There are movie soundtracks that enhance the power of a great film, and then there are movie soundtracks that not only make a great movie iconic, but can stand alone in their own right. You know the ones I'm talking about—films like Footloose and The Bodyguard have become so synonymous with their soundtracks, it's hard to imagine one without the other. The films on this list aren't movie musicals, just films that were paired perfectly with a carefully crafted soundtrack that take its sad moments to full-on heartbreaking and its thrills to heart-pounding heights. Ahead, our guide to the best movie soundtracks of all time.
Really, all five of the Twilight Saga's soundtracks should be on this list, but if we have to pick one, we'll go with the original. The first Twilight film paired its moody, angsty love story with rock anthems and ballads by Paramore, Muse, Linkin Park, and Iron & Wine. Edward Cullen himself (Robert Pattinson) even contributed two songs.
Whitney Houston's most famous film ends with her most famous song, an epic ballad that builds to one of the best high notes and emotional releases in a soundtrack song. Props to Dolly Parton, the original singer/songwriter, and Houston for this heart-wrenching classic.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Baz Luhrmann is known for his innovative soundtracks, including Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. For Romeo + Juliet, the director scored a modern-day Verona with rock anthems, dance hits, and an angelic choir singing Prince. The love song for the two lovers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, is a gorgeous and heartfelt ballad by Des'ree.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
We knew Guardians of the Galaxy would be a different type of MCU film when Starlord (Chris Pratt) lip-synced his way through an alien planet. The rest of the film, and its sequel, is full of fun '70s and '80s hits, including "Hooked on a Feelling" by Blue Suede and "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Saturday Night Fever is powered by disco music, so it's no surprise the soundtrack, written and performed primarily by The Bee Gees, is the biggest disco album in history. It's also the second best-selling soundtrack of all time, behind The Bodyguard.
A Star Is Born (2018)
A Star Is Born only came out in 2018, but it's hard to remember a time where "Shallow" wasn't a karaoke staple, especially Lady Gaga's iconic ad-lib. The soundtrack for this remake is full of original songs, many co-written by Gaga, that suck us into the dramatic romance between Ally (Gaga) and Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper).
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
The classic romance Waiting to Exhale includes a stellar cast (Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta DeVine, Lela Rochon) and a stellar soundtrack, written and produced by Babyface, with performances from the biggest names in R&B, including Toni Braxton, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, and Houston herself.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
To soundtrack a young romance in 1983 Northern Italy, Call Me By Your Name blended '80s pop hits with classical pieces. Singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens also contributes two songs: the euphoric "Mystery of Love" and the nostalgic "Visions of Gideon."
The official soundtrack for this biopic is a trip through Selena's musical career, brought to life onscreen by Jennifer Lopez. It also includes unreleased songs by the late Tejano star.
Purple Rain (1984)
Purple Rain the film is a rock musical partly inspired by Prince's life. Purple Rain the soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all time, and is considered the legend's most pop-oriented and experimental work. Many of his fans' favorites, including "Darling Nikki" and "When Doves Cry," come from this album.
The Lion King: The Gift (2019)
Beyoncé's compilation album for the Lion King remake is a celebration of African and diasporic Black musical traditions, with contributions from African producers and musicians including Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, and Tiwa Savage. There's also a making-of film, Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift, that's a cinematic event on its own.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
ABBA sung by Meryl Streep is another combination we never knew we needed, but now can't live without. If you haven't caught a rerun of this jukebox musical, it's worth it for the fun and joy emanating from the actors as they sing through ABBA's biggest hits. Be sure to check out the sequel soundtrack for renditions by that film cast, including Cher (!).
The Graduate (1967)
The Simon and Garfunkel-led soundtrack for this '60s film, following an affair between a young college grad (Dustin Hoffman) and the older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), put the folk-pop duo on the map and showed how background music can drive moody scenes.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Raise your hand if you saw this and immediately tried out for or founded your school's acapella group? (If you still have your hand down, stop lying.) This soundtrack of pop mashups includes decades of hits. Where else can you hear "Don't You (Forget About Me)" mixed with "Party in the U.S.A."?
Black Panther (2018)
Director Ryan Coogler tapped rap phenom and producer Kendrick Lamar to contribute songs for the MCU's first Black superhero film. Lamar came up with this curated album, which includes features from SZA, Future, James Blake, and The Weeknd.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Another great superhero soundtrack, this album tapped young rappers and hip-hop stars to score the origin story of Miles Morales, a Black and Puerto Rican teen who becomes a web-slinging hero. It's biggest hit "Sunflower," a collab between Post Malone and Swae Lee, is even sung by Morales in the animated film.
The infectious soundtrack for this 1984 film, led by a single of the same name by Kenny Loggins, was so iconic that it even spawned a stage musical with many of the same songs from the film. Even if you've never seen the film, you've heard Loggins urge you to "kick off your Sunday shoes."
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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