A movie soundtrack is a powerful weapon in any filmmaker’s arsenal. Music can completely change the impact of what’s happening on screen, and it can elevate a scene to new heights of emotion, drama, horror and even stylish coolness. The following soundtracks (which for the most part don’t include traditional scores as it’s harder to compare the two) completely encapsulate their movies and it’s hard to hear some of the songs mentioned in this list without thinking of the scenes they accompany.
10. Bugsy Malone
Bugsy Malone is a weird mash-up of different ideas. Loosely based on the Prohibition era of the 1920s, Bugsy Malone is a gangster movie featuring musical numbers and only starring child actors. Even weirder, director Alan Parker enlisted the help of musical genius Paul Williams (responsible for cult rock opera Phantom of the Paradise as well as songs from the Muppet movies) for the original songs and dubbed his adult singing voice over the child actors. Neither Parker nor Williams were said to be on board with the idea, but the results are hugely effective and exaggerate the rowdy atmosphere of kids playing at gangsters. In fact, it’s hard to imagine catchy hits like ‘You Give A Little Love’, ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ and ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’ without William’s unique vocal talents.
9. Tron Legacy
The movie may be a dazzling but ultimately empty visual treat, but the soundtrack to Tron Legacy is undeniably exhilarating. French electronic duo Daft Punk proved that they were the only choice to provide the music to the video game inspired sci-fi sequel, and the result is something more like one of their own albums than a traditional movie score. Incorporating orchestral elements as well as the electronic synthesizer sounds they are best known for, the Tron Legacy soundtrack constantly rushes forwards and creates pounding, atmospheric soundscapes which complement the pulsing neon world of Tron.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Edgar Wright’s soundtrack for his adaptation of cult comic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a fitting love letter to Canada’s music scene. Wright uses tracks from Canadian bands like Metric, Broken Social Scene and Plumtree alongside original music from maestros Beck (who provides the music for the fictional bands Sex Bob-omb and Clash at Demonhead) and Pixies frontman Frank Black and he perfectly matches the hyperkinetic energy of the comic book. It’s an eclectic, creative mix which somehow manages to encapsulate all the elements – garage rock, video games, music battles, weird romances – of the wonderful world of Scott Pilgrim.
7. Flash Gordon / Highlander
British rock band Queen may have seemed like an unlikely choice for providing the soundtrack for an adaptation of the campy sci-fi classic Flash Gordon in 1980, but the band were apparently keen to delve into the movie world when they were offered full creative freedom and a close hand in production so they could properly score scenes with their music. Although it’s tempting to say that the soundtrack is worthy of praise because of the title track alone, the album doesn’t quite work as either a companion piece to Flash Gordon or as a standalone Queen effort. However, the band really upped their game six years later when they worked on the Highlander soundtrack. Although the score was provided by Michael Kamen, Queen supplied memorable songs like a ‘A Kind of Magic’, ‘Princes of the Universe’ and ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ for the unique immortal-themed fantasy action movie. The songs are perfect for the sweeping scope of the movie and they offer a surprisingly powerful and affecting look at the tragedy of eternal life. Of course, it wouldn’t be Queen without some crazy pop rock and they bring their signature pump-fisting energy to ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ and ‘Gimme the Prize’.
6. Oh, Brother Where Art Thou
It’s not often that a soundtrack threatens to outdo the success of the movie, but the multiple Grammy-winning, Billboard-topping Oh, Brother Where Art Thou very nearly did that. Produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ bluegrass, backwater take on Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ is an amazing selection of American folk and gospel music. The standout track of course is ‘I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow’ and, just like in the movie, the single version became a huge hit record – more than 70 years after it was originally recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928. The soundtrack even resulted in its own documentary, Down from the Mountain, which captured a concert tour by the musicians and artists who lent their talents to some of the songs featured in the movie (including those who provided the singing voices of The Soggy Bottom Boys).
5. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard is a weird and wonderful parody of musical biopics. Following the life of fictional musician Dewey Cox as he makes it big as a country singer and bounces through every other genre throughout his up and down career, the movie’s soundtrack features some pitch-perfect riffs on some of music’s most famous artists. The styles of legends like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and even Billy Joel are all riffed on songs like ‘Walk Hard’, ‘Royal Jelly’, ‘Black Sheep’ and ‘Let Me Hold You Little Man’, but the spoofs are genuinely good and there is real musical talent (as well as some sharp comedic wit) on display throughout the soundtrack.
4. Walk the Line
It’s brave of any biopic to attempt to recreate the style and music of the artist the movie is based on, but it’s even braver to attempt it with a lead actor who admits that they don’t have a musical bone in there body. Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line ambitiously doesn’t use recordings of the country music legend, which is no small feat seeing as the Man in Black had such a distinct voice. In preparation for their roles as Johnny Cash and June Carter, both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon took singing lessons and learned to play guitar and autoharp so they could perform the songs without being dubbed over in the final cut. Although neither Phoenix nor Witherspoon pass for Cash and Carter on the soundtrack, they’re both clearly spirited and their performances not only infuse the musical scenes in the movie with energy and heart, but they offer a new take on some of Cash’s iconic songs.
3. Pulp Fiction
It’s clear that Quentin Tarantino has genuine passion for picking out the perfect music for his movies. Tarantino has created some of the coolest characters in cinema as well as some of the most unforgettable, quotable lines of dialogue ever written, but his soundtracks are the perfect wrapping on his movie gifts. It’s tough picking one of his soundtracks as the best, but Pulp Fiction is perhaps the most iconic. It’s impossible to hear the opening manic burst of surf rock song ‘Misirlou’ without thinking of the title credits or listen to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ without picturing John Travolta and Uma Thurman boogying down in Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance contest.
2. Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese is the original master of movie soundtracks. Like Tarantino, his movies have claimed some of the most iconic songs in music history as their own and it’s hard to listen to some of his choice soundtracks without being transported to scenes from his movies. The auteur’s movies practically brim with truly outstanding musical moments (and that’s not even considering his concert documentaries Shine a Light and The Last Waltz), but Scorsese’s standout soundtrack choices feature in one of his very first cinematic efforts. Scorsese really broke the mould in the way he used contemporary pop music instead of a traditional musical score in Mean Streets. The result is a true cinematic milestone as his musical choices perfectly accentuate the action on screen. From Robert Deniro’s impossibly cool, slow motion entrance set to ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ to the weirdly perfect use of ‘Please Mr Postman’ for the scrappy pool hall fight, each rock ‘n’ roll track is perfectly considered and sets the mood and style for this Italian American gangster classic.
1. A Hard Day’s Night
Rock ‘n’ roll was on the rise throughout the 1950s and 60s, and movie studios were quick to jump on the new music phenomenon. Some stars, like Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, headlined their own movies while others featured in ensemble musicals like ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and ‘It’s Trad, Dad’. However, few of these ‘jukebox movies’ matched the success and sheer joy of A Hard Day’s Night. The quick-witted, charismatic comedy is a satirical look at the Beatles as they get into hijinks and are constantly mobbed by fans on the way to a performance in London, and it is interspersed with several music videos of iconic hits like ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘She Loves You’.