The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

on November 17, 2017, 2:00pm

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

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

72. Wild Style (1983)

wild style The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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)

ghostbusters The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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)

garden state The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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)

menace 2 society e1510598097557 The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

“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)

heat 1995 The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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)

waynes world The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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

56. Juice (1992)

juice The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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

55. Clueless (1995)

 The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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

54. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fast times The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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

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)

goodfellas The 100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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