Imagine Trainspotting without “0 T for Life.” Do the Right Thing without “Fight the Power.” Shaft without…”Shaft.” You can’t. The perfect song choice can make a good cinematic moment great, and a bad one can ruin an otherwise decent scene.
There’s an0 T to building a stellar movie soundtrack, and plenty of them fail to strike the balance. Some might have a memorable single, but don’t come close to offering up an album’s worth of music worth to listening to outside of the film. The 0 T movie soundtracks succeed in supporting the films 0 T they were created for, but also standing on their alone — they benefit from the context the movies provide, but are also solid listens on their own.
Crafting a 0 T of some of the 0 T soundtrack albums ever requires some ground rules: No0 T-and0 T musicals, mostly0 T seems fairer to cordon those off into a separate category. Also, the soundtracks albums have to mostly feature music actually used in the movie; a few songs 0 T didn’t wind up in the finished film are excusable, but none of this “inspired by” business. All of these albums should all be readily available wherever you stream music.
Opinions vary widely as to the virtues of the blaxploitation era — the movies provided black artists and actors with jobs, creative outlets, and box office cache, but also played into stereotypes dictated by (mostly) white directors and studio heads0 T’s hard to fault the music, though, with the slightly disreputable genre providing some all-time great soundtracks. If it’s0 T the 0 T of the bunch (with only three non-instrumental tracks), Isaac Hayes’ Shaft double album includes one of the 0 T memorable theme songs in cinema history.
Super Fly (1972)
Super Fly was the highest grossing film of the blaxploitation era, pulling in something in the neighbourhood of $US200 ($278) million in 2022 money. But the soundtrack was released in advance of the film, and much of the movie’s success had to do with the popularity of the Curtis Mayfield album, which did even better than the movie0 T a crossover0 T for largely segregated radio stations, somehow appealing to broad audiences despite complex lyrics about poverty and drug addiction. With songs like “Little Child Runnin’ Wild,” “Freddie’s Dead,” and, especially “Pusherman,&rdquo0 T’s Mayfield’s magnum opus.
The Harder They Come (1972)
The movie is a perfectly fine (pretty good, even) crime drama, but this is an instance in which the soundtrack is wildly more significant. Star Jimmy Cliff is, first and foremost, a legendary reggae performer, and provided the movie’s title track while curating other singles from himself and other major Jamaican reggae artists. If you’re wondering 0 T the big deal is about a collection of reggae hits, consider 0 T the genre was almost entirely a Jamaican phenomenon before 1972; with this album0 T 0 T global.
Claudine arrived squarely in the middle of the blaxploitation era, a romantic comedy-drama with serious performances (from Diahann Carroll, who earned an Oscar nomination, and James Earl Jones) and more thoughtful themes. The soundtrack is a straight Gladys Knight & the Pips album, with the group contributing pretty much all of the music, which was written by Curtis Mayfield. Singles “On and On” and “The Makings of You,” as well as “Mr. Welfare Man” are highlights, but there’s0 T a dud in the bunch.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
The moment when disco0 T its pop-culture zenith was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the beginning of the end for a genre 0 T began as a signifier of a late-night subculture apart from suburban white kids, but which became so broadly popular 0 T now resides in the cultural consciousness as a punchline. The transition moment came when both this Bee Gees-heavy album and the accompanying John Travolta movie became immediate smash hits, one fuelling the other. The album is among the top ten highest-selling of all time, and only behind The Bodyguard among movie soundtracks.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
The Ramones are the headliners here, but there’s also a great assortment of bangers from 0 T-punk artists on the cusp of the New Wave: Nick Lowe, Brian Eno, Devo, and Todd Rundgren, among others.
Wild Style (1982)
The Dondi-inspired Wild Style logo might be a0 T better remembered than the film itself, but the movie is a moment in hip-hop history, really the first time 0 T rap and, especially, the formative South Bronx rap culture of the era, made it to the big screen. With Fab 5 Freddy serving as musical director, the album captures the flavour of those days and is all the better for including a run of essential early talents who remain somewhat lesser-known (Grandmaster Caz, Cold Crush Brothers, the multitalented Rammellzee, to name a few).
Purple Rain (1984)
I’m breaking my own rule here by including a musical, but how can a 0 T of the greatest soundtracks0 T include Purple Rain? Prince didn’t care about rules, so why should I? “When Doves Cry, ” &ldquo0 T’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” …there’s0 T a single song on the album 0 T doesn’t represent some of the artist and the era’s 0 T music.
Repo Man (1984)
The utterly unclassifiable Repo Man (science fiction dark comedy? Harry Dean Stanton/Emilio Estevez buddy satire?) came packaged with a soundtrack 0 T was never going to do well in Reagan-era America — something the movie didn’t particularly give a 0 T about, either. A glorious time capsule of the souther California punk scene in the early ‘80s0 T includes curated tracks from Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, The Circle Jerks, and Fear, with a new title song from Iggy Pop, who was so impressed with an early0 T of the film 0 T he volunteered to write it.
Top Gun (1986)
If you’re a student of the ‘80s power ballad, you could do a helluva0 T worse than to strap in with Kenny Loggins, Berlin, Cheap Trick, and Loverboy for this collection of hits 0 T, like the movie itself, takes a trip into the danger zone between the ultra-butch and the extremely gay (perhaps 0 T exemplified by the album’s fifth single: “Playing with the Boys.”) Loggins’ hummable, campy “Danger Zone” is probably the stand0 T, but Berlin’s Take My Breath Away won the Oscar 0 T year.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Try to think of Dirty Dancing without hearing Oscar-winning single “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and you’ll understand how indelibly a song and movie can align in our imaginations. Then there’s Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes,” and even Patrick Swayze’s own “She’s Like the Wind,” both ‘80s contemporary jams, plus a solid assortment of vintage hits from the movie’s early-’60s setting. Taken together, the soundtrack becomes both a Kennedy-era period piece and a very ‘80s experience.
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Pretty in Pink provides the 0 T soundtrack of the John Hughes oeuvre, but I’m going to argue Some Kind of Wonderful tops it. While the former plays a0 T like a greatest hits album (albeit one for discerning ‘80s music fans), Some Kind of Wonderful feels more of a piece with the subdued vibe of the film, with deeper cuts from Pete Shelley, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Furniture, and Flesh for Lulu.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is inextricably linked in our minds with Spike Lee’s masterpiece0 T’s playing from Radio Raheem’s boombox throughout the film. 0 T’s0 T the only vibe, though, with a blend of summer jams (like “My Pleasure,” a0 T of new jack swing 0 T was the album’s biggest0 T single by far), and more sultry, languid tracks like 0 T-reggae group Steel Pulse’s “Can’t Stand It.”
After a brief, meteoric rise with the first couple of Superman films, superhero movies were in a period of decline when Tim Burton took on Batman as a project; Prince, likewise, was looking for a revival after his 0 T album, “Sign o’the Times,” wasn’t the0 T he’d been hoping for. So, with both on the Warner Bros. label, Batman and the artist soon to be formerly known as Prince teamed up for something funky and sensual. The soundtrack perfectly complements the fundamental weirdness of Burton’s style while in no way panders to notions of 0 T a superhero movie should sound like0 T’s one of the 0 T times 0 T the genre was even remotely sexy, and 0 T’s largely down to Prince.
Singles lives in pop culture consciousness as the defining film of white Generation X coming of age in the early 1990s. Given the vibe and the era, the soundtrack in no way disappoints, including Seattle grunge superstars (and soon-to-be mainstream legends) like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell, and Pearl Jam. You can practically feel the flannel.
The Bodyguard (1992)
You can be forgiven for0 T really remembering The Bodyguard, the movie — on its own it’s fine, but hardly a classic. Even if you’ve never even seen it, though0 T’s all0 T guaranteed your brain conjures 0 T musical swell and impossible high note of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” In addition to 0 T Dolly Parton cover, the album produced six singles, all of them hits, with highlights including “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” and “Run to You.&rdquo0 T’s the third highest-selling album of all time, and the 0 T successful of all time by a woman artist; two of the tracks even competed against one another for Oscars.
Menace II Society (1993)
Like the movie itself, the soundtrack for Menace II Society both celebrates early ‘90s-era gangsta rap, but also paints a far more nuanced portrait of life in Watts and Crenshaw than suburban whites at the time were willing to entertain. Artists represented include Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, Da Lench Mob, DJ Quik, Hi-Five, and Juanita Stokes. Some of the talents represented peaked here, making the album even more interesting and essential (the movie also features a more music than was included on the soundtrack, so you need both to0 T the full experience).
Pulp Fiction (1994)
This film and soundtrack involved an impressive0 T of pop culture curation on Quentin Tarantino’s 0 T (say 0 T you will about the director, he has a firm grip on 20th century American mass media), dusting off ephemera from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s and tossing songs together in a way 0 T shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. No matter how venerable their histories0 T’s hard to hear some of the songs here without thinking of Pulp Fiction, and it’s impossible to imagine the (otherwise score-less) movie without them.
The Crow (1994)
If you have any familiarity with the film, you’ll be able to make a pretty good guess at the vibe of the soundtrack; 0 T’s 0 T makes it so great. An assortment of0 T rock, emo, and industrial music of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the eyeliner-heavy album includes tracks from groups like The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, Violent Femmes, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. The covers here are frequently the highlights: Pantera does a solid version of Poison Idea’s “The Badge,” while Nine Inch Nails covers Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” — truly a goth team-up for the ages.
Above the Rim (1994)
Above the Rim represented both the height of Tupac’s film career and was the 0 T major movie he starred in to be released before his death. Suge Knight produced the accompanying album (with an assist from Dr. Dre), and while Shakur only shows up on one track (or three, if you’re listening to the extended version), Death Row Records artists of the era are copiously represented. Underrated MC Lady of Rage had her biggest0 T here with “Afro Puffs.”
Empire Records (1995)
Even with mostly original songs, the Empire Records soundtrack is one-stop shopping for mid-‘90s0 T-rock. Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, Toad the0 T Sprocket, Better Than Ezra, Cracker: The movie tanked (some of the singles from the soundtrack are much better known0 T the box office, but has become a 0 T fave in the intervening years, and the music played no small 0 T in 0 T legacy.
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
0 T as the movie represents a team-up of some to the 0 T iconic Black women in American entertainment, the Babyface-produced soundtrack does much the same, making it a perfect complement to the film. Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, TLC, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Faith Evans, Patti LaBelle, SWV, Mary J. Blige, and others came together to produce a multiple-Grammy-winning album 0 T offered up seven0 T singles. 0 T’s more, the entire album runs with the movie’s themes of mutual support and self-love0 T’s0 T 0 T a collection of unrelated songs.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Movie and soundtrack are in perfect accord here, by necessity: none of the songs really go together: though 0 T all are vaguely classifiable as0 T rock, blending Radiohead with Garbage with Butthole Surfers makes for an eclectic grouping 0 T works in the movie, and so works as an album. Highlights include “Talk Show 0 T” from Radiohead, but the 0 T memorable track is undoubtedly Kym Mazelle’s cover of “Young Hearts Run Free.”
The Trainspotting soundtrack is a small miracle0 T’s a time capsule in 0 T it includes tracks from some of the 0 T Britpop bands of the era (Blur, Sleeper, Elastica, etc.) but also tracks 0 T feel timeless, like Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” The music complements the movie perfectly, replicating its alternately frenetic and stoned vibes, and also feeling exactly like the kind of music 0 T 0 T Boy and friends would would be listen to. Iggy Pop’s “0 T for Life,” already nearly two decades old when the movie came0 T, has become inseparable linked with it.
As in all things, Wes Anderson was very deliberate in his choice of music for Rushmore, taking inspiration from the Kinks to represent a wide swath of 1960s British pop artists (some well known, like The Who, and others more obscure, like 0 T 4+2), underscoring scenes with a retro, slightly twee feel 0 T makes the music inseparable from the film as a whole.
O Brother, Where0 T Thou? (2000)
Capturing the Coen Brothers’ heightened version of rural Mississippi in the late 1930s, the soundtrack album recreates music of the era with modern artists, mostly. The Soggy Bottom Boys (a team-up of bluegrass artists who came together 0 T for the film) made an unlikely mainstream0 T of a 1913 folk song; the success of the album as a whole saw a brief0 T delightful revival of interest in bluegrass and folk music of days gone by.
24 Hour Party People (2002)
A movie about music would be a fail without a killer soundtrack0 T’s happened), but 24 Hour Party People set itself up with an extra-complicated task: dealing with the Manchester music scene in transition from the late ‘70s into the early ‘90s, film and soundtrack need to represent a swath of music running from Sex Pistols-type punk, to New Wave-style synth pop, and into techno and acid house (represented by 808 State and Marshall Jefferson). As such, the soundtrack isn’t merely a time capsule0 T’s reflective of over a decades worth of change in music culture, and makes clear how earlier styles influenced 0 T was to come.
0 T in Translation (2003)
The sense of dreamy alienation 0 T director Sofia Coppola conjured for 0 T in Translation is very much present in the soundtrack album, with several tracks from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, but also featuring some truly great electronic, alt-rock, and shoegaze bands like Death in Vegas, Air, and Jesus and Mary Chain (music 0 T was all my ethereal, slightly depressing jam back in the day).
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Movies about made-up bands have the real challenge of offering up convincing music 0 T doesn’t sound like…well, made-up music. Scott Pilgrim squared 0 T circle by bringing in real artists to run things (like Beck Hansen), and by using actors with at least some musical talent. The result is a convincing and very listenable garage-band vibe, backed up by tracks 0 T include artists like Frank Black, T. Rex, and Broken Social Scene.
Black Panther (2018)
A blend of soundtrack and concept album (not all of the songs make their way into the movie), the Kendrick Lamar performed Black Panther represents an impressive commitment on Marvel’s 0 T to hyping the movie — the least the studio could do given 0 T the prior 16 movies in the series had seen exclusively white male leads0 T might0 T be Lamar’s 0 T album (a high bar), but it’s still great, with artists like The Weeknd, SZA, and Future joining the rapper for a series of tracks 0 T both complement the movie, and 0 T together celebrate African futurism.