The 50 Most Memorable Movie Soundtracks
The right movie soundtrack infinitely heightens the experience of watching a film.
It can completely alter the way you construe a scene and can make you completely change your opinion on a song you once hated (or loved).
In isolation, a soundtrack can provide a pathway to exciting new musical discoveries. It can open your mind to music you never knew you loved, and music that will go on to soundtrack your own life.
Soundtracks can stand alone as glorious pieces of art, and, at their best, they make the art they accompany just that little bit better.
We’re celebrating the Most Memorable Movie Soundtracks this weekend on Double J, and we’ve put our heads together to come up with the 50 that we feel live on in our hearts and memories strongest.
SPOILER ALERT: We've issued the full list below to get you fired up for the weekend's countdown. If you'd prefer it to be a surprise - stop reading now!
Your favourite film or soundtrack might be here, it might not, but there’s no doubting how iconic and unforgettable each of these pieces of music are.
Tune in to Double J this weekend to hear the 50 Most Memorable Movie Soundtracks.
Among the Playstation consoles, SMP cargo shorts and chat rooms that typified adolescence in the mid-late ‘90s, were a series of hugely hyped, underdelivering blockbuster films with big, polished hyper-aggressive soundtracks that matched the onscreen action perfectly.
In a move that can only be called Judgment Night-esque, someone decided to match modern rock and metal titans with some of the biggest names in the burgeoning electro genre for the soundtrack to 1997's (not very good) Spawn.
At best, it meant Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot ended up in the same playpen and some joker threw the Butthole Surfers and Moby together (hopefully for a laugh). At worst, DJ Spooky sucked up all the power of Metallica’s genius ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’.
Perfect for when you’re next playing Wipeout 2097 – Dan Condon
49. Bran Nue Day
Jimmy Chi’s 1990 musical got the attention it so richly deserved in 2009 when Bran Nue Dae was made into a feature film. The songs were already sensational, but in the hands of the artists here, they became even better.
Jessica Mauboy’s lead on ‘All The Way Jesus’ is the perfect midpoint between pop and spiritual. Dan Sultan’s rollicking ‘Seeds That You Might Sow’ is stirring, but his best performance – and the soundtrack highlight – is the simple and unaffected ‘Black Girl’. A pertinent reminder of his immense power as an interpreter of song. And Ernie Dingo and Missy Higgins are a surprisingly great match on ‘Feel Like Going Home’.
It has its emotional peaks and troughs, but there’s a breezy feel that runs through this deeply musical road trip movie. A fine adaptation of Chi’s brilliant work. – Dan Condon
48. Reservoir Dogs
A dancing Mr Blonde takes a razor blade to rookie cop Marvin Nash, while Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ plays on a crappy radio in the background. This evil, frightening juxtaposition is one of the finest moments in modern film.
In his films, Quentin Tarantino rewires the way we feel about songs that we’ve known and loved forever. Once you’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, your relationship with that song is forever changed.
Steven Wright’s deadpan introductions and the lively soulful gems like George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’, Joe Tex’s ‘I Gotcha’ and Harry Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ are a fun contrast as well, but nothing feels more wrong and out of place than ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’. Complete and utter genius. – Dan Condon
47. Pump Up The Volume
Christian Slater as Hard Harry, the music obsessive and pirate radio DJ at the centre of Pump Up The Volume, has great taste, The soundtrack is a perfect snapshot of the musical times in the early ‘90s and packs a double whammy with many artists providing cool covers. Concrete Blonde dreamily deliver Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ and Bad Brains with Henry Rollins truly ‘Kick Out The Jams’ on the MC5 song.
Like the angsty high school students in the film, the soundtrack serves as a great introduction to a ton of great music; from Pixies to Was (Not Was) and Descendents. Only a selection of the movie’s songs made it to the soundtrack, so settle down with the film to revisit the teen-times when music served as the ultimate vessel for rebellion. – Karen Leng
46. The Boys
The soundtrack The Necks created for The Boys, one of the most disturbing portrayals of dysfunctional masculinity, is deeply embedded in the shocking nature of the film. In fact, it’s hard to imagine The Boys having its brutal impact without the mood created by Australia’s acclaimed improvisational trio.
It was this soundtrack that introduced me to The Necks, and it was the perfect entry point. The ominous piano motif, restrained percussion and distorted strings on the title track are hypnotic, providing a portent for the violence to come.
The Necks’ compositions ebb and flow through The Boys in a dreamlike way, dark and beautiful. And like all great soundtracks, The Boys works as an arresting collection of music for home listening. But perhaps not at a party. – Karen Leng
45. Easy Rider
A truly great soundtrack can only make its mark when it's given a little room to breathe. The incredible music in Easy Rider, comprising of relentlessly classic 60s rock, literally had miles and miles of highway upon which to shine.
The seemingly endless scenes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper biking through the American expanse could have been painfully tedious, but somehow, against all odds, the likes of Hendrix, Steppenwolf and The Byrds help to hypnotise and immerse you into a time and place.
Many times, the music is the only thing propelling the narrative. The only dialogue. It's so bold. It serves as the mainline into a life of freedom and rebellion, living on the road.
The Easy Rider soundtrack quite simply laid the foundation to what we still consider to be ‘driving music’ today. – Henry Wagons
44. Idiot Box
The soundtrack to Idiot Box is a beautiful celebration of the breadth and brilliance of Australian alternative music. Great 90s bands took on a series of 80s Aus underground classics in what felt like a great labour of love.
There are countless highlights: You Am I doing The Victims and Beasts of Bourbon, Snout doing Icehouse, Magic Dirt doing God, Crow doing Tactics, Hoss doing The Saints…
But the biggest stand-out is The Mark of Cain’s rendition of X’s delinquent anthem ‘Degenerate Boy’. In John Scott’s hands, the song goes from being gnarled and cheeky to absolutely terrifying and it gave new life to an unsung song that has aged superbly. – Dan Condon
It’s rare to find soundtracks put together by women. Rarer still to find coming of age soundtracks by women. Which is what stood out to me when I heard Juno: the unmistakable punk-folk voice of Kimya Dawson’s The Moldy Peaches that lead this one.
Dawson’s loose, stream of conscious lyrics about kindness, insecurity, authenticity and love, coupled with her stripped back folk sound, captures the innocence, enquiry and comedy of coming of age. With tracks from Iggy Pop, Belle and Sebastian, The Kinks and Sonic Youth, the whole soundtrack is indie rock at it’s very best: stripped back, lo-fi, rough and ready to hit you straight in the feels.
Growing up never sounded so damn cool. – Meagan Loader
Wendy Carlos was a pioneering composer who took synthesiser music into the mainstream with Switched On Bach and revolutionised film scoring with just a trilogy of soundtracks – A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Tron – before bowing out of Hollywood.
Her soundtrack for Tron combined her signature analogue synth stylings with classical recordings, helping to legitimise the idea of using electronic sounds to augment or even completely replace the orchestral scores of early Hollywood.
She forged a path for electronically-literate composers that would follow like Vangelis, John Carpenter and even – for better or worse – Hans Zimmer, whose assembly-line approach to bombastic digital scoring has dominated mainstream cinema in recent years. – Tim Shiel
If, like me, you haven’t heard Aladdin in years, I have a few truths for you.
It’s funnier than you remember it, the music has not dated a bit, it’s even more fun when you’re an adult and you get all the jokes, and it will make you wonder why you spent so many years (or decades) not listening to it. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll still know every single word.
The only thing that’s upsetting about the soundtrack in 2018 is that it will make you miss Robin Williams terribly.
Disney’s soundtrack work is famously excellent, and Aladdin might well be its best. The Lion King and The Jungle Book both come close, but this exotic, flashy and legitimately funny soundtrack is complete genius from start to finish. – Dan Condon
Sydney band Decoder Ring wrote the score for this film, which starred Sam Worthington and Abby Cornish. It’s a perfect fit: Decoder Ring made sparse, slow songs that blended elements of post-rock and electronica. The movie, meanwhile, seemed to just unfold at its own pace.
Cornish and Worthington’s characters, awkwardly discovering their places in the world, were reserved and inward-looking, which made this score a perfect fit. Don’t just go by my word: Somersault won several awards for Decoder Ring, including an AFI Award for Best Original Music Score, and was nominated for an ARIA.
The film arrived at a time when Australian cinema felt particularly morose and hyperreal (I’m throwing Jindabyne and Candy in there). Celebrate that period with this beautiful soundtrack. – Paul Donoughue
39. Beverly Hills Cop
Axel Foley. 80s synth. Drum machines.
The only thing that eclipses Eddie Murphy’s brilliant performance as a swift-talking cop, is the instrumental title tune, ‘Axel F’.
Sure, the soundtrack won a Grammy and went to number one on the charts, but that doesn’t even begin to describe how this song makes you feel when you hear it.
The film also features singles from Patti LaBelle and the 1984 hit ‘The Heat Is On’, but it’s ‘Axel F’ that brings this story to life, and makes you want to be Eddie Murphy. – Gab Burke
38. Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet grew out of David Lynch’s interest in the song by Bobby Vinton and it is one of his most rewatchable films. Angelo Badalamenti works with the visionary director for the first time, and Julee Cruise makes her debut as well, singing Lynch’s own words in ‘Mysteries of Love’.
Every time music is used, it enhances the dreamlike mood. But it’s the scenes with Dennis Hopper as psychotic gangster Frank Booth that flood back when I hear Isabella Rossellini perform the title track.
And when Roy Orbison first sings about ‘a candy coloured clown named the sandman’ I’m back in the surrealistic red room, with Dean Stockwell lip syncing creepily as Hopper’s face is transfixed. Then it contorts, he winces and bares his teeth as a memory is disturbed. And the trance is broken. As if waking from a dream. Or a nightmare. – Ryan Egan
“The lifestyle, the whole street swag, the hustlers. To bring it to the present day, it’s dope, and to be a part of a classic, I couldn’t ask for nothing better than that.”
When Outkast’s Big Boi spoke to Double J in February, he was hyped about the role he’d just landed in the remake of Superfly. The 1972 cult classic about a drug dealer trying to break with his past is famed for its swagger, but it’s Cutis Mayfield’s killer soundtrack that secured the film’s place in history.
A concept album underpinned by an anti-drug message, Mayfield’s detailed ghetto narratives were married to devastatingly soulful grooves and lush string arrangements, all since sampled by the likes of Kanye, Eminem and Digable Planets. Never has biting social commentary sounded so funky. – Sam Wicks
36. The Proposition
Until I saw The Proposition, it hadn’t really dawned on me that our history is rooted in stories of such brutality, lawlessness and desperation for survival. The soundtrack is as bleak as it is hauntingly beautiful and feels as if its risen out of the same barren and desolate terrain of 1880s outback Australia which is depicted.
There’s Warren Ellis’ frayed and weary bow on ‘Martha’s Dream’, Nick Cave’s mournful tone on the chilling ‘Rider’ trilogy. And the eerie expectancy of ‘The Proposition Parts 1-3’ hangs thick in your ears like flies drawn to the sweat and stench of the bloodletting that’s on screen.
It’s a magnificent but vicious film that’s difficult to watch at times, and it’s the music that both amplifies that, but also provides much-needed comfort where there is little to be found. – Caz Tran]
35. The Graduate
From the first guitar riff of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound Of Silence’ in the opening scene, this movie has you gripped.
With enduring tracks like ‘Mrs Robertson’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’ the soundtrack remains relevant to today’s music makers and their fans. The repetitious use of these songs throughout the film drives home how powerfully emotive these songs are, right up to the final scene which returns us to ‘The Sound Of Silence’.
The music spoke of people who were lost, disconnected, unable to communicate beyond the surface, with lyrics that soulfully speak of ‘People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening’. Perhaps this is what gives the music and lyrics such enduring power even 50 years on. – Wendy Saunders
34. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1
I would watch Chris Pratt dance to pretty much anything, and he doesn’t disappoint in the first few moments of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Redbone’s ‘Come And Get Your Love’ is such a warm, homely number that feels connected to teenage 1980s America, the environment from which Pratt’s character Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, was plucked by a gang of aliens.
It’s the music – from artists like The Jackson 5, The Runaways and Marvin Gaye – that really gives this film the fun and lightness it needs to be more than just your average super hero flick. It’s used to emphasise Quill’s humanness, and for the average moviegoer – i.e. those of us who don’t follow Marvel religiously – it’s a great way into the film. – Paul Donoughue
33. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick was a master of using music in film, and often in unexpected and unsettling ways.
Try to imagine the bomb run sequence from Dr Strangelove without the stirring march of ‘When Johnny Comes Walking Home’. Or the film's closing moments, with nuclear Armageddon soundtracked to the tune of Vera Lynn's ‘Til We Meet Again’. Imagine A Clockwork Orange without ‘Singin' in the Rain’ and Eyes Wide Shut without Jocelyn Pook's unnerving ‘Masked Ball’.
Then, try to imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey without Zarathustra. It can't be done. A guy in a gorilla suit and a bunch of fake bones is one thing; add Strauss' ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and suddenly you have one of the first and most enduring cinematic memes.
Thanks for the memes, Kubrick you genius. – Tim Shiel
32. Baby Driver
A red car pulls up outside an ornate looking bank building. You’ve seen this kind of setting before and you know what’s gonna go down. Except this isn’t just another heist movie. The guy in the driver’s seat hits play on his iPod and what follows is a sequence of events tightly choreographed to the riffs, rhythms, beat and lyrical charisma of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms.’
It was an adrenalin charged start to a movie that had me cheering (some of) the bad guys. All the tracks seemed carefully chosen and positioned and worked in tandem with the storyline, almost like another character in the plot, rather than just being in the background as enhancement. It wasn’t just Ansel Elgort behind the wheel. – Caz Tran
31. Paris, Texas
Einstein once said: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In the case of Ry Cooder’s score for Wim Wenders’ 1984 film, this less is more ethos holds true. A few notes is all you need. You hear that simple slide guitar, the scratchy steel on strings, and you’re alone on the Texan plains. You’re lost. You’re inside Harry Dean Stanton’s character within seconds. You feel the weight of a past you’re either running from or trying to find.
Feeding off blues greats like Blind Willie Johnson, Cooder’s evocative guitar work directly inspired U2’s The Joshua Tree, as well as turning future stars like Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith on to the power of simplicity. It was all composed in the key of E♭ too – the natural tuning of the desert wind where much of the film was shot. – Richard Kingsmill
30. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Ennio Morricone’s iconic and distinctive composition and sound design is the sound of Wild West. To this day, I believe his compositions, in all their bold drama, are a large part of the reason we describe grand scale, ambitious music as ‘cinematic’. The beating heart of every Western gun duel is the coyote like whistle composed for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Morricone has a way of being brutally literal in his composition. After all, his soundtracks for Westerns are filled with the sound of gunshots and whips. Alongside these obvious keystones are startlingly dramatic and revolutionary percussive punctuation, or unexpected cavernous and yearning choirs. From the iconic ‘Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Main Theme)’, to the triumphant overture of ‘Il Forte (The Strong)’, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly serves as the perfect entry point into the work of a musical genius. – Henry Wagons
29. The Harder They Come
Jimmy Cliff plays a reggae singer in this 1972 classic, so it’s no surprise that it comes with a cracking soundtrack.
Cliff contributes the most, but legends like Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals and The Melodians also feature in this collection of tunes that introduced the music of Jamaica to the world. The gruff, loose vibe of many of the tracks may startle anyone looking for the feelgood, Bob Marley-style of reggae. But the passion exhibited here is unparalleled.
Cliff still acts out the infamous classic face-slashing scene from The Harder They Come when he performs in concert. It’s a chilling scene and will change the way you think about Jimmy Cliff forevermore once you see it. – Dan Condon
28. Garden State
I discovered the Garden State soundtrack well before the film. The Grammy winning score was put together by Zach Braff, who said that it was essentially a mix CD of all the music he felt was scoring his life at the time.
When I first heard it, I’d just finished uni and moved states. It was an exciting, terrifying and weird time, and in many ways, it was the soundtrack to my life at the time too. Every time I hear The Shins’ ‘New Slang’, Zero 7’s ‘In The Waiting Line’ or Frou Frou’s spinetingling ‘Let Go’, I’m transported back to a specific moment in 2004.
When you listen to the soundtrack from start to finish, it’s like these songs were always meant to be together. The soundtrack was also my first introduction to Thievery Corporation and Iron & Wine and is still my favourite mellow playlist to spin into the wee hours. – Luanne Shneier
27. Judgment Night
I never saw Judgment Night. None of my friends in high school saw it either. We all bought this on CD though.
Did you know Denis Leary is in Judgment Night? And Cuba Gooding Jr? They aren’t as enticing as Ice T rapping about the LA riots while Slayer shreds behind him though, are they? Or Mudhoney and Sir-Mix-a-Lot (!) sharing their mutual love for a ‘Freak Momma’. Whatever that is.
Emilio Estevez running for his life isn’t nearly as memorable or cool as Helmet’s piledriving riffs under House of Pain’s visceral flow. Even now, when I hear the perfect pairing of Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E, I think someone making this film figured out early on they needed to get creative with the soundtrack or the words Judgment Night would be just a buried footnote on Rotten Tomatoes. – Ryan Egan
26. The Matrix
Let’s be honest, nearly 20 years after its release, The Matrix still kicks arse. Dealing with timeless philosophical quandaries while perfectly capturing 90s tech anxiety, The Matrix is 1999 in a nutshell.
Soundtracking all this is a collection of some of the heaviest hitters of their day. Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Rage Against The Machine, Propellerheads, Rob Zombie, The Prodigy, Deftones and more, creating one of the angriest soundtracks around.
Going through my moody teenage boy phase at release, it spoke to me for reasons still unclear and while my rage may have subsided, watching Neo take down a room full of soldiers to ‘Spybreak!’ still brings a smile. – Stephen Goodhew
25. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
I challenge you to play Charlene's ‘I've Never Been to Me’ and not see Hugo Weaving with a sparkly pout, lip syncing it to welcome you into a film.
I'd never been to a drag show when this film came out. I suspect the many millions who watched hadn't either, nor heard the tunes that have been anthems for the queer community for decades.
Stephan Elliott took us all into this universe. Better yet, he connected it with a wider Australian narrative and weaved it into the stories in this music; disco torch songs of longing and love, celebration, isolation, and revenge.
As the girls head into the desert, a moment of solidarity between the oppressed – the drag queens and their Indigenous hosts – could not have been soundtracked better than with ‘I Will Survive’. – Zan Rowe
24. 8 Mile
In 2002, I was watching Eminem’s career with the sort of high-snobbery only an indie teenager can muster. This “Slim Shady” character was a joke to me, the music the kind of low-brow crap I’d catch my brother and his friends listening to. As someone who, like, actually listens to, like, real hip hop *eye roll*… I wanted nothing to do with it.
Then I heard ‘Lose Yourself’.
As the cornerstone to this soundtrack, Eminem absolutely destroyed every preconceived notion I had of him as an artist. Then he follows it up on the blistering ‘8 Mile’ and ‘Run Rabbit Run’, alongside a new world order of artists I’d equally dismissed – 50 Cent, Xzibit, Obie Trice.
The moral of the story is, sometimes it’s best to admit when you’re wrong. Don’t miss out on good music because you’re being a twat. – Gemma Pike
23. Dogs In Space
I will never forget the first listen. I was an innocent, 12-year-old girl from the suburbs. I had no idea music could make you feel the way the music on this soundtrack made me feel.
It was dark, it was chaotic, it was dirty, loud, bleak, rebellious and life giving. It was punk, and it corrupted me. I could only imagine the outlaws who lived in Dogs In Space’s dilapidated, party and drug-fuelled share house in Richmond in 1978 lived on ‘Dog Food’, like Iggy Pop sings.
I didn’t know music could sound so deconstructed and otherworldly like Gang of Four’s ‘Anthrax’. It was the gateway to a whole new world of music for me: to Brian Eno, Primitive Calculators, The Boys Next Door – and I’ve never looked back. – Meagan Loader
22. Pretty In Pink
Everyone’s wanted to sing and dance like Duckie in a record store at some stage in their life.
The Breakfast Club still rates as my favourite John Hughes film, but in Pretty In Pink, the American director tied all the ‘80s teen emotions of the haves and have nots, the jocks and the jerks, the awkward and the adept, together with a perfect, largely new wave and post-punk inspired, soundtrack.
The Psychedelic Furs’ 1981 cult hit gave the film and soundtrack its title and focus, but the winning moments came from the songs specifically written for the film, including Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s ‘If You Leave’. Hughes changed the film’s ending, leaving OMD just 24 hours to write and record a replacement closing song. The rising synths 15 seconds into the future hit song captured the film’s crescendo perfectly. – Richard Kingsmill
21. Straight Outta Compton
Growing up in the overwhelmingly white suburbs of regional NSW, I couldn’t have been more removed from the realities of Black America. Institutionalised racism and gang violence just didn’t rate on my radar of concerns.
But what I did know was that ‘Fuck Tha Police’ was a jam. And not just any jam, it was forbidden, the sweetest kind.
Fast forward to adulthood and the songs of NWA have the perfect companion piece in Straight Outta Compton. Perfect because, where a young person removed from those realities might just hear bravado and aggression, they’re now confronted with the truth of their origin.
It makes for a powerful film that reveals the grim reality that gave rise to one of pop music’s most controversial groups. – Stephen Goodhew
20. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
‘Bueller! Bueller!’ These words are etched into my mind as much as the songs that made this movie epic.
When my friends and I discovered this movie years after its 1986 release, it was as aspirational to us as it had been to teens of the 80s. It was everything we wanted to be, Matthew Broderick was our teen crush and Jennifer Grey my idol. Who didn’t hate their annoying older brother, even if he was cool?
From Yello’s ‘O Yeah’ to The English Beat’s ‘March Of The Swivelheads’, the music brought this film to life with infinite cred making it the teen cult hit, it remains. And who wouldn’t a boyfriend that would jump on a city float and serenade you to the world to The Beatles’ ‘Twist & Shout’? – Wendy Saunders
19. Blade Runner
My nearest arthouse cinema screened Blade Runner pretty regularly in the mid-90s, often in a double bill or late at night. Hearing Vangelis’ soundtrack transports me back to that dark theatre and right back into Ridley Scott’s perfectly realised sci-fi world.
I’m on the rooftop in the rain with Roy Batty. I’m flying across the cityscape of an imagined 2019. I’m in our hard-boiled anti-hero’s apartment with Rachael at the piano, untying her hair as haunting sax lines slide all over the icy synths. And I’m wondering what it’s like to live in the over-priced block of flats built on the ashes of my beloved but long-gone movie-house.
And I’m wondering what 2019 will really be like. – Ryan Egan
I didn’t witness The Beatles launch the British Invasion on The Ed Sullivan Show. And I was barely knee-high when an illustration of John Lennon appeared on Time magazine with the words When the Music Died. But when I first heard Help!, I was gripped by the same Beatlemania my dad experienced when he saw the Fab Four play the Auckland Town Hall in 1964.
Released just a year after that show, Help! marks the point The Beatles began their transition from mop tops to LP artists. Ecstatic and melancholic in equal measure, the album sees George Martin and the band expand into folk, country pop and balladeering.
None of that musical growth mattered to five-year-old me. I just knew that Help! was – and is – pure joy on record. – Sam Wicks
17. Donnie Darko
Sorry to all the piano teachers who immediately, due to popular demand, had to learn how to teach ‘Mad World’ by Tears For Fears in the years after Donnie Darko came out.
The version featured in the film, a starkly beautiful cover by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews, perfectly fit tone of that morose teen drama.
There was something quietly soothing about that track, even though it soundtracks a moment in the film that is basically just people crying in bed and/or getting crushed by a wayward aeroplane engine.
I say sorry because I was one of those students. I played it over and over, training my fingers to twist over one another. I regret nothing. – Paul Donoughue
16. The Crow
Released a year after the accidental death on set of star Brandon Lee, the dark fantasy film has since gained cult like status. The soundtrack stands on its own merits. It's a fitting companion to the movie and a document of the best bands of the early ‘90s.
Reading like the ultimate Lollapalooza (The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Violent Femmes, Rage Against the Machine), the songs suited the fast-paced action sequences and edgy visual style that to teenage me was ground-breaking.
While pretty dude heavy, it’s the poignant songs by Elizabeth Fraser and Jane Siberry that personally deliver some of the most powerful and lingering moments.
“It won’t rain all the time, the sky won’t fall forever” – Dorothy Markek
15. Lost In Translation
It’s right there. In the final moments of the film. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen are standing on a crowded Tokyo street. They kiss, on the lips, for a long time, then say goodbye. The drum beat starts. Eight seconds in, the guitar kicks in. And there you have it: The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’.
The perfect alignment of music and movie making. The perfect song for this perfect moment. This track makes me feel like my feet have just hit the ground and I’m flying at the same time. It encapsulates the mood, the will they/won’t they, did they/why don’t they, dream-like ‘more intensity’ of the film.
It’s a song dripping with colour, with wanting, with meaning and is a flawless finish to one of Sophia Coppola’s finest soundtracks. And I cry with joy every time I hear it. – Meagan Loader
14. This Is Spinal Tap
I’m instantly taken back to Mitchell Jackson’s garage. We’re sitting around playing music and his Mum is annoyed at me for putting a glass of soft drink on the amp.
A part of any band practice was remembering the characters, lines and importantly, songs of This is Spinal Tap. At the time I didn’t know the full extent of the genres they were poking fun at. But it felt funny and familiar.
This is Spinal Tap was a game-changing music mockumentary because of the love and care taken to write and record songs that sounded real. The closer to reality they sounded, the more ridiculous they became.
Back in the garage, the lemonade is moved to the ground. And I realise now I couldn’t even rest a drink on the amp, let alone take it to 11. – Mike Williams
13. Almost Famous
When I was a tween, I desperately wanted an older sibling. I was jealous of friends whose sisters and brothers would give them hand-crafted playlists on burnt CDs, full of cool music that didn’t sound like anything my Mum and Dad played on the stereo.
The Almost Famous soundtrack is full of key songs from the early-70s, like Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ and David Bowie’s version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’.
But it’s more than just a perfect time-capsule of the era, it’s the protagonist’s older sister’s record collection, it expands his world (and mine), and leads him down the rock’n’roll path. – Liza Harvey
Like so many 11-year-old girls in the mid-90s, I was obsessed with everything to do with Clueless. I’d belt out ‘Kids In America’ while hanging posters of Alicia Silverstone on my bedroom wall, I’d mimic Brittany Murphy’s ‘Rollin’ With My Homies’ hand wave, and as a competitive ice skater back then, I also once skated to a mashup of ‘No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ and ‘Supermodel’.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the soundtrack pretty much shaped my music taste during those formative years. It introduced me to alt-rock, 90s ska and West Coast rap, and was my very first taste of Radiohead, Beastie Boys and Supergrass – artists I still have on repeat 23 years later.
The sunny, upbeat soundtrack is packed full of sounds that defined the 90s,and hearing just about any of its tracks today is the only thing that makes me want to go back and be a teenager again. – Luanne Shneier
11. Forrest Gump
No soundtrack has so perfectly captured the sound of the times than this one. As the movie follows the bumbling, beautiful soul of Forrest Gump – a simple man in complicated times coincidentally finding himself on the doorstep of some of America’s most crucial socio-political events of the last 60 years – this soundtrack has the song that nails each moment in history.
The rise of rock‘n’roll: Elvis. Segregation in the South: Lynard Skynard. The Vietnam War: Creedence Clearwater Revival. Feminism: Joan Baez. It is a travelogue that traverses the revolutionary to the hippie, vignettes that work beautifully alongside the film’s narrative.
I have listened to this soundtrack for more hours than I could possibly count, and will continue to do so the rest of my life. A masterclass in American music history and curation. – Gemma Pike
10. O Brother, Where Art Thou
When I die, I want ‘I’ll Fly Away’ by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss played at my funeral.
While The Soggy Bottom Boys’ version of the 1913 jam ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ was the key track from The Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou, ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is its most breathtaking moment. Two of modern country music’s best voices prove that great songs can endure decades, even centuries.
O Brother, Where Art Thou shone a light on Appalachian country music. The T Bone Burnett produced soundtrack got us excited about songs that were first recorded before our grandparents were born. Musicological education doesn’t get more fun than this. – Dan Condon
Some films use music to take us back to a moment. Singles was the moment. When it was released in 1993, at the height of the Seattle grunge explosion, this adult coming-of-age film captured the stories of the city by letting the songs tell the tale.
Paul Westerberg's first solo work since leaving The Replacements always takes me back to memorable moments in the movie. But I'm more inclined to remember this soundtrack as a gateway for 15-year-old Zan in her suburban bedroom, daydreaming of a scene on the other side of the planet, and the dingy pubs of music discovery that would fill my world two years later.
For all the grunge guitar on Singles, the standout was always Chris Cornell's ‘Seasons’. The song was a departure from his work with Soundgarden and, in the wake of his death, carries an even heavier resonance. – Zan Rowe
8. The Blues Brothers
There’s no question that The Blues Brothers soundtrack ranks among the very best of all time. For me though it wasn’t just a great album, it was a wide-open door to the world of soul.
Although it features performances from some of the all-time greats, to eight-year-old me that didn’t mean a thing.
What I knew was that when Ray Charles told me to shake my tail feather, I shook it. When Aretha Franklin invited me to think, I thought hard, and when James Brown asked if I saw the light I responded with a ‘yes, Lawd!’
It was pure fun and its enduring appeal says more than words ever could about the strength of the songs within. – Stephen Goodhew
7. Saturday Night Fever
I tried to resist. I really did.
I was a kid through the disco era, and I hated it. It was everywhere, and so was this damn movie. A couple of decades passed and I forgave disco’s terrible fashion, forgot the intimidation of not knowing how to bump properly, and just succumbed to the power of the beat and those falsetto freaks called The Bee Gees.
I added one to the soundtrack’s massive sales by asking for a copy from Santa about ten years ago. I still don’t care much for the film, but hearing ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Jive Talkin’’ and The Trammps magnificent epic ‘Disco Inferno’ has me in white flares, pointing to the sky, and at peace with the past. – Richard Kingsmill
6. High Fidelity
Start to finish, this soundtrack gives me the feels.
It’s the first few minutes, when John Cusack’s character Rob blasts ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ by the The 13th Floor Elevators out of the window as his girlfriend leaves. You can hear the hurt. It’s the last few minutes, when they finally work it out and move back in together, and we hear ‘I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)’ by Stevie Wonder.
In between are moments that have shaped my musical upbringing.
“I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band,” Rob boasts as puts ‘Dry The Rain’ on the record store stereo. I would have been at the counter with a copy in hand. – Paul Donoughue
5. Star Wars
There aren’t many soundtracks that I was familiar with before I’d seen the movie. Maybe my Mum watched it on video when I was in the womb. Maybe it’s soaked through to our shared cultural consciousness.
Either way, when I hear BAA BAA BAA, BA BA BA, BA BA BA I know someone evil is nearby, namely the greatest villain of all time. Lord Voldemort dreams he had a theme as iconic and pronounced as the menacing orchestral jabs that accompany Darth Vader.
George Lucas cared a lot about music in film. He once said that sound and music is half of the entertainment in a movie. Maybe it was that attitude that empowered John Williams to compose a soundtrack as vast and full of hope as the universe it depicted. – Mike Williams
4. Purple Rain
Dearly beloved, Purple Rain doesn’t feel like a soundtrack album at all. Perhaps that’s because it captures Prince at the peak of his breakthrough into superstardom and is now revered as one of the most iconic artist albums of a generation, long surpassing the cultural legacy of its source material.
It is an unending volley of incendiary pop songs, fired off in rapid succession, with a fearless lack of filler. ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and the epic title track are indelibly inked in popular consciousness. ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Baby I’m A Star’ demand a call to action from even the most uncoordinated. And ‘Darling Nikki’ is the one you turn down when your Mum is in the room.
Whilst the movie plays like a thin-plotted excuse to watch Prince and his acolytes perform for two hours, the Purple Rain soundtrack will nonetheless be with us forever, and that’s a mighty long time. – Stu Buchanan
3. Romeo + Juliet
Up until this point, film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays were lame. They lacked the passion behind the great man’s beloved iambic pentameter. Baz Luhrmann changed all that.
You cannot separate the visuals from the music. The fish tank scene when baby Leo and Claire lay eyes on each other for the first time, to the tune of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’? Heaven. ‘Young Hearts Run Free’? You bet they do. ‘Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)’ made Quindon Tarver famous at 14, and resulted in the spin-off hit, ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.
Then there’s Garbage’s ‘#1 Crush’, The Wannadies’ ‘You and Me Song’, The Cardigans’ ‘Lovefool’, and Radiohead’s ‘Talk Show Host’. Seriously, this soundtrack is so mighty you could love it without even seeing the film. – Gab Burke
2. Pulp Fiction
This has to be one of the most evocative soundtracks to ever grace my ears. From the first frenetic guitar lines of Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’, a bonified surf rock classic, I am instantly transported into a heady Tarantino-esque world.
I grew up listening to some of the stalwarts on this soundtrack, familiar already with the work of those like Chuck Berry and Dusty Springfield. But through those little detours into soul and funk and darker shades of rock’n’roll, this collection of songs opened my world to sounds beyond my folk’s record collection, ones that have stayed with me forever.
Fun fact – one year I got a bass guitar for my birthday, and the first thing I was determined to play was the bass line from Kool & The Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie’ thanks to this soundtrack. I still nail it, btw. – Gemma Pike
Discovering a novel via the screen adaptation is common and perfectly acceptable. In a rare (and shameful) case of reverse gateway, I came to Trainspotting by way of the soundtrack.
It was hardly my idea of an uplifting, relatable cinematic experience – a bunch of 20-something Scots on the junk and on the make. But a soundtrack mixing cultural icons (Iggy Pop, New Order, Lou Reed) with Britpop faves (Blur, Pulp, Elastica) and uber-cool electro bands I pretended to know intimately (Leftfield, Underworld)? Well, that had me at the nearest pay day.
In a Y2K slump I gave in and borrowed a friend’s VHS. It was bleak and brutal, as expected. But there was also dark humour, weird jubilation… and such awkwardness. All that I could relate to.
I finally acknowledged the genius of director Danny Boyle. The songs matched and amplified key scenes, especially when they seemed incongruous (Brian Eno and the worst toilet in the world anyone?).
The music is so intrinsically linked with the action on the screen – and later in our memory – that it’s impossible to separate them.
With an unbeatable strike rate, it’s easy to identify a handful of songs at least by scene. Without a dud song on there (yes, the Sleeper cover of ‘Atomic’ is good), few soundtracks from the ‘90s have aged as well. Or been as fruitful. Remember, there was a Volume two. Choose Life. – Dorothy Markek