Authored by Phil Dotree in Movies and Television
Published on 01-04-2010
It’s hard to imagine a great movie without a great sound track. After all, what’s on screen is only half the story. What the audience hears can be incredibly important. Music can set us up for huge thematic moments–and, when used incorrectly, those same moments can fall flat. Here’s a look at a few of the best soundtracks of all time.
Note that for this list, I used this rule: no musicals. Musicals are movies based on a soundtrack, not vice versa.
1. Star Wars – All of John Williams’ score for Hollywood’s first big-budget sci-fi space epic are memorable. They’re all covered on websites like YouTube, on countless different instruments. Millions of people have hummed that iconic theme. The all-instrumental soundtrack sells fairly well. There’s just no arguing that this is one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. It even makes the new trilogy (somewhat) stand-able.
2. The Godfather – Grab a mob movie from the 50s and compare it to the Godfather. You’ll notice a few things immediately. For starters, yeah, the acting’s way over the top in the older movies. The villains are more villainous (and therefore less frightening) in the 50’s movies. But you’ll find a very notable difference in the soundtracks, too. The Godfather was one of the first American movies to treat the mob epically. The soundtrack was dark, brooding, and subtle. Nothing over the top. No blaring horns. It works to enrich and give validity the tragedy happening on screen.
3. The Graduate – The tongue-in-cheek, hilarious film had a lot of help in its Simon & Garfunkel filled soundtrack. It was definitely a good choice to use music from the duo’s past albums. Classic songs were given new light. Crippling, emotive ballads were rendered even more crippling. “I Am A Rock” become more anthem than the silly folk song it started out as. The soundtrack didn’t just profit from the film, though. The tremendous irony and comedy of The Graduate simply wouldn’t be the same with different music. Plus, this is one of the better soundtracks on this list to listen to as a standalone album.
4. Jaws – Duhhhhh NUH. Duuhhhhh NUH. Admit it–you’re envisioning the theme music from Jaws in your head right now. Even by reading the title of the movie, your brain immediately recalls that riff. It’s now synonymous with danger. It’s threatening, ominous, but not overt. Jaws’s soundtrack was one of John Williams’ best moments. It virtually made the movie work. He defined “shark” musically. You couldn’t ask for any more from the soundtrack to a film about sharks.
5. Kill Bill – With help from RZA of the Wu-Tang clan, Quentin Tarantino brought the ruckus. Both parts of Kill Bill are filled with exceptionally hip music. Here’s a good sign for a fight movie sound track: no irony. Instead, killer riffs and smart beats flood the audience’s eardrums. From creepy whistles to hazardous alarm bells, sound effects and hip hop beats make every scene slay-worthy. Even if the movies aren’t your thing, Kill Bill’s soundtrack is…well, killer.
What are a few of your favorite film sound tracks? Post your thoughts in the comments section below this article. Remember, musicals don’t count.