The best movie soundtracks stand tall alongside the greatest albums of all time. Movies are nothing without an appropriate selection of music, and the best soundtracks help to bridge the gap between film and reality.
“Saturday Night Fever”
When this movie soundtrack was released in 1977, disco was all the rage. This collection of songs captures that pop culture phenomenon, featuring several influential artists within the genre. The Bee Gees are the most notable presence on the soundtrack, with their songs “Stayin’ Alive” and “Jive Talkin’” as the highlights.
The most socially conscious of the best movie soundtracks, this 1972 album is a landmark moment in music history. Composed and performed by soul-funk pioneer Curtis Mayfield, the soundtrack is a sprawling artistic work dealing with such deep themes as drug abuse and death. The title track is likely this soundtrack’s best known work, but “Freddie’s Dead” is an equally haunting musical composition.
Even if Prince’s acting skills in this 1984 movie left something to be desired, his work on the soundtrack can’t be denied. It’s a multi-layered album, with songs ranging from jubilant to contemplative. The songs “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” showcase the depths of Prince’s artistry on this soundtrack.
“A Hard Day’s Night”
Even if this 1964 album hadn’t been a movie soundtrack, it would still rank as one of the best of all time. The Beatles were just hitting their stride with this album, showing off their cohesion and songwriting skills. The title track and “Can’t Buy Me Love” are the standouts here, proving once and for all The Beatles’ place in rock.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
This underrated soundtrack comes from an equally underrated movie. The bluegrass and folk music on the album fit perfectly with the quirky nature of the film, setting the mood for a lesson in traditional musicianship. Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch provide the dreamy vocals for “I’ll Fly Away,” the soundtrack’s best song.
“Pretty In Pink”
A case study in the kitsch of the decade, this 1986 movie soundtrack would be a guilty pleasure if it wasn’t so good. With contributions from everyone from Suzanne Vega to INXS, the album is an all-inclusive snapshot of pop culture. The Smiths rule the album with “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” while “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is pretty darn good, too.
Capturing the essence of the fledgling grunge scene, this 1992 movie soundtrack features some of the genre’s biggest bands. The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam are all here, but the songs by less-popular artists make this soundtrack great Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart” and “Nearly Lost You” by Screaming Trees deserve all the attention they get.
“Do The Right Thing”
Some of the best movie soundtracks are known for their volatility, which is exactly the case with this 1988 release. Public Enemy’s riotous “Fight The Power” is the obvious standout, but contributions from Teddy Riley and Take 6 are equally deserving.
“Above The Rim”
Building on the popularity of gangsta rap, this 1994 movie soundtrack is as hard-edged as they come. Warren G and the late Nate Dogg shine on “Regulate,” while 2pac and Thug Life provide depth with “Pour Out A Little Liquor.”
“(500) Days Of Summer”
As a quirky collection of pretentious emotion, this 2009 movie soundtrack is the best ever. Simon and Garfunkel make an appearance, as do The Smiths and Hall and Oates. Regina Spektor’s “Us” is the soundtrack’s real find, a piano-heavy ballad that could double as a lullaby.