best movie soundtracks
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

The 50 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Do you like movies? Music? Then you're in luck.

The best movie soundtracks do more than complement the images you see on screen. In the hands of a great filmmaker and a gifted music supervisor, a soundtrack can take on a unique life of its own, helping to popularize micro-genres, shining a light on previously obscure artists, or making new hits out of perfectly timed needle drops. They have the power to transport you through time and space, whether it's a memory of catching a Pulp Fiction matinee or watching the trailer for A Star Is Born on your phone. They're also just fun, like mixtapes with famous faces on the covers.

For the purposes of this list, we consider the movie soundtrack to be a unique art form, one with distinct and complicated ties to the history of popular music. We followed -- and, yes, occasionally bent -- a handful of self-created rules about what qualifies as a soundtrack: no orchestral movie scores (sorry, Hans Zimmer); no traditional movie musicals (apologies, Grease fans); and only one movie per director (Cameron Crowe was particularly difficult). All of these operating guidelines, especially that third rule, may explain why that one soundtrack you rushed out to buy at Tower Records back in the day isn't on this list.

Or maybe we just didn't like it. After all, movie soundtracks are personal. While this list certainly celebrates the pre-Napster 1990s, when the recording industry was flush with cash and setting money aside for music licensing became an essential part of the filmmaking budgeting process, we also aimed to include a wide variety of genres, directors, and eras, including the playlist-obsessed present, and we considered how the overall album holds together, not just whether it includes a monster hit song. We hope this list of the 50 greatest movie soundtracks of all time will inspire you to discover some music you haven't heard previously, and we apologize in advance for getting "Footloose" stuck in your head again.


50. Footloose (1984)

If a music movie is only as iconic as its title track, it follows that Footloose is a paragon. Kenny "King of the Movie Soundtrack" Loggins' eponymous Golden Globe-winning track enamored generations of audiences in the unforgettable opening minutes of the film, setting the stage for banger after banger, six of which hit the Billboard top 40. The synth-driven tracks, notably Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero," the unmistakably '80s reverb-y drum timbres on Shalamar's Prince-soundalike track "Dancing in the Sheets" and the gooey Mike Reno and Ann Wilson power ballad "Almost Paradise" together form a time capsule of rock-pop that'll make you think you're wearing parachute pants. Everybody cut footloose!! -- Leanne Butkovic

shrek movie

49. Shrek (2001)

Is the Shrek soundtrack a masterpiece or an abomination? Whether the sounds of "somebody once told me the world is going to roll me" make you scream with delight or shudder, it's impossible to deny that the creators of this juggernaut were onto something when they decided to mix boomer and Gen X musical sensibilities, and then market it to tweenage millennials. Shrek both makes fun of classic Disney musicals and operates like a musical itself, using propulsive cues throughout its running time, all the way from those opening Smash Mouth chords to the use of Rufus Wainwright's version of "Hallelujah" before it was everywhere. (Suck it, The O.C.) The track listing bounces around from "All Star" to deeper cuts like Eels' "My Beloved Monster" and a genuinely lovely cover of "You Belong to Me" by Lifehouse's Jason Wade. The only real stinker is "Like Wow!" a bubblegum pop selection from Leslie Carter, sister of Aaron and Nick. And, as weird as this may sound the Shrek 2 soundtrack was arguably just as good, introducing kids everywhere to Pete Yorn, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave. -- Esther Zuckerman

spring breakers soundtrack
Big Beat/Warner Music

48. Spring Breakers (2012)

In the same way that Spring Breakers is a Harmony Korine movie about getting turnt and facing the eventual, brutal comedown, the soundtrack replicates the experience of going on a boozy, narcotic-fueled rollercoaster ride. Comprised largely of work from Skrillex, an EDM mainstay with a screamo background, the mix weaves in and out of chaotic, maximalistic electronic bangers and rap hits with a muted, atmospheric score. It even opens and closes with versions of his intoxicating "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" -- the latter stripped down just to strings -- to mirror the Spring Breakers' unhinged partying and how dizzying it is when they're forced to sober up. Any of these tracks are viable entries on somebody's "SpRiNg BrEaK <3" playlist on Spotify -- even the ridiculous original number performed by James Franco as his RiFF RAFF-inspired rapper Alien. "Spranggggg break forever!"-- Sadie Bell

rock n roll high school soundtrack
Sire/Warner Bros. Records

47. Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)

The teens of the so-called Rock 'n' Roll High School simply cannot get enough of that pesky rock 'n' roll! Naturally, the 1979 movie's soundtrack leans heavily on the genre -- and, more specifically, rock songs about going to school -- to set the tone of the rollicking story about a stuffy principal coming to town to get these kids to stop caring about silly music so much and focus on their studies. But focus they will NOT, because the Ramones are coming to town and number one Ramones fan Riff Randell (played by P. J. Soles) absolutely MUST meet them -- which she does, the Ramones become honorary students, and they all burn down the bad school together. Of course, the world's first punk band takes up a good chunk of the soundtrack (and even more are used in the film itself), opening with the titular "Rock 'N' Roll High School" and weaving through a then-modern slate of heavy hitters like Devo, Nick Lowe, Todd Rundgren, and Alice Cooper. School's out forever, baby! -- LB

the perks of being a wallflower soundtrack
Atlantic Records

46. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

In the penultimate scene of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Logan Lerman's Charlie feels like he's found somewhere he belongs, as he rides in his misfit friends' car while the group bonds over the most incredible song they've ever heard as it plays on the radio. They then spend the rest of the film trying to find it -- and it's David Bowie's "Heroes." Every time the movie returns to streaming, the internet loves to clamor, "How could three hipsters not know 'Heroes'?" That legitimate gripe discounts the early '90s-themed soundtrack compilation's thoughtful reflection on how music informs adolescence, with tracks plucked from mixtapes that Charlie makes, like his favorite song "Asleep" by The Smiths, placed alongside songs that draw you to the dance floor at homecoming, like Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen." In interviews, writer-director Stephen Chbosky has defended the use of "Heroes" and, for what it's worth, the song does close out a soundtrack, also featuring Sonic Youth's anthemic "Teen Age Riot" and Cocteau Twins' ethereal "Pearly Dewdrops' Drop," that sure does make you feel infinite. -- SB

judgement night soundtrack
Immortal/Epic Soundtrax

45. Judgment Night (1993)

Many of the best movie soundtracks resemble dangerous lab experiments conducted in dark, mysterious studios with the help of Hollywood cash. While the soundtracks for Spawn and Blade II both attempted to perform similar feats, the Judgment Night soundtrack, a set of 11 songs pairing heavy rock bands with forceful hip-hop acts, is the peak of that style-mixing hybrid impulse. The mildly gritty action thriller, starring Emilio Estevez and Cuba Gooding Jr., that inspired the project has faded from public consciousness, but the soundtrack earned its cult status. Where else are you going to hear the riffs and rhymes of Mudhoney and Sir-Mix-A-Lot, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Slayer and Ice-T, or Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien? Years before groups like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Linkin Park dominated radio in the late '90s, the Judgment Night soundtrack provided a frenzied rap-rock blueprint. As Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid said in a 2018 Rolling Stone oral history of the record, "The fact that it existed at all was a fabulous outcome of its time." -- Dan Jackson

Heavy Metal soundtrack
Full Moon/Asylum/Epic

44. Heavy Metal (1981)

Heavy Metal is an amalgamation of many things: It's an anthology made up of various stories published in the long-running sci-fi and fantasy magazine of the same name; it's a mash-up of tons of different animation styles, as each short that makes up the film was drawn, colored, and voiced by a different team; and it's a mixtape featuring some of the best artists of the era, such as Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, Devo, Blue Öyster Cult, Journey, and Stevie Nicks, who provide the background score to alien bar fights, battles on far-away planets, and spaceship tours through the cosmos. Because most of the songs weren't written specifically for the movie, legal issues delayed the soundtrack from coming out on CD and the movie from coming out on home video for years. Luckily, it's not so hard to track down now, allowing listeners to experience both "Heavy Metal" by Sammy Hagar and "Heavy Metal (Takin' A Ride)" by Don Felder in one 16-song playlist as the gods of metal intended. -- Emma Stefansky

until the end of the world soundtrack
Warner Bros.

43. Until the End of the World (1991)

Like a musical version of that classic Conan O'Brien bit, the Until the End of the World soundtrack dared to imagine what music would sound like in the year 2000. ("Post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Coke and Pepsi?" wondered David Byrne at the time.) The heady days of 1991 were rife with pre-millennial existential jitters, which would only grow more intense as Y2K drew closer, but most of the artists that director Wim Wenders recruited to partake in his science-fiction opus, which starred William Hurt, rejected outright paranoia and settled on a more tunefully melancholy vision of the future. Both U2's title hit (off Achtung Baby) as well as "Sax and Violins," a farewell song from Talking Heads, establish a searching tone, reflected in the movie's sprawling road movie structure, tracks like Lou Reed's "What's Good" and Depeche Mode's "Death's Door" deepen that pensive mood. While the truncated version of the movie released in theaters was a notorious flop, a 287-minute director's cut, currently available to stream on Criterion, gives even more room for the music to slowly work its way into your brain. -- DJ

the crow soundtrack
Atlantic Records

42. The Crow (1994)

There are many driving forces behind Alex Proyas' adaptation of James O'Barr's cult '80s superhero comic becoming part of the '90s goth teen canon. Whispers about lead actor Brandon Lee's tragic, shocking death during production still haunt The Crow, and its leather-clad, metal-studded, heavy eyeliner aesthetic made the character one of the most iconic movie costumes of the era. But the film's soundtrack, a treasure trove plucked from the '80s and '90s alt-rock and industrial scenes, is what gives The Crow its nasty, vibrant edge. Pantera's roaring cover of Poison Idea's "The Badge" and stone-cold classic "Big Empty" by Stone Temple Pilots pop up alongside Rage Against the Machine's jazzy "Darkness" and The Cure's thumping "Burn," which scores Lee's transformation into the eponymous undead hero. Nine Inch Nails' slowed-down rendition of Joy Division's "Dead Souls," further shouts out the original comic book's tributes to the progenitors of goth music, is the kind of thing you blow out your headphones replaying again and again. -- ES

about a boy soundtrack
Twisted Nerve/XL/ARTISTdirect

41. About a Boy (2002)

As a Hugh Grant vehicle, About a Boy is underrated. Grant's a little older and the stammer is less adorable in this Nick Hornby adaptation about a lazy, rich asshole drawn into the orbit of an awkward kid and his suicidal mom. As a soundtrack, About a Boy is also underrated. Director brothers Paul and Chris Weitz recruited the artist Damon Gough, who goes by Badly Drawn Boy, to compose all the music for the movie. Gough came up with a hybrid score and concept album where incidental music bleeds into songs. The standout track is "Something to Talk About," where Gough sings the film's title, "I've been dreaming of the things I learnt about a boy." But the cheery melody belies lyrics like "the joy is not the same without the pain." -- EZ

belly movie
Def Jam Recordings

40. Belly (1998)

Instead of ending the record like its title would suggest, "Grand Finale" is the third track on the soundtrack to Belly, the often hallucinatory crime film debut of celebrated music video director Hype Williams. The exhilarating posse cut has a boisterous, hard-charging vibe, with the film's star DMX shouting lines like, "Drama, it's right here, how much you need?/Beat you down with the gat see how much you bleed." That confrontational tone carries over to some of the other group tracks on the record, like the Wu-Tang throw-down "Windpipe" or the Roc-a-Fella celebration "Crew Love," but it's not all tough-guy swagger and smash-your-car-window energy. D'Angelo's slow-cooked R&B meditation "Devil's Pie" provides contemplation to go along with the bravado, allowing the album to strike the same balance of ambiance and aggression as the movie that inspired it. -- DJ

juno movie soundtrack
Rhino Entertainment

39. Juno (2007)

Like most of Juno, the soundtrack is a love it or hate it proposition. And chances are if you were turned off by Diablo Cody's elevated teen-speak, you will also be turned off by the movie's collection of music with its backbone of songs by Kimya Dawson and her band the Moldy Peaches. Dawson's twee, lo-fi, and adorable aesthetic was a perfect match for the movie's twee, lo-fi, and adorable aesthetic, and her nursery rhyme-like patter fits naturally with the sing-song quality of Cody's dialogue. Director Jason Reitman told NPR at the time that he sought out Dawson and bandmate Adam Green after asking star Ellen Page what she thought her character would be into. Page mentioned the Moldy Peaches and "Anyone Else but You" found its way into the movie, serving as the closing beat. On the soundtrack, Dawson's tracks are balanced out with a mix of various other indie or indie-adjacent cuts from acts like Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, and Sonic Youth. Like the film itself, the soundtrack is better than most people give it credit for being. -- EZ 

garden state movie soundtrack
Epic Records

38. Garden State (2004) 

Unfortunately, yes, haters, the Garden State soundtrack has earned its place on this list. Try to reimagine the sincerity of 2004, when the craft of indie taste-making was on the rise in the mainstream. Along came Garden State, unloading a barrage of well-reviewed downtempo soft rock, including Nick Drake's folksy singer-songwriter waltz "One of These Things First," the Cary Brothers' lovesick ballad "Blue Eyes," and producer-driven songs from Zero 7, Thievery Corporation, and Frou Frou. And, of course, who can forget "New Slang" by The Shins, a song most people of a certain age recognize by its opening tambourine hits. Even if this song didn't change your life, like Natalie Portman swore it would, it sure did signal a sea change of mid-aughts indie rock. -- LB

good will hunting soundtrack

37. Good Will Hunting (1997)

The sound of Good Will Hunting is as much defined by its Danny Elfman score as it is by the music of Elliott Smith. Director Gus Van Sant was reportedly considering using Smith's songs for his dark comedy To Die For, but ultimately didn't think they were the right fit. It turned out the perfect match had yet to come along. "I think even before we started shooting I was thinking in terms of Elliott’s music," Van Sant said. It's easy to forget how moody a film Good Will Hunting is given the eternal bro-iness of the Damon-Affleck pairing, but Smith's mournful voice adds heaps of depth to the narrative. Van Sant plucked tracks off Smith's recently released Either/Or like "Between the Bars" and "Say Yes," and commissioned him to write a new track, "Miss Misery," which opens with the brutal lyrics, "I'll fake it through the day with some help from Johnny Walker Red." The soundtrack itself offers as a primer for Smith's catalogue with other eclectic selections sprinkled in: Al Green, alt girl group Luscious Jackson, the Dandy Warhols. But it's really all about Smith. -- EZ

repo man soundtrack

36. Repo Man (1984)

A movie set against the backdrop of the early 1980s hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles, and all the societal disenfranchisement and general moodiness that entails, must have an era-appropriate soundtrack. Repo Man, Alex Cox's debut feature about the employees of a repossession agency hunting down a car that may be owned by aliens, wouldn't quite be Repo Man without the songs of Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, and The Plugz providing atmosphere to its skewering of Reaganomics and America in the Atomic Age. The theme for the movie was sung by Iggy Pop, who volunteered to do it after being shown a cut of the film. In fact, Repo Man's soundtrack unequivocally saved the movie itself: A few months after Universal Pictures pulled the film from theaters, citing low turnout, the studio was informed that the soundtrack had already sold more than 50,000 copies, and promptly decided to rerelease it. -- ES

empire records soundtrack
A&M Records

35. Empire Records (1995)

"A soundtrack in search of a movie," opens Variety'sreview of Empire Records, a day-in-the-life movie about record store high schoolers that spent three weeks in theaters before it was kicked out to find cult status on home video, and well beyond. (Now, Rex Manning Day -- April 8, by the way -- merits yearly homages from various publications.) With hindsight, that line doesn't feel like a diss anymore. Full of mid-'90s jams, the Empire Records soundtrack, on top of all the songs used in the movie that didn't make the cut, rocks, kicking off with one of Gin Blossoms' four major hits, "Til I Hear It From You," and meandering through various alt-rock tracks from the likes of The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better Than Ezra, Cracker, Coyote Shivers, and Evan Dando. It's the glue that holds the crew's rally against the threat of a corporate store takeover together and has us pining for the quaint days where you could hang out with your friends at a Tower Records. -- LB

romeo + juliet soundtrack

34. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential "teens in love" story, so a movie putting a modern, glittery spin on the narrative demands eclectic "teens in love" music. The soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann's lurid Romeo + Juliet is an angsty, swoon-worthy snapshot of '90s pop culture, with bands like Garbage, Everclear, and Radiohead doing heavy emotional lifting. ("I would die for you," sings Garbage's Shirley Manson on the first track "#1 Crush," establishing the gloomy mood of romantic fatalism.) The Cardigans' "Lovefool" and Des'ree's "I'm Kissing You" went on to become hit singles from the soundtrack, but perhaps the most famous songs from the movie -- Radiohead's ubiquitous bummer ballad "Exit Music (For a Film)," which fittingly played over the end credits -- was sadly absent from the soundtrack. Still, there are plenty of great songs of woe to be found here: If you've seen the movie, you'll have the scene where Gavin Friday's "Angel" plays burned into your memory. -- ES

the bodygarud soundtrack
Arista/BMG Entertainment

33. The Bodyguard (1992)

You don't really need more justification for putting The Bodyguard soundtrack on this list beyond these two words: Whitney. Houston. Sure, there are a couple tracks from other artists, including a collaboration between Aaron Neville and Kenny G, but it's really all about Houston, who played the superstar Rachel Marron in Mick Jackson's thriller. Her cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" was the juggernaut that also served as the movie's tearjerking denouement, but every selection showcased her range from the dance-y "Queen of the Night" to the gospel-infused "Jesus Loves Me." "I Have Nothing"-- which gets frequent play throughout the film about Marron's romance with her hired protector played by Kevin Costner -- was one of two of the movie's original songs nominated for Oscars, and the compilation itself eventually earned Album of the Year at the Grammys, making it one of only three soundtracks to earn that distinction. -- EZ

dirty dancing soundtrack
Vestron Pictures

32. Dirty Dancing (1987)

"It was a freight train," music supervisor Michael Lloyd told Rolling Stone of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack's, and film's, unlikely success. That's the power of an unknown Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey as forbidden, student-teacher summer lovers learning to ballroom dance to "Hungry Eyes" by Eric Carmen, crawling to each other in the dance studio to "Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia, and showing off their sultry tandem moves in the indelible final dance to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" sung by Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) and Jennifer Warnes. The rest of the soundtrack is padded out with early '60s period doo-wop, like The Ronnette's "Be My Baby," Maurice Williams & The Zodiac's "Stay," and The Five Saints' "(I'll Remember) In the Still of the Night," which isn't to forget Swayze's own original number "She's Like the Wind" -- because nobody puts Baby in a corner. -- LB

black panther soundtrack
Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope

31. Black Panther (2018)

Assembled by Kendrick Lamar, Top Dawg Entertainment label CEO Anthony Tiffith, and resident TDE producer Sounwave, Black Panther: The Album often feels like more of a TDE project than a traditional soundtrack -- meaning, it's incredible. For as many genres and artists on display, Lamar's voice and sensibility hangs over the whole record. ("King's Dead" remains a showstopper.) Like the rest of the creative team behind the wildly successful and acclaimed Black superhero movie, Lamar was driven by the potency of director Ryan Coogler's vision. As the director told NPR around the release, the original plan was for the (very busy) rapper to only contribute a couple of songs. "Then he came in and watched quite a bit of the movie," said Coogler. "And the next thing I know, they were booking a studio and they were going at it." -- SB

boogie nights soundtrack

30. Boogie Nights (1997)

The soundtrack to Boogie Nights provides a fantastic, far-reaching mix of '70s and '80s pop and rock designed to fit in with Paul Thomas Anderson's sumptuously sleazy period aesthetic. As you go through the album, tracking the Golden Age of Porn and its fall, the joys of the 1970s ("Best of My Love") bleed seamlessly into the excess and disillusionment of the '80s ("Sister Christian"), creating a time capsule of hits that tell the story of an entire era. (For his follow-up epic Magnolia, Anderson took a more intimate approach, recruiting Aimee Mann to record a set of songs for a more melancholy collection.) Most importantly, the Boogie Nights soundtrack also features Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild's coke-fueled performance of "Feel My Heat," a would-be guitar-hero anthem for the ages. There's no question: This soundtrack's got the touch-- ES

singles soundtrack
Epic Soundtrax

29. Singles (1992)

Cameron Crowe, who cut his teeth as a rock journalist, constructs his soundtracks obsessively, letting familiar songs do emotional work on screen. Say Anything... has Peter Gabriel, Jerry Maguire has Tom Petty, Almost Famous has Elton John, Vanilla Sky also has Peter Gabriel -- it's hard to pick a favorite. But his 1992 romcom Singles, set in the Seattle grunge scene and starring Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Matt Dillon and Kyra Sedgwick, framed big moments using largely unfamiliar songs that went on to help to define an era. While Nirvana doesn't turn up on the tracklist, Pearl Jam certainly does (Eddie Vedder and the gang appear onscreen as members of Citizen Dick, the fictional band fronted by Dillon's goateed Cliff Poncier), and the album marks spawned the now-canon grunge-era classics "Would?" by Alice in Chains, "Birth Ritual" by Soundgarden, and "Drown" by Smashing Pumpkins. Many of Crowe's older films hold up better and Singles feels dated as a movie, but its soundtrack remains a succinct, potent time capsule. -- EZ

new jack city
Giant/Reprise/Warner Bros.

28. New Jack City (1991)

Mario Van Peebles's crime classic New Jack City, which charts the rise and fall of Harlem crack kingpin Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes), is mostly remembered for its opulent style, flashes of violence, and its star-making performances. (RIP to Chris Rock's troubled Pookie.) But the soundtrack, anchored by "New Jack Hustler (Nino's Theme)" by the film's co-lead Ice-T, deserves praise for the finesse it uses to draw connections between different elements of hip-hop, R&B, and pop at the time. In addition to 2 Live Crew's politically nimble party-rap, the album showcases the range of the drum machine-powered new jack swing style pioneered by producers Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle. Christopher Williams' "I'm Dreamin,'" Keith Sweat's "(There You Go) Tellin' Me No Again," and, perhaps most notably, Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" make this far more than a brooding collection about the drug trade. -- DJ

pretty in pink soundtrack

27. Pretty in Pink (1986)

The "richies" in John Hughes' YA class study Pretty in Pink might scoff at their low income classmates Andie and Duckie, but they have their own form of capital: good taste. Unlike other teen blockbusters of the '80s, Hughes typically opted for more alternative soundtracks featuring groups like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark that only cool kids knew of, like Andie working in her new wave record shop, and helped turn them into charting hitmakers. Those new wave names, including Echo and the Bunnyman, New Order, and The Psychedelic Furs (whose "Pretty in Pink" of course inspired the name of the film and was re-recorded for the soundtrack), make for a rosy, sincere collection reflective of the emotional turmoil of the young, lovestruck leads. It'll leave you holed up in your bedroom, waiting for the phone to ring, just like Molly Ringwald. -- SB

lost highway soundtrack

26. Lost Highway (1997)

A movie as enigmatic and unsettling as David Lynch's Lost Highway, a trancelike exploration of the dark underbelly hidden beneath the surface of Los Angeles, needs an appropriate soundtrack, and this one delivers, with an original score by Lynch mainstays Angelo Badalamenti and Barry Adamson rounded out by Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and two bangers from none other than German industrial metal group Rammstein. The atonal bop of NIN's "Perfect Drug," written for the movie, and the deep, chest-vibrating bass of Rammstein's "Heirate Mich" are bookended by David Bowie's haunting, melodic "I'm Deranged," which ties the movie's frayed ends neatly together as Lost Highway speeds down its endless empty road. -- ES

twilight movie
Chop Shop/Atlantic

25. Twilight (2008)

Teenage moodiness never sounded so sexy. As a love story between a high schooler and a vampire who can't resist her, Twilight is the epitome of goth teen melodrama, and the soundtrack elevates the paranormal romance of Stephenie Meyer's YA bestseller to grander, richer emotional heights. Given the Pacific Northwest setting of the story, the soundtrack is appropriately lo-fi and alternative rock-heavy, with artists like Linkin Park, Iron & Wine, and Collective Soul providing tracks to brood to. Leave it to Paramore, who offered the Grammy-nominated original lead single "Decode," to capture the dangerous, unadulterated desire of Edward and his beloved Bella. It's tender and lustful, like what brought many young fans to the franchise to begin with -- and, come on, would the baseball scene, for example, be as hot (and silly) as it was without the use of Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole?" Probably not. -- SB

8 mile soundtrack

24. 8 Mile (2002)

Earlier this year at the Academy Awards (remember that????), Eminem appeared onstage and performed "Lose Yourself" to a genuinely befuddled reaction from the audience at the Dolby Theater. Idina Menzel nodded along; Billie Elish looked confused; Martin Scorsese took a nap. While many nay-sayers online took it as an opportunity to joke about Eminem and dismiss him as irrelevant, most viewers knew the truth in their hearts: "Lose Yourself," a hard-edged jock jam soliloquy written in blood, sweat, and mom's spaghetti, still owns. The rest of the soundtrack to Marshall Mathers's semi-autobiographical origin story isn't quite as memorable, but the mix of Shady-adjacent acts (D12, Obie Trice), early '00s rap luminaries (Jay-Z, 50 Cent), and old-school legends (Rakim, Gang Starr) makes for an illuminating study of Eminem's taste as a producer. In the current moment, it's difficult to imagine a mainstream pop star, much less a combative Detroit rapper, with the creative pull and overall vision to execute a hard-hitting, idiosyncratic soundtrack like this at this chart-topping, stadium-conquering scale. -- DJ

midnight cowboy soundtrack
United Artists Records

23. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

"Where's that Joe Buck?" asks a cacophony of voices right before the opening credits of John Schlesinger's groundbreaking Manhattan street-life drama. When first introduced, Jon Voight's blonde Buck, a Texas dishwasher with aspirations of hustling in New York, dons his finest cowboy boots, places his hat on his head, and grabs a suitcase as Harry Nilsson's cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" plays on the soundtrack, ushering in a new era of pop music needle-drops on screen. Watching it now, what's most noticeable about Midnight Cowboy's use of music is how intuitive and natural it feels. Beyond Nilsson's easygoing opening song, the soundtrack also includes the raucous psych-rock of Elephant's Memory, sections of composer John Berry's Grammy-winning score, and the stomping "He Quit Me," a track performed by singer Leslie Miller and written by Warren Zevon. It's perfect music for walking down a crowded city block -- just look out for those stray taxi cabs. -- DJ

wild style soundtrack
Animal Records

22. Wild Style (1983)

In his hip-hop history Can't Stop, Won't Stop, writer Jeff Chang describes Wild Style as "the only hip-hop film and soundtrack that adequately conveys the communal thrill of merging with the tide, riding the lightning." As conceived by filmmaker Charlie Ahearn, the movie bristles with the energy of city life and the vibrancy of a new artistic movement while telling a simple, pared-down story of a local graffiti legend (real life artist Lee Quiñones) with a secret identity. The soundtrack has a similarly unfussy, unvarnished aesthetic: Ahearn, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, and artist Fab Five Freddy assembled 13 tracks that form a kaleidoscopic mural of hip-hop's early days. Performances like "M.C. Battle" and "Basketball Throwdown" showcase rap as a competitive art form where verbal wit becomes the ultimate weapon. (If you're more familiar with '90s hip-hop, which sampled heavily from this record, many moments on Wild Style will inspire musical déjà vu.) It's rare to hear any recorded music, much less a movie soundtrack, that has such a strong sense of possibility. -- DJ

clueless soundtrack

21. Clueless (1995)

Like the looks, lingo, and cellphones of Clueless, the soundtrack, put together by music supervisor Karyn Rachtman (who arranged a handful other soundtracks on this list), is drenched in '90s ephemera. While a stylish portrait of what was hip at the time, with songs from artists like Beastie Boys, Coolio, and Luscious Jackson, it's also timeless in the way its hodge-podge of genres reflects the various cliques Cher interacts with at her Beverly Hills high school. It's like a glimpse at each character's Walkman. The Muffs' "Kids in America" cover couldn't be more appropriate to open the movie and track-listing. -- SB

friday soundtrack
Priority Records/EMI

20. Friday (1995)

More than a stoner classic, Friday is a testament to Ice Cube's focus, ambition, and willpower. After launching himself as a solo artist and as an actor in films like John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, the former NWA member wanted to see a movie that didn't paint his Los Angeles neighborhood "like it was hell on Earth." So, he co-wrote, executive produced, and starred in Friday, a laidback comedy that drew inspiration from the work of Cheech and Chong, In Living Color, and Robert Townsend's '80s satire Hollywood Shuffle. He also recorded the title track of the soundtrack and helped select the songs that make up its regionally and musically varied tracklist, which includes L.A. G-funk (Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'"), Houston hip-hop (Scarface's "Friday Night"), Miami bass (2 Live Crew's "Hoochie Mama"), and a handful of older smokey soul jams (Rick James's "Mary Jane"). It remains an ideal playlist for any day when, as Chris Tucker's Smokey says, "you ain't got shit to do" -- and Ice Cube made it happen. -- DJ

american graffiti soundtrack

19. American Graffiti (1973)

Before cruising through the vastness of space, George Lucas put audiences in the driver's seat of classic cars for this odyssey through the teen culture of the rock n' roll '60s. A serendipitous deal between Universal Pictures and all the music publishers, in which they'd all get the same amount of money for their songs, allowed the future Star Wars director to trick out his movie with some of the greatest musical artists of the jukebox days. (Chuck Berry and Fats Domino hold steady with The Del-Vikings and The Beach Boys.) The only musician conspicuously absent from the movie is Elvis Presley, whose label, RCA, was the only one that wouldn't agree to the deal. Regardless, American Graffiti's 41-track soundtrack is a formidable collection of the best of what the mid-20th century had to offer, saluting both the heyday and the end of an era. -- ES

do the right thing movie soundtrack
Motown Records

18. Do the Right Thing (1989)

"I wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic," said director Spike Lee when later asked about the key song of his Brooklyn neighborhood chronicle Do the Right Thing. "I thought right away of Public Enemy." While the group's proudly combative anthem "Fight the Power" remains the musical conscious of the film, providing the backdrop to the dance-filled opening credit sequence and the tragic final confrontation in Sal's Famous Pizzeria, the rest of the 11-track album captures the sweaty, bustling energy of a community struggling to make it through a hot summer day. The balmy roots reggae of Steel Pulse ("Can't Stand It") and sultry future-shock R&B of Teddy Riley ("My Fantasy") are just as essential at conjuring the movie's heated ambiance. Music has always been central to Lee's films -- his decades-long relationship with composer Terence Blanchard is as vital as any filmmaker-composer collaboration in recent history -- and Do the Right Thing is a testament to his singular taste, creative vision, and moral clarity. It's a good thing Elvis never meant shit to him. -- DJ

a star is born

17. A Star Is Born (2018)

Honestly, we knew it from the first official trailer. The success of the A Star Is Born remake was going to ride on a bunch of different elements: Is Bradley Cooper a good director? Can Lady Gaga carry a movie? But most crucially: Would the soundtrack tip it over into cultural phenomenon? The instant we heard Gaga belt her series of "ahhs" in the bridge of "Shallow," it seemed like it would work -- and it did. The collaboration between Gaga, Cooper, Lukas Nelson, and other artists like Jason Isbell and Diane Warren stands completely on its own with its marriage of roots rock and pure pop. Perhaps the movie's greatest accomplishment is turning Jackson Maine and Ally into believable real life stars with mini catalogs of catchy and accomplished songs. "Shallow" was the obvious single, but the deeper cuts are excellent as well. From Jackson's folky "Maybe It's Time" to Ally's butt-focused banger "Why Did You Do That?", there is really not a miss to be found. Even the dialogue tracks are not worth skipping. -- EZ

waiting to exhale soundtrack

16. Waiting to Exhale (1995)

Following the runaway success of The Bodyguard, a movie that placed the chart-topping singer at the center of its romance and grossed over $400 million on a $25 million budget, Whitney Houston took on a project that involved sharing screen time with three Black women in a story of friendship. With its radio DJ interludes and impromptu dance parties, this adaptation of Terry McMillan's bestselling novel understands how music functions in the day-to-day lives of people struggling to find happiness, acceptance, and love. Fittingly, the soundtrack, produced almost entirely by hitmaker Babyface, retains the same collaborative, communal spirit, recruiting legends like Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin alongside then-newcomers like Brandy and TLC to weave a cross-generational tapestry of R&B excellence. Never one to be upstaged, Houston nails the soft-focus exuberance of the whole endeavor on her lead single "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," an anthem for picking up the pieces of a broken heart and walking away from a car after you set it on fire. -- DJ

goodfellas soundtrack

15. Goodfellas (1990)

Martin Scorsese didn't invent the needle drop, but he sure as hell perfected it with Goodfellas -- and only a handful of the 54 songs that were featured in the film made the soundtrack cut. It's a tightly curated, multi-decade spanning list of moments from the film: Tony Bennett's "Rags to Riches" plays over Ray Liotta's opening monologue where he "always wanted to be a gangster"; The Shangri-Las' "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" while Liotta, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci dig up Billy Bat's decaying corpse; Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" opening over Paul Sorvino slicing garlic paper-thin with a razor blade for an onion-heavy red sauce in prison; the bittersweet piano interlude at the end of "Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes finding the freshly whacked bodies -- in a car, in a dumpster, in a meat freezer -- of the guys who made expensive purchases with the Lufthansa heist money. The only bummer was leaving 42 great songs on the cutting room floor. -- LB

marie antoinette soundtrack
Verve Forecast/Polydor

14. Marie Antoinette (2006)

When Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette was released, critics were too obsessed with the historical accuracy and revisionist portrayal of the titular queen to see that the filmmaker really intended to tell a story about the devices that girls might turn to when left to unfulfilling boredom. In part, that's where her new wave, post-punk, and garage soundtrack came in, mostly trading orchestral period pieces for bands like Bow Wow Wow, The Cure, and The Radio Dept. to emphasize the youth, frivolity, and mania of a girl shipped off at 14 to a loveless marriage and forced to find her own source of joy in indulgence. Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake," but Coppola absolutely served something sweet with this one. -- SB

the harder they come soundtrack

13. The Harder They Come (1972)

If your movie draws its title from a song written and performed multiple times by a character in the storyline of the film, it needs to be so indisputably good that the audience won't get sick of it. Thankfully, The Harder They Come, a brisk and engrossing Jamaican crime film directed by Perry Henzell, had reggae singer extraordinaire Jimmy Cliff on its side, both as an actor and as a musician, and he delivered an instantly hummable, sneakily poignant "hit" for his protagonist Ivan to record in the film, along with half the other songs on the soundtrack. In addition to Cliff's contributions, the album also boasts Desmond Dekker's "007 (Shanty Town)" and The Maytals version of "Pressure Drop," making it a collection that also doubles as a fitting introduction to a knotty chapter of politically agile, socially conscious music. (The movie itself is a sharp study of how exploitation occurs in the music business and beyond.) Released after reggae developed in Jamaica during the late '60s, The Harder They Come helped popularize an entire genre, creating musical waves that crashed on new shores across the globe. -- DJ

shaft soundtrack

12. Shaft (1971)

Both smooth and forceful, John Shaft's unquestionable cool is established in the music that accompanies him. The enticing sound of the hi-hat pattern, the wah-wah call of the guitar, the slow-build rumble of the keyboard, and the arrival of the horns make Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft" an invigorating case study in funk professionalism. Recruited by Shaft director Gordon Parks, Hayes swung on a rope and crashed through the window of the often stodgy world of the contemporary film score, merging the soulful style he developed at Stax Records in the late '60s with the emerging conventions of instrumental movie music. Even an organ-driven interstitial snippet like "Bumpy's Lament" evokes a whole world, a string-soaked vision of corruption, mystery, and opportunity. The tracks with vocals, like the haunted yet hopeful "Soulsville," are even better, allowing Hayes to use his deep baritone to set the mood. -- DJ

o brother where art thou soundtrack
Lost Highway/Mercury

11. O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)

T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers did something almost unfathomable with the O Brother soundtrack: They made bluegrass cool. Or if not "cool," they at least brought it into the mainstream in a striking way. To tell their Odyssean fable of the Depression-era South, the directors relied on traditional music performed by current stars of the folk scene. Burnett recruited Dan Tyminski of Alison Krauss's Union Station to dub George Clooney, who plays an outlaw that gains radio fame as the leader of the Soggy Bottom Boys. Meanwhile, Krauss' astonishing voice is everywhere on the record, singing a haunting version of the spiritual "Down in the River to Pray" solo and pairing with Gillian Welch on "I'll Fly Away." The two of them link up with legend Emmylou Harris for "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," which turns into a literal siren song on screen. O Brother became the rare soundtrack to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, at the same time tweaking public perceptions of country music and becoming a landmark of Americana in the process. Here's the really wild thing: About 13 years later, the Coens and Burnett would make another perfect soundtrack with Inside Llewyn Davis. -- EZ 

above the rim soundtrack
Death Row Records/Interscope

10. Above the Rim (1994)

Above the Rim isn't necessarily the best basketball movie of the '90s -- White Men Can't Jump, Hoop Dreams, He Got Game, Blue Chips, and, fine, Space Jam are all fierce competitors -- but it's got the best soundtrack. Despite being set around the hardscrabble pick-up basketball world of Harlem, the album was produced by Death Row Records, the eventual West Coast recording home of the film's charismatic co-star Tupac, and the tracklist is noticeably devoted to variations on California's emerging G-funk and R&B style. Warren G scored a hit single with the smooth-talking "Regulate," a now-beloved radio staple built on a Michael McDonald sample and an enchanting hook courtesy of Nate Dogg, but the rest of the record also drives to the hoop. Snoop Dogg, Lady of Rage, and DJ Quik all make strong impressions. Oddly enough, Above the Rim did have a glaring omission depending on the format you initially purchased it on: Tupac's lacerating "Pain" is prominently featured in the film, providing an emotional backdrop to the narrative of struggle and hope, but it was relegated to a bonus track on the cassette. If you didn't have the tape, you missed out. -- DJ

pulp fiction soundtrack

9. Pulp Fiction (1994)

For the follow-up to his Sundance breakout Reservoir Dogs, which had a top-tier soundtrack of its own, Quentin Tarantino scored his stylish crime movie with surf rock, pop, and soul tracks that could've been pulled from one of his personal mixtapes. The self-consciously retro collection draws heavily from the '60s and '70s, with Kool and the Gang's rumbling funk hit "Jungle Boogie" and Dusty Springfield's horn-drenched cover of "Son of a Preacher Man" drawing the listener into a web of off-kilter nostalgia. With its oft-imitated nonlinear structure and bursts of shocking violence, Pulp Fiction never wants the viewer to get too comfortable, and that's reflected in the music. Urge Overkill's pleasingly unnerving cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," which Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace memorably sings along to right before overdosing on heroin, exemplifies the film's destabilizing approach to the past. The soundtrack is also notable, like many of Tarantino's soundtracks, for including snippets of dialogue from the movie: John Travolta's "Royale with Cheese" monologue gets its own track listing, as does Samuel L. Jackson's "Ezekiel 25:17" speech, helping fans memorize their favorite lines. -- ES

the graduate soundtrack
Columbia Masterworks

8. The Graduate (1967)

Some great soundtracks are ancillary to the movies they accompany. They provide added value, expanding on the film's themes with song. This is not the case with The Graduate soundtrack; The Graduate soundtrack is the movie. Of course, it also features tracks that can be found on other Simon and Garfunkel albums. The duo's music is deeply integrated into Mike Nichols' film from those opening notes of "The Sounds of Silence" as Benjamin Braddock gets off a plane at LAX to "Mrs. Robinson" as he drives madly to stop Elaine from getting married. Reportedly, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were initially resistant to Nichols' idea of using their music, but he went ahead and cut the movie to their tracks anyway. Their melancholic songs off albums like The Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme captured the malaise of the aimless 20-something protagonist, while "Mrs. Robinson" is the barn-burner that drives the narrative to its conclusion. (Fun fact: It was originally titled "Mrs. Roosevelt" and was about Eleanor Roosevelt, but Simon reworked it for the purposes of the album.) -- EZ

rushmore movie soundtrack

7. Rushmore (1998)

Wes Anderson decided on the soundtrack for Rushmore before the movie even began shooting. Though the director had envisioned an all-Kinks track listing for his second film, the idea was pared down to just one of the band's songs for a more well-rounded approach to the British Invasion of the '60s. Like an over-achieving crate-digger, he grabbed gems like the Creation's "Making Time" for a montage showcasing Max Fisher's (Jason Schwartzman) excess of extracurricular activities, The Who's lesser-known "A Quick One, While He's Away" for the scene where Max unloads bees into the hotel room of Bill Murray's Harold Blume, who immediately drives to Max's school and destroys his bike, and Faces' "Ooh La La" for the final dance between Max and his unrequited love interest, first-grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). It's not just these moments that stand out, though: every scene and montage demonstrates the finesse of an instant classic, with a baroque score from Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and touches of jazz. Rushmore was a king-making moment for Anderson, introducing a larger audience to his tightly controlled sensibility and musical obsessions. -- LB

saturday night fever soundtrack

6. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

When John Travolta hits the dance floor, magic happens. In the often bleak nightlife drama Saturday Night Fever, his character, Tony Manero, a working-class Brooklyn teenager with poofy black hair and a commanding strut, is a vision of grace in his white flared suit. His movements are often accentuated by the syrupy, giddy sound of the Bee Gees, the falsetto-hitting trio of brothers who dominate the film's soundtrack. As much as songs like "Stayin' Alive" and "How Deep is Your Love" are often associated with disco's cultural ascension, it's worth noting that the Bee Gees were largely considered washed up at the time and were certainly not underground disco innovators. "We were fairly dead in the water at that point, 1975, somewhere in that zone -- the Bee Gees’ sound was basically tired," Barry Gibb explained to Vanity Fair back in 2013. "We needed something new. We hadn’t had a hit record in about three years." In addition to reinvigorating the career of the Bee Gees, the soundtrack also served as a potential gateway for curious listeners intrigued by disco's hopeful communal promise. As the music plays, you become convinced you could pull off a flared suit on the dance floor, too. -- DJ

trainspotting soundtrack

5. Trainspotting (1996)

Danny Boyle's black comedy about heroin addiction and economic depression twitches, pulsates, and grooves to the many Britpop and rock songs selected for its soundtrack. In adapting Irvine Welsh's cult novel, the filmmaker used the music of Pulp, Sleeper, Primal Scream, Blur, Underworld, New Order, and Brian Eno to immerse the viewer in the bleak world his movie plays out in in. Eno's ambient "Deep Blue Day," normally quite a calming track, accompanies the scene where Ewan McGregor's Renton dives headfirst into a much-used toilet bowl to fish out his opiate suppositories. Lou Reed's lovely "Perfect Day," now often deployed with a dollop of irony, scores an accidental overdose. After the album's release, the movie's massive fanbase drove EMI to issue a second soundtrack, which included additional songs featured in the film, as well as tracks used during production as inspiration or filler for certain scenes. People couldn't get enough. -- ES

help soundtrack

4. Help! (1965)

The Beatles' movies often played like longform medley music videos, stylish experiments that doubled as an excuse to make more money off the Fab Four's enormous popularity. The second of these, Help!, is especially that -- John Lennon said that communication was so bad between the band and director Richard Lester that it was practically necessary for them to be stoned all the time to quell the boredom of getting to set at 7 a.m. to do nothing but giggle. But thankfully, this is not a critical discussion of the movie's "plot," which is mostly inessential goofy slapstick and watered-down Monty Python gags about a spoof cult, but about the soundtrack. Reverse engineered as a movie first, then album, the soundtrack was written as a condensed, hit-focused version of what would be the album Help!, plus a few instrumental supplements and reprisals scored by British composer Ken Thorne (instead of the "fifth Beatle," George Martin, who didn't get along with Lester while making A Hard Day's Night), with the title track written absolutely last. Just look at some of the classic songs featured on here: "The Night Before," "I Need You," "Ticket To Ride," "Act Naturally," etc. If ever a Yesterday scenario unfolded, these are the songs worth reviving. -- LB

superfly movie

3. Superfly (1972)

On "Pusherman," the second track on Curtis Mayfield's vivid and wise soundtrack for Superfly, the narrator describes himself as, "A man of odd circumstance/A victim of ghetto demands." The song itself is a low-key funk scene-setter -- it's no surprise David Simon selected it for the opening credits to his recent HBO porn drama The Deuce -- but the lyrics dig deeper, humanizing and complicating the nameless neighborhood drug dealer peddling his wares. The soundtrack isn't content with just sounding cool; it wants to unearth hard truths, tell specific stories, and point a finger at larger systemic failures. "It's hard to understand/There was love in this man," Mayfield croons on "Freddie's Dead," a lament that takes the form of a swirling orchestral jam. By pushing himself to write songs that did more than merely synopsize or accentuate the narrative of the film, Mayfield arrived at a hybrid form, a Blaxploitation soundtrack that stood on its own as a revealing, riveting work of social commentary. -- DJ

dazed and confused soundtrack

2. Dazed and Confused (1993)

In Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, we cruise around town with Pink, Dawson, and Slater, letting the soundtrack mirror the tunes they'd be listening to on the radio. Set in the '70s, the soundtrack features blaring, playful hits from the era like Alice Cooper's "School's Out," perfectly capturing that triumphant last day of school feeling, and Foghat's "Slow Ride," which closes out the movie as it drives into the dawn of summer, and off to finally score some Aerosmith tickets. While some of the most iconic songs in the movie, like Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," which kicks off the film, and Bob Dylan's "Hurricane," which plays as Woodward rolls into The Emporium, don't actually appear on the soundtrack, the compilation is no less a killer document of youth culture. (By unapologetically leaning into the cheesier side of the '70s, like War's "Low Rider" and ZZ Top's "Tush," Linklater's selections end up feeling more authentic.) Whether you're chilling in a parking lot or trying drugs for the first time in a friend's basement, music has a way of getting tied up with seemingly inconsequential memories, and Dazed and Confused understands the potency of that idea. -- SB

purple rain soundtrack
Warner Bros.

1. Purple Rain (1984)

Like the song says, he never meant to cause any pain. Constructed from nine killer songs that launched Prince into a higher level of superstardom, the soundtrack to his highly mythologized, occasionally silly origin story, one packed with tantalizing melodrama and stunning onstage performances, is the rare soundtrack that would also earn a spot near the top of a similar list of the best albums ever made. (In some ways, it can feel like "cheating" to count it as a soundtrack.) From the joyful opening frenzy of "Let's Go Crazy" to the tear-jerking catharsis of the title track, the album finds the Purple One at the peak of his musical, lyrical, and erotic powers, turning crying doves and hotel lobby masturbators into beloved pop cultural touchstones. In relegating the (still quite good!) music of the movie's other featured bands -- Apollonia 6 and The Time -- to their own albums, Prince let Purple Rain stand on its own as a symbol of his world-conquering, motorcycle-revving, purple-trench-coat-rocking genius. The competition never stood a chance. -- DJ

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