Home / Features / 10 best movie soundtracks of all time

10 best movie soundtracks of all time

In short, even the greatest slices of celluloid magic are nothing without the greatest pieces of music serving as an almighty warcry

Best movie soundtracks
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Ah, cinema, what a beautifully rendered treat for the eyes. According to very smart people, visual stimuli account for around 85% of human perception. By that theory, you’d think the audible side of things takes up much smaller importance in the way we perceive the world.

However, does that mean we should be content with the silent, moving pictures of the early 1900s alone? Hell no, we don’t just want to have our cake and eat it; we want to clear out the buffet cart and be asked to leave by management.

It’s thanks to this yearning for greater things that treat the ears and the eyes that means yes, we can have Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now; we can tell that Baby had The Time of My Life; and we can watch Thor, God of Thunder, lay waste to undead legions to the mighty riffs of Immigrant Song.

In short, even the greatest slices of celluloid magic are nothing without the greatest pieces of music serving as an almighty warcry.

With that in mind, here are 10 contenders for best movie soundtrack. Just don’t @ us, please.

Top Gun

Who could predict a recruitment ad for the US Navy would have such an impact on pop culture (and many 80 kids’ career aspirations)? Top Gun’s soundtrack is just as iconic, featuring a vast array of tracks that remain ludicrously catchy nearly 40 years later. That’s thanks to some absolute belters, including Harold Faltermeyer’s unmistakable and rifftastic Top Gun Anthem, Berlin’s breathless Take My Breath Away or Cheap Trick’s synth-popping Mighty Wings.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but we’re convinced that without Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, fighter pilots would have gone extinct long ago.

Baby Driver

You don’t get much for your money these days, but no one told Edgar Wright that, going off this 30-track masterpiece. This album accompanies the story of Baby, a tinnitus-afflicted wheelman stuck in a life of crime and heist getaways. However, its main USP is that every scene in Baby Driver is masterfully choreographed to its music. A car chase set to Bellbottoms? Check. Every bullet fired set to beats from Hocus Pocus’ Focus (that yodelly one from the Nike World Cup ad)? Yup.

It’s a popping soundtrack that’s a smorgasbord of rock, soul and almost everything in between.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim’s soundtrack is just as lively as its silver screen equivalent, perfectly capturing the frenetic pacing and editing of its comic-booked-based showdowns. With plenty of grungy bass and guitars, including tracks from Blood Red Shoes, Plumtree, and The Rolling Stones, this album is chock full of thump.

The song lyrics for Sex Bob-Omb, the on-screen band in which our eponymous hero plays bass, are written by Beck, gifting it some extra music royalty.

If there’s one drawback, it’s the criminal omission of Brie Larson’s cover of Metric’s Black Sheep, which features in the film itself.

Trainspotting

From Trainspotting’s opening foot chase to Iggy Pop’s drum-slapping Lust for Life, you know you’re in for a wild trip, as we join Renton and his crew as they navigate 90s hedonism and heroin addiction.

The same wildness goes for the film’s soundtrack, crashing timeless staples from the aforementioned Iggy and Lou Reed with Britpop favourites, such as Pulp and Blue, and heavy dance tracks, courtesy of Leftfield and Underworld.

There’s certainly less cohesion in this record among its peers, but this soundtrack, along with the film, helped catapult the British film and music scene into the limelight. And that finale with Underworld is pure *chef’s kiss*.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1

Until the Guardians of the Galaxy came along, the MCU hadn’t had a killer soundtrack, until now.

This album, which itself comprises a mixtape in the film, goes to show just how good Peter Quill’s music tastes are. Featuring Blue Swede, Bowie, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5, this soundtrack is a lashing of 70 and 80s rock and soul hits. However, these aren’t the super obvious tracks one might pull from that era, which makes it work in a fresh and invigorating way, just like these unconventional heroes do.

Our standout? When our motley crew tool up for the finale battle to The Runaways’ gloriously rapturous Cherry Bomb.

Drive

If you haven’t taken a midnight drive with the Drive soundtrack, it’s a must (bonus points for donning some leather gloves and a toothpick). Its synth-laden tracks are the accompaniment while traversing any dirty neon-soaked metropolis.

Drive features standout songs, with the opening song from Kavinsky’s Night Call, a nocturnal, industrial number that’s perfect for letting the glow of the streetlights wash over your windshield.

Later on, tracks get as wordy as our monosyllabic hero, Ryan Gosling’s unnamed driver. Another noteworthy addition is the Chromatics’ Tick of the Clock, a tense and rhythmic piece that’ll suit anyone wanting to pretend they’ve got a tail in the rearview.

Forrest Gump

Part of the magic of the Forrest Gump soundtrack is the snapshots of bygone eras as our earnest hero lives through them, offering a lived-in chronological POV. Our boy blazes a trail across the decades, starting in the 50s as he meets Elvis learning his movies for Hound Dog, fighting in Vietnam in the 60s to Fortunate Son, to running across the States in the 70s to Go Your Own Way.

It’s another strong selection in this double-disc edition too, with Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, the Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Willie Nelson on the ticket.

A Star is Born

A film that had two huge jobs — convincing us Lady Gaga could act and Bradley Cooper could sing. This third remake manages to nail both responsibilities. Not only that, but its soundtrack is seriously decent.

In particular, Lady Gaga’s uncharacteristically stripped back vocals prove to be a belting foil for Bradley Cooper’s dirty, raspy country drawl, which is a revelation in itself. And though some might argue that Shallow is particularly overplayed on the airwaves these days, they could do far worse than check out the powerful Always Remember Us This Way and the tear-jerking I’ll Never Love Again.

Back to the Future

BTTF places great prominence on its music, as Marty McFly gets sent to 1955 and inadvertently catches the romantic attention of his mum.

Speaking of catchy, we’re treated to Huey Lewis & The News’ Power of Love and Back In Time, with Etta James and Eric Clapton providing soul and an unorthodox reggae influence, respectively.

Simultaneously, there’s a suspenseful “will he/won’t he make it” motif in the BTTF Overture, which turns into a rousing theme of optimism. Finally, Johnny B. Goode provides all the swagger and swing in the movie’s third act.

As the infamous yet sadly fictional Marvin Berry’s words to his cousin Chuck go, “You know that sound you’re looking for? Well listen to this.”

Pulp Fiction

Just as Pulp Fiction’s main characters meet and intertwine out of happenstance, leaving a bloody mess, so do the songs of its soundtrack — a heady mix of surf and soul that’s bursting at the seams with character and pizzazz.

In fact, Misirlou, the second track (after opening with Honey Bunny’s sweary hold-up), has become synonymous with the film itself. Add to that timeless numbers by Kool & The Gang, Dusty Springfield, and Chuck Berry, and you’ve got an iconic soundtrack that should take centre stage in any cinephile or audiophile’s collection.

Intercut with the above tracks are Tarantino’s dialogue snippets — think of them as F-bomb-heavy palate cleansers — which are, if nothing else, vital for ordering quarter-pounders in Europe.