The best movie soundtracks do more than just complement the images you see on screen. In the hands of a gifted musical supervisor, a soundtrack can take on a unique life by popularizing micro-genres, spotlighting previously obscure artists, and creating new hits from perfectly timed needle drops.
While there’s no shortage of iconic movie soundtracks, we take a look at some from the past 50 that made waves when they were released.
1. “Forrest Gump”‘
If a film is to document the ebbs and flows of American society over 40 years, the soundtrack has to deliver – and Forrest Gump understands that. From the now standard entry of “Fortunate Son” in the Vietnam War to the following “Turn! Tour! Tour!” protest for peace, Forrest Gump consistently matches the right tracks with the right scenes.
And despite the wide range of emotions, nearly all of the songs on the soundtrack are certified hits, with the possible exception of Joan Beaz’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Go ahead and listen to the Forrest Gump soundtrack at your next meeting and see if anyone complains.
2. “Dirty Dancing”‘
dirty danceThe soundtrack walks a tightrope in depicting both the era the film is set in and the era of its release, the 1950s and 1980s respectively. You know you’re in for a treat when the very first notes of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” open the film behind a black-and-white dance sequence.
Elsewhere, the Golden Age is represented with Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” and Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ “Stay” while Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” and the Patrick Swayze/Wendy Fraser collaboration “She’s Like the Wind” evokes the glory of 80s soft-rock. And can you think of a bigger movie song than “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life?” We know you’ve tried the elevator at least once…
3. ‘The Puppet Movie‘
Before you roll your eyes—The puppet movie has nine original songs on its soundtrack and seven of them are solid 10/10s. From the iconic “Rainbow Connection” and road-trip anthem “Movin’ Right Along” to the bar piano lament “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”, there’s no shortage of musical highlights in this classic 1979.
A personal favorite, “I’ll Go Back Someday” is a tear of the highest accord.
4. “Moulin Rouge!”‘
In classic Baz Lurhmann fashion, Red Mill! was at the forefront of a number of cultural waves as they reached their peak, such as musical jukeboxes and pop music tied to movie soundtracks. Watching this film, it often seems like Lurhmann was given a blank check and took the studio for all it was worth, plunging into glorious excess for two hours. The soundtrack is no different, sparing no expense when it comes to cultural currency.
Not to mention that the cover of “Lady Marmalade”, produced by Missy Elliot and sung by four of the best female artists of the time, is a certified jam.
5. ‘Marie Antoinette‘
Sofia Coppola’s historical drama about France’s last queen is a stylistic display of both monarchical excess and timeless teenage angst.
While the on-screen action centers around the pastel dresses and decadent palaces of the 1700s, the soundtrack finds itself in the middle of loud punk and indie rock. The film opens with Kirsten Dunst’s Antoinette putting her finger in the cake icing as Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not in It” blares in the background, setting the pace from the start. Elsewhere, The Strokes “What Ever Happened?” plays as she longs for the just ended extramarital affair and New Order’s lush “Ceremony” fades over her 18th birthday party.
6. ‘Black Panther‘
by Kendrick Lamar Black Panther: The Album was a cultural movement. The collection of songs, helmed by Lamar alongside a number of other current rap icons, stands proudly alongside the monumental release that was the film starring Chadwick Boseman. The album displays the endless formats of African music and produces a myriad of earworm tracks that could exist on their own were it not for the film to enhance their appeal.
seven. ‘Superior gun‘
When you think of the Superior gun soundtrack, two songs probably come to mind: Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”. Both are used in the film three or more times. Although there are many other great musical moments in the film (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by Maverick and His Wingmen for example), the two main songs express equal parts action and romance. wired that have defined Superior gun. Despite their repetitive use in the film, it’s welcome anytime one or the other is gearing up for another play.
8. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘
Upon its release, guardians of the galaxy broke the streak of (bordering on monotonous) superhero movies that Marvel had been rolling out. The film excelled in three areas: its quirky charm, its clever banter, and its eclectic mix of ’70s hits.
The soundtrack itself seemed destined to be a favorite months before the movie even hit theaters. The film’s first trailer treated fans to a snippet of Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” Elsewhere, Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” are as memorable as they’ve ever been on screen.
9. ‘Almost famous‘
Cameron Crowe had the monumental task of creating both a believable hit for his fictional band Stillwater while assembling an album that rightly reveres that 70s rock n’ roll. almost known pays homage to.
For the former, Crowe enlisted his then-wife and ex-Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson. The track “Fever Dog”, with the screaming vocals of Aerosmith producer Marti Frederiksen and the guitar of Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and Wilson herself, easily makes Stillwater’s breakthrough single believable.
For the latter, Crowe mixed deep cuts with high-flying rock classics to create a love letter to the times. From a David Bowie bootleg cover of “I’m Waiting for the Man” to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, this album is a magnum opus for rock fans.
10. ‘O brother, where are you‘
While winning three Grammys and landing No. 1 on the Billboard charts doesn’t automatically mean a soundtrack is great, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
O brother, where are you made a foray into the southern cultural landscape present in the film, bringing banjos and classy three-part harmonies to turn-of-the-century Hollywood. Across the 19 tracks, they steadily turned folk standards into modern hits. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” found a comfortable place on the charts thanks to the Soggy Bottom Boys while the influence of Bluegrass icon Alison Krauss made “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” a real song of mermaid.
Clip Lady Marmalade / Kevin Mazur