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The music in a film can be just as impactful, essential, and memorable as any line or performance by an actor. A great soundtrack has the ability to transcend the film it accompanies, whether it features pre-recorded songs by well-known artists or original tracks that become lasting hits.
In recent years, film soundtracks have become as popular on the Top 10 charts as artists like Ed Sheeran, Drake, and Ariana Grande. However, even before films like The Greatest Showman and A Star is Born, there were soundtracks that became ingrained in our cultural consciousness because they captured moments that resonated with us long after the credits rolled. Whether it’s the moody guitars of Seattle’s grunge scene in Cameron Crowe’s Singles, the euphoric trance in The Beach, or the teenage angst of British post-punk rock in Pretty in Pink, so many films would not be the same without their accompanying music.
From Pulp Fiction to Guardians of the Galaxy, here are the 40 greatest film soundtracks of all time:
40. High Fidelity (2000)
Before Garden State and 500 Days of Summer, the team behind the adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel compiled 15 tracks that felt like a mixtape. As with many soundtracks on this list, High Fidelity’s success lies in its balance of old-school gems from The Kinks and Elvis Costello, to more contemporary tracks from Stereolab and Royal Trux.
39. Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights (2004)
While the first Dirty Dancing soundtrack is undoubtedly more iconic, the sequel set in 1950s Cuba featured a surprisingly compelling soundtrack. It showcased Grammy-nominated Latin fusion band Yerba Buena, Colombian rock band Aterciopelados, and Cuban hip hop group Orishas. Despite the film’s flaws, the soundtrack added some much-needed heat.
38. Goodfellas (1990)
Director Martin Scorsese had strict rules for the soundtrack of Goodfellas. Each song had to be from the time period of the scene and had to comment on the scene or character in an oblique way. The film features 48 songs, including classics by Dean Martin, Sid Vicious, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. One unforgettable moment is when Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” plays while the Wise Guys cook dinner, a significant event in prison.
37. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)
Director Edgar Wright’s passion for music is evident in Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The film seamlessly integrates its soundtrack into the narrative, with Beck composing for the garage band Sex Bob-omb and Metric’s “Black Sheep” used for a performance by Envy Adams’s band. The result is a chaotic, DIY soundtrack that perfectly complements the film’s premise.
36. Drive (2011)
Drive’s soundtrack, curated by composer Cliff Martinez, is crucial to the film’s success. With mostly female vocalists singing over ominous electronic beats, the soundtrack captures the stunning contrast between beauty and violence in the film. The music transports the audience without them even realizing it.
35. The Bodyguard (1992)
The Bodyguard has the honor of being the biggest movie soundtrack of all time and the 15th best-selling album in the US. Whitney Houston’s powerful renditions of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” breathed new life into these songs. Houston had five hits from the soundtrack, including “I Will Always Love You”, “I’m Every Woman”, and “Run to You”, all of which were Oscar-nominated.
And so on…
Overall, film soundtracks have the power to enhance our movie-watching experiences and become timeless pieces of music. From musical genre-defining soundtracks like Purple Rain and Saturday Night Fever, to more recent successes like La La Land and Black Panther, the impact of a great soundtrack cannot be underestimated. These 40 films have managed to capture our attention and leave a lasting impression through the power of their music.