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The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

on November 17, 2017, 2:00pm

25. Blue Velvet (1986)

bluevelvet The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Although it’s his fourth feature, Blue Velvet often feels like David Lynch’s debut. It set the stage for everything that would follow from the auteur: his dreamy meditations on good vs. evil, his divine admiration for ’50s aesthetics, and his damn fine work with composer Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise. The latter led to one of his greatest Lynchian constructs, a score that celebrates Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony, while also paying homage to the vintage pop of yesteryear, what with inclusions by Roy Orbison, Bill Doggett, and Ketty Lester. But then there’s “Mysteries of Love”, Cruise’s soaring modern ballad, that sends everything into this lucid state. That’s the idea, though; the little fish that Lynch caught years ago, the little fish that keeps on swimming. –Michael Roffman

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24. Drive (2010)drive The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Drive didn’t make household names out of artists like Riz Ortolani and Cliff Martinez, but that was never the intention. The music that soundtracks this gritty and sparse tale is not there to stand-out, it’s there to help immerse you into the world of the Driver, where each word is carefully chosen and each movement strategically planned out. Even the songs that can stand on their own, most notably “A Real Hero” by College, feel incomplete when viewed out of context. Just like the Driver, you need to have those organic synth melodies illuminating the dark road he travels. –Doug Nunnally

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23. Pulp Fiction (1994)

pulp fiction The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Quentin Tarantino has always been a pop-culture junkie with an appreciation for the past. As a result, almost all of his films do two things: give a declining actor a chance to regain his or her swagger and repurpose older songs that many may have forgotten or not heard in years. In Pulp Fiction, his crate digging yields now-classic cinematic pairings of Vincent and Mia twisting to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” at Jack Rabbit Slim’s and Mia later overdosing while rocking out to Urge Overkill’s brilliant cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”. But nothing tops Tarantino’s revival of surf guitar king Dick Dale’s 1962 take on “Miserlou”. As the yelping, finger-blazing, grimy instrumental plays atop the film’s opening credits, the audience already knows they’re in for a mob film unlike any other. It’s better than powdering your nose. –Matt Melis

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22. Easy Rider (1969)

easy rider The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

There were plenty of great soundtracks before Easy Rider came out in 1969, but none changed the way people viewed music in movies quite like it. It wasn’t that the movie boasted songs from Dylan, Hendrix, The Band, The Byrds, and Steppenwolf — a contemporary ensemble that remains one of the absolute best — it was that the songs all helped advance the story, revealing both the woes and joys of the counterculture. While movies today may seek to replicate the spirit of rock music or the songs they select, Easy Rider was that spirit, at its absolute height. –Doug Nunnally

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21. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

clockwork orange The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

A critical narrative element of A Clockwork Orange is the conditioning of the film’s main character against the very music being used in its soundtrack. In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel, ultra-violent rapist Alex DeLarge is treated with intense, controversial psychological conditioning, forced to watch endless scenes of violence and sex while listening to his favorite composer, Beethoven. From that point on, any hint of that music is attached in his mind to pain and suffering, making him physically ill. To evoke that same feeling in viewers, Kubrick bounces between snippets of the Ninth Symphony and distorted, vocoded rearrangements by electronic pioneer Wendy Carlos, as well as more of Carlos’s own compositions. Her electronic music proved so inspirational and beloved that Carlos released a second version of the soundtrack. So rarely does a soundtrack become the plot, but then this films breaks down all barriers and examines the pieces. –Adam Kivel

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20. Baby Driver (2017)

baby driver The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Choreographing an elaborate scene to an energetic song is nothing new, but what is new is how Edgar Wright framed the scenes within the context of each song with Baby Driver. Songs by Queen, The Damned, and Jon Spencer all are fully presented, allowing you to enjoy the full spectacle of a car-chase musical. In between the arranged chaos, the movie awakens other gems too, and even those that get a little chopped up get their just due with apartment dances and laundromat toe-tapping. With this attention and detail, this isn’t the soundtrack for music nerds — it’s the soundtrack that creates music nerds. –Doug Nunnally
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19. Romeo and Juliet (1997)

romeo The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

There are countless iterations and adaptations of every Shakespeare play, and Romeo and Juliet may be the most commonly updated. It takes a special something to stand out from the pack, and no matter the film, Baz Luhrmann always has a whole lot of special something. For his take on the most famous messed-up love story, the Australian auteur turned up the saturation and threw a handful of dramatic musical trends into a blender. Not many directors would even attempt to put together the weirdo rock of the Butthole Surfers, the moody Radiohead, the hook-happy Cardigans, and the neo-soul of Des’ree, but then Romeo + Juliet threaded it all through an orchestral superstructure. Every second goes big, and it somehow never falters under its own weight. –Lior Phillips

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18. Back to the Future (1985)

bttf The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

By design alone, Back to the Future is perhaps the perfect soundtrack. Hit original songs, iconic classics, a memorable score, and a few B-sides from legendary musicians; it pretty much has it all in just 10 songs. The soundtrack goes beyond this, though, co-opting one classic and another all-time great in one truly unforgettable scene that almost make the score and original hits secondary. Don’t believe me? Just play the riff of “Johnny B. Goode” in a public space and count how long it takes for someone to shout out “Marvin Berry” while miming a telephone with the biggest grin imaginable. –Doug Nunnally

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17. Friday (1995)

friday The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

The ’90s were packed with quality hip-hop/R&B driven soundtracks, and one of the more successful fused both, capturing the sound of the era and the sampling revivalism of the time with perfect clarity. Ice Cube’s title track and Dr. Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin” might have been the hits from Friday‘s double-platinum soundtrack, but the album at large illustrates the movie’s quiet tension between laid-back slacker aesthetics and the grittier realities of South Central. The former gets the Isley Brothers, Rick James, Rose Royce, and Bootsy Collins; the latter, Scarface and E-A-Ski and Cypress Hill. It’s a smooth, stoned, periodically aggressive soundtrack to fit a movie dealing in the very same. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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16. Vanilla Sky (2001)

vanilla sky The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Once in awhile, a soundtrack comes along to elevate a film to its true potential. Enter Cameron Crowe’s 2001 psychological mindfuck Vanilla Sky. His take on Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los ojos finds Tom Cruise running around New York City with his greatest haircut of all time. Behind him, though, is what can best be described as a satin quilt of groundbreaking alternative music — no, really. At a time when mainstream music was at its worst, here came Crowe with a collection of certifiably great new tunes, from Kid A-era Radiohead to Ágætis byrjun-era Sigur Rós to Reveal-era R.E.M., all of which helped define our post-9/11 world. Much like the film itself, the soundtrack works like a dream, drifting aimlessly from one eccentric track to the next, and if you’re not a hot mess by the time Nancy Wilson strums her “Elevator Beat”, your soul must be frozen in some high-tech science lab and it’s time to open your fucking eyes. –Michael Roffman
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15. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

ferris bueller The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

For 30 years (!!!), fans were denied an official soundtrack, a big gaffe from the legendary John Hughes that had people settling with fuzzy mixtapes and clunky playlists. “Who’d want all these songs,” he told Lollipop in 2003, pointing the absurdity of pairing Wayne Newton with Yello. And they don’t go together, but they do back up Ferris’ diverse appeal. To do the righteous dude justice, you need a righteous playlist, and look no further than a soundtrack that’s confident jumping from Star Wars to The Smiths, just like Ferris jumping from an upscale restaurant to a massive parade. –Doug Nunnally

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14. Rushmore (1997)

rushmore The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Director Wes Anderson originally intended for the entire soundtrack to Rushmore to be Kinks songs. He had originally envisioned Max as a vocal and angry British exchange student and thought The Kinks would be the type of rock band a kid who wears a blazer might listen to. However, as the project evolved and grew less Kinky, what became clear is Anderson’s uncanny ability to pair popular sounds and images: Max’s yearbook (The Creation’s “Making Time”), Herman’s drunken cannonballing to The Kinks at his kids’ birthday party, or Max and Herman exchanging blows to The Who live. Toss in Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s quirky instrumental interludes and the most fitting song to ever play over closing credits – Faces’ “Ooh La La” – and you have a Rushmore soundtrack worthy of, well, the Rushmore of soundtracks. –Matt Melis

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13. Do the Right Thing (1989)

do the right thing The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

While Bill Lee’s score hangs heavy over much of the punishing summer day within Spike Lee’s 1989 classic, it’s hard to even think of that year without quickly following it as Public Enemy did: “the number of another summer.” PE’s “Fight the Power” perfectly harmonizes with Rosie Perez’s ferocious, agonized opening dance, just as well as it does later, as the doomed Radio Raheem’s expression of existential outrage. But even if Lee’s soundtrack would make this list on the strength of that one song’s iconic usage alone, the rest of the album has an equal stake in setting the hazy, sweat-soaked tone of the film. Much of the film is set to a mix of the aforementioned score and smooth R&B, the kind of stuff Mister Senor Love Daddy would play to keep the residents of Bed-Stuy calm and cool on even the worst possible days. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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12. Singles (1992)

singles The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

With a background in rock journalism, it’s not surprising that filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s soundtracks often play like mixtapes made by a guy with better taste in music than most. However, for Crowe, it’s not just about loading up soundtracks with killer material that can also shift units. Singles finds the pre-fame director using Seattle’s early ‘90s grunge scene not only as a backdrop or pop-cultural touchstone but as a realistic world in which to immerse his characters. And through a soundtrack stockpiled with grunge icons like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and featuring original material by Paul Westerberg, Crowe taps into a time, but far more importantly, the feeling of that time. Though better romantic comedies than Singles may come along, none, thanks to Crowe’s soundtrack, will better capture how it felt to be searching for that perfect someone in the early ‘90s. –Matt Melis

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11. Shaft (1971)

isaac hayes shaft The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Shaft was great. Shaft was huge. Shaft changed everything. When Richard Roundtree first walked out to the sounds of Isaac Hayes’ Academy Award-winning theme, it was a watershed moment in Hollywood history. As one of the earliest blaxploitation films — not to mention, one of the genre’s most successful — Shaft blew the door wide open for black culture in American cinema. Of course, much of that success is owed to Hayes’ groundbreaking score, which not only topped the Billboard 200 but warranted two Top 40 singles in “Theme from Shaft” and “Do Your Thing”. It’s kind of funny; originally, Hayes had hoped to play the titular character on screen, but in reality, he played him everywhere else. After all, it’s his work that brought Shaft to the clubs, the bars, and the homes across America, creating a movement that outlasted the film’s 100 minutes. Today, his work continues to live on, whether it’s throwback musical cues or liberal sampling from artists in every genre from rock to rap to EDM. Everyone digs it. –Michael Roffman

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10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey positions itself in a mystic always, a place in the interstellar timeline in which the origins of the world and the far future are one in the same. To achieve that timeless feeling, the legendary director opted for a mixture of classical composers that at once feel stately and regal but also dizzying and disorienting. Using German composer Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” during a scene of apes learning to use tools shades their discovery with a powerful, if ominous majesty, but also perfectly fades to a scene of a space station, something we’d more traditionally tie to such dramatic classical music. Perhaps most notably, Kubrick synchronized a scene of a spaceship docking to “The Blue Danube”, a waltz by Johann Strauss, while modern composer György Ligeti’s micro-polyphonic Atmospheres provides a dazzling counterpoint. The 2001 soundtrack feels like slipping through time, but in the most beautiful extraterrestrial way. –Adam Kivel

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09. Trainspotting (1996)

trainspotting The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Listening to the Trainspotting soundtrack may not produce the precise feeling of being on an intense drug-high like the film’s protagonists — but it will sure give you a buzz. The electronic and post-punk mix thrives on pumping beats and the kind of blank-eyed intensity that comes at the end of a long night. And we’re not talking about a happy high, necessarily either. Iggy may have had a “Lust for Life”, but we all know where that can lead, the synth sirens of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” signal something coming, and the funereal irony of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” lingers. There’s a hangover coming — or maybe that’s all we have — even through the high. –Lior Phillips

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08. The Harder They Come (1972)

the harder they come The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Like the film, the soundtrack to this cultural sensation was rooted in its truth. While The Harder They Come extolled the greatness of Jamaican culture, the film also spoke to the hardships that weighed on the people, making it one of the most enduring and striking political statements of its time. Most will remember it now for opening the door to reggae’s worldwide success, but the soundtrack’s most remarkable quality was not just exposing the appeal of reggae, but its inherent power. The soundtrack channels all the passion and rage of the people, gripped with societal fatigue, thus elevating the film’s message to legendary heights. –Doug Nunnally

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07. Above the Rim (1994)

above the rim The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

In 1994, the fervor for rap in general and Tupac Shakur in specific drove multiple soundtracks of the Billboard charts; but of that critical hip-hop moment, Above the Rim struck a nerve, thanks to the film’s raw emotion and the soundtrack’s nexus of rap power. At the film’s release, Tupac was in the midst of establishing his legend, while Suge Knight and Dr. Dre worked as the soundtrack’s producers. The film’s tale of basketball as struggle and triumph showcases both the radiant highs and gritty depths that rap can reach, from Tha Dogg Pound’s “Big Pimpin” and Warren G’s “Regulate” to Tupac’s own “Pain” — a highlight that provides the film’s emotional climax in which his character, the villainous Birdie, is killed. –Adam Kivel

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06. American Graffiti (1973)

american graffiti The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Wanna know the real title of the American Graffiti soundtrack? It’s actually labeled 41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti. Some bargain, right? Yeah, like the tasty burgers and fries at Mel’s Drive-Thru, this double-album is a total bang for your buck. At 41 tracks, you not only get to relive George Lucas’ nostalgic portrait of 1962 America, but get a quick lesson in early rock ‘n’ roll and vintage doo wop. So, it’s both a piece of movie merchandise and a genuine history lesson, one that strings together more or less every artist you’d ever want to listen to from that era. There’s Buddy Holly, The Flamingos, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, The Platters, The Beach Boys, The Five Satins, for heaven’s sake, the thing never ends. And seeing how the collection’s been certified Platinum three times over, it’s no wonder MCA essentially used the Graffiti brand to keep reissuing these dusty oldies, as this collection spawned not one but two followups. Oh my, that’s a whole lotta rockin’ around the clock. –Michael Roffman

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05. Dazed and Confused (1993)

dazed and confused The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

It’s no surprise that a film about teenagers in the ‘70s would boast a great soundtrack. From recognizable hits to then-obscure rockers and even deep cuts, the film’s mix unquestionably lived up to its musical name (enough to warrant two equally great volumes). But the music is also part of the story here, through radios, speakers, and headphones. Even the songs that are artificially placed mirror the story, as in the male and female hazing scenes. This makes the music the experienced star here, helping to elevate the up-and-coming cast and landing this movie in the pantheon of youth cinema. –Doug Nunnally

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04. Super Fly (1972)

super fly The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

In 1971, Marvin Gaye famously questioned the state of his community, and the following year, Curtis Mayfield gave him the answer with Super Fly, a vivid aural tapestry that displayed exactly what was going on. At his musical peak, Mayfield glosses over nothing, exploring the double standards of society while giving both victims and predators voices. Mostly an impartial observer, Mayfield’s ire is raised at times, such as the concurrent “Pusherman”, and it’s these moments where Mayfield elevates the role of soul music, showing that the moral compass has to be observed, even as society’s gray area continued to grow. –Doug Nunnally

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03. The Bodyguard (1992)

the bodyguard The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

It’s hard to imagine a soundtrack that relies heavily on Kenny G and Joe Cocker to rise near the top of a list like this, but you can get away with a little bit of Kenny when you’ve also got a performance as absolutely legendary as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on The Bodyguard. The now 18x Platinum soundtrack features some other great Whitney tracks — “I’m Every Woman” and “Queen of the Night” have their fun — but really, we’re talking about one of the single greatest vocal performances of all time. The song’s appearance in the film spawned countless parodies and approximations throughout pop culture, but Whitney’s magnetism will never be matched. –Lior Phillips

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02. The Graduate (1967)

the graduate The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

The recently graduated Benjamin Braddock is staring down the barrel of a future that disturbs him. One he feels himself being involuntarily ushered towards, not unlike the airport conveyer belt during the The Graduate’s opening credits. And during these moments of uneasiness and increased disconnection come the soft voices of Simon and Garfunkel in agreement. They signal time aimlessly passing (“April Come She Will”), accompany Ben’s growing infatuation with Elaine Robinson (“Scarborough Fair/Canticle”), and cue his utter desperation (“Mrs. Robinson”) when he learns she’s marrying someone else. Most memorable, of course, is the film’s use of “The Sound of Silence”. Whether playing as Ben sits at the bottom of a swimming pool in scuba gear or as he and Elaine ride off towards some unknown future, never has a song and film worked in tandem to convey a more vivid sense of the uncertainty that comes with adulthood. –Matt Melis

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01. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

saturdaynightfever The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Rare is the album synonymous with an entire genre. That’s essentially Saturday Night Fever, the 15x Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning soundtrack that iconized an entire cultural movement and captured an era, all in under 20 tracks. Now, say what you will about disco — seriously, if you’ve got a problem, we can take this shit outside and dance — but there’s zero disputing the power behind this album. The son of a bitch managed to stay afloat the Billboard charts for 24 straight weeks — not to mention, 18 straight weeks overseas in the United Kingdom — making this one of the most successful albums ever. Are you shocked? Sure, John Travolta’s hunky mug helped sell at least a few million units, but let’s be real, this thing just straight-up bleeds hits.

Filling most of the space are the Bee Gees’ greatest songs in their storied catalogue, from the obvious fare like “Stayin’ Alive”, “Jive Talkin'”, and “You Should Be Dancing” to the more sensual stuff like “More Than a Woman”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, and “Night Fever”. Those songs alone would be enough to propel this album to legendary status, but then you have other bonafide stunners like KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” and Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You” sharing space with crazy shit like Walter Murphy’s 19th century strut “A Fifth of Beethoven” or David Shire’s Fantasia-aping “Night on Disco Mountain”. It’s the grooviest 76 minutes ever pressed to vinyl and inarguably the greatest soundtrack of all time. –Michael Roffman