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The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Listen to these with a candle burning and you'll see your favorite films

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    Artwork by Cap Blackard

    The two best-selling soundtracks of all time celebrate milestones this November, with Saturday Night Fever turning 40 and The Bodyguard turning 25. With that in mind, we decided to take a look at what exactly makes a film soundtrack great, something that seemed much easier on paper than in execution.

    We found plenty of soundtracks that excelled by using subtle songs in the periphery of pivotal scenes, and we also came across films that dropped the music right into the story, as part of the plot or even as a character itself. We came across those movies that made hits out of otherwise obscure songs, while also taking into account films that hijacked a popular song and made it indistinguishable from the film itself. More importantly, we looked at the soundtracks that enhanced the film and went hand-in-hand with its tone and story, giving you greater insight into pivotal scenes and character growth.

    We avoided musicals, band movies, concert films, and scores in this regard, focusing solely on the best use of popular music in film, combing through movies from the ’60s all the way up to 2017 until we had our picks. As with any list of this size, there are bound to be disagreements as well as some soundtracks that should have made the cut. Let us know what you think we missed, but in the meantime, sit back and take a whirlwind trip through music in cinema with our picks for the 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time.

    –Doug Nunnally
    Contributing Writer


    100. Juno (2007)

    juno The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s quirky dramedy about a misfit teenager who finds herself two months pregnant and decides to have and adopt out her baby gets a lot of things right. One of those is a soundtrack that almost acts as an interior monologue for the title character. While Juno MacGuff may dig the raw power of Iggy and his Stooges, having indie vet Kimya Dawson’s soft voice and oddball lyrics floating in during transitions or when Juno’s faced with a difficult moment feels like a far better match. So taken by Dawson’s music was Reitman that he had her re-record instrumentals and humming to use for scenes and commissioned Mateo Messina to use her style as the basis for the scored parts of the movie. The final result is a soundtrack of unforgettable moments like Juno and Paulie dueting “Anyone Else but You” and the latter completing his morning routine to The Kinks’ brilliant “A Well Respected Man”. Wizard. –Matt Melis


    99. Batman Forever (1995)

    batman forever The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    The less said about Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, the better, but kudos has to be given to the soundtrack for his first attempt. Though only a few of its songs appear in the film, the soundtrack picks up the ball Schumacher so casually dropped with a deep mélange that helped illustrate Batman’s gritty nature, Robin’s empowered gall, Riddler’s manic depravity, and Two-Face’s fractured distress — all things effectively absent within Schumaker’s obtrusive vision. It doesn’t quite hit the lofty mark of Prince’s interpretation, but thanks to Seal’s powerhouse song and U2’s surprising gem, it definitely comes close. –Doug Nunnally


    98. The Karate Kid (1984)

    the karate kid The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Look, The Karate Kid is basically Little Rocky. You’ve got director John G. Avildsen behind the camera again and his buddy Bill Conti added yet another triumphant score to make everyone believe that an underdog could rise to the top. But, like any story that’s repackaged for a younger audience, it’s gotta be hip, and that’s essentially what this soundtrack is — at least for the time. Even then, nobody was listening to Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” without singing along ironically (hell, it was rejected by Rocky Balboa himself), but they were rocking out to Gang of Four (“Desire”) or Broken Edge (“No Shelter”). And while it’s a crime Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” was left off, you get your New Wave fix with Commuter (“Young Hearts”) and Baxter Robertson (“Feel the Night”), two songs that will legitimately dent your soul. Wax on, wax off, people. –Michael Roffman


    97. Space Jam (1996)

    space jam The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Here’s something that doesn’t get discussed a lot — the soundtrack to Space Jam contained five Top 40 hits, four of them being Top 10 hits that made 1996 and 1997 a time that you couldn’t escape this soundtrack if you tried. But the real charm for this soundtrack lies outside the hits, like great dance/hip-hop songs by Robin S and Salt-N-Pepa, though all you really need to know about this soundtrack’s quality is that it got Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man to all collaborate on a song about the villainous Monstars … and it’s absolutely phenomenal. –Doug Nunnally


    96. Angus (1995)

    angus The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    If we’re talking about soundtracks being emblematic of the mid-’90s high school experience, few are as tried and true as Angus. At the time, the whole grunge scene had given way to a more alternative sound with Green Day and Weezer leading the charge. Wouldn’t you know, they both headline this collection, what with Green Day’s memorial song “J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)” tipping off the LP and Weezer’s “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” sitting right in the middle between Ash, Smoking Popes, and The Muffs. Fun fact: That latter song wasn’t intended for the soundtrack, as frontman Rivers Cuomo originally penned a song for the film titled “Wanda (You’re My Only Love)”, which was rejected for being “too much of a strict interpretation of the movie.” It’s okay, like Angus, they won out in the end, releasing Pinkerton the following year. –Michael Roffman


    95. Elizabethtown (2005)

    elizabethtown The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Cameron Crowe’s much-maligned 2005 treatise on kindness, forgiveness, love, and Manic Pixie Dream Girls might have become a punchline in its own time, but one of its more lasting impressions is its soundtrack, crafted specifically to bring Orlando Bloom’s suicidal ex-shoe designer (yep) back from the brink. Through a mixture of Kirsten Dunst’s love and a sprawling playlist including Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket, Lindsey Buckingham, Elton John, U2, and a host of other familiar and minor names alike, Crowe serves as the benevolent god of his film’s loving world. Bloom might be trapped in a fiasco, but the soundtrack looks straight ahead to clearer skies. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    94. Times Square (1980)

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    You’ve probably never seen Times Square. Don’t worry. Not many have. Even now, despite its cult acclaim, Allan Moyle’s punk rock coming-of-age movie is an under-the-radar gem. Those who have seen it, probably remember its groundbreaking double-album soundtrack that features a who’s who of punk and new wave titans circa 1980, from Talking Heads to The Cure, Gary Numan to Patti Smith. As Wet Hot American Summer composer Craig Wedren told us years ago, “Times Square totally cracked [the underground] open. It was an introduction to our music, our generation’s music: the early MTV hard rock top 40 and the new wave that was happening between 1979 and 1981.” In other words, a totally essentially time capsule. –Michael Roffman
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    93. Stealing Beauty (1996)

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    Italian writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci has struck serious highs in terms of epic drama (The Last Emperor) and provocative, controversial sensuality (Last Tango in Paris). The 1996 Liv Tyler-starring Stealing Beauty may not have the cultural cache or critical seal of approval of his most beloved films, but the atmospheric, blue moodiness of the soundtrack alone fills the film with smoky appeal that transcends its ‘90s bonds. The film finds the melancholy in the Cocteau Twins as well as Mozart, Mazzy Star, and Nina Simone. The film is haunted by poetry (Liv Tyler’s Lucy deals with the death of her poet mother), and the soundtrack is similarly obsessed with the beauty of quiet moments and subtle, swaying emotion. But when the mood breaks, as it must inevitably, you’d be hard-pressed to find better explosions than Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. –Lior Phillips


    92. 500 Days Of Summer (2009)

    500 days The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    500 Days Of Summer’s soundtrack works as a cohesive gel, piecing together the disjointed narrative so you can absorb the nonlinear scenes with better clarity and context. Though we know how it ends, The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” allows us to experience the wide-eyed wonderment of love, while Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” helps illustrate its fantasies. The best case for music bridging the gap is the expectation vs. reality scene, deftly scored by Regina Spektor’s “Hero”. Your eyes dart between the two unfolding scenes, but it’s the song’s disappointed tone that you can’t avoid, hammering home the scene’s, and the soundtrack’s, true impact. –Doug Nunnally


    91. The Lost Boys (1987)

    lost boys The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    The worst thing about The Lost Boys soundtrack is that you have to imagine Tim Capello shirtless when you listen to “I Still Believe”. It’s a ludicrous song that works much better on-screen, where we can actually see his hunky, muscle-y abs reflecting the beach flames of Santa Carla, California. Nonetheless, there are plenty other goodies to sink your teeth into on this album, which may be the most bizarre hodgepodge of musicians assembled for what’s ostensibly an alty ’80s film. Like, why is Echo and the Bunnymen covering The Doors’ “People are Strange”? Or why is Roger Daltrey wedged between two songs by INXS? Whatever, it all works, and don’t tell me you’ve never screamed with Gerard McMann on “Cry Little Sister”. –Michael Roffman


    90. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

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    If you’re going to write a movie with a battle of the bands at its core, you better be ready to have a great soundtrack and some top-tier songwriters on board to ensure you can actually build some drama into that climactic battle. For Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Edgar Wright amassed a super-team to make sure that both the songs chosen and composed for the soundtrack would rock hard enough to literally battle competitors. The songs for Scott’s band, Sex Bob-Omb, were written by Beck, while Broken Social Scene write and perform as Crash and the Boys. But let’s not forget to credit the actors: Michael Cera, Mark Webber, Alison Pill, Johnny Simmons, and Erik Knudsen all actually played instruments and sang for the soundtrack, while Sloan’s Chris Murphy coached guitar. Add to that mix a swathe of stomping classic rock (T. Rex, The Rolling Stones) and a score featuring Radiohead contributor Nigel Godrich, Beck, Dan the Automator, Cornelius, and more, and Scott Pilgrim has the brash pedigree to pull off its musical conceit. –Lior Phillips


    89. Ghostbusters II (1989)

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    Hot take: Bobby Brown’s greatest song is “On Our Own”. That’s not irony. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a cold, hard fact. The de facto theme song of Ghostbusters II thrives from a shivering glaze of New Jack swing, the likes of which wouldn’t sound this polished and this lush until Michael Jackson would go all-in on the genre a couple years later on 1991’s Dangerous. It’s a total improvement over Ray Parker Jr.’s original theme, which also gets a facelift on this soundtrack with a remix by the one and only Run-DMC. (Not surprisingly, their version is better.) Elsewhere, you get slimed by a little hip-hop (Doug E. Fresh), some veteran rock (Elton John, Glenn Frey), and a whole lotta soul (Howard Huntsberry), all of which screams 1989. –Michael Roffman


    88. American Pie (1999)

    american pie The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    What you have to keep telling yourself whenever you watch American Pie is that, yes, this is a film from another time. Otherwise, you’re going to have an aneurysm from all the rampant homophobia and the fact that its most iconic scene is straight-up sexual predation. Still, even though the film hardly holds up, the soundtrack does, oozing with all kinds of late ’90s alt-rock that will probably be great source of nostalgia in a couple of years if it isn’t already. Those who were also in high school during that era will probably stare off in the distance to Bic Runga’s “Sway” just as they’ll bop their heads to Blink-182’s Enema of the State gem “Mutt”. What sucks most about this soundtrack, however, are all the songs that were left off, from Duke Daniels’ “Following a Star” to Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta”, to the film’s ostensible theme, James’ “Laid”. Oh well. –Michael Roffman


    87. Love and Basketball (2000)

    love and basketball The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    All good love stories develop their own soundtrack, and the sweet, smoky, long-gestating romance between Sanaa Lathan’s Monica and Omar Epps’ Quincy in Love & Basketball is no exception. The characters develop an attraction over decades, and all while training and competing. By reaching back to Zapp and Chaka Khan and going all the way through to contemporary R&B jams like Bilal’s “Soul Sista”, the soundtrack reflects changes in intensity and era without losing the thread of frustrated romance. And when they finally find that their chemistry works off the court and get down to business, Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work” provides the sweet and sultry background. –Adam Kivel


    86. The Breakfast Club (1985)

    breakfast club The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Few, if any, modern filmmakers take the mundanity of adolescence as seriously as writer-filmmaker John Hughes once did. How committed was Hughes? In The Breakfast Club, he sells us on the idea that a Saturday detention can change how a group of young people view the world. We see these five different students – most of whom would never speak to each other if not locked up in a library together – running through the halls to Wang Chung and dancing together to a Karla DeVito record. It’s all silly and unbelievable, and yet by film’s end the five have managed to learn something life-altering about themselves. When Judd Nelson crosses the football field and iconically pumps his fist to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, he’s not just celebrating another detention done and over with or even his new girlfriend; it’s a gesture that reminds even the most skeptical among us that real life takes place sometimes where and when we least expect. It’s something John Hughes knew all too well. –Matt Melis


    85. American Beauty (2000)

    american beauty The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Very few midlife crises sound this exceptional. For Lester Burnham, the sardonic protagonist of Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, this suburban daddy’s jarring left turn from normalcy is at all times beautiful, compelling, and riveting. There’s Bill Withers bringing the soul on “Use Me”, Elliott Smith matching the tranquility of composer Thomas Newman with “Because”, and the FM jams of The Who (“The Seeker”) and Free (“All Right Now”). The generational gaps between all the acts — umm, it oscillates from Bobby Darin and Peggy Lee to Gomez and the Eeels — seems almost implicit, seeing how this is a movie about an old man trying to have sex with a young woman — scratch that, a young teenager. No wonder Kevin Spacey won the Oscar! –Michael Roffman
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    84. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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    Three Kinks songs slip in between Bollywood tracks in Wes Anderson’s fifth film to showcase three American brothers’ train-riding vision quest through the Indian countryside. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody are mourning the loss of their father and trapped in cycles of familial struggle, but find a new peace together. The trio move from wondering about where they’ll be “This Time Tomorrow”, to discovering that though they’re “Strangers” they are one on this new road, to coming to grips with the fight against the “Powerman” figure always enforcing the status quo that had kept them apart. And as the film goes on, the Indian music becomes less strange and more essential to their relationship. –Adam Kivel


    83. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

    shaun of the dead The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    While Baby Driver solidified Edgar Wright’s unmatched ability to make music an essential character and piece of the narrative, fans of his earlier films — and shout-out to Spaced too — will eagerly explain that that’s always been the case. The first film of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead utilizes both diegetic music and clever scoring to comedic and dramatic affect. Pete Woodhead and Daniel Mudford created the score in honor of classic zombie and horror soundtracks, from John Carpenter vibes to Goblin intensity. Meanwhile, the high-wire choreography of Baby Driver is predated by (among other scenes in Wright’s filmography) a brilliant scene in which Shaun, Ed, Liz, and co. fight off zombies in the Winchester who had been drawn in by a malfunctioning jukebox that wouldn’t stop playing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. –Adam Kivel


    82. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

    everybodys talkin The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Like the movie itself, the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy is an ambitious affair with a collection of songs that joins together country folk instrumentals and an array of rock styles, from the radio friendly rock sound (including a cover of a great early Warren Zevon song) to more expansive psych explorations, all of which helps explore the complicated psyche of its story. The blend also helps the score pieces resonate, and sets the stage for the iconic “Everybody’s Talkin’”, leading to the first Grammys for both Harry Nilsson and legendary composer John Barry. –Doug Nunnally


    81. Top Gun (1986)

    top gun The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    As far as ’80s movie soundtracks go, Top Gun may not be the best of the decade, but it’s absolutely among the most memorable. As the above album art suggests, it’s at the very least “up there with the best of the best.” Tony Scott’s film is draped in loud, near-constant pop music, but it’s the two classics from the film’s soundtrack that have come to define the film even more than all of the well-shot, frequently homoerotic action on hand ever could have. Kenny Loggins offered a new path for America, on the highway to the Danger Zone, where Tom Cruise’s ace pilot lives and exists in all of his pursuits. And not only did Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” underscore each of the film’s many illustrations of the totally hetero passion involving Cruise and Kelly McGillis’ program instructor, but it became one of the biggest power ballads of the decade that defined the form. You, reading this now? There’s like a 40% chance you were made to the tune of “Take My Breath Away”. Congratulations. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
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    80. Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

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    As a film, Mo’ Better Blues may not be one of Spike Lee’s more outstanding works, but it indisputably features one of his best soundtracks. The Branford Marsalis Quartet’s work here plays a crucial (you could even say instrumental) role in Lee’s film, chronicling the rise and fall of Denzel Washington’s Bleek with lively, improvisational-feeling jazz riffs of every kind. Plus, how often do you get to hear Washington, Gang Starr, and Wesley Snipes perform over jazz music? It accomplishes what most soundtracks only aspire to do: it truly adds something more to the film beyond it. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    79. Marie Antoinette (2006)

    marie antoinette The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Sofia Coppola’s misunderstood, anachronistic 2006 take on the last queen of pre-Revolution France speaks the language of decadence as only a Coppola film could. Yet its soundtrack, which initially grated on some listeners, is one of the greats of the aughts, an exercise in melancholic pop sounds that manages to comment on one hedonistic era using the sounds of another. New Order, Bow Wow Wow, The Radio Dept., and a host of other artists add to the lushly ornate settings, glorifying in an era of excess even as it verges on its sudden, violent, and inevitable end. It’s a pop soundtrack for the end of the world as many knew it. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    78. Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

    where the wild things are The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Eight years later, we’re still periodically baffled that Warner Bros. gave Spike Jonze $100 million of studio money to make what may well be one of the saddest films ever aimed at children. Yet Where the Wild Things Are is worth every cent, a sincerely magical bit of painful fantasy, and one of the better illustrations of childhood fear and anxiety ever put to movie screens. The soundtrack, by Karen O and the Kids, heightens the magical realism of Jonze’s feature, dealing in simple and resonant melodies that transcend the singsong by O’s vocals, which lend the same agonized lilt to the film’s sparse, simple balladry that she often did to even some of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most biting work. It’s a perfect marriage of artist and art, a soundscape that supplements and adds onto the already wonderful film to which it’s connected. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    77. Boomerang (1990)

    boomerang The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    A perfect snapshot into early ’90s R&B, Boomerang’s soundtrack captured the changing of the musical guard, proudly showing the wonders of New Jack swing while previewing the expansive hip hop soul that was to come. Both the film and soundtrack had lasting effect on the industry, essentially launching the careers of Halle Berry and Toni Braxton, while also giving ample exposure to a laundry list of artists who would go on to fill the screen and airwaves of the ‘90s: Martin Lawrence, Boyz II Men, Tisha Campbell, TLC, Chris Rock, A Tribe Called Quest. –Doug Nunnally


    76. Pretty In Pink (1986)

    pretty in pink The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Pretty in Pink may not always be at the top of anybody’s John Hughes power ranking, but it’s always a consistent top five, a wild tale of young love that stands as one of his outright funnier movies. But perhaps most memorable, at least to some, is the film’s new wave soundtrack, one that made OMD’s “If You Leave” a chart-topping hit and introduced quite a few young Americans to New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen. That’s all to say nothing of the titular Psychedelic Furs track, the kind of song that captures the ’80s in all its poppy excess in the span of just a few short minutes. Also, Duckie had a lot more to offer than Blaine in the long term. No, we haven’t let this go yet. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
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    75. Cruel Intentions (1997)

     The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Leave it to a movie about gaudy sexual blackmail to pull off some great cinematic tension, something it does so well that it avoided the soft-core preference of its sleazy sequels. Helping build that subtle abstraction is the film’s surprisingly rich soundtrack, one that revolves mostly around a genre that effortlessly mastered the ability to be simultaneously lively and contemptuous: Britpop! Alt-rock of the time gets its time to shine here too, specifically Counting Crows’ wonderfully somber “Colorblind”, but again, the film succeeds off of Britpop’s back, a fact soundly proven by the theatrically cathartic ending flawlessly set to The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”. –Doug Nunnally


    74. Apocalypse Now (1979)

    apocalypse now The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Thinking back on Apocalypse Now, the film essentially becomes a series of terrifying Nam flashbacks, thanks in large part to the soundtrack. Director Francis Ford Coppola and his brother Carmine arranged the soundtrack as a whole, but the most memorable experiences come in moments: the soldiers using Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” on their helicopter entry to scare the Vietcong, one American dancing shirtless to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as their boat rides down the river, and The Doors’ “The End” playing over a montage of destroyed forests and charred battlefields. Throughout, these supposedly triumphant and bombastic songs show instead the hubris and dread of the Vietnam War. The soundtrack echoes that feeling as well as the descent into madness, all the life draining out of the music in a ghastly, powerful experience. –Adam Kivel
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    73. Spring Breakers (2012)

    spring breakers The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Harmony Korine’s pop-trash masterpiece does the previously unthinkable: it turns Skrillex into high art. Korine’s chronicle of wasted youth (in every sense) might be filthy, profane, and more than a little abrasive, but it also speaks the hedonistic, largely vapid language of its unbearable protagonists. To set the tone, Korine washes the film in trashy EDM excess, a genre he matches visually by the shot, drawing out the genuine emotional resonance of the synth strains beneath “With You, Friends” even as he archly comments on how disgusting the whole facade really is. And hell, no matter what you make of the movie, we’d bet money that you haven’t forgotten the sublime madness of James Franco singing into Britney Spears’ “Everytime” as the film tracks he and a band of wayward young women through a string of North Florida robberies. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
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    72. Wild Style (1983)

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    Few regions will ever have a legitimate claim to truly running the hip-hop game in the way that the South Bronx did in the genre’s early days. And while Wild Style may not be a cinematic classic on its own merits, it’s one of the absolute cornerstones of rap culture on film, if only for its iconic soundtrack, which now serves as a retrospective showcase of the artists and sounds of what would prove to be one of the most important musical movements of the century. It may not be rife with familiar names, in the way that so many other hip-hop soundtracks on this list built their legacies, but to hear Wild Style is to hear the genesis of rap music as we know it today. How many other movies can lay claim to a thing like that? –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    71. The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

    perks The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Music plays a big role in Wallflower, solidifying the character’s bond and progressing the story. With film limitations being what they are, it’s not quite as fleshed out as it is in Stephen Chbsoky’s novel, but the movie more than compensates for this with dazzling scenes set to classic songs while the more subtle pairings enhance the story. Cracker’s “Low” boldly introduces the group, while New Order’s “Temptation” follows a Rocky Horror experience and Cocteau Twins’ “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” beautifully montages the bittersweet farewell. All point to the deeper meaning of each scene, making that climatic scene so impactful and the tunnel song discovery so triumphant. –Doug Nunnally


    70. The Rules of Attraction (2002)

    rules of attraction The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Surprise, surprise: a movie based on a Bret Easton Ellis book has a killer sense of tone and sound. While The Rules of Attraction might be one of the more unheralded adaptations of Ellis’ work, it also nails down the drug-fueled ennui of his storytelling better than most. Crucial to that is the hazy soundtrack, which speaks to a very particular kind of college experience: articulate, erotic, and wholly and entirely cruel after a while. The Cure, Harry Nilsson, Love and Rockets, and even Yaz underscore what has to be one of the more singularly unique teen/young adult movies of the aughts, making for a soundtrack that speaks to the melancholy underneath even the most hedonistic lives. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    69. Zodiac (2007)

    zodiac The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Part of what makes David Fincher’s 2007 historical thriller Zodiac so compelling is its ability to convey the passage of time. This is a crucial element to a story that deals with obsession and what that obsession will do to the human psyche. In addition to visual cues, like the fascinating construction of the San Francisco skyline, Fincher also leaned heavily on a soundtrack that spans multiple decades and captures the zeitgeist of each respective era: Three Dog Night’s melancholy cover of “Easy to Be Hard” adds a peaceful juxtaposition to a haunting opening scene, Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” embellishes the hustle and bustle of the journalist life, Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” says everything Mark Ruffalo’s defeated detective can’t, and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is this film’s “Goodbye Horses”. Creepy stuff. –Michael Roffman


    68. Ghostbusters (1984)

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    In the decade of great themes, Ray Parker Jr. created one of the absolute best. So infectious, most bought the soundtrack for that one song alone, though they would have been pleasantly surprised by the rest of the soundtrack. Short but memorable, it featured choice cuts from Thompson Twins and Laura Branigan, all capable and willing to movie the plot along in this brisk comedy. The real gem though is Mick Smiley’s “Magic”, which darkly underscores a great montage, shifting the tone from comedic romp to urgent crisis … or as much as you can with Bill Murray and Rick Moranis around. –Doug Nunnally


    67. Garden State (2004)

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    By now, plenty of people’s lives have been changed by sarcastic jokes about how the Shins will change their life, but let’s be honest: when Garden State first came out, that moment carried a bit of magic. And beyond “New Slang”, the soundtrack both fit Zach Braff’s melancholic but sweet worldview and turned the ears of so many viewers to a cozy sweater, emotional brand of indie rock and folk. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York” functions as a spiritual core, a lonely sweetness that permeates thanks to the echo chamber vocals. From there, choices from Colin Hay to Thievery Corporation perpetuate that melancholy mood through time, eventually finding some life in Iron and Wine’s “Such Great Heights” cover. –Lior Phillips


    66. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

    reservoir dogs The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs turned the crime thriller genre on its head in so many ways: the extreme violence, the non-linear storytelling, the obsession with pop culture. However, not quite as quick to gain attention was the young director’s unusual use of music – in this case, Super Sounds of the ‘70s Weekend as spun by monotone radio host K-Billy. It’s not just that Tarantino selects old ‘70s songs for a ‘90s crime film, but that he embeds them in the film via a radio program. Through K-Billy we get a sense of the world of which these men live on the margins, we see the famous opening-title strut to “Little Green Bag”, and, in one of the most sadistic scenes in modern cinema, “Stuck in the Middle with You” soundtracks Mr. Blonde torturing a mum police officer. Hate him or love him, Tarantino’s mix of pop culture, in this case golden oldies, and violence remains a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. –Matt Melis


    65. Empire Records (1995)

    empire records The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    A cult film set in a record store fighting for its independence in the face of encroaching retch-inducing pop, Empire Records relies heavily on its soundtrack to establish the credibility. If the songs on the record weren’t sufficiently cool, the production team would look like a whole bunch of Rex Mannings trying to horn in on the teen market. The ‘90s-tastic bunch of Better Than Ezra, the Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Cracker certainly signify the “cool” of a specific moment, while then-unsigned acts like The Martinis, Please, and Coyote Shivers lend some indie cool. And, as the cherry on top of the Empire Records sundae, Liv Tyler sings backup vocals on Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando’s cover of Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo”, which now looks like nostalgia getting all nostalgic. Obsessing over the present, trying to out-cool each other, and finding hidden gems from the past all seem pretty fitting for a bunch of kids working at a record store, whether in the ‘70s, ‘90s, or today. –Lior Phillips


    64. Menace II Society (1993)

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    “Gangsta rap” became one of the most misunderstood and maligned cultural movements of the ’90s, if not perhaps the very most. The Hughes Brothers’ film almost feels reactive to white suburban fears of the time in a number of ways, painting an authentic portrait of inner-city conflict, life, and death that at one calls for empathy and also calls for the lack of necessity of outsiders being able to understand. The film’s cut-after-cut soundtrack works through the gritty, aggressive sounds of the time, and that’s not even including the film’s uses of Ice Cube, N.W.A, and a number of other artists not included on the album. Most of the soundtrack as it stands is awash in the West Coast sound of the time, all laid-back production as the spine of so many tales of violence. It’s a mood piece, and perfectly in sync with the film to which it’s set. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    63. Forrest Gump (1994)

    forrest gump The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    While of course Tom Hanks is the absolute core of any film in which he stars, so much of the heavy lifting in Forrest Gump is done by the soundtrack. The film finds Hanks’ Gump living life somehow in the center of American history, from the “Hound Dog” early days to the Jefferson Airplane psychedelic Vietnam protest to Motown and blue-eyed soul. By having licensed enough music to make a 34-song soundtrack, director Robert Zemeckis was able to fully ground the whimsical story and enigmatic character in a moment that anyone can connect to and find themselves in. As a soundtrack in and of itself, it’s nothing mind-blowing (listening to the double-disc affair isn’t far from the oldies radio station), but it works perfectly as an effortless narrative tool. –Adam Kivel


    62. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

    royal tenenbaums The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    The soundtrack to each Wes Anderson film walks a tightrope between ultra-iconic moments and a consistent tonal through-line. To achieve that emotional depth, Anderson frequently returns to the ‘60s and his long-standing partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh. The Royal Tenenbaums finds that balance masterfully, fitting his past-leaning musical tendencies into the narrative’s focus on the generations of a family trapped in the struggles of their past. The forbidden love of adopted siblings Margot and Richie plays out across the film in a pair of Nico songs: the cyclical pain in “These Days” and the potential for a new day in “The Fairest of the Seasons”. Richie’s suicide attempt paired with a song from Elliott Smith — who killed himself not long later — redoubles the tragedy. –Lior Phillips


    61. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

    24 hour party people The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Of course, a soundtrack to a film about an influential indie label is going to be great, but what makes this one truly significant is how loyal it covers the surrounding scene. Yes, Joy Division, New Order, and other Factory talents dominate the soundtrack, but it also puts the spotlight on other Manchester acts, from A Boy Called Gerald to 808 State, as well as foreign pioneers that contributed to the Madchester swell. The soundtrack’s best quality though is showcasing punk’s nascent role in the origin of acid house, helping to bridge the gap between these two wildly different sounds. –Doug Nunnally


    60. Heat (1995)

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    Much like Cameron Crowe, Michael Mann tends to scrapbook his soundtracks. With a few exceptions, his films are traditionally scored by a sultry soundscape of incredibly diverse artists, ranging from composers to producers to bands. His 1995 magnum opus, Heat, is like one super sleek, steel-plated time capsule of the era, simmering with myriad sounds from cutting edge masterminds like Elliot Goldenthal, The Kronos Quartet, Brian Eno, Lisa Gerrard, and Moby. Our favorite vegan DJ delivers the final emotional punch with “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”, arguably the most elegant instrumental composition from the ’90s. Though, it can’t be said enough how crucial Terje Rypdal’s six-string angst is to the story of Robert De Niro’s McCauley; his brooding compositions — particularly, “Mystery Man” — go down like Jameson on the rocks. –Michael Roffman


    59. He Got Game (1998)

    he got game The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    The last time Spike Lee troubled Public Enemy for an anthem – way back in the late ‘80s for Do the Right Thing – Chuck D and crew delivered “Fight the Power”, arguably the greatest hip-hop song ever put to wax. Suffice it to say that Lee knew where to turn when he was in search of more magic for He Got Game, his celebrated joint about a highly recruited high school basketball player and his incarcerated father. Not only does Public Enemy drop arguably their best album since Fear of a Black Planet to shoulder the load with composer Aaron Copland’s orchestral pieces, but they also build the movie’s theme around one of the more inspired samples of their career, “For What It’s Worth”. Yeaaaa Boyeeee. –Matt Melis


    58. Wayne’s World (1992)

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    Turning an eight-minute recurring sketch into a 90-minute theatrical film is no easy task. And when your film stars Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar — co-hosts of the late-night, music-based Aurora cable access show Wayne’s World — that soundtrack had better wail. You can’t just throw on a dozen tracks by The Shitty Beatles and call it a day, Chet. No worries there, though, my friend. The soundtrack climbed all the way to No. 1, and much of that had to do with tie-ins to some of the film’s most memorable scenes: in addition to the Crucial Taunt performances, there were classic moments like headbanging in the Mirth Mobile to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Wayne fantasizing over Cassandra (schwing) with “Dream Weaver” goggles, and, maybe best of all, Garth chatting up a foxy lady at Stan Mikita’s with Jimi Hendrix as a little wingman. Has any other film created more indelible jokes around classic rock staples than Wayne’s World? If so, let it rise and be counted worthy. –Matt Melis


    57. Virgin Suicides (1998)

    virgin suicides The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Sofia Coppola proved early on that she was no stranger to the power of the soundtrack. Her 1999 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ best-selling novel, The Virgin Suicides, rolled through with a pair of bellbottoms and a basket of tunes that weren’t just groovy but downright cool. In addition to tapping French outfit Air to score the picture, Coppola strung together a dazzling medley of era-specific stunners, all of which are perfect for sun-drenched afternoons spent outside an abusive suburban home. Between The Hollies and Todd Rundgren, Al Green and ELO, there’s enough ’70s poetry here to etch on to four dozen wooden school desks. Remarkably, more modern fare by Air and Sloan blend right in with ease — like Marty McFly. –Michael Roffman
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    56. Juice (1992)

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    While films like Above the Rim thrived on Tupac Shakur’s inclusion on the soundtrack as much as his starring role, the soundtrack to Juice thrills despite the legend’s non-inclusion. But when you’ve got a lineup featuring Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Too Short, and more, you can get away with just having Tupac act as the face of your crime drama. The soundtrack featured chart-topping singles from Naughty by Nature, Teddy Riley & Tammy Lucas, and Aaron Hall — not to mention hot names like Salt-n-Pepa, EPMD, and Cypress Hill. The long-time cinematographer of Spike Lee, Ernest Dickerson’s directorial debut follows the struggles of four young black men in Harlem, gang violence tragically tearing them apart. The soundtrack follows their growth and the shades of destruction, giving an immeasurably powerful sense of place while the tension rolls at a low boil in the grit of early ’90s New York. –Adam Kivel
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    55. Clueless (1995)

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    How has a film about privileged youth in Beverly Hills retained its appeal over two decades? The answer lies in the soundtrack that’s far removed from the glitz and glamour of Cher’s life. The music here drifts away from that pomp and posh with a punchy, grimy sound that helps gives depth to the story, letting you realize that this isn’t the Valley Girl Zappa famously scorched. When Coolio plays at a party, it doesn’t matter that it’s in Sun Valley – it could just as well be the house around the block, grounding this story and appeal in schools everywhere. –Doug Nunnally
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    54. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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    By now, we’ve already mentioned Cameron Crowe and how he’s a prodigy when it comes to the art of the soundtrack. Well, his big debut came way, way back in 1982 with Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of his book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. While the soundtrack itself lacks the majority of the film’s most iconic tracks — Tom Petty, the Go-Gos, The Cars, and Led Zeppelin — the guy was so good at his job that you hardly notice. How could you when you’re moving from Jackson Browne (“Somebody’s Baby”) to The Ravyns (“Raised on the Radio”) to Stevie Nicks (“Sleeping Angel”) to Oingo Boingo (“Goodbye, Goodbye”). It’s a collection that speaks to the transitory nature of that era, particularly the shift from ’70s rock to ’80s new wave. Because of this, the music takes on a personality that’s in line with the film’s rogues gallery of slackers and surfers. All right, Cameron! –Michael Roffman
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    53. Risky Business (1983)

    risky business The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Joel, like many young men from well-to-do families, has his whole life mapped out for him by his parents. So, when they leave for a short trip, he finally sees a chance to say “what the fuck” and loosen up a bit. Eventually, he trades in his Tangerine Dream-fueled wet dreams and, in one of film’s most recognizable moments, dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger for something a lit bit more risky. Namely joyrides to Jeff Beck in daddy’s Porsche and a hot-cold/business-pleasure relationship with a prostitute who wants to make love on an L Train anytime she hears Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. Why wasn’t high school like this for us? I guess we forgot to say, “What the fuck!” –Matt Melis


    52. Boyz in the Hood (1991)

    boyz in the hood The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

    Speaking of rap sounds defining a decade, Boyz n the Hood introduced the kind of candid vision of another America that would spawn countless contemporaries and imitators alike in the decade that followed. As such, the numerous other rap-driven soundtracks on this list owe a certain debt to the breakout success of the soundtrack to John Singleton’s film. With a mix of sample-friendly R&B and hip-hop from 2 Live Crew, Hi-Five, and Ice Cube in a track attached to his star-making performance, the Hood soundtrack is in every way a product, and innovator, of its time. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    51. Goodfellas (1990)

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    Music is intrinsic to all of Martin Scorcese’s films, and Goodfellas is no exception. For his 1990 mob masterpiece, ol’ Marty and co-writer Nicholas Pileggi wrote a number of the songs into his screenplay, even shooting certain scenes with the respective song playing on-set (see: the entire montage set to “Layla”). So, odds are if you’re listening to a track off the soundtrack, you can pretty much remember what happened on screen. For some, that strict marriage of sound to screen often takes away from the overall listening experience, but c’mon, it’s hard to shrug off this crew: Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Cream, Muddy Waters, Bobby Darin, and The Shangri-Las. To paraphrase Stacks Edwards, this soundtrack is better than sex, baby. –Michael Roffman


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