Skip to content

Top 10 Movie Soundtracks of the 21st Century

16 December 2012 | Features, Guest Posts, Other Lists | by David Zou

movie soundtracks

Soundtracks are often an overlooked aspect of movies, but they can be the deciding factor in a movie’s success – with the power to make a poor film good, and a decent film great. Below I pick out my top 10 movie soundtracks of the 21st Century, some of which absolutely made the movie, others brilliantly complement the action on the screen.

Obviously, this is a fairly subjective topic, so if I’ve missed any of your favourite soundtracks off my list please let me know in the comments at the bottom.

10. High Fidelity (2000)

As this is a movie that revolves around music, the soundtrack is so prominent it’s almost like an extra character. So it’s a good job it’s full of great tunes – all of which help to tie the narrative of John Cusack’s romantic escapades together.

What helps this soundtrack stand-out above a lot of other ‘music-based’ films is its eclectic nature, bringing together classic artists like Bob Dylan and The Kinks with more contemporary acts (at the time!) like Royal Trux and Stereolab.

Highlights: ‘Dry The Rain’ – The Beta Band, ‘Most Of The Time’ – Bob Dylan, ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ – The Velvet Underground


9. Kill Bill (Vol 1) (2003)

If any modern-day film director knows the importance of a good soundtrack, it’s Quentin Tarantino – who uses music to add life, tempo and soul to his movies. The soundtrack to his kung-fu revenge classic is no different, mixing genres and styles to punctuate this memorable film.

Highlights: ‘Woo Hoo’ – The 5, 6, 7, 8’s, ‘Ironside’ – Quincy Jones, ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ – Nancy Sinatra


8. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

Another movie very much about music, 24 Hour Party People revolves around the ‘Madchester’ music scene between 1976-1992 – and features the legendary Factory Records label at its centre. The timeline of the movie takes us through a golden era of British alternative music, starting with punk and ending with the ‘second summer of love’. For anyone with even a passing interest in British guitar bands, this movie and soundtrack is a must.

Highlights: ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – Joy Division, ‘Blue Monday’ – New Order, ‘Anarchy In The UK’ – The Sex Pistols


7. The Social Network (2010)

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor (along with Atticus Rose) deservedly won an Oscar for his intense soundtrack to the Facebook film The Social Network. While the above entries to this list use music as very much part of the plot – Trent Reznor weaves his soundtrack into the soul of the movie, complementing the movie rather than distracting from it.

Highlights: ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’ – Edvatd Grieg, ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ – Trent Reznor, ‘Almost Home’ – Trent Reznor


6. Donnie Darko (2001)

Michael Andrews’ soundtrack to Donnie Darko has become as much a cult hit as the film itself. The actual film score that was released was all instrumental songs, except the two covers of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’. The ‘Directors Cut’ of the soundtrack also featured the great selection of pop tracks used in the movie, and included INXS, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Joy Division and Echo & The Bunneymen.

Highlights: ‘Head Over Heels’ – Tears For Fears, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – Joy Division, ‘The Killing Moon’ – Echo & The Bunneymen


5. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s mega successful coming-of-age fable was just as popular as the movie – mixing traditional Indian music with the colour and flair of modern Bollywood. This lively soundtrack punctuates the movie perfectly and contributes to the ups and downs of the storyline without ever overpowering it.

Highlights: ‘Paper Planes’ – MIA, ‘Jai Ho’ – Sukhwinder Singh


4. (500) Days Of Summer (2009)

Like High Fidelity, the love story at the centre of (500) Days Of Summer is dependent on the soundtrack to add depth and emotion to the movie – which is especially effective as the movie bounces around different timelines.

This soundtrack is fairly unusual as the songs are often used as much for their lyrics, and how they reflect the emotional state of the characters, than the actual music.

Highlights: ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ – The Smiths, ‘There Goes The Fear’ – Doves, ‘Bad Kids’ – Black Lips


3. Walk The Line (2005)

I made a conscious decision to try and keep biopics of musicians off this list (hence no Ray), but when it comes to Johnny Cash, exceptions have to be made! From classics like ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ to early Cash favourites like ‘Get Rhythm’, the film makes full use of The Man In Black’s impressive back catalogue – and Joaquin Phoenix does a great job on the vocals too.

Highlights: ‘I Walk The Line’, ‘Ring Of Fire’, ‘Cry! Cry! Cry!’ – Johnny Cash


2. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood created one of the most memorable soundtracks of all time with his work on Paul Thomas Andersons intense drama There Will Be Blood. Greenwood’s compositions add depth and gravity to the movie, but the soundtrack as a whole also stands on its own as a great body of music. One for the purists, definitely, but an awesome achievement all the same.

Highlights: ‘Open Spaces’, ‘Future Markets’, ‘Henry Plainview’ – Jonny Greenwood


1. Drive (2011)

Probably the most perfect example of a movie and a soundtrack working so closely together is Drive . This Cliff Martinez composed and curated soundtrack pulsed with both modern and retro electro sounds, and helped the movie achieve its iconoclastic stature.

The success of the Drive soundtrack, and its permeation into popular culture, changed the way filmmakers approach soundtracks – and could end up being name checked for years to come as a direct influence.

Highlights: ‘Under Your Spell’ – Desire, ‘Tick Of The Clock’ – Chromatics, ‘Nightcall’ – Kavinsky

This post was written by Luke Glassford from music blog All-Noise.



Other Brilliant Movie Posts On The Web


Like Us on Facebook!

  • Steven Flores

    That’s a great list. For me, it’s Lost in Translation, In the Mood for Love, Drive, The Darjeeling Limited, The Social Network, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 24 Hour Party People, Morvern Callar, There Will Be Blood, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

    • David Zou

      Your list is great too, Steven. The soundtrack of In the Mood for Love is awesome, not a fan of The Darjeeling Limited except its music.

  • http://Website Eric

    You are differentiating between soundtracks and scores, right?

    • David Zou

      Yes, those are songs from different artist, not scores composed specifically for the movie by a single composer.