The 20 Best Movie Soundtracks of The 21st Century (So Far)

7. Knight Of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Terrence Malick’s effort is again a very divisive film, but one that even upset may of his fans. For some it’s “first world problems: the movie”, while others see Malick’s most heart wrenching and personal film, in which his struggle with faith (a theme that is usually very reassuring in his films) is surprisingly apparent.

Yet no matter what one thinks of the film itself, the images and the music are breathtaking. The soundtrack consists of many classical pieces (not surprising for a Malick film), that build a mysterious and epic atmosphere , but also mixes in more modern music by artists like Explosions In The Sky or Biosphere.

This mix works surprisingly well and gives the film a feeling that is hard to describe. Never before has L.A. quite looked the way it does, some even see the film as akin to the city symphony films of the 1920s. It’s hypnotic, fascinating, mysterious, puzzling, sometimes even frustrating, but it’s always Malick’s vision shining through.


6. The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)

Alexander Payne is one of those directors who seems to turn up regularly around award season, just so then everyone seems to forget again what a good director he actually his. His film “The Descendants” seems to especially suffer that fate.

Being hailed by critics as his most mature, calm and somber work up to date and boasting a lot of buzz around George Clooney’s performances soon after the Oscars past the movie failed to be remembered.

Now at best it is seen as “that movie where Clooney played the everyman” , which is quite the understatement for that performance. But then again it seems oddly fitting for a film that is so much about regret and loss to be somewhat forgotten.

The film itself holds some of Payne’s typical elements, but is both sadder and in a way more optimistic. A strong way of holding up this paradox is the bright and beautiful colors and the soundtrack, which consists of Hawaiian tracks, which are soothingly warm and melancholic.

They also help transporting another of the film’s theme: the deep roots of history, that Hawai holds so dear. The songs are a wonderful and calming, yet introspective collection, which very well mirror the mood of the film.


5. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)

With this strange film about 3 brothers trying to reconnect on a journey through India, Wes Anderson has made his probably most misunderstood film. It is one, that even some big Anderson fans wouldn’t immediately jump to defend and often gets mentioned as his worst. Yet it is slowly finding reevaluation being championed by people like Matt Zoller Seitz or the Youtube channel “The Nerdwriter”.

While the film contains most of his typical trademarks (from line delivery to composition) some elements seem slightly off, one of those is clearly the soundtrack.

While about half of it consists of tracks by The Kinks (one of Anderson’s preferred bands), the other big portion of the soundtrack consists of scores taken from Indian films – mostly by Satijat Ray. These tracks aren’t exactly beloved by the hipster community, which usually champions his soundtracks, but gives a nice insight into the sensibility Anderson was going for with the entire film.

The soundtrack like the film is slightly odd and maybe doesn’t always fully add up, but like its characters it’s lovably flawed. The collection of tracks reach a wonderful finale when it all ends with Jules Dassin singing “Les Champs-Elysées” – it’s pure joy.


4. Lost In Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

In a time where people are seemingly becoming more isolated Sofia Coppola has made a film that truly fit the zeitgeist – there is barely a better film about the feeling of loneliness than “Lost in Translation”.

The collection of songs falls somewhere into the genres of dream pop or shoe gaze and it’s probable that Lost In Translation’s soundtrack had a major part in reviving the genres in the 2000s. Coupled with the imagery of the fils its soundscape and music really dictates the tone of the movie, which is hard to put into the right words.

Melancholia, nostalgia and dreamlike state make the film an experience that lingers on in the viewers memory long after the credits.

Apparently Coppola said that many of the songs were just songs she liked and therefore put into the film, and it certainly feels that way since each song really makes you feel the film and not just watch it, no track is wasted as buffer or leaves you unaffected , from Kevin Shields quiet pieces to the karaoke songs, which were chosen with great care – it all fits together wonderfully.


3. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

One of the coolest films to come out in many years, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is a film that will surely be a cult film loved by a generation, if it isn’t already that. Some of the elements that make up its atmosphere is the slick direction, Ryan Gosling as a net-noir cowboy and man of few word, and the soundtrack.

Now one could say, that this barely qualifies since Cliff Martinez wrote most of this as an original score, and while it’s true, that his score is excellent and only 5 tracks are not his on this album, those 5 tracks make such an impact throughout the film, that they just stand out as a soundtrack of their own.

These songs are: “Nightcall”, “Under Your Spell”, “A Real Hero”, “Oh My Love” and “Tick Of The Clock”. On the power if these 5 tracks only Refn builds the character of the driver and really the atmosphere of the entire film. Even if one hadn’t seen the film, just listening to these songs would give you a good idea of how the film feels, how it moves and even what it’s about – now that’s a soundtrack!


2. Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003 & 2004)

Quentin Tarantino has been known for his soundtracks ever since Reservoir Dogs. Notoriously using tracks from the 60s and 70s, as well as lifting from scores of often more obscure films, Tarantino has a great ear for music and also knows what song to use to make a scene work.

His 2 part “Kill Bill” saga is no exception, using all kinds of musical genres (from Charlie Feathers to Santa Maria ) and soundtracks (Morricone turns up next to Bernhard Hermann and Isaac Hayes). With references to westerns and kung fu movies , the soundtrack ranges through all the different years and even has very specific nods like the split screen scene with Daryl Hannah and Uma Thurman.

All in all the soundtrack delivers phenomenally on its own, but really shines in context of the movie underlining wonderful moments like a sword fight in the snow, a speech by Michael Madsen or the Bride’s intense flashbacks. It’s a joy to listen to and a joy to watch, so it’s no wonder it has become such a popular soundtrack.


1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Brothers, 2013)

The Coen Brothers had already shown their affinity to folk music in “O Brother Where Art Thou?” back in 2000, but when they did it again in 2013 something much more touching and beautiful evolved.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” chronicles some days in the life of the fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis. He lives in Greenwich Village in the 1960s , the ideal time for folk singers one would think. But this is not that kind of film, instead the Coens show us a folk singer right before the appearance of Dylan.

Llewyn struggles hard to make ends meet and his character isn’t exactly helpful, as he can be very unpleasant to be around to put it lightly. Yet the Coens don’t make this one of their laugh out loud cynical comedies and instead take a much more heartfelt and melancholic approach.

This is something which is also apparent in their soundtrack. T Bone Burnett arranged period appropriate folk songs, which are played by modern musicians and parts of the cast. The traditional songs chosen, such as “Dink’s Song” or “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” strengthen the intense melancholy.

The big surprise here is of course Oscar Isaac, who isn’t only a phenomenal actor, but also a fine musician, whose interpretation of songs made known by Dave Van Ronk and other known figures of folk give the film its soul.

Author Bio: Sebastian Bobik was born in New York but moved to Vienna in an early age . After being dazzled by the likes of Kurosawa and Tarkovsky amongst others he decided to become a filmmaker , so far a handful of rather miserable short films stand claim to that . You can also follow his ramblings on Twitter at @SebastianBobik.