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THE BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS OF ALL TIME
- 17 Feb
For a movie to be truly immersive, the music has to convince us to step into the world we’re watching, no matter how real it appears to be; hence, a movie’s soundtrack is of paramount importance.
Below, we take you on a trip through the musical world of movies, announcing best soundtrack winners (as picked by us) along the way. From best horror movie soundtracks to best romantic movie soundtracks, there’s a bevy of inspirational soundtracks to explore – so we better get started!
Press play and let the show begin…
Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time
Best Horror Movie Soundtracks
Winner: The Shining (1980)
From the moment Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece begins, we, the audience, expect things to turn sour quickly. Why? Because the eerie soundtrack suggests so.
The Shining – based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name – features our favourite horror soundtrack because it strikes fear into our hearts and sets the mood for each scene. Plus, it’s instantly recognisable.
Runner Up: Halloween (1978)
The spine-tingling theme from the original Halloween movie is arguably the most famous horror film theme in existence. Played on a synthesizer, the movie utilised new electronic methods of making music to help it stand out from similar 70s slashers.
But the main reason why we’ve always been in awe of the Halloween soundtrack is that the film’s director, John Carpenter, also composed the soundtrack. Surprisingly, the film (now considered a classic) only had a budget of $300,000, so Carpenter simply couldn’t afford to hire anyone else.
Best Modern Movie Soundtracks
Winner: La La Land (2016)
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is an outstanding example of cinema, and no one can convince us otherwise.
The 2016 love letter to Hollywood is brimming with bright, soul-stirring songs that are infectious, to say the least. But what really makes the movie’s soundtrack pop is its elements of contemporary jazz.
Filled with big brass moments, heart-felt piano solos and improvised percussion, the film can be held responsible for helping LA resurrect its jazz scene – and for that, we’re eternally grateful.
Runner Up: A Star is Born (2018)
It should come as no surprise that A Star Is Born, a film led by contemporary music icon Lady Gaga, has one of the best music soundtracks of modern times. Songs such as ‘Shallow’, ‘Always Remember Us This Way’ and ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ have been on repeat since 2018, which is a testimony of its unshakeable appeal.
Plus, we’re still not quite over learning that Bradley Cooper can sing (like, really sing). It must be nice to be that multifaceted.
Best 90s Movie Soundtracks
Winner: The Bodyguard (1992)
As soon as anyone mentions movie soundtracks, we instinctively think of 1992’s The Bodyguard: a film that relied on music (specifically, the unparalleled talents of the late Whitney Houston) like no other.
Standout hits from the musical, such as ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘I Have Nothing’, define both the movie and music scenes of the 90s – which is why we felt it had to be awarded ‘Best 90s Movie Soundtrack’.
Runner Up: Waiting to Exhale (1995)
The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack is our runner up for best 90s movie soundtracks for one simple reason: it’s now more famous than the film it originates from.
Featuring voices from women-of-the-moment Toni Braxton, Brandy, Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston, it’s hard not to appreciate the memorable tracks that make up this R&B playlist of songs.
Best 80s Movie Soundtracks:
Winner: Purple Rain (1984)
It’s hard to deny that Purple Rain has one of the best 80s movie soundtracks as Prince’s quasi-autobiographical film won the 1985 Academy Award for Best Original Score. Featuring songs such as ‘I Would Die For You’, ‘When Doves Cry’ and, of course, ‘Purple Rain’, the soundtrack is full of absolute bangers. Naturally, we had to call it our winner.
Runner Up: Back to the Future (1985)
There’s something about Back to the Future’s soundtrack – especially its main theme – that encourages its audience to believe in its quixotic plot. Perhaps it's the sense of adventure the composition connotes, or maybe it's the sci-fi feel the brass band gives off. Whatever it is, it’s hard to deny that the soundtrack is just as powerful as the DeLorean (the time machine that’s central to the plot).
Best Kids’ Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Up (2009)
PIXAR’s Up delivered one of the most beautiful soundtracks when it debuted back in 2009 – giving mature audiences a reason to watch a kids’ film focusing on a grumpy old man in a flying house. Our favourite track? It’s got to be ‘Married Life’. Never has a song taken us through the ups and downs of a life-long relationship quite like it.
Runner Up: Toy Story (1995)
When PIXAR debuted Toy Story, the world’s first feature-length 3D animation, people left the silver screen thinking about its use of new technology and its catchy soundtrack.
It’s hard to imagine the mid-90s classic without the sounds of Randy Newman. Even just writing about it has prompted us to ask Alexa to play ‘You’ve Got a Friend In Me’. For this reason, we’ve decided to award it runner up in our ‘Best Kids’ Movies Soundtracks’ category.
Best Action Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Casino Royale (2006)
A James Bond flick is nothing without a thrilling soundtrack. Fortunately, when Eon Productions decided to reboot the spy franchise in 2006 (giving Daniel Craig his first outing as the titular hero), they decided to put even more emphasis on the music.
2006’s Casino Royale is a prime example of how to successfully incorporate music into an action film. Its soundtrack is everything a James Bond score should be: it’s action-packed, mysterious and tense.
Runner Up: Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Speilberg’s action-adventure Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark became an instant classic when it debuted back in the early 80s. The film is responsible for inspiring many subsequent films, especially in terms of its savvy use of music, composed and conducted by the legendary John Williams. For this reason, it’s the runner up in our ‘Best Action Movie Soundtracks’ category.
Best Orchestral Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When it comes to orchestral movie soundtracks, it’s near impossible to avoid commenting on the huge impact the Star Wars franchise has made.
Star Wars set new standards for cinematic experiences when the franchise debuted in 1977. Fortunately, the original trilogy managed to keep up the momentum. John Williams has composed all nine Star Wars soundtracks, and our favourite comes from what’s usually considered the best film in the franchise – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V). But of course, it’s the opening ‘crawl theme’ that plays at the beginning of each and every Skywalker Saga film that gives you the tingle.
Runner Up: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
In close second comes Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The early 00s movie transported us to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World for the first time with the help of a spell-binding soundtrack – composed, of course, by musical wizard John Williams.
‘Hedwig’s Theme’ is the iconic track from the film that sets the tone for the entire franchise. Concurrently magical and uncanny, the song is recognised as one of the best movie themes across the globe, and our runner up in the ‘Best Orchestral Movie Soundtrack’ category.
Best Animated Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away’s soundtrack has a strange quality about it that reminds us of home. Ironically, the fictional world the film centres around is unlike our real homes in every aspect possible.
‘One Summer’s Day’ is a standout track from the Studio Ghibli anime, composed by Japanese talent Joe Hisaishi. The piano-led track manages to be deep and heartfelt, without the inclusion of lyrics.
Runner Up: Coraline (2009)
A film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline was always destined to be dark and twisted. But LAIKA (a Portland-based stop-motion film studio) managed to add elements of childlike innocence to the film using music.
‘Exploration’ is one of the most important tracks on the Coraline soundtrack: it plays as the titular character curiously wanders around her new home. But what’s most interesting about this song (and the rest of the vocal-led songs on the soundtrack) is that the lyrics are complete gibberish.
Best Disney Movie Soundtracks
Winner: The Lion King (1994)
It’s extremely difficult to decide which Disney film has the best soundtrack; however, we’re opting for The Lion King.
Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer are the holy trinity behind The Lion King’s exceptional soundtrack: a set of songs that help Disney retell the story of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays (Hamlet) in animation form.
Our favourite track? It’s got to be the ‘Circle of Life’. Nothing else makes us cry quite like it.
Runner Up: The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid was more than just another Disney cartoon, it was once the saviour of the animation house. The film was the first animated musical to be released without the supervision of Walt Disney (his last being 1967’s The Jungle Book) and the studio's first fairytale since 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Hence, it was considered a big risk. But with Alan Menken – composer of Little Shop of Horrors – on board, the studio felt confident.
As we all know, the musical was a huge success and brought us some of the most spectacular Disney songs to date – including ‘Under The Sea’, ‘Part of Your World’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’. Because of this, we’ve decided to crown it the second-best Disney movie soundtrack.
Best Black Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Black Panther (2018)
Marvel Studios’ 2018 extravaganza Black Panther introduced us to the land of Wakanda for the first time – and it did so with an Afro-Futuristic soundtrack that impressed both fans of the comics and newcomers to the superhero genre.
Ryan Coogler and Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson worked together to create music that felt at home in an MCU blockbuster but courteously paid respect to African culture. The result? An Academy Award-winning score that we’re crowning the winner of our ‘Best Black Movie Soundtrack’ category.
Runner Up: One Night In Miami (2020)
Regina King’s recent directorial debut One Night In Miami is an absolute triumph, and this is in no small part thanks to its dazzling soundtrack. Revolving around Sam Cooke discography, the soundtrack drives the narrative and is an ode to the Black talent of the 1960s.
In case you’re wondering, our favourite musical moment in the movie comes at the end of the film when Leslie Odom Jr. (the actor who plays Sam Cooke) sings ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.
Best Romantic Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Romeo + Juliet (1996)
To us, there’s a clear winner when it comes to crowning ‘Best Romantic Movie Soundtrack’, and that’s Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet. The modern retelling of Shakespeare’s career-defining play – starring a young Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes – is completely driven by its music, which is why we’re huge fans.
The film’s ‘Love at First Sight’ scene is one we always look forward to when rewatching the flick. Des'ree’s track ‘Kissing You’ ‘ plays as the two star-crossed lovers catch sight of each other for the first time – creating a moment of cinematic history.
Runner Up: Pretty Woman (1990)
It’s hard to imagine watching Pretty Woman without its powerful soundtrack – featuring Natalie Cole’s ‘Wild Women Do’ and Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’. This, to us, is a sign of a soundtrack that deserves all the praise it can get.
Our favourite musical moment in Pretty Woman has to be when Julia Roberts’ character Vivian sings along to Prince’s ‘Kiss’ in a huge bathtub. It’s lived in our minds, rent-free, since we first watched the film (many, many moons ago).
Best Indie Movie Soundtracks
Winner: Get Out (2017)
In 2017, Jordan Peele released his directorial-debut Get Out: a horror-inspired tour de force accompanied by an exceptional soundtrack. The indie film’s use music – from the booming sounds of the sunken place to the suggestive use of Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’ – proved to film critics and fans of intriguing soundtracks that Peele was serious about making movies.
Runner Up: Whiplash (2014)
Whiplash, the runner up for ‘Best Indie Movie Soundtrack’, marks the second Damien Chazelle movie to make it to our list. The film focuses on the hardships of a young drummer and, as one may expect, relies heavily on a percussion-led soundtrack to tell the story.
Needless to say, Chazelle has a huge passion for music; hence, his soundtracks always play to the beat of his plots.
Best Soundtracks of All Time
Winner: Jurassic Park (1993)
It will come as no surprise to most film buffs that we’re crowning the Jurassic Park soundtrack the best of all time. Spielberg collaborated with stalwart composer John Williams in the early 90s to create a soundtrack that still gives us chills every time we hear it.
Not convinced that it deserves such a title? The Jurassic Park soundtrack literally turns a film about a dinosaur theme park into one of the most magical films of all time. What’s more impressive than that?
Runner Up: Jaws (1975)
Our runner up for ‘Best Soundtrack of All Time’ comes from another Spielberg film that focuses on yet another animal threat – of course, we’re talking about Jaws.
The 1975 film features one of the most memorable theme tunes in film history and uses music to alert the audience about an imminent danger. Unsurprisingly, John Williams composed the music to this flick too. Is there anything that man can’t do?
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