There is really nothing better than when a director’s music selection fits perfectly with the content on the screen. Music has a way of making normal scenes seem surreal, turning characters into rockstars, and turning simple moments into unforgettable ones. That is because music helps us associate emotion and mood with a particular scene – it resonates with the viewer in ways video itself cannot. A good soundtrack compliments a movie, but never takes over. Sound is a crucial element of so many great films, and the best (in my opinion, of course) have used soundtracks to create completely new worlds onscreen.
I think we can all look to films like Dazed and Confused and recall the banging 80’s rock that carried the students through their odyssey of partying on that fateful end-of-school night. The music is an essential element of the film – it drives the characters and helps carry scenes that otherwise would have lacked tension, excitement, mood and intensity. This is a prime example of what a good soundtrack provides for a film – a step up from goodness to greatness. We can see this also in Lost in Translation, where the music is soft-spoken and mellow, and it creates the most perfect atmosphere for an already very chill and almost relaxing movie. I’ll always associate the film with a feeling of melancholy that the OST helped create.
I’d like to provide some of my favorite movie soundtracks here – for discussion sake or just because I wanted to explore some of my favorites a little deeper. Here are Kurt and my lists:
- Dazed and Confused
- Star Wars
- Lord of the Rings
- Pulp Fiction
- Lost in Translation
- Almost Famous
- Batman Films
- Harry Potter films
- Sherlock Holmes
- Tron: Legacy
- Tron: Legacy
- Baby Driver
- Reservoir Dogs
- Kill Bill Vol. 1
When I think of movies like LOTR, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, I can’t help but start hearing the soundtracks in my head. They are as memorable as the films themselves because the music is ingrained into everything these films are. In particular, being sequels, these films know how to put together a a consistent and mood-driven sound that can be carried from movie to movie to maintain the same mood and atmosphere the director is trying to create. Lord of the Rings is an epic on the largest of scales, and its impeccable score captures the raw emotion of Frodo and Sam, the battle scenes, and the more peaceful moments to both build intensity and create the land of Middle Earth for the viewer. The Duel of the Fates in the Phantom Menace is as iconic as anything in film – and was a huge part of my childhood.
In my opinion, Hans Zimmer is the greatest living creator of scores for films. Pirates of the Carribean, Insterstellar, Lion King, Gladiator – name a big movie since the 1980’s and Hans has probably been involved. He makes music you can listen to by itself. One of his works is Inception, which has one of my all-time favorite scores because it perfectly captures the continual intensity of the action in the film. It creates excitement, and epic feelings of success at the end of the film. IMO – the best song to close a film ever.
Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, and Almost Famous have an incredible setlist of songs that add volumes to the films, and sometimes the choice to use pre-made songs rather than an original score is absolutely the right move depending on the mood that is desired. Non-original songs build an amazing connection with the movie. Tron is a mix – Daft Punk wrote the OST, but their songs stand by themselves and are fantastic in their own right.
There are hundreds of great soundtracks out there, far too many to list. But those are the best of the best for me.