Movies are first and foremost intended to be appealing to the eye. Film companies spend millions of dollars putting together the perfect team of visual effects artists, as well as buy the best directors and cinematographers for their projects because they know how important the visuals are to the success of the film. Anybody can put anyone in front of a camera, but it doesn’t make it a movie. Often times, the scenery and everything behind the characters tell the true story and transcend the project to a higher level. It makes a scene into a movie. It makes a movie into a classic.
Likewise, great scores and soundtracks also have the ability to entrench the audience into a film. Aside from sight, the next most important sense to please when creating a great movie is hearing. I love movies with big sound, just as much as I love my music loud. For those reasons, movies that find ways to satisfy my ears as well as my eyes undoubtedly find a special, cozy place in my heart and nestle there forever.
There have been so many amazing movies that feature amazing music throughout the history of cinema. We can go back in time and look at musicals such as Singin’ In the Rain, The Sound of Music and West Side Story just to name a few. Each of them are all great movies in their own right, but the timeless, supplemental music that was imprinted into our hearts and memories from each one makes them all legendary. A movie like Fantasia was worlds ahead of its time. It was incredibly appealing to the eye, but without the music it’s…well, nothing. A remarkable musical score turned a unique animated feature into a must-see experience for generations.
A soundtrack, whether it be originally inspired or an already existing compilation, can absolutely do the trick as well. I would venture to guess several songs you fell in love with in your life have either been included in one or several movies at some point in time without you even knowing it, or they were stamped on your brain forever directly from actually hearing them in a scene. Even further, I’d bet that you remember that scene from the movie equally as vivid as the song itself because of the song.
I can go on and on about the importance of music to films, but it would turn this article into a book. So for the sake of this article, I compiled a list of my favorite soundtracks. I am not saying this is the “top ten greatest soundtracks ever,” but it is the top ones to me. I’m sure your own list will feature a few of these as well.
10. Dead Presidents (compilation) – If I had this site back in 1995, then this movie may have won my award for most underrated film of that year. It’s such a good movie, and the soundtrack is even better. The funky sounds of Isaac Hayes and James Brown were creating the original nucleus of the hip-hop sound, and they both were all over this album. The Dead Presidents soundtrack provides the sounds of the urban streets during the late 1960s and early 1970s equally as good as the film displays the protesting mood of that era. It reached number 14 on the Billboard 200, and achieved the number one spot on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 1995.
9. Godzilla (original) – I’ll never forget the first time I saw Puff Daddy perform “Come With Me” on Saturday Night Live in the Spring of 1998. The performance was epic – mixing hip-hop with a live orchestra. This was the first time I had ever seen such a thing, and it was mind-blowing. The production of the song was as big as the monster from the movie. While the movie was somewhat entertaining, the soundtrack was dope. Aside from Puff’s song (“Come With Me” was certified Platinum and reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart), the soundtrack also featured Billboard hits like “Heroes” by The Wallflowers (remember them?), a remix of “Brain Stew” by Green Day, and “Deeper Underground” by Jamiroquai. It also had original contributions from Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine and Ben Folds Five among others. If you loved 90s music and several of the bands who arguably peaked shortly after, then you definitely loved this album – which reached number two on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
8. Begin Again (original) – In my opinion, -this movie is one of the most underrated movies of the past few years. Begin Again is a unique film where the plot of the movie is actually played out through the original music, which is created during the movie by Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a once prominent producer looking to find redemption in the industry through a singer named Gretta (Keira Knightley) that he discovers at an open mic night. In the scene where Dan hears Gretta for the first time, director John Carney visualizes to the audience the instruments that Dan places in his mind behind Gretta’s vocals as she sings “A Step You Can’t Take Back.” I was sold from that point on. Like the movie, this soundtrack is so chill and addicting. The song “Lost Stars” by Adam Levine, who also stars in the movie, received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song from a Film in 2015, and the album also peaked at number one on the US Billboard Soundtracks chart.
7. Django Unchained (mostly original) – The controversial Quentin Tarantino film is accompanied by a strong, diverse track list of songs inspired by the movie. I’m a big Tarantino fan as it is, partly because I love how he always incorporates music into his films with perfect precision. With that said, I was really impressed with his ability to take a chance and make a new-age Western film successfully, while still finding a way to implement modern songs in without missing a beat…literally. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Django (Jamie Foxx) rides horseback overseeing the slaves, while “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross plays in the background. The soundtrack also featured music across multiple genres. “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton is a powerful R&B duet that sets the scene for the importance of Django’s search of his wife, who was taken from him to be a slave in a different group. “Ancora Qui,” which was composed by the legendary composer Ennio Morricone and sung by Elisa entirely in Spanish, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard (even though I honestly have no idea what she is saying).
6. Batman Forever (original) – This was the soundtrack that actually introduced me to soundtracks. As a 10-year-old boy back in 1995, I was starting to find out what I really loved in life. Two things I realized I loved in life came together at the same time – Batman and music. “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal is still one of the best love songs of all-time, and by itself would have carried this soundtrackinto a lot of top ten lists. Also, I think “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” by U2 is one of their more underrated songs, and I still rock out to it anytime I hear it. Nonetheless, this movie was guilty pleasure cheesy, but the music made it cool. So cool, in fact, that it reached number five on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1995.
T-5. Scarface/Top Gun (both original) – I couldn’t bring myself to taking one of these off the list, so I decided to have them tie and both be included (a perk to having my own site – the ability to make executive decisions like this). As a child of the 1980s, I adore anything from that era. Scarface and Top Gun are two standout staples of 80s cinema.
Maybe it’s just me, but Al Pacino will always be synonymous with Tony Montana in my heart. I’ve always found Scarface to be one of the coolest movies ever not because of the drugs and violence, but because of the music during all the drugs and violence. Giorgio Moroder’s Golden Globe nominated soundtrack has become just as influential in the hip-hop culture today as the movie itself. If the montage scene of Tony becoming a kingpin and ruling the world to the music of “Push It to the Limit,” doesn’t get you motivated for success, or the club scene with “She’s on Fire” lighting up the night doesn’t make you want to dance, then you’re a coch-a-roach.
Top Gun is the movie that arguably put Tom Cruise officially on the A-list of actors. It also is the movie that introduced me to Kenny Loggins. “Danger Zone,” which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1986, still always finds its way onto my gym playlist. The other top single from the soundtrack, “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin (which reached number one on the Billboard chart), created the mood for one of the sexiest scenes ever when Maverick (Cruise) finally closes the deal with Charlie (Kelly McGillis). The soundtrack itself featured six total singles (four of which would chart in the Billboard Top 100) and was number one on the US Billboard 200 for five non-consecutive weeks in the summer and fall of 1986.
4. Forrest Gump (compilation) – I can see how someone born during the 1960s would love this soundtrack. It’s not only the soundtrack to the movie, but it’s also the soundtrack of that generation. Unlike the box of chocolates Forrest speaks of, when it comes to this soundtrack, you DO know what you’re gonna get – 32 American classics on two discs. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin has contributions to this album, and the songs are all such classics that you don’t even need to be from that era to enjoy them. The Forrest Gump soundtrack is compiled of several chart-topping records in their own right during the 60s. The soundtrack itself, though, sold over 6 million copies. It peaked and remained at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 charts for seven consecutive weeks during the summer of 1994 until another movie soundtrack claimed that spot. And that soundtrack was…
3. The Lion King (original) – I believe The Lion King is the best Disney movie ever. I honestly don’t think it’s very debatable. I remember when I first saw the trailer for the movie when I was a kid back in 1993. First off, it was one of the first movies to my knowledge that released a trailer a year prior to its release. The movie has got to be “big-time” if its distribution company does something like that, and it didn’t disappoint. “The Circle of Life” playing as all the animals from across the land gather to pay homage to the new born future king (hmm…sounds familiar) was the definition of epic. They couldn’t have created a more perfect song for that scene, and, again, that was just from the trailer! Upon its release, we found out that that is the first scene of the film as well, and are treated to even more classic tunes from the Disney masterpiece throughout – tunes such as “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata.” These songs are all still sang by thirtysomethings like me as a nostalgic tribute to our childhood, as well as by a new generation of kids today who hear the melodies either on the movie or from seeing the award-winning Broadway play. The Lion King soundtrack went Diamond in 1995, meaning it sold over 10 million copies. As a result, it became the biggest-selling soundtrack ever for an animated film. The album peaked at number one in several countries, including the U.S., and was the fourth highest selling album overall of 1994 (21st highest of the 90s decade). Three of the five Oscar nominees for Best Original Song from a Film in 1995 came from this movie alone, with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” winning the award (“Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” were the others nominated). This soundtrack, like its lovable lion protagonists, was a true beast.
2. Grease (original) – Wow…where do I begin? Grease didn’t just feature a great soundtrack, it featured a timeless musical institution. You can listen to the entire Grease soundtrack top to bottom straight through without skipping any songs, which is hard to say about any album, let alone a soundtrack. Upon its release in 1978, it reached the top spot on the charts in the U.S., UK and Australia. It featured two number one hits on the US Billboard charts (“Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want”), two other top five hits (“Summer Nights” peaked at number five and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” at number three), and a fifth top-50 hit (“Greased Lightnin” reached number 47). Grease set the bar for what a modern musical should be, and to this day is still acted out on stages all over America and the world. If life on Earth as we know it ever ended and humans created a time capsule to show future beings what Earth was like for us during our time here, I think the Grease album would have to be included. Either that, or another John Travolta classic…
1. Saturday Night Fever (original) – This movie made me wish I was in my twenties during the disco era of the 1970s. I mentioned earlier how a fantastic score evolved Fantasia into a masterful experience from a uniquely animated feature. Well, a groovy soundtrack turned a basic scene of a man walking down a city street into the hippest, coolest, most out-of-sight intro to a film ever. “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees accompanying John Travolta as he struts down a hustle and bustle street opening Saturday Night Fever paints the perfect picture for not just the movie, but the entire decade. It is definitely one of the most iconic scenes in movie history, and one of my all-time favorites as well. The soundtrack sold over 15 million copies and stayed atop the Billboard album charts for 24 consecutive weeks in 1978! Not only that, but it stayed on the Billboard album charts for…get this..120 weeks (if you’re bad at math, that’s over 2 years), concluding in March of 1980! The movie was also a global phenomenon, peaking atop the UK charts for 18 straight weeks and reaching the top of the charts at some point in over eleven countries. Oh yeah, and it also won six Grammys, among other music awards. I’m not sure such magic and chart dominance by a full movie soundtrack like that will ever happen again.
BY: CHRIS GUEST