2018 has already brought us some fine soundtracks from Annihilation and Black Panther to You Were Never Really Here, but do these soundtracks deserve to rank amongst the greatest of all time? Of course, music, like film, is a subjective business, but from a personal point of view, here are ten soundtracks that can be considered truly great:
10. The Big Lebowski (1998)
It seems harsh to place the Dude at the bottom of this list, but Lebowski nonetheless remains the finest musical selection in a Coen Brothers film to date. Bob Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ instantly sets us in the realm of the dude’s stoner lifestyle, bowling and hanging out with his friends. However, it’s Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s ‘Just Dropped In’ that represents the ultimate druggy highlight. If you’ve only watched Jeff Bridges in serious roles, then his facial expressions in this musical sequence will no doubt be an unexpected delight.
9. Lord of the Ring: Return of the King (2003)
The third part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy isn’t quite as trippy as the previous entry, but its soundtrack is outstanding nonetheless. Howard Shore’s ‘The Grace of Undomiel’ marks the finest composition across the Rings trilogy; Renee Fleming’s beautiful soprano voice starts off the song as Arwen has a vision of her future son, and switches between the familiar violins and trumpets as the eponymous sword is created. Sit back and enjoy the ambience.
8. Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s psychological horror doesn’t have as many ethereal tunes as Shore’s soundtrack, but Michael Andrew’s opening ‘Carpathian Ridge’ is a particularly sublime tune. While the film is littered with great 80s music from the likes of Tears for Fears and Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s the original tracks like ‘The Artifact and the Living’ and ‘Gretchen Ross’ that elevate this soundtrack to true greatness. ‘Manipulated Living’ is also very powerful, particularly when it plays during Donnie’s declaration of Patrick Swayse’s Jim Cunningham as a “fucking antichrist”. Iconic.
You won’t find any Hans Zimmer soundtracks as great as his work on the second and best instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
7. Withnail and I (1987)
The psychological transforms into the psychedelic with Bruce Robinson’s cult classic. One of the most quotable films of all time also has one of the finest selections of music. King Curtis’ cover of ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ instantly transports us into the depressing, nostalgic world of the eponymous main characters, and ‘Withnail’s Theme’ provides a brilliant melancholic finish. If you’re looking for the definitive British film soundtrack, you’ve found it.
6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Although Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) remains under the more psychedelic influence of mescaline for the majority of Tenenbaums, the soundtrack is much more indie-oriented. Wes Anderson’s third film, a wry study of a dysfunctional New York family, still holds the title of his finest soundtrack, but Rushmore and Grand Budapest Hotel are close runner-ups. Ranging from the whimsical harmonies of Nick Drake’s ‘Fly’ to Elliot Smith’s darker ‘Needle in Hay’, you can’t ask for much more. If that doesn’t sell it, then Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ certainly will.
5. Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s electro score swerves away from the previous genres of music we’ve seen, and remains the best electro film soundtrack of the century. The Chromatic’s ‘Tick of the Clock’ sets up the tension of the opening getaway scene, and the music switches into Kavinsky’s effortlessly cool ‘Nightcall’ as we watch an arial shot of nighttime Los Angeles. And who knew that getting knifed in the abdomen could be made disturbingly tolerable by the calm tones of Cliff Martinez’s ‘Wrong Floor’?
4. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Gustavo Santaolalla employs a more orchestral score for Ang Li’s epic drama. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is already outstanding, but “Opening” playing against the first shot of the gargantuan Wyoming mountains is incredibly powerful, with only a few guitar strings needed to epitomise the beautiful, melancholic tone that will encapsulate the film’s mood. “Brokeback 1” also sets up a idyllic atmosphere that ultimately becomes gloomy as we eventually reach the downtrodden strings of “Brokeback Mountain 3”. However, “The Wings” stands out as Santaolalla’s crowning musical highlight at the film’s conclusion.
3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
In Frank Darabont’s classic prison drama, Shawshank’s sense of epic is formed through Thomas’s Newman’s majestic cellos. ‘Stoic Theme’ illustrates the instrument’s broad, rich strokes while providing us with a harrowing bird’s eye view of the eponymous prison. ‘So Was Red’ is another highlight, but it’s hard to beat Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ for sheer grace and beauty. Language is no barrier to appreciating the awe of this song, as Red (Morgan Freeman) eloquently points out.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
As we near the top spot, it would be foolish not to place this orchestral masterpiece in its rightful position. You won’t find any Hans Zimmer soundtracks as great as his work on the second and best instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. ‘Why So Serious?’ opens one of the greatest heist scenes of all time and becomes the film’s main track for building up tension, while ‘A Dark Knight’ plays over one of the greatest final cinematic speeches. Still not satisfied with the music? Then enjoy the brilliant, total silence as a truck is flipped over and Heath Ledger joyously shakes his head out of a police car window.
1. Blade Runner (1982)
It wasn’t an easy decision to choose Blade Runner over its recent sequel. Despite the majesty of Blade Runner 2049’s ‘Mesa’ and ‘All the Memories are Hers’ among many other tunes, the original narrowly surpasses its second installment to get my top position. With the mesmerising tones and the visually arresting opening sequence that introduces us to Rick Dekkard, it’s impossible not to get lost in Vangelis’ ambient synth chords. ‘Memories of Green’ perfectly encapsulates Rachel’s sombre piano scene, and ‘Blade Runner Blues’ is a brilliant complement to the dark and desolate world of a dystopian Los Angeles. And if you’re not moved by the ‘Tears in Rain’ scene, I’m happy to inform you that you have no soul.