Music plays an integral role in how a movie communicates tone. When thinking about a movie, we often recall back to a moment when the soundtrack swelled at the perfect moment, how it transported us to other worlds, or interweaved popular culture into the narrative. We can learn a lot from how filmmakers use music in their films, so without further ado, here’s our list of the best movie soundtracks of all time.

Note on criteria: No orchestral scores appear on this list. Although we’re huge fans of composers like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Joe Hisaishi, and Ennio Morricone, we thought that widening the scope to include orchestral scores would detract from the focus of this article. 

Popular Movie Soundtracks

25. Black Panther (2018)

Making of “Wakanda” With Ludwig Goransson

When it was announced that Kendrick Lamar was going to produce the curated soundtrack to Black Panther, a lot of people said, “Okay, that’s awesome… but wait, what?” Lamar is a wordsmith by trade, not a soundtrack curator. But his work on Black Panther proved that there’s truly no limit to his musical genius.

The soundtrack, officially titled Black Panther: The Album, was released on February 9th, 2018. Only a few of the songs from “the album” are played in the film. Lamar collaborated with composer Ludwig Göransson to integrate the soundtrack with the orchestral score as seamlessly as possible.

Best Movie Soundtrack Songs

Noteworthy Songs

  • “All the Stars” (Kendrick Lamar and SZA)
  • “King’s Dead” (Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake)

Best Movie Soundtracks 2000s

24. Half Nelson (2006)

Half Nelson Soundtrack  •  Broken Social Scene

Half Nelson is one of the best movies of the 21st century and its soundtrack is a big reason why it’s so good. Very few films are able to impart the feeling that Half Nelson does — it's crude, unrefined, chaotic, yet always measured — proving in many ways to be a walking contradiction.

Movies with great soundtracks do an excellent job of making us feel disconnected from the events of the film, while still appreciating their emotional depth.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Stars and Sons” (Broken Social Scene)
  • “Wanted” (Rhymefest featuring Samantha Ronson)
  • “A New England” (Billy Bragg)

90s Movie Soundtracks

23. Singles (1992)

Extended Artist Scenes in Singles

Did you know that Nirvana was asked to contribute a song for the Singles soundtrack? Singles is a movie about the Seattle grunge scene, so it makes sense that writer/director Cameron Crowe decided to ask the city’s biggest band if they would like to be a part of it.

Of course, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and company said no, but that doesn’t mean that other great artists didn’t jump aboard. Both the movie and the soundtrack capture a time and place, working hand in hand to create a world.

Best Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Breath” (Pearl Jam)
  • “May This Be Love” (Jimi Hendrix)
  • “Would” (Alice in Chains)

Best Soundtracks of the 60s

22. Help! (1965)

Help! Soundtrack

The Beatles didn’t find the same type of success at the box office as they did on the Billboard charts. That’s not saying much though — The Beatles are the biggest band of all time.

Fortunately, their film offerings were mostly musical. Help! is The Beatles best live-action film, and it features a few of their all-time best songs. In addition, the film is emblematic of the transition from the heights of “Beatlemania” to the final years of the group.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Help!” (The Beatles)
  • “Ticket to Ride” (The Beatles)
  • “Another Hard Day’s Night” (The Beatles)

Movies With Good Soundtracks

21. Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider Soundtrack  •  Born to Be Wild

Easy Rider is one of those films that can’t be separated from its soundtrack. What would the movie even be if not for its iconic music? But Easy Rider isn’t just “good” because of its soundtrack, it also has a resonant story with an all-star cast, including Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson.

Easy Rider was so influential on the late '60s "cinemascape" that many consider it a foundational film in the New Hollywood Movement.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Born to Be Wild” (Steppenwolf)
  • “If 6 Was 9” (Jimi Hendrix)
  • “Ballad of Easy Rider” (Roger McGuinn)

Best Modern Movie Soundtracks

20. Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver  •  The Action Musical

Edgar Wright had a very focused vision of what he wanted Baby Driver to be — every scene was written with a musical pairing in mind. Wright even wrote the songs into the script.

Think about it: what happens when the studio can’t obtain the rights to a song? If the song is one of the most important elements of the scene, everything falls apart. But Wright’s vision for a visceral, beat-for-cut film paid off, with no doubt some of the best editing ever achieved in a motion picture.

Best Soundtracks of the 2010s

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Easy” (The Commodores)
  • “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” (Barry White)
  • “Debra” (Beck)

Best Film Soundtracks

19. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Inside Llewyn Davis  •  Please Mr. Kennedy

Nearly every one of the Coen Brothers best movies contains an awesome soundtrack — like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski. But for my money’s worth, I’d say that the 2013 character study Inside Llewyn Davis has the best soundtrack of any of the Coen Brothers’ films.

T. Bone Burnett served as the executive music producer for the film, and cited Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk as major influences on the soundtrack. Inside Llewyn Davis is a love letter to everything “good” and “bad” about indie folk music.

Best Movie Soundtrack Songs

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Please Mr. Kennedy” (Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver)
  • “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” (Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford)
  • “Green, Green Rocky Road” (Dave Von Rank)

Best Selling Movie Soundtracks

18. High Fidelity (2000)

High Fidelity  •  Always See Your Face

High Fidelity is all about music, so it makes sense that the soundtrack is as good as it is. Some serious heavy hitters make appearances on the High Fidelity soundtrack, like Elvis Costello, The Kinks, and The Velvet Underground.

John Cusack told the New York Times that it was difficult for the writing team to agree on what songs to include in the script because they were all such music snobs. Life imitates art, indeed!

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Most of the Time” (Bob Dylan)
  • “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” (Stevie Wonder)
  • “Crocodile Rock” (Elton John)

Movies With Great Soundtracks

17. Shrek 2 (2004)

Shrek 2  •  I Need a Hero

I am arguing, with no ironic intent, that Shrek 2 has one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. I know what you’re thinking, “good joke, very funny, yes, but no.” To that I say, how many times have you grooved to “Holding Out for a Hero.” If you’re anything like me, it’s probably more than you’re willing to admit.

Now what if I told you that Shrek 2 is the only movie soundtrack to feature David Bowie, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave? You probably wouldn’t believe me, but alas, it’s the truth. Not to mention that the Counting Crows song “Accidentally in Love” received an Academy Award nom.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Accidentally in Love” (Counting Crows)
  • “Changes” (David Bowie and Butterfly Boucher)
  • “People Ain’t No Good” (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
  • “Little Drop of Poison” (Tom Waits)

Best Movie Soundtracks Ever

16. Rushmore (1999)

Rushmore Soundtrack  •  The Kinks

Wes Anderson movies contain some truly off-the-wall music. But fans of Anderson’s style know that zany and whimsical music are hallmarks of his pictures. The Royal Tenenbaums and The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou are both movies with great soundtracks, but it’s Rushmore that takes the top ranking here.

Anderson initially wanted the Rushmore soundtrack to feature music exclusively from The Kinks. As time went on, the list carved out Kinks songs until there was only one left. The end result was a diverse soundtrack of some absolute hits.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl” (The Kinks)
  • “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (The Who)
  • “The Wind” (Cat Stevens)

Best 80s Movie Soundtracks

15. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Pretty in Pink  •  Soundtrack

John Hughes made a point to have music play a huge part in all of his movies. The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, make frequent appearances on lists of the best movie soundtracks of all time, but I’m going to say Pretty in Pink beats out the rest.

Hughes didn’t direct Pretty in Pink, but he did write the script — which features write-ins for some iconic music.

Best Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Pretty in Pink” (The Psychedelic Furs)
  • “Shellshock” (New Order)
  • “Bring on the Dancing Horses” (Echo and the Bunnymen)

Best Film Soundtracks

14. Goodfellas (1990)

How Martin Scorsese Uses Music

Martin Scorsese uses music in cinema like nobody else. For that reason, the best soundtracks to his films are generally well-praised; and of all Scorsese’s soundtracks, Goodfellas is the very best.

The soundtrack is awesome on its own, but it’s also used to communicate tone in the film. Who could ever forget the montage of murders in which “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes plays to juxtapose emotions from actions.

Best Movie Soundtrack Songs

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Rags to Riches” (Tony Bennett)
  • “Baby, I Love You” (Aretha Franklin)
  • “Sunshine of Your Love” (Cream)

Movies With Great Soundtracks

13. Lost in Translation (2003)

5 Second Soundtrack  •  Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola may have won an Academy Award for writing Lost in Translation, but many argue that the film’s soundtrack is its most enduring aspect. Lost in Translation isn’t the only Coppola film to feature an awesome soundtrack — both The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette are top movie soundtracks as well.

The Lost in Translation soundtrack features the song “Too Young” by Phoenix. Fun fact: eight years after the film’s release, Coppola married Phoenix front-man Thomas Mars.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Sometimes” (My Bloody Valentine)
  • “Just Like Honey” (The Jesus and Mary Chain)
  • "Too Young" (Phoenix)

90s Movie Soundtracks

12. Reality Bites (1994)

Reality Bites  •  My Sharona

Ben Stiller’s directorial feature debut, Reality Bites, is among many awesome soundtracks that perfectly transport us into the '90s grunge scene. The soundtrack contains singles from The Knack, Lisa Loeb, Lenny Kravitz, Dinosaur Jr. and many more.

Ethan Hawke fans may be surprised to hear him sing on the soundtrack. He doesn’t quite have the gravel of Kurt Cobain, but that didn’t stop him from trying to imitate it.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “My Sharona” (The Knack)
  • “Stay (I Missed You)” (Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories)
  • “Turnip Farm” (Dinosaur Jr.)

Movies With Great Soundtracks

11. Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia Soundtrack  •  Wise Up

Magnolia is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movies, and it’s host to an absolutely killer soundtrack. The soundtrack mostly contains music from the acclaimed singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, but it also features tracks from Gabrielle, Supertramp, and Jon Brion.

PTA has always surrounded himself with brilliant musicians, like Mann, Brion, Fiona Apple, Johnny Greenwood and many, many more. PTA credits Mann’s music as a major inspiration for Magnolia.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Save Me” (Aimee Mann)
  • “Momentum” (Aimee Mann)
  • “Wise Up” (Aimee Mann)

Best Soundtracks

10. Drive (2011)

Kavinsky’s Nightcall  •  Drive Original Soundtrack

For years, the Drive soundtrack was renowned for its many “indie anthems.” Nowadays, it’s fair to say that many of the songs featured on the Drive soundtrack have eclipsed “indie” status — the song featured above, Nightcall from Kavinsky, has over 200 million views on YouTube!

Electronic musician fans will surely find a lot to love with the Drive soundtrack, including works from Cliff Martinez, College, The Chromatics, and more.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “A Real Hero (Feat. Electric Youth)” (College)
  • “Nightcall” (Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx)
  • “Under Your Spell” (Desire)

Best Movie Soundtracks Instrumental

9. Trainspotting (1996, 1997)

Trainspotting  •  Born Slippy

Trainspotting finds a rare symbiotic balance between its visuals and its music. Many consider the Trainspotting soundtrack to be a masterclass example of how to properly use music in film. The soundtrack was so well-received that a second disc was ordered the following year, featuring new music as well as some songs that didn’t make the first cut.

The Trainspotting soundtrack is filled with raw energy, with performances from artists like Iggy Pop, Blur, New Order, and Underlord to name a few.

Best Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Lust for Life” (Iggy Pop)
  • “Temptation” (New Order)
  • “Sing” (Blur)

Best 80s Movie Soundtracks

8. Repo Man (1984)

Iggy Pop  •  Repo Man Soundtrack

Repo Man is no doubt one of the strangest 80s movies, and its soundtrack is just as bonkers, if not more so than the film itself.

Iggy Pop headlines the soundtrack as writer and performer of the title song. Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Plugz, Burning Sensations, and Fear all perform tracks as well.

Awesome Movie Soundtracks

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Repo Man” (Iggy Pop)
  • “Institutionalized” (Suicidal Tendencies)
  • “TV Party” (Black Flag)

Greatest Film Soundtracks of All Time

7. American Graffiti (1973)

Surfin Safari, Used in American Graffiti

The American Graffiti soundtrack, aptly titled “41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti,” is an auditory time capsule. If you yearn to go back to the days of jukeboxes and surf rock, simply close your eyes, turn on the American Graffiti soundtrack, and dream of a cool ocean breeze.

Some of the artists to appear on the soundtrack include: Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and The Flamingos.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Ain’t That a Shame” (Fats Domino)
  • “Maybe Baby” (Buddy Holly)
  • “Barbara Ann” (The Regents)

Top Movie Soundtracks

6. This is Spinal Tap (1984)

This is Spinal Tap   •  Stonehenge

“Nobody knows who they were, or what they were doing, but their legacy remains hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge,” utters Christopher Guest as rockstar Nigel Tufnel in This is Spinal Tap.

With This is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner not only made a brilliant satire film but gave us one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. Some of the biggest rockstars cite This is Spinal Tap as an essential film to watch and soundtrack to listen to.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Big Bottom” (Spinal Tap)
  • “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” (Spinal Tap)
  • “Sex Farm” (Spinal Tap)

Greatest Film Soundtracks of All Time

5. Pulp Fiction (1990)

Pulp Fiction Soundtrack  •  You Never Can Tell

It’s well known that Quentin Tarantino loves music similarly to how he loves movies. In all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, music plays an essential role in communicating mood and tone.

Pulp Fiction features some of the best songs in Tarantino movies, like “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” and “You Never Can Tell.”

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (Urge Overkill)
  • “Jungle Boogie” (Kool and the Gang)
  • "Son of a Preacher Man" (Dusty Springfield)

Best Selling Movie Soundtracks

4. Superfly (1972)

Superfly  •  Soundtrack

The Superfly soundtrack is one of the most influential and best selling movie soundtracks of all time. To understand why it’s so important, we have to go back to when it was produced. In 1971, the first season of Soul Train premiered — a show that was widely responsible for popularizing soul music in the United States.

Curtis Mayfield emerged as a star singer-songwriter for his work on Superfly and joined the legendary Marvin Gaye as an early leader of the soul music movement.

Awesome Movie Soundtracks

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Freddie’s Dead” (Curtis Mayfield)
  • “Superfly” (Curtis Mayfield)
  • "Pusherman" (Curtis Mayfield)

Best Soundtracks of the 70’s

3. The Graduate (1973)

The Graduate Soundtrack   •  Mrs. Robinson

How could we not put The Graduate on a list of the best movie soundtracks? There’s a reason why it’s considered to be one of, if not the best soundtracks of all time — it’s iconic, moody, and utterly unforgettable.

Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” was an anthem for a generational change. Never before had we seen the crossroads of two art-waves meet in cinema before, like we did with the Hollywood New Wave and the Hays Code in the late '60s and into the early '70s.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “Mrs. Robinson” (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • “The Sound of Silence” (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • "Scarborough Fair" (Simon and Garfunkel)

Top Movie Soundtracks of All Time

2. The Harder They Come (1973)

The Harder They Come  •  Trailer

It could certainly be argued that Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come is one of the most underrated movies ever made. The film is most famous for its reggae soundtrack, performed by Desmond Decker, The Slickers, The Maytals, and Jimmy Cliff, and more Jamaican artists.

There’s no doubt about it, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come is amazing, but so is the story behind the music. For its infectious soundtrack and genre-deconstructionist narrative, we regard The Harder They Come as one of the best gangster movies of all time.

Best Movie Soundtracks Ever Made

Noteworthy Songs

  • “The Harder They Come” (Jimmy Cliff)
  • “You Can Get it if You Really Want” (Jimmy Cliff)
  • “It’s My Delight” (The Melodians)

Almost Famous Movie Soundtracks

1. Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous  •  Tiny Dancer

A reverence for music history lies at the heart of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. As such, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is one of the best movies soundtracks ever made.

There are too many great artists on the soundtrack to go over here, but some names include Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, The Beach Boys, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Noteworthy Songs

  • “That’s the Way” (Led Zeppelin)
  • “I’m Waiting for the Man” (David Bowie)
  • “Fever Dog” (Stillwater)

UP NEXT

Best Movie Songs of All Time

Now that we’ve covered the best movie soundtracks of all time, why don’t we continue on with the best movie songs? Some soundtracks contain one or two great songs, but can’t sustain those highs throughout. In this next article, we look at what makes a movie song great. Some songs referenced in this list appear, but you may be surprised how many new ones made the cut!

Up Next: Top Needle Drops, Ranked →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows. 

Learn More ➜

81 Shares
81 Shares
Copy link