Nothing sets the tone or mood of a film like music. A good song can capture the emotion of a scene better than any quote from the characters involved – no shade to the actors voicing the lines or anything. Some scenes are easily recognizable just by hearing one snippet of that piece which is forever etched in our memory.
I mean, who doesn’t remember Baby jumping into Johnny’s arms and conquering that elusive lift as “Time of my Life” soars triumphantly in the background at the end of Dirty Dancing? And the Star Wars score is just as iconic as the film itself. The past few years have added to that impressive lineage. Here are some of the modern soundtracks we’re still thinking about.
17. Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Was there anyone better suited to curate songs for a film set in a dystopian world other than New Zealand’s enigmatic singer-songwriter Lorde? She fused a mix of hip-hop, electropop, and electronica to craft the backdrop to the 2014 sci-fi blockbuster. The Grammy award-winning artist’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” received nods at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. “The Hanging Tree” by James Newton Howard featuring Jennifer Lawrence also gained serious traction. Other artists on the acclaimed soundtrack include Tove Lo, Tinashe, Grace Jones, The Chemical Brothers, and Miguel.
16. The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann is the master of the musical film and he knows a thing or two about putting together a great soundtrack. When he decided to bring the classic romantic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald to the big screen, he called on hip-hop legend Jay-Z to help him craft a killer soundtrack. It would of course be remiss of Hov not to include the Queen B on the tracklist and he did not disappoint. Beyoncé teamed with Outkast’s Andre 3000 on a haunting remake of Amy Winehouses’s “Back to Black.” Also appearing are Lana del Rey with an ethereal ballad rife with vulnerability in “Young and Beautiful” and Sia with “Kill and Run,” an emotional piece which builds and soars to its crescendo.
15. 8 Mile
This semi-autobiographical film about rap legend Eminem, né Marshall Mathers III, and his rise in the Detroit battle rap scene, boasts one of the most recognizable and successful songs in music and film history. “Lose Yourself,” the gritty and aggressive hype track, was written by Mathers during breaks on set and recorded in one take. And maybe because a song has never really summed up a movie as accurately as this one does, it became the first rap song ever awarded an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2003. It also won several Grammys and topped the charts worldwide. The rest of the soundtrack is actually pretty awesome but “Lose Yourself” will forever be the standout.
14. Hustle & Flow
The story of pimp turned aspiring rapper is the foundation for the soundtrack to the John Singleton-produced film Hustle & Flow. The track list is twenty cuts deep and features a lineup of hip-hop heavy hitters like T.I., Trina, E-40, 8Ball & MJG, and Juvenile. But this soundtrack will always be remembered for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the Three 6 Mafia-penned joint which would go on to win the second Academy Award for Best Original Song given to a rap artist in 2006. Another interesting little nugget: all the skits which appear on the soundtrack are real soundbites from the film.
13. Magic Mike XXL
If you want to know what life was like for 18-year-old Channing Tatum as a young stripper in Tampa, Florida, behold Magic Mike. It’s very loosely based on the real story but you still get the picture. And as a rule, any good stripper movie needs to have a fire soundtrack. After all, these dance moves have to be performed to some killer tunes. Like the Fifty Shades trilogy, the songs are good across all the films but XXL is a relative tour de force. I mean look at just some of the songs from this tracklist: Childish Gambino’s remake of “Marry You” by Bruno Mars, a cover of Bryan Adams’s “Heaven by Matt Bomer, more Matt Bomer with “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” by D’Angelo, “Freek’N You” by Jodeci, “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, and the ultimate stripper anthem “Pony” by Ginuwine.
The concept isn’t really complicated. A college student goes home one summer to find his hopes of a Eurotrip dashed by dire monetary matters at home. Instead, he winds up working at a theme park where he finds that the diverse cast of characters is not that different from him. The film is set in the late 80s and we get some of the best of that era’s musical geniuses. We’re talking about “Modern Love” by the great David Bowie, the brooding “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed, INXS’ “Don’t Change,” and The Outfield’s “Your Love.”
11. Twilight: New Moon
The second film in the Twilight saga, New Moon continues following the relationship of vampire Edward Cullen and his girlfriend Bella Swan. The songs on the soundtrack are all original and made specifically for the film and they kill it. The lead single “Meet Me on the Equinox” comes courtesy of alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie. The tune made its debut at the MTV Video Music Awards. According to their bassist Nick Harmer, “We wrote ‘Meet Me on the Equinox’ to reflect the celestial themes and motifs that run throughout the Twilight series and we wanted to capture that desperate feeling of endings and beginnings that so strongly affect the main characters.”
The Trolls soundtrack is peppered with many feel-good ditties but I dare you to keep sitting down when the lead single “Can’t Stop the Feeling” comes on. Double dog dare you. The Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Shellback-penned and produced song was ubiquitous in 2016. It debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and just took off from there. It was nominated for a slew of awards including the coveted Oscar. Speaking of the Academy Awards, they couldn’t keep sitting either when Timberlake performed the song to open the 2017 show. We saw you, Denzel.
The dream team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote 10 original songs for the uber popular animated film, while Christophe Beck composed 22. The songs are tailor-made for a sing along with the kid in your life or even just your inner child. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “Love is an Open Door” are particularly karaoke-worthy. But there’s no doubt which track dominated the airwaves and probably any house with a minor. Broadway star Idina Menzel performed “Let it Go” in her role as Queen Elsa and the world seemingly fell in love. So did the Academy Awards which rewarded the Lopez’s in 2014 for Best Original Song.
8. Moulin Rouge
The intensity and passion of Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s ice dance performance to a medley of songs from the musical Moulin Rouge propelled them to Olympic gold and into the hearts of shippers worldwide. It also sent the movie’s soundtrack straight back up the charts. And deservedly so. This soundtrack was the stuff made of legends. Besides the vocals of stars Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, we’re treated to the likes of David Bowie, Fatboy Slim, Bono, Rufus Wainwright, Beck, and the supergroup of Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Lil’ Kim, and Mýa doing a show-stopping cover of a Patti LaBelle classic in “Lady Marmalade”. And if for any reason you’re still doubting the epic sizzle factor, might we again suggest YouTube-ing that Pyeongchang free dance to “El Tango de Roxanne” and “Come What May”?
You know a soundtrack is pretty epic when not just one but three songs are Academy Award-nominated. So I guess that means that the Dreamgirls soundtrack falls into that category of epicness. It’s not really surprising considering the vocal power in the cast alone. The film featured Grammy award-winning artists Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Hudson. It’s almost not fair, really. And although “Love You I Do,” “Listen,” and “Patience” would all be beaten out at the ceremony, the soundtrack will still go down as one of the best.
6. The Fast and the Furious: Furious 7
It was a devastating blow to the franchise when one of its longtime stars Paul Walker died in a car accident in November, 2013. Furious 7 was the last film in which we would see Walker and “See You Again” by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa served as a de facto tribute to the late actor. It resonated with millions of fans of the Fast family. Critics loved it as well. It was nominated for three Grammy awards, a Golden Globe, and won best song at the Critics Choice Awards in 2016. Skylar Grey, Wale, and T. I. also appear on the 16-track album.
5. The Social Network
This was a bit of an unexpected pairing: 2010 film The Social Network with music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails. However, the movie about the invention of social media juggernaut Facebook with a soundtrack produced by members of the edgy, industrial rock band turned out to be a winning combo. All but one of the songs were written by the duo. For their efforts, they were rewarded with nine major industry awards including best original score at both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards in 2011.
4. The Fault in Our Stars
If Ed Sheeran is included on a soundtrack, chances are your heartstrings are about to be tugged at. The Fault in Our Stars does just that. It’s the story of two young cancer patients finding love amidst the fragility of life. Aside from Sheeran’s “All of the Stars,” the album featured 15 other songs from Kodaline, Tom Odell, Kygo, Charlie XCX, Group Love, and Ray Lamontagne. Again, if you’re looking for a tearjerker, this would be the one.
3. Pitch Perfect
If you want to be a Barden Bella or even a Treblemaker, a good place to start would be the soundtrack featuring songs from the sleeper hit Pitch Perfect. The film features the two groups battling it out for acapella supremacy. The album showcases the musical stylings of the cast in character, including Anna Kendrick, Esther Dean, and Skylar Astin. The soundtrack received a favorable reception, particularly on the Billboard Charts where three songs cracked the Top 100. “Cups,” “Bellas Finals,” and “Riff Of” helped the soundtrack become the sixth highest-selling album of 2012.
2. Black Panther
The movie has broken box office records globally to the tune of one billion in revenue but don’t let that distract you from the fact that the music has also gotten amazing reviews. The soundtrack was curated and produced by Compton rap superstar Kendrick Lamar, who initially was only going to contribute a few songs but decided to go all-in on an album after seeing the film. The power of Wakanda! It debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and features the likes of SZA, The Weeknd, Swae Lee, Khalid, Future, and James Blake.
1. 50 Shades
The Fifty Shades series of movies may be yay or nay depending on your taste. Or lack thereof. But one thing that seems to have gained general consensus is that their scintillating soundtracks deserve all the fire emojis available. Among some of the standouts are Beyoncé’s sultry, sexually-charged remix of her iconic “Crazy in Love” from the first of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. Then there’s the Taylor Swift/Zayn Malik collab “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” from Fifty Shades Darker. And let’s not forget the wildly popular song of impromptu stripping fantasies everywhere, “Earned It” by The Weeknd – which would go on to be Oscar nominated.