25 Of The Best Movie Soundtracks

Written by Dan Farrant

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Music and movies are akin to two sides of the same coin — inseparable and enhancing the value of each other. The perfect soundtrack doesn’t just complement the visuals; it breathes life into every scene.

Throughout cinematic history, there have been soundtracks that have achieved legendary status. They have become as iconic as the films they accompany. Let’s look at 25 of the greatest movie soundtracks of all time.

1. The Bodyguard

Released in 1992, the soundtrack for The Bodyguard is tied closely to the film’s success. It features Whitney Houston in her acting debut alongside Kevin Costner. The album stands out for Houston’s powerful vocal performances. Notably, it includes a mix of original songs and covers, all performed by Houston.

Central to the soundtrack’s acclaim is “I Will Always Love You,” a cover of a Dolly Parton song. Houston’s rendition became a defining moment in her career and a global hit, topping charts worldwide. The soundtrack also includes other hit singles like “I’m Every Woman” (a Chaka Khan cover), “Run to You,” and “Queen of the Night.”

The Bodyguard soundtrack achieved unprecedented commercial success. It became the best-selling soundtrack album of all time, selling over 45 million copies globally. In 1994, it won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

2. Saturday Night Fever

Our next movie soundtrack was pivotal to the disco music era. Saturday Night Fever, released in 1977, is primarily performed by the Bee Gees, who contributed to the majority of its tracks.

The album captures the essence of the late ’70s disco scene, propelling the genre into mainstream popularity. Songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever” not only define the film’s atmosphere but also became anthems of this musical era.

Aside from the Bee Gees, the soundtrack features other artists, including Yvonne Elliman, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Tavares. Saturday Night Fever soundtrack’s impact was monumental. It sold over 40 million copies worldwide, earning multiple Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

3. Purple Rain

The album Purple Rain, released in 1984, is as iconic as its artist, Prince. Serving as a soundtrack to the film of the same name and as Prince’s sixth studio album, it showcases his eclectic mix of rock, R&B, pop, and funk.

The album features some of Prince’s most enduring hits, such as “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the eponymous “Purple Rain.” These songs not only underscore pivotal moments in the film but also became defining tracks of the 1980s.

Commercially and critically acclaimed, Purple Rain sold over 25 million copies worldwide. It received numerous awards, including two Grammys and an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. The album’s success helped to propel the film into cult status and cemented Prince’s place as a multifaceted artist and cultural icon.

4. Titanic

The soundtrack for Titanic played a pivotal role in the film’s success, enhancing the epic and tragic narrative of the movie. It was composed by James Horner and features the iconic song “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion.

“My Heart Will Go On” became an anthem for the film. Its haunting melody and poignant lyrics capture the essence of the love story between the main characters, Jack and Rose. The song achieved massive commercial success, topping charts worldwide and becoming Dion’s signature song.

The Titanic soundtrack achieved monumental success. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, among other accolades.

5. Grease

The Grease soundtrack transports audiences back to the rock-and-roll era of the 1950s. It has become synonymous with the feel-good, dance-inspiring atmosphere of the iconic film. Released in 1978 alongside the movie, it features a brilliant blend of rock, pop, and doo-wop, perfectly capturing the vibrant energy of the time.

Key tracks like “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want” offer a mix of playful storytelling and dynamic melodies. They showcase the talents of John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and the supporting cast. Many of these tracks reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Grease soundtrack’s success extended far beyond the silver screen. In fact, it dominated the music charts and became one of the best-selling albums of its time. Its enduring popularity is reflected in its multi-platinum certifications and its ability to introduce new fans to the golden age of rock and roll.

6. Footloose

The Footloose soundtrack, released in 1984, is a seminal collection of 1980s pop and rock music. It is directly tied to the film’s theme of liberation through dance.

Kenny Loggins’ energetic title song, “Footloose,” sets a lively tone for the album. The latter features a mix of tracks that underscore the movie’s narrative of youthful defiance against repression. Other standout songs include Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” and Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets.”

This soundtrack contributed to making the film a cultural phenomenon. It remains influential as a collection that captured the spirit of an era where music was a dynamic force for expression and change.

7. Guardians Of The Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, known as Awesome Mix Vol. 1, is an eclectic mix of 1970s and early 1980s tracks. Key songs such as Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” provide a sonic backdrop that’s as thrilling and expansive as the movie’s galactic setting.

The inclusion of tracks like “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 and “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone injects moments of heartfelt emotion and joy. They align with the film’s lighter, more humorous moments.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1 achieved significant acclaim, topping the US and UK charts. The soundtrack reminds listeners of the power of music to evoke memory, convey emotion, and bring people together. It’s much like the eclectic team of heroes at the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy.

8. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack is a distinctive and influential collection that marks a departure from typical film music. The soundtrack features standout tracks such as “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” by The Soggy Bottom Boys and “Down to the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss.

The album focuses on Americana genres like bluegrass, country, and gospel. It also dives deep into the roots of American music traditions.

The album effectively uses period-specific music to enrich the 1930s Southern US setting of the film, becoming an essential narrative element rather than mere accompaniment.

Upon its release in 2000, the soundtrack achieved great success. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and achieved multi-platinum certifications. Its popularity helped to spark a renewed interest in folk and traditional American music among a broad audience.

9. Pulp Fiction

In 1994, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was released alongside Quentin Tarantino’s film. It distinguishes itself by its mix of surf music, soul, and dialogue snippets from the movie. Rather than relying on a traditional score, Tarantino opted for a carefully selected array of songs that reflect the film’s narrative and diverse characters.

Tracks like Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” instantly set a high-energy tone. On the other hand, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” infuse the film with soulful depth. The inclusion of dialogue excerpts as tracks, such as “Royale with Cheese,” serves to blur the lines between the movie’s visual experience and its auditory one.

This soundtrack enjoyed commercial success. It further cemented the film’s cult status while simultaneously reviving interest in the genres and artists it featured.

10. Moulin Rouge!

The Moulin Rouge! soundtrack is a key part of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie. It mixes modern songs with the movie’s vibrant story of love and life in early 20th-century Paris.

It includes modern versions of hits like “Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink, and “Your Song” by Ewan McGregor and Alessandro Safina, blending old and new in exciting ways.

This choice adds depth to the movie’s themes of everlasting love and rebellion. Adding new songs like “Come What May,” sung by Nicole Kidman and McGregor, also helped tell the movie’s story better.

By mixing different music styles, including opera and pop, the soundtrack plays a big role in the movie beyond just background music. It was widely praised and helped make the film successful, encouraging other musical movies to be bold with their soundtracks.

11. The Greatest Showman

The soundtrack of the 2017 musical film The Greatest Showman enhances the movie’s appeal. The music captures the grandeur and excitement of the circus world envisioned by P. T. Barnum. The soundtrack was meticulously crafted by composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It explores themes such as ambition, identity, acceptance, and love.

The album is notable for its many tracks. We have the vibrant opener “The Greatest Show” and the anthem of empowerment “This Is Me” by Keala Settle and the ensemble. Each track is designed to deepen the emotional resonance of the narrative and flesh out the characters’ journeys.

In addition, the soundtrack includes “Rewrite the Stars,” a duet by Zac Efron and Zendaya, and “Never Enough,” performed by Loren Allred. These masterfully integrate the film’s central themes into the composition.

By blending traditional Broadway with contemporary pop, the soundtrack reaches a wide audience and retains the theatricality of live performance. Its cohesive nature ensures that the music not only complements the visual spectacle but also invites listeners to engage with the film’s story on a deeper level.

12. Trainspotting

The soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting is as iconic and multifaceted as the movie itself. By weaving together high-energy rock, electronica, and Britpop tracks, it becomes an integral part of the storytelling. It echoes the turbulent lives of its characters against the backdrop of Edinburgh’s drug scene.

The pulse of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” sets an electrifying tone for the film. It perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the narrative. The Underworld’s “Born Slippy .NUXX,” meanwhile, leaves a haunting echo of the characters’ highs and lows. These selections, among many more, reflect the complex tapestry of emotions — ranging from exhilaration to despair — that define the film.

13. Pitch Perfect

The Pitch Perfect film, released in 2012, captivated audiences with its blend of humor and heartwarming narrative. It also distinguished itself through a compelling soundtrack. This collection of music mirrors the varied musical experiences of the characters. It also features innovative acappella versions of both modern and classic songs.

At the forefront of the soundtrack’s success is Anna Kendrick’s performance of “Cups,” which achieved global acclaim. The “Riff-Off” medley, melding together tracks such as “Mickey” and “Like a Virgin,” captures the spirited competitiveness intrinsic to the story.

The eclectic selection of the Pitch Perfect soundtrack is a tribute to the film’s celebration of music and camaraderie. It enhances the narrative presented on-screen. It also establishes its own niche within the music industry, attracting fans to the world of a cappella.

14. The Prince Of Egypt

Animated films are not exempt from great soundtracks. One such film is the 1998 The Prince of Egypt. It is famous for its impactful soundtrack, which adds depth to Moses’s story of freeing the Hebrew slaves.

Composed by Hans Zimmer, the soundtrack is enhanced by Stephen Schwartz’s lyrical contributions, mixing traditional and modern sounds with Middle Eastern touches.

One of the most celebrated tracks from the film is “When You Believe,” performed by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. It captures hope and faith beautifully and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Other key tracks include “Deliver Us,” which introduces the movie’s emotional stakes. There’s also “The Plagues,” capturing the intense moments of the biblical plagues. Lastly, there’s “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” offering insight into finding one’s purpose.

15. Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls is a film adaptation released in 2006. It boasts an unforgettable soundtrack that enhances the story of a 1960s girl group’s rise to fame. The music, rich with the sounds of R&B, soul, and pop, reflects the era’s vibrant music scene and the characters’ emotional journeys.

The soundtrack features a mix of dynamic ensemble numbers and soulful solos. It mirrors the film’s narrative arc, from the early days of the music industry to the heights of stardom. It also features standout performances by the cast, including Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose, whose powerful vocals bring the songs to life.

Hudson’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is a showstopper. This track, along with “Listen” and “Dreamgirls,” captures the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the characters.

16. A Star Is Born

Both the film and the soundtrack A Star Is Born were released in 2018. The film stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and explores love, ambition, and the pitfalls of fame. The album blends pop with country and rock elements, delivering an emotionally resonant experience that complements the film’s narrative.

The standout track, “Shallow,” performed by Gaga and Cooper, emerged as a cultural phenomenon. It clinched the Best Original Song award at the 2019 Academy Awards, among other accolades. Other highlights from the soundtrack include “Always Remember Us This Way,” a ballad by Gaga, and “Maybe It’s Time,” a reflective piece by Cooper.

Commercially, the soundtrack saw immense success, topping charts globally. Beyond its Oscar win, the soundtrack garnered multiple nominations and awards, reflecting its broad appeal and significant impact.

17. Encanto

Another animated film hits this list with its standout soundtrack. Disney’s Encanto (2021) features vibrant music that captures the essence and cultural richness of the story.

Its soundtrack was primarily composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is celebrated for its lively melodies and intricate lyrics that beautifully convey the movie’s themes of family, acceptance, and self-discovery.

One of the most notable songs from Encanto is “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Featuring multiple members of the Madrigal family, it discusses the mysterious and misunderstood character, Bruno, and his foretelling abilities. It topped various music charts, including the Billboard Hot 100, marking a significant achievement for a song from an animated film.

Other standout tracks include “Surface Pressure,” performed by Jessica Darrow, which explores the pressures of expectations and responsibility through the character Luisa. There’s also “Dos Oruguitas,” a touching ballad that underscores the film’s emotional climax.

18. Goodfellas

The 1990 film Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese is frequently hailed as one of cinema’s greatest. It is celebrated for its masterful use of period-specific music to enhance the narrative and evoke a visceral sense of time and place.

This soundtrack is different from traditional film scores that rely on composed music to underscore scenes. Goodfellas utilizes a mix of popular music from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The soundtrack is notable for its opening credits set to Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” and the climactic sequence scored with Sid Vicious’s punk rendition of “My Way.” Each song choice serves a deliberate narrative purpose.

The soundtrack includes a broad range of genres, from rock and roll and jazz to rhythm and blues, mirroring the evolving American cultural landscape and the tumultuous lives of the characters.

19. Pretty In Pink

The teen film Pretty in Pink, directed by Howard Deutch and written by John Hughes, was released in 1986. It is regarded as one of the defining compilations of 1980s cinema and a quintessential example of how a soundtrack can encapsulate the mood and themes of its film.

The title track, performed by The Psychedelic Furs, perfectly sets the tone for the film’s exploration of teenage love and social divisions. Other notable contributions include OMD’s “If You Leave.” This plays during the prom scene and becomes one of the film’s most iconic and enduring songs.

The inclusion of tracks by artists like New Order (“Shellshock”), Echo & the Bunnymen (“Bring on the Dancing Horses”), and The Smiths (“Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”) add depth and authenticity to the film’s portrayal of teenage life. They capture the complexities of love, identity, and the pains of growing up.

20. Super Fly

Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack for the 1972 film Super Fly is a pioneering achievement that significantly altered how music complements and enhances film narratives.

The film is directed by Gordon Parks Jr. and dives deep into the life of a drug dealer seeking an exit from his criminal lifestyle. Mayfield was asked to score the crime drama. He delivered an opus that transcended mere background ambiance to become a critical voice within the film itself.

Songs like “Pusherman” and “Freddie’s Dead” are exemplary. They weave narratives that echo the film’s critique of drug culture and the socio-economic conditions that foster it. The titular track, “Superfly,” critiques the glorification of the hustler lifestyle that the film depicts.

Beyond its thematic achievements, the Super Fly soundtrack also stood out for its commercial success. It became a hit that outperformed the film at the box office!

21. Help!

The album Help! by The Beatles, released in 1965 alongside the film of the same name, served a dual purpose. It was a soundtrack to the film and a standalone studio album. It also signaled the onset of their experimental phase, which would characterize their ensuing music.

Help! distinguishes itself through a variety of musical styles. They range from the folk-inspired “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” to the rock-driven “Ticket to Ride.” The title track represents a personal revelation from John Lennon, blending personal introspection with the band’s signature melodic approach.

Integrated within the film, tracks like “I Need You” and “Ticket to Ride” merge narrative with the band’s performances. They serve to enhance the film’s storyline with The Beatles’ musical charm. This integration of music and cinematic narrative added a unique dimension to the film, contributing significantly to its success.

22. The Big Chill

The 1983 film The Big Chill presents a soundtrack that compiles 1960s and early 1970s classics. This not only sets the film’s tone but actively propels the story forward.

Songs such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and The Temptations’ “My Girl” anchor the soundtrack. These deliberate selections resonate deeply with the film’s exploration of friendship, loss, and the inevitable march toward adulthood.

Its success upon release highlighted its wide appeal. It also bridges generational gaps and reintroduces the vibrancy of ’60s and ’70s music to a broader audience. By integrating these classic songs seamlessly into the film, The Big Chill helped pioneer a new way of thinking about film soundtracks.

23. That Thing You Do!

Released in conjunction with Tom Hanks’s directorial debut, That Thing You Do! soundtrack captures the exuberant spirit of the 1960s pop music scene. This collection is a vibrant homage to the era of catchy tunes and the rise of Beatlemania. It complemented the film’s storyline about a fictional band’s meteoric rise to fame with their infectious hit single.

Central to the soundtrack is the titular track, “That Thing You Do!” penned by Adam Schlesinger. Its catchy melody and energetic beat instantly transport listeners and viewers back to a time when pop music dominated the airwaves.

The soundtrack doesn’t stop at recreating the sound of the 60s. It immerses listeners in the diversity of the musical era, from the jazzy “My World Is Over” to the soulful “Hold My Hand, Hold My Heart.”

24. 50 First Dates

Let us immerse in the laid-back, sun-kissed vibes of Hawaii by listening to the soundtrack for 50 First Dates. It combines reggae influences with 1980s pop classics, offering a fresh twist on familiar tunes. It features a roster of renowned artists like 311, UB40, and Jason Mraz.

Love songs from the ’80s are reimagined with a reggae flair, aligning perfectly with the film’s Hawaiian backdrop. Tracks like “Hold Me Now” by Wayne Wonder, a cover of the Thompson Twins hit, and “True” by and Fergie, a rendition of the Spandau Ballet classic, are standout examples of this fusion.

The 50 First Dates soundtrack secured a place on the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at #30. Beyond this chart success, it received accolades for its ability to evoke the movie’s setting and enhance the viewing experience.

25. The Lion King

Our next soundtrack captures the heart of the African savanna and the epic journey of its royal heir. The Lion King soundtrack is an iconic musical masterpiece that transcends the animated film genre. This album is a vibrant celebration of life, legacy, and the circle of life itself.

The scores were composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer, with unforgettable songs penned by Elton John and Tim Rice. From the soul-stirring “Circle of Life” to the carefree rhythms of “Hakuna Matata,” each track serves not only as a backdrop for Simba’s story but also as a standalone piece that has found a place in popular culture.

Other notable songs include “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” These enabled the soundtrack to achieve significant critical and commercial success. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, while “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” took home the Oscar for Best Original Song.

Summing Up Our List Of Best Movie Soundtracks

Our exploration into some of the most impactful movie soundtracks reveals the wide range of emotions and memories music can evoke.

From the soulful and nostalgic journeys that take us back through the decades to the vibrant beats that capture the essence of adventure and romance in exotic locales, these collections are more than just background music. They’re the heart and soul of their films.

This list is far from complete, though. So if we missed your favorites, let us know so we can add them here!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.