All great movies share some of the same elements: a talented cast, a visionary director, a well-written script, and great cinematography. When all of these elements come together to tell an entertaining and cohesive story, that’s when you have a truly incredible film.
But there’s one more thing that can really set the stage and even make or break a film. I’m talking about the soundtracks.
A soundtrack can show what is not visible on the screen; it relays parts of the story that can’t be told through images or through dialogue. It can add emotional depth, connecting with audiences on another level.
When a soundtrack matches the tone of a film perfectly and adds that deeper level to the story, the mix of cinema and sound is pure magic. And sometimes it’s done so well, you don’t even realize that you’re connecting with the score!
The following films have amazing soundtracks. They have transported us to different places and times, brought us to tears, or helped us feel an exciting rush along with the film’s characters. They are such a perfect compliment that the films just wouldn’t be the same without them!
Marie Antoinette (2006)
2006’s Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst is one of my favorites. This film about the last queen of France is full of lavish style and decadence, but also themes of stifling loneliness and adolescence. Sofia Coppola made a bold choice by setting a historical drama against a modern soundtrack of indie rock, new wave, and post-punk – a move that really paid off. It’s a decision that, on paper, doesn’t sound like it makes any sense. But when you watch the film, it clearly goes together like popcorn and butter.
Purple Rain (1984)
Purple Rain itself is pure genius and vision, often regarded as one of the greatest musical films. I mean, what else would you expect from Prince? The soundtrack is the legendary musician’s sixth studio album, which was was his first album to reach number one on the Billboard 200. It includes some of Prince’s biggest hits, such as “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry,” and of course, the titular “Purple Rain.”
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
No list of brilliant soundtracks would ever be complete without the addition of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. This modernized spin on William Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles and takes place in Verona Beach. But while many things have changed, the Shakespearean script stays the same. The score to the film was from award-winning composers Nellee Hooper, Craig Armstrong, and Marius de Vries. You might expect instrumental music for a Shakespeare play, but that’s not the case here. The soundtrack included tracks from Garbage, Radiohead, the Cardigans, Des’ree, and more.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a unique take on the superhero flick, so it deserved an amazing soundtrack to go with it. The soundtrack is actually based on Peter Quill’s mixtape in the film called “Awesome Mix Vol 1.” Quill might be planet-hopping in this adventure, but he’s just a person from Earth, listening to “Hooked on a Feeling” on his Walkman.
Donnie Darko (2001)
It doesn’t really matter if you don’t quite understand Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. This puzzling drama about a tangent universe and the philosophy of time travel is definitely a film that deserves multiple viewings. The cast features the likes of Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and of course, Jake Gyllenhaal. But the soundtrack is an even bigger treat, filled with jams from Echo & the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, and more. You can’t think of Donnie Darko without imagining that tracking shot through the school hallway set to “Head Over Heels.”
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Widely regarded as Quentin Tarantino’s finest masterpiece, Pulp Fiction gets plenty of praise for being a brilliant film–but it just wouldn’t be the same without the killer soundtrack. There wasn’t actually a film score composed for the film; Tarantino just decided to use an assortment of songs. The film’s cold open featuring the surf sounds of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” and Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” says more about the movie than any dialogue could have done. And just try to forget about Uma Thurman’s scene set to “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”
The Lion King (1994)
Even children’s movies can have amazing soundtracks, and The Lion KIng is here to prove it. After all, with over seven million copies sold, it is the best-selling soundtrack album to an animated film in the United States. The songs were composed by the legendary Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice, while the score was composed by Hans Zimmer. While the tracks used in the film were performed by the actors, the Academy Award-winning single “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was a different version performed by Elton John.
Black Panther (2018)
The record-breaking and award-winning Black Panther is packed to the brim with the on-screen talent. It deserved an equally epic soundtrack. The chart-topping soundtrack, Black Panther: The Album, was co-produced by multi-Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar and features the talents of 2 Chainz, Future, SZA, Khalid, The Weeknd, and more.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Remember when banjos, folk music, and three-part harmonies somehow flooded mainstream music for a brief period in the early 2000s? We can thank O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Coen brothers. The soundtrack wasn’t just in the background for this one; it was actually a major component. The songs were even recorded before filming because they were so important.
Space Jam (1996)
Come on and slam, and welcome to the jam! How can you curate a soundtrack to a basketball movie starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes cast? I don’t know who assembled this soundtrack – it only says it was released by Warner and Atlantic Records – but they definitely understood the assignment. The brilliant soundtrack is almost a time capsule from the mid-’90s, with tracks from Seal, Monica, Salt n Pepa, D’Angelo, and more. There’s even a track that brings B-real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man together!
Touching on the lives of four Black youths growing up in Harlem, 1992’s Juice was Tupac Shakur’s acting debut. His performance helped catapult him into stardom. This was before he was known as one of the most influential rappers of all time, so he’s actually absent from the film’s soundtrack. However, the soundtrack still features some of the most important artists from the time, including Big Daddy Kane, Queen Latifah, EPMD, Naughty by Nature, Salt n Pepa, and more.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Set in the ‘70s, 1997’s Boogie Nights stars Mark Wahlberg as a young dishwasher who becomes an adult film star after being discovered by a producer (played by Burt Reynolds). Sure, the bell-bottoms and polyester help transport the audience to the ‘70s, but the soundtrack really solidifies it. It’s full of Marvin Gaye, The Commodores, Electric Light Orchestra, KC & the Sunshine Band, and more. The film was so packed with jams that two soundtracks were actually released.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Much like Boogie Nights, 1993’s Dazed and Confused is set in the 1970s, and brilliantly pulls viewers back in time with the perfect soundtrack. With tracks from Alice Cooper, The Runaways, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, and more, the music captures what it feels like to be a teen heading into summer break and cruising around town with friends.
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Any soundtrack that features decades of legendary performers like this deserves a spot on this list, and that’s what you get with Waiting to Exhale. The 1995 film starring Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon deserved a soundtrack that matched all that talent. The soundtrack was done by Babyface, who has won twelve Grammy Awards throughout his career. It features talent from several prominent artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, TLC, Toni Braxton, and many more.
Many parents are likely tired of watching Moana on repeat, but you can’t deny that it’s a great film paired with a perfect soundtrack. Lin-Manuel Miranda, already known for creating the musical Hamilton, stepped into the world of Disney for this animated gem. His original songs in the film include Dwayne Johnson’s number “You’re Welcome” and Auli’i Cravalho’s “How Far I’ll Go.” Are they stuck in your head again already?
Almost Famous (2000)
2000s Almost Famous tells the story of a young journalist writing for Rolling Stone in the early ‘70s as he tours with a band and tries to get his first cover story. The premise alone begs for the biggest and best collection of classic rock n’ roll. Luckily, that’s what we got! It features heavy hitters like Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Who, Elton John, and more. The soundtrack actually won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media.