Soundtracks
Photograph: Time Out

The 101 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Scores, soundtracks and iconic music to watch movies by – as picked by great film composers

Phil de Semlyen
Advertising

Has movie music ever been better? With legends like John Williams and Howard Shore still at work, Hans Zimmer at the peaks of his powers, and the likes of Jonny Greenwood, AR Rahman, Mica Levi, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross knocking it out of the park, the modern film score is a Dolby Atmos-enhancing feast of modernist compositions, lush orchestral classicism and atmospheric soundscapes.

What better time, then, to celebrate this art form within an art form – with a few iconic soundtracks thrown in – and pay tribute to the musicians who’ve given our favourite movies (and, to be fair, some stinkers) earworm-laden accompaniment?

Of course, narrowing it all down to a mere 100 is tough. We’ve prioritised music written for the screen, but worthy contenders still missed out, including Dimitri Tiomkin’s era-defining score for 
It’s a Wonderful Life and Elton John’s hummable tunes for The Lion King.

To help do the narrowing down, we’ve recruited iconic movie composers, directors and broadcasters like Philip Glass, Carter Burwell, Max Richter, Anne Dudley, AR Rahman, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Edgar Wright and Mark Kermode to pick their favourites. Happy listening!

Recommended:

🔥 The 100 best movies of all time.
🪩 The 50 best uses of songs in movies.
💃 The greatest musical movies ever made.

Greatest Movie Soundtracks

1. Blade Runner (Vangelis)

With its shimmering synth washes, sultry sax and snatches of otherworldly melodies, Vangelis’s score for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi parable immerses the viewer in the world of Los Angeles, 2019, one of the richest dream-futures in cinema. 

Fast-rising All of Us Strangers and Rocks composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, an Ivor Novello-nominated French musician, tells us why Vangelis’s work made such a powerful impact on her.

‘The score that opened my mind to the potential of film music was Vangelis’s synth-heavy creations for Blade Runner. A family friend lent me the DVD when I was 13, and its impact was immediate. It was the first score that took me far away from the heritage of classical music and into the dimension of world-building. It feels enmeshed with the movie’s visuals; boldly relying on the originality of its sounds rather than complex classical composition methods. And all in a way that’s surprising and emotionally impactful.’

Vangelis’s iconic sci-fi score is also a favourite of Max Richter. The German-born, London-based composer, who broke through with 2007’s Waltz with Bashir and has lent his modern symphonic sounds to the likes of Ad Astra and The Leftovers, hails Blade Runner as the perfect visual score.

‘When music and film collide, they can become inseparable in your memory – and this score does this most powerfully for me. Vangelis’s music is the rain, the neon, the atmosphere of doubt and dread that surrounds Harrison Ford. Like Morricone’s harmonica theme for Once Upon a Time in the West, Vangelis finds a specific instrumental colour – the mighty Yamaha CS-80 synthesiser – and then writes a theme that’s impossible to separate from the images.’

2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone)

The X-Files theme, Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay’, the common thrush: none of them can boast a whistle as iconic as the opening theme to Sergio Leone’s sprawling Western masterpiece. Every note evokes images of desert landscapes, wide open skies and hardbitten men doing hard-bitten things, and once heard it lodges in the memory forever.

The score is a particular favourite of Carter Burwell (pictured right), the Oscar-nominated composer whose vast body of work includes a long collaboration with the Coen brothers on films like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, alongside soundtracks for everything from Buffy to The Banshees of Inisherin.

‘When I was just starting out in film music, my budgets were minuscule (as were my skills…) and I found Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores to be models of how a composer can use just four or five instruments that don’t usually work together and create an iconic score.’

Morricone’s music is also beloved of British composer Simon Boswell, who has collaborated with everyone from Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave) to Dario Argento (Phenomena), and whose magnificent soundtrack for Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil has the Italian's influence all over it. 

‘A tribal drum, the twang of an electric guitar, a whistling cowboy and a tubular bell… Morricone invented the idea of sampling in music, decades before the technology existed. Predicting exactly where our smash 'n' grab culture was headed, this is an inspired slice of pop art and the most original film soundtrack ever created.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
Advertising

3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (John Williams)

By the 1970s, the template for a sci-fi soundtrack was firmly established: bleeping synths, atonal soundscapes and a spot of theremin to keep things spaced-out. Enter John Williams, whose score for Jaws had fused Psycho-inspired shocks with old-Hollywood grandeur, and who recognised that what director George Lucas was crafting wasn’t really a sci-fi flick at all but a swashbuckling romance, as indebted to Errol Flynn as Isaac Asimov. The result: the grandest, most unashamedly old-fashioned score in decades, and the best-selling symphonic record of all time.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

4. Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann)

You could pick a dozen Bernard Herrmann scores for this list and not get beyond the Hitchcocks. But his rapturous, haunting music for the Master’s greatest movie is the New Yorker’s most essential film work. A score that’s alive to the sounds of San Francisco (it imitates the fog horns in the city’s bay) and draws a thread with classic opera (there are nods to Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isiolde’), it’s a true heartbreaker. The secret? A more positive kind of solitude that the one Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie experiences in the film. ‘Hitchcock is very sensitive,’ Herrmann explained. ‘He leaves me alone.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

5. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)

From its swashbuckling fanfare to lush love theme to the epic final fight music, Korngold’s score creates drama, excitement, romance and heroism and tells Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood when to duel and when to duck. (As well as Robin, the music literally saved Korngold’s life, the Jewish composer working in Hollywood when the Nazis annexed Austria). It earned him his second Oscar and became a huge influence on John Williams’ reinvention of the symphonic score in the ’70s. No Robin Hood, no Star Wars, it’s as simple as that.

6. The Third Man (Anton Karas)

Eschewing waltzes or overwrought thriller stylings, Austrian composer Anton Karas crafted an elegy for the moral decay of post-war Europe, using the zither to spin melancholy, tension and joy on a Reichspfennig. The ridiculously catchy ‘The Harry Lime Theme’ is inextricably linked to cobbled streets, high contrast lighting and Orson Welles’ enigmatic smile. 

Karas’s score brings joy to Daniel Pemberton, the Oscar-nominated scorer of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-VerseThe Trial of the Chicago 7 and Ferrari.

‘If I could ever get anywhere close to this level of film score perfection, I would be a very happy man. It was Karas’s only film score and it’s one of the most perfect and timeless ever written, with a banging main theme. It perfectly balances comedy, pathos, emotion and action. Karas was a zither player in a restaurant that director Carol Reed used to frequent, and with all the money he made from the music, and in a total mic-drop move, he bought the restaurant and went back to playing the zither there.’

Advertising

7. Singin’ in the Rain (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown, Lennie Hayton)

‘Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo.’ We can’t all dance like Gene Kelly, but who hasn’t had this serotonin rush of a song skip through their brain on a drizzly morning? Like most of the soundtrack, from ‘Good Morning’ to ‘Moses Supposes’, and with the notable exception of the original, Cole Porter-ish ‘Make ’Em Laugh’, the title song to the MGM classic came pre-used: songwriter-producer Arthur Freed – head of the studio’s musical-making Freed Unit – and composer Nacio Herb Brown had written ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ back in 1929. By 1959, Cary Grant was whistling it in North by Northwest. And it’s remained a grin-inducing tonic ever since, the soundtrack to one of cinema’s most famous sequences. See, it’s good to recycle.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

8. Purple Rain (Prince)

A career high for an all-time great, the Purple Rain soundtrack features some of Prince’s best songs and most grandiose production. Not to mention a starring on-screen role as striving Minneapolis muso ‘The Kid’. But don’t just stick to the soundtrack album; spend some time with the other cuts here too, by funky fellow travellers (and co-stars) Morris Day, Dez Dickerson, and Apollonia… all puppet-mastered by Prince, obvs. And props to the instrumental cuts too, particularly the emotional piano-and-synth ballad ‘Father’s Song’.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137875/image.jpg
James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
Advertising

9. Aliens (James Horner) 

For a time, James Horner was the guy studios hired when the other guy got too expensive. Aliens changed all that. Building off the eerie template set by Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score, Horner uses dissonance, atmosphere and orchestral jump scares to fill the terrifying vacuum of space, while adding action-flick flourishes befitting James Cameron's bulked-up sequel. The fraught production caused a rift between him and Cameron – they wouldn’t reunite for another decade, for a little movie called Titanic.

10. Lift to the Scaffold (Miles Davis)

A terrific French thriller with an ice-cold jazz score, Louis Malle’s twisty noir called on Miles Davis to help generate its smoky, seductive mood. So did Davis slave away for weeks, hunched over sheet music to pen these breathy trumpet refrains? Mais non! He just rocked up in Paris, hired four musicians, and improvised it all while standing in front of a screening of the film. ‘We run the film for him and he records,’ explains Malle in this rare footage, wearing the half-stunned expression of a man who’d just seen genius up close.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

11. Jaws (John Williams)

John Williams’ Jaws theme is the purest piece of music in cinema. Two notes, a violin, and a building tempo that convinces you that, even as you sit comfortably in your cinema seat, something may be about to eat you. It’s genius. Of course, there’s far more to Williams’s score, which paints the loveliness and terror of open water with gentle harps and urgent tuba, but that simple theme is the star. Almost 50 years later, it’ll still make you afraid to dip a toe in the ocean.

12. King Kong (1933) (Max Steiner) 

Max Steiner’s music for King Kong was a game-changer on every level: the first score for a talkie, it was the first to have thematic motifs representing characters (Kong’s theme has three descending notes) and the first to feature a large scale orchestra. Steiner’s music is key to the storytelling too – for the film’s final moments, Kong and Ann Darrow’s themes converge to underline the heart-breaking Beauty-and-the Beast dynamic. Kong was reputedly Steiner’s favourite of his own works. Producer Merian C Cooper agreed: he gave the composer a huge bonus, believing 25 per cent of the film’s success was down to the music.

Advertising

13. A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles)

Clannngggggg!’ No one expected The Beatles’ first big-screen foray to be anything special, but in the hands of writer Alun Owen and director Richard Lester, this record-label mandated cash-in became arguably the greatest pop movie of all time, a riot of witty anti-authoritarian asides, pre-MTV editing and, of course, amazing tunes. From the hook-laden title track via the folksy ‘I Should’ve Known Better’ to the first true McCartney weepie, ‘And I Love Her’, it’s a remarkable set of songs from a band who’d barely begun to show their promise.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

14. Planet Of The Apes (Jerry Goldsmith)

A landmark in American film music, Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Franklin J Schaffner’s simian sci-fi is at once primitive and futuristic. He daringly employs a traditional orchestra and then augments it with an exotic collection of instrumentation – most famously, stainless steel mixing bowls, but also a brass slide whistle, conch shells, water drop bars and a Brazilian cuica used to emulate the apes’ sounds. Echoing Stravinsky and Bartok, it takes the gamut of orchestral colours and blends them into an exciting, romantic, tense and celebratory whole. Goldsmith famously conducted the score wearing an ape mask. Perhaps that’s why it’s so immersive.

Advertising

15. The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein)

You know a tune is mighty when it’s used as walk-on music for a Bruce Springsteen gig. One of the most recognisable of all film themes, Elmer Bernstein’s signature piece for The Magnificent Seven is as expansive as earworms get. Despite its All-American grandeur, Bernstein’s score also carries tasteful Mexican and Spanish flavours as well as hints to the European masters like Béla Bartók. Purloined for Marlboro Man ads, a western skit in Moonraker and an a cappella singsong in Cheers, it’s one of those unique movie themes to transcend the movie and live in the culture.

16. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Angelo Badalamenti)

David Lynch’s sensuous, gorgeously impenetrable prequel to his zeitgeist-grabbing TV serial may have divided audiences, but even its staunchest haters have to admit that the music is magical. From the ominously jazzy muted trumpet of the opening theme to the stacked synthesisers of closer ‘The Voice of Love’, via rumbling dissonance, otherworldly torch songs and a visit from the show’s iconic chanteuse Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti’s score is a portal into another world.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
Advertising

17. Lawrence of Arabia (Maurice Jarre)

What kind of score would the tormented, vainglorious, extraordinary T E Lawrence get in a modern biopic. Booming Zimmer pyrotechnics? Haunting Mica Levi soundscapes? Almost certainly nothing like the booming Arab-meets-British-militarism orchestrations of Maurice Jarre’s vastly influential score. He worked on four David Lean films and won Oscars for three of them, including this one, a sandy symphony that’s the Frenchman’s magnum opus. It’s a high point for the London Philharmonic too, who with 60 strings, 11 percussionists, two grand pianos, two harps and three Ondes Martenots (an early kind of electronic keyboard), presumably shook a few birds from Shepperton Studios’ trees during the recording. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

18. Jurassic Park (John Williams)

Growing in stature over the past 30 years, John Williams’ score mostly avoids clichéd bombast for other musical colours. Chiefly a soaring brassy motif that announces we are going on an adventure, and a stirring theme that invests the dinosaurs with scale and grace. Elsewhere, there’s suspenseful strings, Spielbergian choral awe as a baby raptor is born, and shifty rhythms as Dennis Nedry steals the embryos. But Spielberg and Williams also know when to hold back: the T-rex attack is scored only by stomps and screams, roars and rain without the orchestra ever hyping the action. Now that is confidence. And genius.

Advertising

19. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun)

Ang Lee’s gorgeous martial arts love story brought wuxia to the world, and Tan Dun’s equally beautiful score is reflective of that wide cross-cultural appeal. With prominent contributions from famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the soundtrack blends traditional Western orchestration with ethnic Chinese instruments like the stringed erhu, along with thundering percussion from the Shanghai Percussion Ensemble. The result is a remarkably immersive listening experience – appropriate for a movie where characters battle while glidingly weightlessly through the trees.

20. Interstellar (Han Zimmer) 

For his sixth collaboration with Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer crafted what is arguably the most elegant and powerful work of his career. Interstellar is a sci-fi that’s both rigorously technical and deeply emotional, with an almost spiritual quality, and that is perfectly encapsulated by Zimmer’s soundtrack, which combines delicate, seemingly distant melodies with the monolithic intensity of a pipe organ (actually the one in London’s Temple Church). To quote Nolan, it is ‘one of his most intimate and individual scores, even as it takes us across the vastness of space and time’. Amen to that.

Advertising

21. The Godfather (Nino Rota)

Francis Coppola hired Nino Rota to score his mafia classic, much to the chagrin of producer Robert Evans who felt his music was ‘too high brow’. Happily, Coppola persisted. Rota’s main theme and love theme, ‘Speak Softly, Love’, were breakouts, but his whole score gives the film the Italian authenticity of bread dipped in pasta sauce. Its Oscar nomination was rescinded after it was decided that Rota had borrowed from own score for 1958’s Fortunella. In unrelated news, seven Academy members found horses heads in their beds.

22. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Philip Glass)

Paul Schrader’s biopic about Yukio Mishima, the famed Japanese author who committed seppuku after a failed coup attempt, got an equally stellar score from Philip Glass. Mishima’s story unfolds in parallel with bold visualisations of his work, and the American’s sublime score – one of his earliest and best – flows from thundering drums and fluttering strings to the rock and roll-styled ‘Osamu’s Theme’. It’s a complex score for a complex protagonist.

Advertising

23. The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff/various artists)

This violent tale of a reggae singer’s attempts to make it big was the first-ever feature film shot in Jamaica by a Jamaican cast and director. But more significant than its box-office success at home was its gradual cult impact in the US, via ganja-laden midnight screenings. Today, it’s known as the film that ‘brought reggae to the world’, with a sensational soundtrack of grooves by Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, and the film’s star, Jimmy Cliff.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

24. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (John Williams) 

In the span of seven years working with Steven Spielberg, John Williams went from striking fear into the hearts of the beach-going public to making those same hearts swell with childlike wonder. Most of the music in E.T. is gentle and unobtrusive, especially compared to the blaring hooks of Jaws and Star Wars, but that just makes the soaring climax all the more wondrous. The moment those strings ascend to the stars, your own feet lift off the floor.

Advertising

25. Psycho (Bernard Herrmann)

Come for the slicing strings, stay for the hummable melodies. One of the most recognisable orchestral scores of all time, maestro Bernard Herrmann’s pulsing strings on Psycho can be felt in everything from the theme from Jaws to The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’.

It’s a major inspiration for British musician, DJ and producer Matthew Herbert, a whirlwind of experimental creativity for nearly 30 years, with scores for Human Traffic and Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman and remixes for everyone from Moloko to Morricone under his belt. 

Psycho’s score is extraordinary. The prelude is pure techno – modern, loopy, catchy, dissonant – but with a soaring emotional melody. Film music is so bland and tasteful these days that it's hard to imagine Herrmann’s dense score making it past all the nervous execs. I've worked with some brilliant execs, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that film and TV music has been dragged towards the beige. It’s nearly impossible to find something as full of melodic and harmonic ideas as this.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

26. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Popol Vuh)

A conquistador (Klaus Kinski) travels upriver to find the mythical city of El Dorado in Werner Herzog’s alchemic epic of tragic pride and mad ambition. Disaster awaits, but at least he’s accompanied by one of cinema’s most wondrous and unexpected scores. Eschewing the Wagnerian cues other filmmakers might have been tempted by, Herzog commissioned a score from his old pals in Krautrock band Popul Vuh. The result counterpoints the action on screen with eerie Moog and mellotron-like ‘choir organ’, elevating this tale of man’s folly into something truly transcendent.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

27. Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Prokofiev)

Sergei Prokofiev’s third film score is that rare beast, a piece of film music that’s entered the classical music canon. Eisenstein’s portrait of a medieval Russian prince who formed a people’s army to repel the Teutonic invaders saw the director staging scenes to the composer’s music while Prokofiev created music to the footage. Its importance lies in the way it created a template for the way directors and composers collaborate; its joy, especially resides in its ability to stir the blood like little else.

28. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Various artists)

Stanley Kubrick ditched plans to redeploy Spartacus composer Alex North on his trippy sci-fi classic in favour of borrowing Richard Strauss’s spine-tingling ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’. The German composer’s Nietzsche-riffing tone poem, paired with the visuals of bone-battling apes, implies humanity’s cursed trajectory to brilliant, bombastic effect. Throw in the space station sequence set to Johann Strauss II’s waltz ‘The Blue Danube’ and you capture eternity in the blink of an eye. Poor North found out at the film’s premiere, but his loss is cinema’s gain.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105977002/image.jpg
Stephen A Russell
Contributor
Advertising

29. Schindler’s List (John Williams) 

By 1993, Steven Spielberg and John Williams had generated untold amounts of movie magic together, but ‘magic’ wasn’t required for a soul-wrenching Holocaust drama. ‘You need a better composer,’ Williams insisted. ‘I know,’ the director replied, ‘but they're all dead’. Reining in all bombast and sentimentality, Williams turned in his most restrained and emotional work. A good deal of credit goes to the playing: violinist Itzhak Perlman’s lyrical solo on the main theme is among the most moving pieces of film music ever made.

30. Once Upon a Time in the West (Ennio Morricone)

Eleven fly-buzzing, tension-cranking minutes – a shoo-in for any celebration of cinema’s greatest sound design – gives way to the harmonica in the opening of Sergio Leone’s epic western. From there, Ennio Morricone’s leitmotifs – from the menacing mouth organ of Charles Bronson’s Harmonica, to the jaunty banjo and honky-tonk piano of Jason Robards’ Cheyenne, to the mournful, wordless vocals of Claudia Cardinale’s Jill – offer a definitive lesson in music as character. Somehow, Morricone wrote them ahead of the film’s shoot, sight-unseen, helping guide Leone’s visuals and even reducing hard-bitten crew members to tears on set. Che risultato!

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

31. Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley) 

There are two truly great Elvis movies – Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock – and this one simply has more songs. It could have been very different: the legend goes that songwriters Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller were hired by MGM then promptly disappeared, ultimately forcing publisher Jean Aberbach to lock them in a hotel room until they’d done the work. Four hours later, they emerged with the title track, as well as peerless rave-ups ‘Treat Me Nice’ and ‘(You’re So Square) Baby I Don't Care’. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

32. Taxi Driver (Bernard Herrmann) 

Only hours after completing work on Martin Scorsese’s disturbing portrait of toxic male delusion, Bernard Herrmann passed away in his sleep. It’s safe to say the 64-year-old went out on top: the jazzy motifs evoke nocturnal ’70s New York, with a creeping discordance underneath suggestive of the urban rot gradually pushing Robert De Niro’s cabbie-turned-vigilante over the edge. What can you say? The guy knew psychos.

Advertising

33. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (Ryuichi Sakamoto) 

In this age of streaming and tasteful chill-out playlists, many more have probably heard the main theme for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence than have seen Nagisa Ōshima’s 1983 film. The movie, set in a Japanese POW camp and starring David Bowie, Takeshi Kitano and Sakamoto himself, has been critically reappraised in recent years – but Sakamoto’s soundtrack (the Yellow Magic Orchestra maestro’s first ever score) has long stood on its own, admired for bridging the film’s strange tropical sensuality and scorched, isolated beauty.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137975/image.jpg
Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London

34. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry)

Edging out Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice as our pick of definitive Bond score, John Barry’s Moog synthesisers provide a tension-ramping blueprint. Check out the brassy dramatics of ‘This Never Happened to the Other Fella’, the elusive menace of ‘Gumbold’s Safe' and always-tear-inducing ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ (a collaboration with Louis Armstrong and Hal David). Oh, and that total banger of a title track.

James Hooper Sales Manager
Advertising

35. The Social Network (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

It took two decades for Hollywood to recognise that Trent Reznor – alt-rock’s pre-eminent sound designer – should try doing movie scores. A movie about the founding of Facebook seems like an odd choice for his first crack, but he and Nine Inch Nails bandmate Atticus Ross’s icy, glitchy soundscapes mesh perfectly with director David Fincher’s sleek alienation. It won Reznor an Oscar and made the NIN frontman an in-demand film composer. At last.

36. Le Mépris (Georges Delerue)

Le Mépris (‘Contempt’) is Georges Delerue’s only score for Jean-Luc Godard and it’s a blinder. Delerue composed numerous cues for the film but Godard rejected most of them to concentrate on one, the stunning ‘Camille’s Theme’, a simple melody played by strings over a series of arpeggios. It’s an achingly beautiful ode to decline – of the making of a movie, of a marriage, and of the European art film in general. Appropriated by Scorsese for Casino (another end-of-an-era movie), Delerue turns Le Mépris into its director’s most moving film.

Advertising

37. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Howard Shore) 

Howard Shore had always wanted to write an opera, but after Rings he no longer felt the need. That seems right: his score is up there with Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’, in runtime as well as grandeur. The Canadian wrote 50 different leitmotifs for characters, places and the Fellowship as a group, for example, matching the ambition and immersiveness of Peter Jackson’s adaptation, even using Tolkien’s created languages for the choral work involved.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster

38. Suspiria (1977) (Goblin) 

One of the most influential horror scores of all time, the music for Dario Argento’s witchy giallo was written by Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti. He explored ethnic instruments like tabla drums and the bouzouki (a Greek mandolin), blending them with wailing electric guitars, bells, a Moog synthesiser (Simonetti was inspired by his hero, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Keith Emerson) and, in the title track, ghostly cries of ‘Witch! Witch!’. When John Carpenter met Simonetti for the first time, he said: ‘I know you very well – I stole all your music.’

Advertising

39. Raiders of the Lost Ark (John Williams)

The story goes that John Williams took two potential Indy themes to Steven Spielberg and Spielberg choose both. They became ‘The Raiders March’ and its bridge, combining pure thrill and a slightly more delicate, melancholy lilt. This is not Williams’s most subtle work, but it is among his most satisfying, packing in more action, adventure and romance than some composers manage in a lifetime. The Ark theme can still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster

40. Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder)

If the desert could make music, it’d sound like Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ existential western. That’s not far from the truth: Cooder says he figured out the key of the wind that whistles through West Texas and tuned accordingly. Acoustic slide guitar drifts along at a tumbleweed’s pace, accompanied by little more than pick scrapes and atmospheric effects. It’s a uniquely transfixing listen, perfectly pitched to the movie’s equally beguiling rhythms.

Advertising

41. Shaft (Isaac Hayes)

While this legendary Blaxploitation franchise would’ve been nothing without Richard Roundtree, Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning score is equally intrinsic. Pacy and dramatic in a particularly glam, sexy, strutting sort of way, the main theme could only have come from the king of glam funk. But Hayes’ Shaft isn’t just dazzle and blare. In parts it’s also melancholic, slow, sensual – and if you listen closely, you’ll realise Hayes isn’t just soundtracking the film but sort of narrating it, with plenty of the tunes actually about the action and characters.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137975/image.jpg
Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London

42. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (John Williams) 

John Williams wrote a dynamic, complex score for Steven Spielberg’s soulful alien visitation picture, but what it’s most remembered for is five notes: the simple melodic phrase used in the movie to communicate with the benevolent beings looking to ingratiate themselves to planet Earth. And yet, there’s more feeling in those five notes than most symphonies can muster in an entire suite. Of course, the rest of the music is pretty great, too: mysterious and emotive and bombastic all at once.

Advertising

43. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner) 

James Horner was in his twenties when he scored the best Star Trek film (no arguments), stepping up to the A-list from Roger Corman films. Many of his trademarks were already present – there’s a particular trumpet flourish he uses all the way to Avatar – but this one has its own, unique maritime flavour. It feels like the score to an old pirate movie, just with a space-age edge and a huge emotional whammy: the way the music drops to nothing as Kirk approaches the radiation chamber is devastating.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster

44. Trainspotting (Various artists)

Sure, Danny Boyle’s ’90s classic owed a debt to Quentin Tarantino’s needle-dropping style, but it gave the formula an era-defining British riff. Alongside ’70s cuts from Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, Trainspotting also served as a Britpop platform, with the likes of Blur, Pulp and Sleeper – Oasis apocryphally turned it down because they thought the film was literally about trainspotting – spiked with cutting-edge dance music. By including Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ and Bedrock’s ‘For What You Dream Of’, it was even credited with taking electronica to the US.

Advertising

45. Princess Mononoke (Joe Hisaishi) 

Hayao Miyazaki’s long-time collaborator Joe Hisaishi pulled off his grandest and most foreboding Studio Ghibli score with Princess Mononoke. It’s music tinged with melancholy, with strings that lament humanity’s ravaging of the natural world, and it culminates in what might be Hisaishi’s most beautiful track, ‘Ashitaka and San’. It’s a moment of clouds parting, a track with the power to pull the film back from the brink.

46. The Deer Hunter (Stanley Myers)

Michael Cimino’s Vietnam War drama isn’t thought of as a particularly musical film, but its soundtrack, comprised mostly of traditional Russian Orthodox songs, goes a long way toward conveying the bonds of the working-class Slavic-American community at the film’s centre. Its centrepiece is Stanley Myers’s mournful classical guitar piece ‘Cavatina’. But the most haunting inclusion is ‘God Bless America’, sung at the movie’s conclusion by a community shattered by a conflict none of them fully understand.

Advertising

47. Super Fly (Curtis Mayfield) 

A year after his dad starred in Shaft, Gordon Parks Jr delivered his own Harlem crime fable with Super Fly, the tale of a retiring cocaine dealer making one last score. Curtis Mayfield’s effortlessly smooth soundtrack – full of wah-wah guitar, bongo rhythms and funk bass – would become a cultural phenomenon, selling over 12 million copies and outgrossing the film itself. ‘Audiences left Shaft singing along with Isaac Hayes,’ Rolling Stone noted in 2022; ‘[but] they came into Super Fly singing with Mayfield’.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

48. There Will Be Blood (Jonny Greenwood)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece is 158 minutes long. Jonny Greenwood’s score is a mere 38. Yet his music haunts the film, slithering in at intervals like a serpent stalking its prey, only revealing itself when necessary. The unsettling, juddering strings turn this story of a man’s pursuit of riches into a psychological horror, with oil the monster that won’t let Daniel Plainview rest. When music is this well employed, you don’t need much of it.

Advertising

49. The Virgin Suicides (Air) 

A band synonymous with cinematic music was tapped up to score Sofia Coppola’s debut film, and the results are as dreamlike as the movie. Air eschewed its signature Moog-driven dance pop in favour of progressive rock befitting the setting of middle-class ’70s Michigan, writing songs to synch up with scenes but crafting a score that works just as well on its own. It’s the soundtrack to a daydream, perfectly capturing the spirit of being a teenager and rebelling against repressive, melancholic suburbia.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106138824/image.jpg
Georgia Evans
Commercial Editor, Time Out

50. Inception (Hans Zimmer)

The clues extend beyond the storytelling in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi heist movie, with Hans Zimmer’s score concealing some Easter eggs of its own. One clever YouTuber clocked that the superstar composer had manipulated a beat from Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ to form the foundation for his beyond-ominous ‘Half Remembered Dream’, a clue as to when the movie is slipping into dreamtime. The German called on The Smiths’ guitar hero Johnny Marr to deliver the lick on ‘Time’, a gorgeous cue from a score that supercharges the movie with melancholy and nostalgia.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

51. Halloween (1978) (John Carpenter)

In test screenings, audiences didn’t find John Carpenter’s $300,000 proto-slasher scary enough. So the maestro got his hands on some synthesisers – just as he had for Assault on Precinct 13 – and tick-tick-ticked his way through one of the most chilling horror themes of all time. Legend has it that it took him less than an hour to compose, but that spine-tingling motif of piano keys, rattles and faux-strings – played in lopsided 5/4 time for added discomfort – would help Halloween gross $47 million at the US box office.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

52. The Mission (Ennio Morricone)

Roland Joffé’s tragic tale of clashing cultures – rapacious Spanish colonisers, the Catholic Church and South America’s Guarani people caught in the middle – has been firmly outlasted by its music. Then again, Ennio Morricone’s score is one of cinema’s greatest. The Italian giant paints with entirely different colours from his classic spaghetti western themes, utilising intruments and choral styles from Europe and Latin America to bring the film’s themes to life in ways that will have your tearducts on strings. ‘Falls’ is a haunting high point, while ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’s emotional power has even survived its surprising use in an Aer Lingus ad.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

53. Metropolis (Gottfried Huppertz) 

Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi great required a towering score to rally the downtrodden workers of its monstrous future utopia, and his regular collaborator Gottfried Huppertz delivered. HIs soaring orchestral score channels Wagner and Richard Strauss in all their operatic swagger. Playing his 16 themes on set to help strike the film’s tone, from the minor-key rumble of the scenes in the city’s bowels to the trilling flutes in the fantasia above, its clash of modernism versus classicism mirrors humanity’s struggle with the machines.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105977002/image.jpg
Stephen A Russell
Contributor

54. The Great Escape (Elmer Bernstein)

Still bellowed out by England football fans, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme to this most boy’s-own of POW flicks retains the power to summon instant thoughts of wartime derring-do (or underwhelming 1-1 draws with Sweden). The rest of the score is worth burrowing under the wire for, too, with the American composer gifting each of the key POWs their own military-riffing motifs, naturally saving the brassiest one for Steve McQueen’s Cooler King. Legend has it that the soundtrack was so popular, Bernstein could live off the royalties for life.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

55. Saturday Night Fever (Bee Gees, David Shire)

It’s no longer the best-selling movie soundtrack of all-time – that’s The Bodyguard – but this disco time capsule is still the most significant. Not for any particular song – though every Bee Gees banger is essential – but for how vividly it documents a time when even working-class mooks from Brooklyn found salvation on the dancefloor. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ will spark an urge to grab a paint can and start strutting.

56. American Graffiti (Various artists)

Aka ‘Now That’s What I Call Late ’50s Pop’, George Lucas’s teen flick delivered a playlist so brimming with hits, they couldn’t fit them all on a soundtrack – even one boasting 41 tunes. The blueprint for jukebox soundtracks to come, American Graffiti transported ’70s audiences back to innocent days where The Beach Boys, Bill Haley & His Comets and the The Cleftones sang about chasing girls, teen heartbreak and clocks that needed to be rocked around. It went triple platinum in the US, spawned a soundtrack sequel, and in its use of growly disc jockey Wolfman Jack’s patter might just have given Quentin Tarantino an idea.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

57. Mughal-e-Azam (Naushad)

K Asif's 1960 epic about the forbidden romance between a Mughal prince and beautiful dancer (Madhubala), Mughal-e-Azam (‘The Great Mughal’) comes with a dozen emotional songs composed by Hindi cinema legend Naushad and sung by a quartet of ’60s playback stars.

Oscar-winning Indian composer AR Rahman cites the soundtrack as a formative influence on his work – and a personal favourite. Written by the Slumdog Millionaire man’s mentor, Nausad, it brings Indian and western instruments together into one of the richest scores in film. 

‘Naushad saab’s use of “raagas” – the melodic juxtaposition of microtones, modes and scales – created a textbook for Indian cinema music. The score’s class and grandeur is exemplified by its famous sweeping theme that infuses the sound of a stellar western orchestra, as well as the sensual, poignant “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya”, which is sung by [playback singer] Lata Mangeshkar as Madhubala dances. Words that describe Nausad’s score for me are: “nostalgic’’, “melancholic” and “stylish”.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106125399/image.jpg
Ashanti Omkar
Film and culture critic and broadcaster

58. The Graduate (Simon & Garfunkel, Dave Grusin)

How did Simon & Garfunkel wind up doing the tunes for Mike Nichols’ Oscar winner? Nichols was simply a fan. He reached out to the duo who, while not initially interested, were eventually persuaded to let him work their tunes into the film – and add a couple of new ones (including a tweaked ‘Mrs Robinson’, a work in progress at the time). You’d never know all the tracks weren’t purpose-made for the film, so perfectly do Paul and Art’s tunes capture lusty, listless, melancholic mood of Nichols’ 1967 classic.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137975/image.jpg
Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London
Advertising

59. Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)

If you’re looking to evoke drama on a massive scale, Hans Zimmer is your guy. For his Oscar-winning soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s Roman epic, Zimmer blended folk instruments and orchestral fanfare with his signature electronic approach to create a sound at once huge and mystical. But the true star is vocalist Lisa Gerrard, of Australian darkwave band Dead Can Dance, who gives transcendent voice to the film’s invocations of the afterlife.

60. Mo’ Better Blues (Branford Marsalis Quartet, Terence Blanchard)

The music to Spike Lee’s 1990 jazz joint is notable for the trumpet playing of Spike Lee’s future composer Terence Blanchard and Branford Marsalis Quartet’s sublime jazz tunes. Shifting from kinetic numbers like ‘Say Hey’ and ‘Knocked Out the Box’, to the stripped-back title track in which Blanchard’s trumpet articulates the passionate voice of bad-boy trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington), it’s a foundation stone for every Spike score to come.

Advertising

61. Akira (Geinoh Yamashirogumi)

Not only are there no films quite like Akira, there are no albums quite like its legendary OST. Composed and performed by an experimental collective (led by a molecular biologist, no less) that consisted of more than 100 people from different walks of life, it’s an apposite blend of religion, technology and intense horror. From the startling hyperventilations on ‘Battle Against Clown’ to ‘Dolls’ Polyphony’s’ psychedelic chanting, it’s impossible to imagine Akira without it.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105820368/image.jpg
Joe Mackertich
Editor, Time Out London

62. The Jungle Book (Sherman Brothers)

Back in the day, most Disney soundtracks were a bit twee. Enter the Sherman Brothers and Terry Gilkyson to break the mold with a songbook of animal-imitating classics. There’s slippery snake ballad ‘Trust in Me’; stomping elephant anthem ‘Colonel Hathi’s March’; the swinging ‘I Wanna Be Like You’; and, of course, the ‘oom-pah-pah’ swagger of ‘The Bare Necessities’. It’s a menagerie of styles and influences – and a wildly good time.

Advertising

63. The Piano (Michael Nyman)

Scoring a movie named after an instrument is surely a golden opportunity, and Michael Nyman was the right composer to do justice to Jane Campion’s extraordinary period drama. His undulating piano music reflects the passionate, impetuous and troubled spirit of the lead character, Ada (Holly Hunter), an elective mute who communicates through music as well as sign language. The minor key motifs underline the uncertainty and yearning in Campion's wistful story.

64. Fellini Satyricon (Nino Rota)

Thanks to Nino Rota, the relentlessly surreal and esoteric Fellini Satyricon gets the profoundly weird score it deserves. Rota partners cacophonous percussion and electronic production with exotic-sounding instruments – including sitars, hand cymbals and even Balinese kecak. The result supercharges the film’s trippy, nightmarish atmosphere.

Rota’s score made a huge impression on composer, New Wave hero, Devo co-founder and visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh, a man who has put his unique stamp on films as diverse as The Royal Tenenbaums and Thor: Ragnarok

‘I’d never paid deep attention to film scores before sitting in a little room at Kent State University in 1969 watching the movie Satyricon. My life took a major change that day, and I never thought of films in the same way again. Film music could be fine art.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
Advertising

65. The Wicker Man (Paul Giovanni and Magnet)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Magnet – the band behind this wonderfully creepy soundtrack and the intoxicating likes of ‘Gently Johnny’ and ‘Willow’s Song’ – were a storied acid folk band who’d wafted out of the same patchouli-scented mist as Fairport Convention and Pentangle. In reality, they were a group of music students hastily cobbled together by American arranger Paul Giovanni, who used flutes, lyres and nursery rhyme-style harmonies to create a perfectly pagan collection of pastoral – and fittingly horny – balladry for this legendary folk horror film.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106138839/image.jpg
Leonie Cooper
Food and Drink Editor, Time Out London

66. Back to the Future (Alan Silvestri/various artists)

Alan Silvestri’s iconic classical score is full of thrill and promise, turning a teenager’s suburban time travels into an adventure of epic proportions. Director Robert Zemeckis had worked with Silvestri on the score for Romancing the Stone, and gave the composer one instruction: ‘It’s got to be big.’ The familiar refrain has since featured everywhere from theme parks to the Back to the Future musical, which even includes new music from Silvestri.

Advertising

67. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (T Bone Burnett/Various artists)

The Coens’ eighth movie was full of surprises. It was a ’30s jailbreak-comedy based on Homer. It revealed George Clooney as a great comic performer. And it sparked a ‘old-timey music’ revival, with the help of guitarist-composer T Bone Burnett. Featuring bluegrass, roots and gospel, the movie is a borderline musical, as Clooney (dubbed by musician Dan Tyminski) and pals become the Soggy Bottom Boys. The moment they play ‘I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow’ is a full-on feelgood moment from the mischievously nihilistic Coens.

68. Amélie (Yann Tiersen)

When conceiving his whimsical Parisian romance, Jean-Pierre Jeunet initially had The Piano’s great Michael Nyman in mind for the score. But it’s as hard to imagine Amélie without the music of his ultimate choice, Yann Tiersen, as it is without its lead, Audrey Tautou (instead of the originally cast Emily Watson). Tiersen’s piano and accordion perfectly conjure a wistful and benevolently puckish mood, delivering gentle emotions that are still borrowed by a host of ads and memes. Truly, it’s music to crack crème brûlée to.

Advertising

69. The Cider House Rules (Rachel Portman)

British composer Rachel Portman has been crafting exquisite film scores for four decades now, for projects ranging from the original TV version of The Woman in Black and Lynne Ramsay’s debut Ratcatcher to the Jane Austen adaptation Emma, for which she became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Soundtrack. 

Her score for this heartfelt adaptation of John Irving’s novel may not be widely known, but it’s a personal favourite of one of the 20th century’s most important composers, the man behind the scores to Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima and The Truman Show: the maestro of minimalism, Philip Glass.

‘People often ask me what the difference between writing film music and an opera. I tell them “not as much as you would think”. The task of the film composer is to provide much of the emotional content, pacing, and structure to the drama on screen. There have been a number of prominent composers with this ability who contributed much to the history of music.  Among them is Rachel Portman, who has a wonderful ability to enhance and support the images of a film, often with a seemingly simple and beautiful melody, as she did for The Cider House Rules.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

70. The Night of the Hunter (Walter Schumann) 

Is there a creepier and more beautiful sequence in cinema than the childrens’ flight in Night of the Hunter? Actor Charles Laughton’s only film as director is ominous throughout, thanks in large part to composer Walter Schumann’s brooding, expressionistic score. But it tips into full dark-fairytale territory when murderous preacher Robert Mitchum tracks a pair of kids cross-country, adding off-kilter lullabies, queasy nursery rhymes and dark hymns to an already unsettling brew.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
Advertising

71. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion/various artists)

Melancholy yet playful and hopeful, Jon Brion’s lovely Eternal Sunshine cues, built around nylon string guitars and piano, are firmly in the spirit of the movie’s hero, Jim Carrey’s reality-TV experiment Truman Burbank. Inventiveness runs through them all, peaking with the eerie sounds of the Chilton Talentmaker guitar on the delicate ‘Phone Call’. Throw in the ELO sugar-rush of ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and Beck’s crushing cover of The Korgis’ ‘Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes’ and you’re left not knowing whether to smile or sob big salty tears. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

72. Rushmore (Mark Mothersbaugh/various artists)

Wes Anderson’s first idea was to use only The Kinks in Rushmore, but the soundtrack evolved (‘Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl’ is the one Kinks tune that remains). Its jukebox of tunes flits between the knowns (The Who, Cat Stevens, John Lennon), the unknowns (The Creation, Unit 4+2), and a score composed by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh. Collectively, it fuels the film’s weird ambience. And what other soundtrack combines The Faces and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special?

Advertising

73. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis)

They may be regulars now, but in 2006 singer-songwriter Nick Cave and violinist Warren Ellis had only one soundtrack collaboration to their name, and that for a film, The Proposition, that Cave had scripted. It was a coup, then, for Aussie director Andrew Dominik to secure their services for his second feature, the majestic tale of, well, the assassination of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) by the coward Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). All rolling piano, plucked strings and scraping fiddle, the score is as gorgeously widescreen as the film itself.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

74. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (Michel Legrand) 

Three years on from the giddy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, writer-director Jacques Demy once again indulged his love of classic MGM musicals with this slightly wiser, slightly saltier and arguably slightly superior follow-up. In the pastel-shaded French seaside town of Rochefort, a pair of gadabout carnies fall for two ambitious, creative twins, played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac. Cue les belles chansons, l’amour fou, et un cameo merveilleuse de le Roi de Danse, Monsieur Gene Kelly.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
Advertising

75. Tron Legacy (Daft Punk)

It’s hardly surprising director Joseph Kosinski sought out Daft Punk to soundtrack his return to Tron’s video-game world. Not only are they electronic music savants, they even dress up as robots (making them prime candidates for a cameo). But while Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s electro-credentials shine through in Tron: Legacy’s rousing synth arpeggios and pounding 4/4 beats, they also respect the symphonic with an 85-piece orchestra, making for a potent aural cocktail.

76. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)

Alexandre Desplat first worked with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox, but their partnership hit its highest point with The Grand Budapest Hotel’s folky, Mitteleuropean score. Desplat gathered instrument from across Central and Eastern Europe – Russian balalaikas, zithers, Alpenhorns, cimbaloms – and created a whole new musical language from them, bringing jaunty spirit and delicate rhythms to the fictional land of Zubrowska. ‘When you start mixing them together it becomes kind of a strange, special, weird sound,’ the French composer remembers. The result is one of cinema’s most charming and original scores. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

77. Blues Brothers (Various artists)

What started out as an SNL skit ended up as a platinum-selling Who’s Who of R&B and soul legends – Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown – backed up by Jake and Elwood’s house band featuring blues-legends-with-awesome-nicknames Steve ‘Guitar’ Murphy and Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper. ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, co-written by the one musician not to appear in the film, Steve Winwood, was the big breakout chart hit but, heck, even the Rawhide theme sounds good here. Members of Illinois’s Law Enforcement community will disagree, but this one’s an all-timer. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

78. Reservoir Dogs (Various artists)

Music has always been crucial to Quentin Tarantino, but in his first feature it’s practically a character unto itself: the radio always seems to be on, emanating the disembodied voice of DJ Steven Wright as he spins a mix of easy-going ’70s rock, pop and soul that juxtaposes the intense violence on screen. Most notably, it rescued Stealers Wheel’s excellent Dylan pastiche ‘Stuck in the Middle’ from rock’s margins – and forever associated it with Michael Madsen sawing a cop’s ear off.

Advertising

79. Romeo + Juliet (Various artists)

Baz Luhrmann’s modernised take on Shakespeare’s great love story reminded us that this is a story of very dramatic teenagers, with a soundtrack to reflect it. It’s an organised chaos of emotion, where the bouncy pop of The Cardigans’ ‘Lovefool’, the angst of Radiohead’s ‘Talk Show Host’, and core-shuddering power of Nellee Hooper, Marius De Vries and Craig Armstrong’s ‘O Verona’ all butt up together. It’s the fickle teen heart in audio form.

80. Slumdog Millionaire (AR Rahman)

Composed in two weeks at his London home, AR Rahman’s every-award-winning score for Danny Boyle’s rags-to-riches saga is still best known for its Indian victory anthem ‘Jai Ho’. But the Chennai-born legend throws in everything from Bollywood homages (‘Ringa Ringa’) to sitar-infused North Indian classical cues (‘Mausam & Escape’), to heart-wrenching ballads (‘Dreams on Fire’), to bring outsized emotions to Boyle’s ambitious adventure story. Fun fact: ‘Jai Ho’ is originally written for 2008 drama Yuvvraaj, but ended up being rejected.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106125399/image.jpg
Ashanti Omkar
Film and culture critic and broadcaster
Advertising

81. The Witches of Eastwick (John Williams)

Celebrated at the time for its sexual frankness and stunt casting – Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer play witches seduced by Jack Nicholson – Mad Max director George Miller’s loose adaptation of John Updike’s novel has fallen from favour. Which is a pity, if only because it features one of Hollywood master John Williams’s most vibrant and original scores.

The soundtrack is a favourite of Anne Dudley, the British musician, composer and producer whose extraordinary career has ranged from boundary-pushing ’80s electronica with The Art of Noise to collaborations with ABC, Tom Jones, Pulp and others, not to scoring everything from The Crying Game and The Full Monty to a trio of recent Paul Verhoeven flicks.

The Witches of Eastwick is a brilliant example of the music lifting the film into another realm. It isn’t John Williams’s best-known score, perhaps, but it has sparkling orchestral colours, wit, elegance and occasional raucousnesss. It epitomises the orchestral style of the late 20th century, and will probably outlast the film itself.’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106124156/image.jpg
Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

82. Atonement (Dario Marianelli) 

Italian composer Dario Marianelli worked with director Joe Wright on a beautiful piano score for his Pride & Prejudice, but it’s the variation and sinister edge he brought to Atonement that stands out. ‘Two Figures By A Fountain’ still has the romantic piano sweep Marianelli is known for, but he combines it with somehow thrilling typewriter-punctuated tracks and ‘Elegy For Dunkirk’, an extraordinary hymn to loss.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster
Advertising

83. True Grit (2010) (Carter Burwell)

Carter Burwell has worked on virtually every Coens movies, and matches the directors’ genre-hopping, tone-changing twists with apparent ease. The Academy didn’t allow him to compete for Best Score for True Grit because he drew too deeply from old religious standards, but that’s what provides its unique sincerity. It also digs deep into old western motifs with its cheery trumpets, only to subvert them and turn them into something smarter and a little sarkier. You’d expect nothing less.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster

84. Harold and Maude (Cat Stevens)

Some great soundtracks are an eclectic mix of sounds and musicians pulled from all over; others are the product of one great musical mind – as Cat Stevens demonstrated on Hal Ashby’s ‘Harold and Maude’. In the devastating yet somehow liberating final scene, Harold (Bud Cort) stands on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, plucking out Stevens’ ‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’ on the banjo. Just be glad that Ashby’s first choice for the soundtrack dropped out – somehow it just wouldn’t have worked with Elton John.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137875/image.jpg
James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
Advertising

85. Get Carter (Roy Budd)

A score that knows you wear purple underwear, jazz pianist Roy Budd’s swinging pop songs and moody but propulsive jazz cues provided Michael Caine’s cult thriller with style and menace – and all on a shoestring. Legend has it a mere £450 was earmarked for the film’s music. Budd, undeterred, hired two musicians while he played electric piano and harpsichord himself. Fun fact: The Human League gave the film's main theme a twee do-over on its 1981 record ‘Dare!’. Jack Carter would have had words.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

86. Black Panther (Various artists)

Easily the coolest superhero soundtrack since Prince’s Batman saw Pulitzer-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar teaming up with director Ryan Coogler and composer Ludwig Göransson to create and curate tracks that would tie into the film’s themes and work alongside Göransson’s drum-inflected score. From the world conquering ‘All the Stars’ onwards, the lyrics smartly deconstruct the film’s hero-and-villain struggle, the hooks are catchy, and the beats hypnotic. It’s the standout Marvel soundtrack.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster
Advertising

87. An American Werewolf in London (Elmer Bernstein/various artists)

For the soundtrack to his ferocious horror-comedy, John Landis handpicked a brace of classic tunes on a lunar theme. From Creedence Clearwater Revival’s lupine ‘Bad Moon Rising’ to the The Marcels’ loopy ‘Blue Moon’, this is inspired lunacy in the most literal sense.

Baby Driver director Edgar Wright tells us why Landis’s unconventional song choices fired his youthful imagination.

‘As a nascent film fan, before I even knew what counter-scoring was, An American Werewolf in London used moon-centric pop songs to brilliantly juxtapose its horror, adding layers of irony and eeriness to an already full-bodied experience. The simplicity and brutal effectiveness of this premise blew my mind then and still does today.’

88. Drive My Car (Eiko Ishibashi)

A meditation on grief and healing made with a deep understanding of people, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s delicately devastating 2022 opus follows a theatre director as he stages Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya while struggling with the loss of his wife. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Eiko Ishibashi’s lovely score washes its half-buried emotions in gentle percussion and piano.

It’s a score that broadcaster, critic, writer and all-round cinephile superhero Mark Kermode has had on heavy rotation in his car since Hamaguchi’s meditative masterpiece came out. Here’s why it’s already earned a spot in the Kermode pantheon.

‘Eiko Ishibashi’s deceptively low-key accompaniment to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s modern classic has mesmerised me since I first saw the film, and immediately rushed out to buy the soundtrack album. It’s an ethereally melancholy symphony of grief and longing that, like Angelo Badalamenti’s work on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, provides the beating heart of the film – stripped down yet somehow sumptuous. The OST also really works as a standalone album in its own right. I’m listening to it now, and it’s making my heart break and my spine tingle all over again. It’s just sublime!’

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

89. Marie Antoinette (Various artists)

Sofia Coppola went trés fort on the cultural anachronisms with her period biopic about the notorious-but-misunderstood French queen – with a clutch of era-spanning tunes leading the charge and not a bar of Haydn. But her Versailles jukebox is more than just a so-hip-it-hurts guitar cuts and New Romantic flamboyance. The film’s music supervisor Brian Reitzell sent her two mixtapes which she listened to while writing the script and those playlists evolved into the movie’s New Order, The Cure and Bow Wow Wow-fuelled soundtrack. For new wave rock fans, it’s like eating cake. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

90. The Keep (Tangerine Dream)

Michael Mann’s Nazis-and-demon horror – set in a gloomy Romanian castle, and featuring a young Ian McKellen and an even younger Gabriel Byrne – is not the best film to be blessed with a Tangerine Dream score. That would be Sorcerer. Or Thief. Or Near Dark. But the German electronic wizards’ ominous drones and mercurial synths solos absolutely drench The Keep in eerie atmosphere. Mann’s filmmaking footnote is Tangerine Dream’s cosmic opus.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
Advertising

91. Donnie Darko (Various) 

For a plot so concerned with time paradoxes, it’s fitting that the soundtrack to ’80s-set Donnie Darko’s is a time capsule of moody classics from that era. British acts like Tears For Fears and Joy Division were childhood favourites of composer Michael Andrews and his school friend Gary Jules – whose melancholy cover of ‘Mad World’ underpins the movie’s mournful tone. Echo & the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’, meanwhile, offers a powerful foreboding, with the lyrics ‘fate, up against your will’ playing out in the film’s denouement

https://media.timeout.com/images/106119740/image.jpg
James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

92. Bullitt (Lalo Schifrin)

Argentine pianist-arranger Lalo Schifrin made his name with the immortal theme to Mission: Impossible, and he brought that pulse-pounding verve to scoring one of the most influential action-thrillers of all-time. Nothing in Bullitt is quite as hummable, but the jazzy arrangements are as agelessly cool as star Steve McQueen and as heart-racing as those legendary car chases through the hilly streets of San Francisco.

Advertising

93. Batman (Danny Elfman) 

Where the Purple One’s soundtrack album for the Caped Crusader’s late ’80s reboot came to signify the end of his most dominant era, the film’s score represented a new peak for Oingo Boingo frontman-turned-composer Danny Elfman. In his third collaboration with Tim Burton, he dials back the zaniness in favour of a more dramatic sound, without forsaking the sense of adventure befitting a superhero film. It’s not easy to outshine Prince, but Elfman manages it.

94. Out of Sight (David Holmes/various artists)

Steven Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard crime caper remains a classic. Props are also due to Sodey’s favourite Northern Irish DJ-producer-crate-digger David Holmes, who scored and curated the perfect playlist to span the film’s two moods: sunny Florida vibes (Mongo Santamaría’s ‘Watermelon Man’, Willie Bobo’s frisky ‘Spanish Grease’) as loveable rogues George Clooney and Ving Rhames bust out of the joint, and moody stoner jazz for the darker Detroit leg (‘No More Time Outs’). The Isley Brothers’ defiant funk works a treat, too.

Advertising

95. Pretty in Pink (Various artists)

Sure, The Breakfast Club has ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, but as a survey of peak New Romanticism, the other John Hughes-penned teen classic is the definitive document. How many other soundtracks can boast New Order, The Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen, back when they were all still active? Besides, OMD’s dreamy ‘If You Leave’ is almost as iconic as Simple Minds, and The Psychedelic Furs’ title track isn’t far behind.

96. Drive (Cliff Martinez/various artists) 

Nicolas Winding Refn’s modern noir is set to a suitably moody soundtrack from Johnny Jewel of Desire and Chromatics, and a gleaming score from Cliff Martinez. The Sex, Lies, and Videotape composer emulated the sound of Desire, resulting in a score of retro, ’80s-ish, synthesiser Europop. The opening credits song ‘Nightcall’, by French electronic musician Kavinsky, is a highlight. Produced with Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel, its vintage keyboards and euphoric vocals from CSS’s Lovefoxxx create a dreamlike menace that perfectly echoes that of the film.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106138824/image.jpg
Georgia Evans
Commercial Editor, Time Out
Advertising

97. Barbie (Various artists)

The all-conquering Barbie came with the ultimate pop-feminist jukebox. The Mark Ronson co-produced soundtrack perfectly mirrors the film’s hopeful, delightfully dippy, occasionally melancholy mood with songs that, like Barbie herself, seem plasticky and disposable but slowly reveal new depths. Highlights include the euphoric disco of Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’, Billie Eilish’s heart-shattering ‘What Was I Made For?’, and, of course ‘I'm Just Ken’, which spawned the Oscar moment of recent memory. There was even room for Aqua’s ultra-tacky ‘Barbie World’, albeit in heavy disguise.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106125399/image.jpg
Ashanti Omkar
Film and culture critic and broadcaster

98. Dirty Dancing (Various artists)

The soundtrack that launched a million first dances. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein recorded a cassette tape from her record collection to accompany the script, pointing to the oldies that anchor the soundtrack in the ’60s – those Otis Redding hits and R&B singer Solomon Burke’s aching ‘Cry to Me’. But it was ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My life’, recorded especially by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, that swept up the Best Song Oscar and gave the film its big finish.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106023960/image.jpg
Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster
Advertising

99. Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir) 

To Hollywood’s shame, Hildur Guðnadóttir is still one of the few women to compose a blockbuster score. Making Joker, director Todd Phillips was so inspired by her dark cues, he played them on set to pep up scenes that weren’t working. The Icelander’s string arrangements showcase her own cello skills and innovative use of the halldorophone, a cello-like electronic instrument. Joaquin Phoenix gives her track ‘Bathroom Dance’ credit for fuelling his metamorphosis from Arthur Fleck to the Joker in that grimy, toilet-set answer to ‘Swan Lake’.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106125399/image.jpg
Ashanti Omkar
Film and culture critic and broadcaster

100. Eden (Various artists)

Mia Hansen-Løve’s dancefloor odyssey succeeds where others fail by focusing on the music rather than the drugs, dodgy characters or naff DJ cameos. And it’s wall-to-wall bangers, with pioneering US house and garage cuts by Frankie Knuckles and Joey Beltram, and French ‘touch’ anthems telling the story of a scene in a series of euphoric floor-fillers. Then enter Daft Punk with ‘Da Funk’ and everything changes. Props to the robot-headed Parisian legends for licensing their music to for a minimal fee, helping Hansen-Løve make possibly the best – and best-sounding – movie about club culture. 

https://media.timeout.com/images/106148772/image.jpg
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Advertising

101. Singles (Various artists)

Singles as a movie – an enjoyable enough rom-dram-com about twentysomethings in early 1990s Seattle – would have been largely forgotten if it wasn’t for its soundtrack brilliantly managing to sum up the nascent grunge scene. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, they’re all on here, right before they hit megastardom. Plaid-draped, fuzz-drenched, grungified rock changed the face of modern rock, and this soundtrack was many people’s first introduction to it. The angst, the distortion, the long hair, it all started here.

https://media.timeout.com/images/106137999/image.jpg
Eddy Frankel
Art & Culture Editor
Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising