at the helm. The pair provided a soundscape that was both reminiscent of Vangelis’ original score and a futuristic auditory experience. It effectively enhanced the film’s melancholic neon-soaked dystopia, creating an unforgettable sensory journey.
The Phantom Thread (2017)
No Paul Thomas Anderson film is complete without a compelling score. ‘The Phantom Thread’, a tale of obsession and love, saw Anderson collaborating with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood’s score, a sumptuous mix of piano and strings, reflected the film’s twisted elegance and psychological depth, earning an Oscar nomination for his brilliant composition.
Christopher Nolan’s enigmatic ‘Tenet’ saw the reunion of the director with Hans Zimmer’s worthy successor, Ludwig Göransson. Göransson’s mind-bending score – a blend of electronic pulses, symphonic echoes, and reversed sounds – paralleled the film’s complex plot, making the auditory experience as thrilling as the visual.
Other notable mentions in our best movie soundtracks journey include Garden State (2004), which showcased indie gems from bands like The Shins, and the recent Black Panther (2018), curated by hip-hop sensation Kendrick Lamar.
Whether it’s the adrenaline-fueled tracks of ‘Top Gun’, the hauntingly beautiful score of ‘Edward Scissorhands’, or the guttural beats of ‘Trainspotting’, these soundtracks have the ability to completely transform the narrative.
Honorable mentions go to these classics: Saturday Night Fever, Empire Records, Boogie Nights, American Graffiti and Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola. Also, the Bodyguard’s Soundtrack was one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, thanks to Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s, I Will Always Love You.
Just as Simon & Garfunkel sang, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls” – and sometimes, those words are carried by the unforgettable songs in our favorite movies. So, the next time you lose yourself in a film, listen to the lyrics echoing in the background. You’ll find they tell a story of their own.