Music and movies go together like two peas in a pod. Setting a scene to the right song can transform it, taking it from “pretty good” to iconic in a matter of seconds. Because of this, movie directors and producers spend a great deal of time curating the music for their films, often choosing to have artists create new tracks just for the move.
All of this attention being given to a movie’s music has led to some pretty awesome soundtracks over the years, many of which have gone on to win awards in their own right, propel artists to new levels of fame, and stand alone as their own works of art.
It would be impossible to choose the absolute best soundtracks from all the movies ever made. There are just too many. But some stand out as truly exceptional and that deserves a listen no matter if you’re in the mood for the movie or not. Sometimes, just listening to the music can take you back through a film’s plot, allowing you to relive it in a totally new way.
While we could easily come up with a list of 100 or more classic movie soundtracks, we’ve narrowed things down to the top 21. But that’s about the best we could do. Trying to rank these tracklists could never do justice to these gems.
Here are the best soundtracks from your favorite movies, including tracklists, to help you navigate the world of movie music, and also to give you some inspiration for your next movie night.
One of the most popular and critically-acclaimed independent films of all time, music is at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s classic (and arguably best) film, Pulp Fiction.
In fact, Tarantino himself has said that he started conceiving the film through music, digging through his own record collection to find the songs that would serve as “the spirit of the movie.”
What he came up with is an eclectic mix of soul, surf rock, rock and roll, and pop music that has become as iconic as the film itself. Just looking at the tracklist will take you on a musical adventure that practically no other film can top.
Given how much emphasis Quentin Tarantino gives to music in his films, it is not shocking to see another one of his films make this list. Kill Bill, which was released as two separate films thanks to its 4+ hour runtime, stars Uma Thurman, who rose to prominence in large part because of her role in Pulp Fiction.
As an homage to spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation, and martial arts films, and also as a Tarantino film, the collection of songs found in Kill Bill is all over the place. But that’s part of what makes it so compelling. As you move through the tracklist, you will jump from country music to old-timey western scores to instrumental guitar solos that will make your mind spin.
Like all his other films, Kill Bill is strange. But it’s another example of Tarantino’s genius, and the same can be said about its music.
The only film written, directed, and co-starred by Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! follows four young men from Erie, Pennsylvania as their garage band The Wonders rises to national fame on the backs of their hit song: “That Thing You Do!”
All of the songs on this soundtrack were written for the movie, including several composed by Hanks himself. The title track was the work of the late Adam Schlesinger, the lead singer of the group Fountains of Wayne, which reached fame thanks to their song “Stacy’s Mom.”
None of these songs will exactly knock your socks off, but the fact that their creators were able to come up with a collection of tracks that could all have easily been hits in their heyday speaks volumes to their musical ability, and also makes this film a fantastic homage to the rock and roll craze that swept the nation in the 1960s.
If you haven’t seen this little-known gem yet, check it out and get ready to tap your feet and shake your hips for the full two hours.
Tracklist (Given that the performers were fictional, songwriters are credited below):
Another indie classic, Juno follows the story of a misfit teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and confused. She decides to give the baby up for adoption, but her journey through the pregnancy teaches her a lot about herself and the world.
This journey, however, is very much guided and defined by music, which features prominently throughout the film. The tracklist features some well-known classics as well as some unknown gems, but they all tie together perfectly to make the film what it is. Excellent as part of the film but also worth a listen on its own, the Juno soundtrack is one you’re definitely going to want in your personal library.
Members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and arguably some of the most influential folk artists of all time, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, known collectively as Simon & Garfunkel, did some of their best work specifically for the film The Graduate.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, the movie follows a troubled college graduate as he tries to figure out his life. His first adventure is an affair with the wife of one of his parents’ friends, Mrs. Robinson, the focal point and title character of the movie’s signature song, “Mrs. Robinson.”
All in all, The Graduate was meant to speak to the troubled minds of the younger generation living in the 1960s, a period of great social and cultural upheaval, and the music does a perfect job of encapsulating that sentiment. Dominated by Simon & Garfunkel, it also features several tracks from Dave Grusin that are also worth a listen. If you haven’t yet, check out the film and its killer soundtrack.
Set in the 1950s in a resort town in the Adirondacks, Dirty Dancing is a story about teenage rebelliousness and the innate desire every young person has to break free from their parents and make their own life. And the music from the movie does a near-perfect job capturing that.
Using tunes from the era in which it takes place, which was the early days of the cultural revolution that went on to define the decades that came after, it’s impossible not to itch for your own freedom while watching and listening.
Plus, this is a great way to get to know some of the gems that came from this era, such as “In the Still of the Night” by The Five Satins. If you’re ready for a musical and theatrical blast from the past, then check out this movie and soundtrack
One of the most influential rap groups of all time, N.W.A., which includes Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and DJ Yella, told its story in a 2015 biopic that followed the group in its rise to fame.
The title of the film, Straight Outta Compton, is an homage to the album of the same name, which was the group's first. Released in 1987, it put N.W.A. on the map with songs such as “F$#@ the Police.”
The soundtrack, which features songs from the title album as well as other tracks recorded by the group, as well as several solo works by different group members, serves as an excellent anthology of what has gone down as one of the most successful rap groups of all time.
As a bonus, the soundtrack also includes music from other artists that either influenced the group or that played a role in their success.
Even if you don’t watch the movie, listening to the soundtrack will bring you back to the early 1990s, when the rap scene was blowing up and will give you a great smattering of music by N.W.A., aka “the world’s most dangerous group.”
There’s no day quite like the last day of school, especially when you’re in high school. In Dazed and Confused, a film that follows the lives of several different Texas teenagers on the final day of the school year, we can all transport ourselves back to those fun, exciting, rebellious, and sometimes dangerous times at the end of the year.
The soundtrack to the movie follows right along with this theme. Featuring some of rock n’ roll’s best anthems (“Love Hurts” by Nazareth, “Rock and Roll All Nite” by Kiss, “Stranglehold by Ted Nugent”, and many, many more) the tracklist serves as an homage to the heyday of rock, as well as a chance for many viewers to step back into their pasts.
Initially, a failure, Dazed and Confused has gone on to become a cult classic and is considered one of the better teen movies of all time, though anyone of any age is sure to enjoy this rock-inspired classic.
A film about a teenage kid with a massive _____ who makes it big in the porn industry? Sure, why not!?
In fact, many have called this joke a big joke because it uses a similar storytelling technique as that employed by Scorsese and others in films such as Goodfellas but includes a much different subject matter.
In the end, however, it doesn’t matter. This movie is funny, dark, exciting, scary, and everything in between, and its killer soundtrack, which is all over the place in terms of genre, is just as exciting.
One of Mark Wahlberg’s first films and the one that put him on the world’s radar, this movie and its music is a wild ride, to say the least.
Superhero movies aren’t exactly known for their soundtracks, but Guardians of the Galaxy, starring Chris Pratt breaks down this stereotype and is set to a group of jams that will have everyone watching bobbing their heads and tapping their feet.
What’s more, is that the music — which is recorded on a cassette tape that is Pratt’s only lasting heirloom from his dead mother — very much goes with the storyline. So, even if you don’t have time to watch this action-packed and surprisingly funny movie, you can relive the story just by listening along to this gem of a soundtrack.
Or, if you’re too busy to make a playlist for your next gathering, pop this on and let the people dance.
It would be tough for a movie about a town that has banned rock & roll and dancing to not have a killer soundtrack. After all, if it weren’t any good, why would they outlaw it?
One of the more classic films from Kevin Bacon, much of the music of the film, including the title track “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins was written specifically for the movie. But despite being brand new in 1984, these tunes do a wonderful job of capturing the sounds of the 50s that were making everyone crazy, unleashing a revolution, and instilling paranoia in the aging conservatives who just didn’t like the way those kids’ hips were moving.
One of John Travolta’s signature movies, Saturday Night Fever perfectly encapsulates the disco era. And the music created for the movie, which includes classics such as “Stayin’ Alive” and “Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees does the same. Who could not start dancing once Barry Gibb breaks out his falsetto atop that groove??
Proof of the soundtrack’s epicness can be found in the numbers. It is certified platinum 16 times and has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.
One of the only soundtracks on this list featuring not only original music but songs actually sung by the cast members, the hits from Grease remain just as catchy and moving today as they were when the movie first hit theaters back in 1978.
Fresh off his success the year before in Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta shines again in this 1950s high school love story that features immortal songs such as “Summer Nights” and “Sandy.” In fact, the music from the movie was such a hit that it went on to inspire a Broadway musical. Usually, it’s the other way around. But this just reminds us how good this soundtrack was and still is.
Is there any 90s pop song more powerful than Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You?” In fact, is there any pop song from any era that can beat it? Maybe. But probably not.
Interestingly, that song was originally written by Dolly Parton but was never a hit when she sang it. But when it was adapted for the movie The Bodyguard starring Houston and Kevin Costner, it went on to be one of the most popular songs of the 1990s, helping make the movie’s soundtrack the best selling of all time. Oh, and it also defined Houston’s epic career. No big deal.
The movie itself received very mixed reviews and few people remember it as the debut medium of the song. But beyond “I Will Always Love You,” there are several more Houston classics, as well as a few gems from other artists such as Kenny G that make this one of the better movie soundtracks of all time.
The directing and screenwriting duo of Joel and Ethan Cohen, often referred to as “The Cohen Brothers,” have gifted us with several classic films: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and so on. But O Brother, Where Out There? is the only one that is also a musical masterpiece.
Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, the movie follows three jailbirds as they break free and wander about rural Mississippi during the Great Depression to try and find their freedom.
The three men, in an attempt to escape the law, wind up forming a musical group called The Soggy Bottom Boys.
In the film, their signature song, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” became a major hit, and it did in real life, too.
In fact, the men who sang the song (the music was dubbed) later formed their own group and went on tour. All in all, the music of this movie, which is all original, brings to life the folk music from the era and, in the process, the era itself.
Prince’s acting debut, Purple Rain was meant to introduce the world to the rock legend, and boy did it do that. Featuring nothing but music from Prince, this soundtrack could easily be considered one of his best albums if not one of the best albums of all time. Even if you don’t bother with the movie, the soundtrack is well worth it.
All songs from this Disney classic were written by Elton John and Tim Rice. Pretty much everyone knows the words to “Hakuna Matata” and if you’re not moved by “The Circle of Life,” then who are you? In the 2019 version, Beyonce treats us with “Spirit” and we also get classics such as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “He Lives in You,” helping make these two soundtracks some of the best of all time.
As a film meant to walk us through American history from the 1950s until the 1990s, following the story of a slow-minded yet fast-legged man, Forrest Gump, it only makes sense that the music matches the path we follow as viewers.
What could be more iconic than “Fortunate Son” playing as the camera pans over the hellish scenes in Vietnam? Not much.
With 34 tracks, this is a long one. But each song is carefully curated to match the moment being depicted in the film, helping enshrine this movie as one of the best ever made.
Although some of the lyrics from this soundtrack are now…problematic, 8 Mile remains a classic film, and its soundtrack features some of the best work ever made by Eminen, including “Lose Yourself,” which won the artist an Oscar in 2002.
Loosely based on the life of Eminem himself, this story shows us the journey of a white rapper trying to make it in the scene. Gritty and at times hard to watch, it received several award nominations and is well worth a watch. And even if you don’t want to watch it, the soundtrack stands alone as one of the best rap compilations of all time.