What would movies be without music? Picture Soul without Joe’s love of jazz, or Do the Right Thing without “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. Since the beginning of film history, music and movies have gone hand-in-hand. Songs have brought depth and emotion to the characters and the narrative. When vision and sound come together, a story is created. In no particular order, we’ve rounded up the best movie soundtracks from the decades.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
If you are old enough to remember the movie that made John Travolta a megastar, Saturday Night Fever brought disco to the mainstream music world. From Kool & The Gang, KC & The Sunshine Band, and of course, the Bee Gees, Saturday Night Fever left us all wanting to hit up the disco club. With 15 million copies sold in the U.S alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack of all time, before losing its spot to The Bodyguard in 1992. That hasn’t stopped the soundtrack from being the only disco album to win the Grammy Album of the Year award. The record stayed on the Billboard charts until March 1980—the alleged “death” of disco.
Star Wars (1977)
We can all recognize the Star Wars theme song within the first couple of notes. From the same man who brought the Jaws, Superman: The Movie, John Williams has been recognized as a major influence on the scores of Harry Potter, E.T, and more. The Star Wars score left us feeling emotions of excitement, heroicness, adventure, and compassion. Each scene had a sound to go with it, allowing us to feel the excitement of the attack on the Death Star, the love between Han Solo and Leia, and the intensity when Yoda tells Luke about the power of the force. The score won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media in 1978.
Before the “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, there was “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti. From the opening of the movie to the iconic running scene, “Gonna Fly Now” had a feeling of Funk with the deep bass and the steady drums. The film has a “Cinderella-story” element to it; Rocky was seen as a working-class hero, and his journey was only emphasized with the music, and that’s what sets Rocky apart from the other sports movies around that time. Grounded by the sounds of Philadelphia, Conti placed an influence of R&B on the score. It was the music that had us inching to the edge of our seats for the fight scenes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song, and Best Sound. As well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
When the late Isaac Hayes composed the soundtrack for Shaft, no one knew that this would be the film that sparked the massive success for the Blaxploitation films. “Theme from Shaft,” one of the only three vocal selections of the entire album, was a major hit that reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart and stayed there for a week. It was the opening score of the film and has been credited as the most unforgettable opening credits in film history. The album won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and at that time Hayes was the first Black person to win an award in that category. The soundtrack also won two Grammys and a Golden Globe. It was so iconic that its influence seeped into soundtracks for Charlie’s Angels, S.W.A.T, Starsky & Hutch, and The Rookies.
Top Gun (1986)
Flight suits, aviator glasses, and, of course, “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, defined Tom Cruise-led Top Gun. Top Gun was the best-selling soundtrack album of 1986, and one of the best-selling of all time and has features from Kenny Loggins, Loverboy, Otis Redding, and more. Take My Breath Away went on to win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1986.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
As hard as it is to imagine, there almost wasn’t a soundtrack album for Dirty Dancing. The film was produced by a then-new production company, with unknown actors, so it was quite challenging to find artists who were willing to sign their music rights to the album. All of the greats at that time, Lionel Richie, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Donna Summer refused to participate. In the struggle to finding music, Patrick Swayze offered one of his own songs, “She’s Like the Wind”. The most notable song “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life”, which spawned a thousand at-home dance scene remakes, almost flopped on the charts because of the change in the film’s release date. The song ended up nabbing a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, Academy Award for Best Music, and a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The film that revolutionized the Teen Movie genre, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, defined what a teenager’s view of life looked like. Amy Heckerling, who later directed Clueless, was the perfect choice for bringing this story to life. The film’s soundtrack features some of the greatest rock artists like Stevie Nicks and Jimmy Buffet. The Classic Rock influence was the perfect sound for the film. Heckerling wanted it to reflect the musical shifts happening in the early ’80s, so the soundtrack consisted of current and seasoned artists.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Pretty in Pink’s soundtrack was more well regarded than the notorious The Breakfast’s Club, thanks to artists like New Order, The Smiths, and The Psychedelic Furs- who Pretty in Pink got their name from. The amazing thing about the film is that it sounds like a real album from a band with different leads, instead of a compilation of songs from different artists. Pretty in Pink was credited to predict where Pop music was going for the ’80s, with most of the songs from the soundtrack being on Billboard’s Hot 100. The songs If You Leave by OMD and Bring On The Dance by the Echo and The Bunnymen were considered the best songs of the ’80s.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction is a cultural icon in film history and the soundtrack is no exception. Filled with surf songs from the ’60s and vinyl highlights, Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack made its mark in the ’90s. In an interview in 1994, Quentin Tarintino said, “What I don’t want to do, and I’ve seen it done in a lot of movies, is turn up the soundtrack to create a false energy. Or in particular, to create a sense of period.” Instead of using big hits, Tarintino’s team decided to pick a mix of ‘sound-alike’ songs that mimic a certain period or genre. The soundtrack went on to be nominated for BAFTA’s Best Sound Award in 1995. Tarintino’s mixtape inspired Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Bodyguard (1992)
The soundtrack’s best-remembered song by Whitney Houston’s iconic cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” helped make The Bodyguard album become the best-selling in U.S history. The song stayed No.1 for 14 weeks. The soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song, won a Brit Award for Best Soundtrack, two Grammys for Record of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance: Female.
2000’s & 2010’s
8 Mile (2002)
Whether it was played from the car radios or the freestyle raps, the flow of music throughout 8 Mile was reverberating. “Lose Yourself” went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song—the first rap song to win in this category. 8 Mile changed the way we see the musical genre as a whole.
Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Mix hip-hop and comic books in a bowl and you have yourself Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. The soundtrack is a perfect match to the outstanding visuals and animation of the film. The song “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway, Black Caviar was the best crescendo to Miles jumping off the side of a building, fully embracing the Spiderman role. Every song matched the scene, allowing us to feel all of the emotions of excitement, fear, and heroicness. The most popular song from the film was “Sunflower“ by Post Malone and Swae Lee, reaching No1. on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2019.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Right from the trailer, when “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede started playing, we got a taste of what to expect. The role of music had an integral role to play in the film, not only within the soundtrack, but was written into the script when a walkman was given to Star-Lord as a child, and he kept that with him up to adulthood.
The soundtrack consisted of the super sounds of the ’70s, having features from David Bowie, The Jackson 5, Redbone, and Marvin Gaye. James Gunn directed the films and handpicked the songs himself. He intentionally used happy songs for sad scenes. This was symbolic—the music represented Star-Lord’s mother and how she helps with the tough times. The album reached No.1 for Billboard’s 200s chart, Top Soundtracks, Top Rock Albums, and Top Digital Albums in 2014.
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