The power of music in film is undeniable. That perfect song set to that perfect scene brings moments of entertainment magic we all know well, as they have hit us powerfully, cementing a place in our emotional memories.
In film, music can be used as an emphasis to the story, to convey an emotion, and even sometimes act as a character of its own. In some cases, it can redeem a movie with a so-so plot, or elevate a film to the next level as something totally amazing.
From those that play like a well curated mixtape to the films with original music, the only essential is that it stands alone as iconic listening, while making for a memorable watch. Here are five best film soundtracks:
– Dazed and Confused
This coming-of-age high school stoner movie built its base of 1970s guitar gods with songs that both tie into the narrative and emphasize it. Just as music is essential to teenagers’ lives, it’s perfectly entwined to the narrative here too where you know the Ted Nugent, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Foghat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top that blares from the soundtrack is what these kids were listening to, making you feel nostalgic for an era you probably missed. So even when the music selections might objectively seem a bit too on-the-nose — like running Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” as summer break begins — it doesn’t play as corny at all, it’s perfect.
– Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Angelo Badalamenti’s scores for the Twin Peaks television series and this film are their own unique style of evil jazz mixed with reverb-ed early rock tones that Lana Del Rey probably has a lot to thank for her own sound today. The songs are sultry and creepy and stand alone outside the film, but are the perfect accompaniment to David Lynch’s bizarre mystery.
– American Graffiti
It’s almost unfair to include American Graffiti on this list, since the 41-tracks run like a greatest hits collection from rock and roll’s first 10 years. From Bill Haley & the Comets to The Beach Boys, with the likes of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and many more in between, George Lucas’ 1973 film skips traditional scoring in favor of these radio songs, accented by sound effects and a distinct absence of music at select points. But mostly, it’s just good music cruising in cars in this essential ode to a golden era. No wonder the official soundtrack “41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti” has gone triple platinum.
– Purple Rain
Though Purple Rain might leave some to be desired in its overly melodramatic plot, plenty of praise is deserved as all things point to Prince’s phenomenal soundtrack. And should we expect any less from his Royal Purpleness? So even this standard story of a struggling musician with problems at home and romantically is boosted to an iconic level, showing Prince amidst his most creatively successful streak, telling this tried and true story with songs like “Purple Rain,” When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “I Would Die 4 U,” not to mention The Time’s awesome “Jungle Love.” All hail the king.
– O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The surreal nature of the Coen brothers’ Great Depression-era epic makes for a flawless integration of music into the narrative, without the campy feeling of a musical. It’s also an essential part of the story, thanks to the unexpected success of the heroes’ “Man of Constant Sorrow.” The greatness of this traditional folk soundtrack extends far beyond the film itself, thanks to contributions by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, making for one of producer T Bone Burnett’s greatest works to date. Along with several chart-topping tracks, this soundtrack won a well deserved Grammy for album of the year.