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10 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

CJ Baker is a published writer who wrote the novel and started the companion podcast An Epic Soundtrack To A Mundane Existence.

Music plays an integral role in filmmaking. When employed successfully it can create ambiance, even to the point of becoming an additional character in the movie. It can make an excellent film even more iconic. At other times an outstanding soundtrack to a forgettable motion picture can transcend the movie, and even have a significant cultural impact. The following list includes examples of each of these.

10. Singles (1992)
9. Pulp Fiction (1994)
8. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
7. Do The Right Thing (1989)
6. Help! (1965)
5. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
4. Judgment Night (1993)
3. The Harder They Come (1972)
2. Superfly (1972)
1. Purple Rain (1984)

10. Singles (1992)

Cameron Crowe is known for his use of music in motion pictures, such as the famous boombox scene involving Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" in the 1989 film Say Anything and the memorable usage of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" in his 2000 movie Almost Famous. With Singles, the soundtrack is more notable than the actual movie. It was an important album in the establishment of grunge and alt-rock featuring era luminaries such as Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden.

9. Pulp Fiction (1994)

When it comes to implementing music in movies, it could be argued that none has done it better than Quentin Tarantino. Several of his more well-known movie scenes are closely linked to music, such as the disturbing imagery from the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs associated with Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You." Pulp Fiction is another classic example, with its notable use of Dick Dale's "Misirlou" as tone-setting opening credit music, and the dance scene associated with Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell".

8. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Coen Brothers used music as a key component of their period dramedy. Because the music helped serve as the backdrop, producer T Bone Burnett recorded the soundtrack prior to filming. The film's fictitious band, Soggy Bottom Boys, had a hit with "Man of Constant Sorrow," a tune originally written by folk-singer songwriter Dick Burnett, and published in 1913. The soundtrack won the 2002 Grammy for album of the year and the period-inspired music contributed to a roots revival, introducing younger audiences to older forms of music.

7. Do The Right Thing (1989)

As a director, Spike Lee is a skilled master in the art of incorporating music into his motion pictures. Much of the movie's backdrop and tone are linked to Public Enemy's iconic protest song "Fight The Power." Spike Lee approached the group about composing a theme for the film, and the result was a modern update of the Isley Brothers' 1975 funky protest anthem of the same name. The conclusion of "Fight The Power" would be enough to cement the soundtrack's legacy, but the rest of the soundtrack is also well suited to the film's setting of a hot summer evening.

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6. Help! (1965)

The soundtrack to The Beatles' second motion picture, following their movie debut in 1964's A Hard Day's Night—which also featured a classic soundtrack. The Richard Lester musical comedy-adventure was reasonably well-received, but the album is legendary. It features seven tunes that appear in the movie, including classics, such as "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Ticket To Ride," and the title track. ("Yesterday" appears on the album, but not in the film.) Help! is considered an important catalyst in the development of music videos.

5. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

The film was a commercial and critical success, in no small part to its iconic disco soundtrack. Saturday Night Fever also revived the career of the Bee Gees, introducing much of the world to Barry Gibb's trademark falsetto. The soundtrack was massively successful, selling over 40 million records worldwide, the second biggest-selling soundtrack of all time, after 1992's The Bodyguard (which sold over 45 million). In 2014, the soundtrack was added to the Congress National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that "are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."

4. Judgment Night (1993)

This is an example of more people listening to the soundtrack than watching the motion picture. The movie may have been a forgettable box office flop, but the soundtrack was an important link in the evolution of rap-rock, which for better or worse also helped usher in nu metal. It featured collaborations with notable rappers and rock acts, such as Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, and Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill. It was not the first time that rock and hip-hop acts collaborated with each other, but an entire album worth of rappers and rockers working together was considered novel and groundbreaking.

3. The Harder They Come (1972)

The soundtrack to the Jamaican crime film was important in introducing reggae to a global audience. Notable tracks include "Pressure Drop" by The Maytals, "007 (Shanty Town)" by Desmond Dekker, and "You Can Get It If You Really Want," "Many Rivers to Cross," and the title track by Jimmy Cliff (who also starred in the movie).

The music is timeless, and it has to be considered a big reason why Jimmy Cliff is one of only two reggae artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the other is Bob Marley, whose international commercial success may have benefited from this album paving the way). The Harder They Come soundtrack was added to the National Recording Registry in 2021.

2. Superfly (1972)

The Curtis Mayfield-penned soundtrack for the blaxploitation film is a landmark recording. In contrast to the film, which received criticism for its glorification of pimps, gangsters, and drug dealers, the songs were a more socially aware examination of societal ills. Many of the themes explored are still relevant, and the soundtrack stands alone as a separate work outside of the film (which was remade in 2018). In 2019, the Superfly soundtrack was added to the National Recording Registry.

1. Purple Rain (1984)

Even though the movie performed well at the box office (over $68 million in the U.S. alone, in comparison to its $7 million budget), this is the perfect example of a soundtrack transcending the film. It features several iconic Prince tunes, like "Let's Go Crazy" (the extended dance version is performed in the film), "Darling Nikki," "When Doves Cry," and the title track. Prince also won the 1985 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. This soundtrack captures the musical genius that was Prince at his apex. In 2012, the Purple Rain soundtrack was added to the National Recording Registry.

Best Movie Soundtrack Of All Time Poll (Includes a few honorable mentions that were not on list)

© 2022 CJ Baker

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