There are so many soundtracks that qualify as great, but here is a list that’s a little different than the others. The top 11 listed below were chosen not only for their musical prowess, but also because they enhance their respective movie in some way. You will find a variety of music styles here, from doo-wop and classic rock, to EDM and string quartets.
11. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Composer Clint Mansell led the Kronos Quartet through their perfectly harmonious and minimalist score for Requiem for a Dream. The soundtrack is broken into Summer, Fall, and Winter. It is a score rich with passion; you can really feel the emotion. The violins pair very nicely with the electronic synth, conveying slow rising emotions of Summer heat, cool and calm Fall, and the sharp, quick sting of Winter. “Lux Aeterna” is the most famous work from the album, having been used in many other movies, movie trailers, video games, and shows. The successive rise and fall of harmonies in that song sear it into your mind and draw out your emotions.
10. Disney’s Hercules (1997)
One of my favorite Disney movies of all time, Hercules has a phenomenal soundtrack. It opens with “The Gospel Truth,” in which three muses condense years’ worth of Greek mythology down into an epic skit filled with powerful vocals and Disney magic. Even Danny Devito (as Phil the trainer) does a great job with his “One Last Hope.” It’s hilarious, catchy, and filled with modern references of the sports industry. The best songs, however, are “Zero to Hero” and “I Won’t Say I’m in Love.” The former is a fantastic, upbeat montage of Hercules’ rise to stardom. Honestly, since seeing the movie the song has been stuck in my head for years, randomly popping into my thoughts with “Who put the ‘glad’ in ‘gladiator?’ HERCULES!” The latter is a silky, Broadway-esque performance that serves as a classic heartbreak tune. And now I’m just sitting here thinking “Is he bold? There’s no one braver! Is he sweet? Our favorite flavor!–HERCULES!”
9. John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves’ return to big-screen action was very well received, and the rock-synth soundtrack that fueled his action scenes in John Wick was a huge hit. It’s eccentric, mystical, and amped up with great guitar riffs and EDM electricity–perfect for a violent and bloody dance with punches, kicks, and pistols. There are a few tranquil songs, such as “John Mourns,” that help give his Reeves’ cold character humanity, but the soundtrack really shines in its playful experimentation of mixing techno, rock, EDM, acoustic riffs, crackling percussion, and a touch of violin.
8. Easy Rider (1969)
This American road-movie oozes freedom, exploration, and biker glory. The film, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, & Jack Nicholson, delves into societal issues of the time such as the hippie movement, communal lifestyle, and drug use. That said, the soundtrack is chock-full of classic rock that makes you yearn for a road-trip. With Steppenwolf, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and more, Easy Rider sparked a cultural interest in motorcycles, road trips, and free living. The soundtrack was carefully selected to form a commentary within the film, and no song is more memorable than “Born to be Wild.” Pop that song on the next time you’re driving on a summer day with the windows or top down. I bet you’re going to feel the urge to drive miles into a direction you’ve never been before.
7. American Graffiti (1973)
One of the greatest coming-of-age movies, George Lucas brought the California dream to life. Exploring America’s “50’s hangover,” as Rolling Stone calls it, the soundtrack is a tribute to the early 60’s just before The Beatles and the JFK assassination. The classic rock and roll of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, the doo-wop that introduced pop/R&B to the mainstream, all tied together by the gravelly radio broadcasts of DJ Wolfman Jack make this movie a classic on almost every “Top Soundtrack List”… just see for yourself.
6., 5. Indiana Jones (1981)/Star Wars (1977)
Speaking of George Lucas, the other two staples of his career defined a generation, a genre, and set the bar for action/adventure movies which, in my opinion, has yet to be topped. What makes the soundtracks for both Indiana Jones and Star Wars so special is that they are a huge part of what defines those movies. Watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and try not to hum the adventurous theme by composer John Williams–it just can’t be done. The music helps tell Indy’s store, and I cannot imagine and Indiana Jones without its signature score. And the same can be said of Star Wars (also John Williams’ work). The newest installment of the Sci-Fi saga is coming this December and I can already hear the introductory score as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” rolls onto the screen in bold yellow letters. These soundtracks are ingrained into the minds of several generations.
4. Goodfellas (1990)
Many would agree that Martin Scorcese knows how to tell a story with music, and many would also agree that Goodfellas tops the list. The opening credits start with Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches.” The rest of the movie is tied to songs that existed in the era and comment on the scene and/or character in some way. Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” for example, plays as an elegy for recently dead “wiseguys” and highlights the story of those who desire something so badly that it drives them insane. The crime saga is intelligently tied together with music from Eric Clapton, The Shangri-Las, Aretha Franklin, Muddy Waters, Sid Vicious, and more.
3. Queen of the Damned (2000)
Based on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, this vampire film is one of the best in the genre. Its soundtrack is inspired by the Vampire Lestat’s darkness, hunger, and anger toward the ruling vampire caste. The soundtrack is very much the brainchild of Korn’s Jonathan Davis, as he wrote many of the songs and served as a producer. The soundtrack itself is primarily alternative/industrial metal (as Lestat is awakened after decades of rest by a struggling metal band). That said, it is a great soundtrack with powerful metal that screams vampirism, such as Disturbed’s most famous concert staple, “Down with the Sickness.” The soundtrack is high energy, and high emotion, with the sounds of top alternative metal artists of the time: Korn, Disturbed, Deftones, Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach, Godhead, Linkin Park, Static-X… The soundtrack straight-up raises hell.
2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The postmodern musical caused quite the controversy with its enchanting courtesan beauties. Full of lights, flashy costumes, and gorgeous women all around–the soundtrack is equally dazzling, with performances from Beck, David Bowie, and Fatboy Slim. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman actually did surprisingly well for not being professional musicians and it really sold their characters. Of course, the soundtrack is most famous for the billboard topper “Lady Marmalade,” with dazzling vocals from Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa and Pink. That song in particular has stood the test of time and I’m certain will continue to be an innovative classic.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 was the first soundtrack in history consisting entirely of previously-released songs to top the Billboard charts. The blockbuster was one of the best summer films of the year, and the soundtrack is just as fun as the movie. The fact that it’s comprised of previously released songs is a testament to their timelessness. It’s no wonder Star Lord savors his retro mix-tape galaxies away. It is a perfect summer-fun playlist that feels like pure nostalgia, with the likes of lighthearted “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Spirit in the Sky,” “Cherry Bomb,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “O-o-oh Child,” and more. It’s a feel-good soundtrack with classics guaranteed to ease stress.
Featured Image Still from Requiem For A Dream via Film-Grab