A good film can be elevated to greatness simply by its soundtrack. Some films rely on excellent original scores, while others reimagine old songs for an inspired cinematic context. In this article, we’ve cast our ears over six of what we consider to be the best film soundtracks ever.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Unfortunately, mentioning The Wicker Man today is more likely to conjure up images of Nicolas Cage shouting about bees in the 2006 movie rather than Robin Hardy’s masterful 70s British folk horror film, The Wicker Man. Considering it’s a horror-mystery that follows a policeman battling an island full of suspicious pagans, it might come as a surprise that The Wicker Man’s soundtrack is comprised of uplifting folk ditties.
The music was composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni, while a band named Magnet was put together for the sole purpose of recording songs for the film. The result was a collection of unique, pastoral folk music with a darkly sexual undertone that reflects the decidedly non-Christian hedonistic lifestyles of the islanders.
Unfortunately for fans of the cult classic, the soundtrack didn’t see an official release until 25 years after the film hit cinema screens. Nevertheless, the soundtrack itself has developed a small but dedicated following as one of the most unique musical directions in film history.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
The films that make up Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western ‘Dollars Trilogy’ are renowned as some of the greatest filmmaking achievements of all time. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in particular, has gone down in history as one of cinema’s greats, not just for the directorial and acting chops of its cast and crew, but also for its truly iconic score.
Leone’s longtime orchestral collaborator, Ennio Morricone, crafted a sweeping, unique score for the film that echoes the western setting perfectly. From the title song alone, with its use of strings, electric guitars, operatic vocals and cannon fire, the soundtrack will keep you hooked all the way through the film’s three-hour running time.
As the film nears its climax and the beautiful Ecstasy of Gold rings out across the scorched plains, you realise wholeheartedly that you’ve just experienced one of the defining scores of not just the western genre, but in all of cinematic history.
Kill Bill (2003/4)
Moving away from original scores for a moment, there is no better filmmaker to talk about than Quentin Tarantino when it comes to choosing popular songs that fit seamlessly into a movie. From Reservoir Dogs’ iconic torture scene accompanied by Stuck In The Middle With You to Pulp Fiction’s You Never Can Tell twist scene at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Tarantino’s films, by now, have soundtracks as eagerly anticipated as the films themselves.
For our money, we think that Tarantino’s double feature revenge epic Kill Bill (Volume One and Two because, let’s be real, they are one film) brings one of his best soundtracks to the screen. Kill Bill was Tarantino’s first film to fuse an original score – curated by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA no less – with pre-existing musical tracks.
Setting the scene perfectly, each track used across the the Kill Bill double feature, from Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) to Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity works in tandem with the cinematography and script to add another level of tension to the film. In Volume Two, we’re treated to a more western-inspired soundtrack, featuring music from the aforementioned Ennio Morricone as well as Spanish flamenco duo Lole Y Manuel.
Kill Bill’s soundtrack is a journey all of its own, with each song guiding the viewer through the film’s self-described “roaring rampage of revenge”. If there’s one Tarantino flick we really couldn’t imagine without its soundtrack, it has to be Kill Bill.
Judgment Night (1993)
We’ll now take a look at a lesser-known film. To call the soundtrack of Judgment Night ‘unique’ would be a serious disservice to the auditory experience the movie delivers. While the film itself isn’t anything to write home about – even with the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Emilio Estevez leading the cast – the soundtrack will stick with you for a long time after the mediocre plot has been forgotten.
The soundtrack is as early-90s as it gets, with each track fusing the talents of some of the biggest rock/metal and hip-hop artists of the era and it’s utterly magical. If you’ve ever wondered what Slayer would sound like if Ice-T was the frontman, or how Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill fit together, Judgment Night has you covered.
The soundtrack really is bizarre, but somehow it works perfectly and almost makes the film worth watching… almost. For our money, we think you’d be better off just listening to the brilliant Mudhoney/Sir Mix-a-Lot collaboration we’ve linked below.
The Harder They Come (1972)
When asked what the best reggae album of all time is, many people would instinctively choose Legend, the iconic greatest hits selection from Bob Marley and the Wailers. While that is, undoubtedly, a brilliant reggae album, here at Kore we think the soundtrack to the 1972 Jamaican crime film The Harder They Come is a strong contender for the top spot.
The film’s soundtrack is entirely comprised of reggae tunes from some of the biggest names in Jamaica at the time including Desmond Dekker and Toots & The Maytals, though the focal point is the music performed by the film’s lead actor: Jimmy Cliff.
The soundtrack never fails to deliver the island vibes many of us expect from reggae, and it can be hard to believe that it forms the backdrop of a violent crime film. The real key to why it’s such a great soundtrack, however, is the fact that The Harder They Come may have been the first reggae album to introduce the genre to the rest of the world. The success of the film in the US and further afield played a huge part in building the worldwide popularity that Jamaican music currently enjoys. For us, that makes it one of the most important albums ever released.
Star Wars (1977)
If you’re anything like us, just hearing the words ‘Star Wars’ will cause images of space battles, lightsabers and Darth Vader to flash through your mind, all with that iconic orchestral opening theme playing in the background. For a man with a career spanning more than 60 years with the scores of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and ET under his belt, it was difficult to settle on a single John Williams score for this list, but after much deliberation, we had to give it to Star Wars.
George Lucas’ space opera made sci-fi cool again. After decades of cheesy Flash Gordons and Barbarellas. Star Wars came along and brought space flicks to the masses with a solid plot, great writing and, of course, a truly epic score.
Often bombastic, sometimes romantic, and always magical the Star Wars OST will go down as one of the best ever. While it may sound a little trope-filled at times, back in ‘77 it was a one-of-a-kind and defined the stereotypical soundscapes we associate with space movies today.