17. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Although Wes Anderson is known for his prodigious choices of music in his soundtracks, it was The Royal Tenenbaums that places him on this list.
The Royal Tenenbaums’ soundtrack features such memorable artists as Bob Dylan, Nico, Paul Simon, the Clash, Ramones, Elliott Smith, and Nick Drake while the original score was by Mark Mothersbaugh – an eclectic mix that perfectly illustrates every scene.
From Gweneth Paltrow’s memorable step off of the bus to meet Richie (Luke Wilson), accompanied by the song “These Days” by Nico, to Gene Hackman brewing some recklessness into his two grandsons with Paul Simon’s thematic and famous tune, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” following every courageous step, Anderson always pairs his already imaginative scenes with their superb counterparts.
It wasn’t just Anderson’s third film that truly delivered a quality soundtrack, his future successes The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel all deserve honorable mention on this list.
16. Easy Rider (1969)
Lionizing sex, drugs, rock and roll, freedom, and the open road – this was a turning point in the 60s for cinema and it comes as no surprise that its soundtrack was just as forward and inventive as the film itself.
From the opening scene where we see Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda roar down the highway to the rock and roll anthem, “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf, audiences were immediately in awe of the open road and this film. Easy Rider’s soundtrack is made up of many carefully selected songs, meant to create a “musical commentary” within the film, emerging with an exemplary album which has received critical acclaim even when separated from the film. It was with the help of legendary artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, the Byrds, and Bob Dylan that Easy Rider reached enormous heights that are still celebrated today.
Easy Rider drove its way down into history as one of the greatest road movies of all time, peppered with the same iconic music recognized by all from the 60s. This film is an absolute must-see for all cinema lovers.
15. Forrest Gump (1994)
Twenty years after its release, Forrest Gump endures as an American classic, due greatly to its outstanding soundtrack. Cross-sectioning American pop and rock from the post-war years, the soundtrack consists of 32 hit songs while the film’s original score was by Alan Silvestri.
This epic American film is accentuated by an excellent soundtrack, which includes many long-familiar artists, such as Elvis Presley, the Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, and many others. It’s with the help of these incredible artists that we truly experience Forrest Gump’s journey through the years of 1944 to 1982. The music tells as much of a story as the film itself. Like other films on this list, the songs chosen for this soundtrack are contemporary with the time-line of the scenes.
There is very good reason that this film has received overwhelmingly positive feedback since its initial release in 1994 – it’s an outstanding film that remains today a favorite among its viewers.
14. Ben-Hur (1959)
The American epic historical drama, Ben-Hur, known as Hollywood’s greatest super-spectacle, had the largest sets and the largest budget of any film for the time, making this epic film more than the public had yet seen. It only makes sense that the film’s original score would equal in magnitude.
The film’s entire score was composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa, in which he researched Greek and Roman music of the period, finally discovering an antiquated, yet contemporary composition on which he based the score of the film. The film’s music remained deeply influential until the 1970’s when John Williams released such scores as Star Wars, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Rózsa remains one of the most notable and influential composers to date – it was with his help that Ben-Hur succeeded in becoming one of the greatest epic historical dramas of all time.
The sheer eminence of the film, as well as its score, remain a monument in cinema history today.
13. Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock never disappoints and Vertigo is no exception. This classic American psychological thriller-mystery immediately draws audiences to the edge of their seats with imaginative camera work meant to convey acrophobia. This camera style is now often referred to as “the Vertigo effect” after its famous use in this film. However, it was not only this film’s uniquen camera work, but also its outstanding soundtrack that ultimately earned Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann alike great success.
Vertigo’s score is considered one of Herrmann’s greatest achievements, employing many of the variations and techniques which marked his historically famed sound. From the alluring opening, “Prelude and Roof-top,” from which instantly erupts this film’s suspense, to “Nightmare and Dawn,” which cripples audiences with intensity, fear, and insensibility – it was Herrmann who truly navigated spectators through this monument of cinema, providing a musical outline that defined every moment of the film.
This soundtrack keeps audiences enthralled, constantly awaiting every turn Hitchcock’s film takes. It’s when paired with this provoking musical mix that we truly experience another in a series of Hitchcock successes.
12. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s second film, Pulp Fiction, has been deemed not just an extraordinary film, but a cult classic. The notorious Tarantino is well-known for his sterling musical soundtracks – always perfectly balancing and commemorating the already fantastic fictions he creates.
There was no film score composed for Pulp Fiction, instead Tarantino made a legendary mix of rock and roll, pop, surf, and soul – making this film stand out, not just in its stylized plot presentation, but also its soundtrack, which included songs and music by such artists as Al Green, Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry’s song, “You Never Can Tell,” is famously heard during UmaThurman and John Travolta’s twist competition at Jack Rabbit Slims and Urge Overkill’s song, “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” shares the stage with Thurman in her most memorable Pulp Fiction scene. T,hese are just two of the many towering scenes which appear in a film made timeless by its extraordinary choices in music.
It’s certainly no secret that Tarantino has a talent in creating soundtracks that not only perfect his films, but stand alone as concretely gratifying mixes for any occasion.
11. Taxi Driver (1976)
This American 1976 neo noir psychological thriller is regularly credited by filmmakers, critics, and audiences alike as one of the greatest films of all time.
Bernard Herrmann, who appears on this list multiple times, deserves a standing ovation for Taxi Driver’s original score. This was Herrmann’s final score before his death on December 24, 1975. The score was recorded on December 22 and 23, 1975 – with Herrmann still composing into his last hours – leaving generations to come eternally grateful for his talent, influence, and timeless place among the most legendary of cinema history. The film is dedicated to his memory.
Scorsese himself once said, “If the film is successful, a great deal of it has to do with the score.” Many critics and audiences agree with that sentiment, leaving us with the perfect explanation as to Taxi Driver’s place on this list. Like all other films appearing here, it is a great film, but it wouldn’t be legendary without its score.
Taxi Driver is more than just an astounding film, it’s a tribute to musical legend – Bernard Herrmann.
10. The Blues Brothers (1980)
This 1980 musical comedy is a story propelled by the music behind it, featuring every iconic and lovable scene with the right blues mix to enhance it. The original soundtrack was recorded by the Blues Brothers Band, who also toured to promote the film.
The hilarious series of events in the film are actuated not just by the original soundtrack, which was the band’s second album released, but also with the additional musical appearances of blues and soul artists Aretha Franklin, Rhythm and Blues, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. Between the burst of ingenuity found in the original soundtrack and the classic appearances of famous artists, The Blues Brothers uncovered some kind of magic which remains a loving addition to any movie collection today.
This film received mixed reviews, but has acquired a cult following – offering many a lovingly nostalgic eternal favorite. From Akroyd and Belushi’s charm to star-struck musical numbers, this film is a classic for young and old alike.
9. Psycho (1960)
The original score for this film was, like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, by Bernard Herrmann. This thriller, which set a new tone for acceptable violence in films, was all the more alluring due to its again note-worthy score. Its tracks literally play scene by scene, perfectly capturing the terrifying mysteries that unfold, and the fear that ensues.
Hitchcock himself stated that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music” and it comes as no surprise that musical legend Herrmann is, yet again, responsible for an unyielding success. His scores have been said to truly depict the human condition, violence, and the insatiable darker realms of humanity – the many subjects Herrmann loved to explore. Psycho is, like Taxi Driver, a perfect example of his abilities in this context.
Although initially receiving mixed reviews, Psycho is now universally ranked amongst the greatest films of all time, as well as one of Hitchcock’s and Herrmann’s greatest performances in their long-appreciated cinematic careers.