More often than not, movie soundtracks are disappointing. Original scores are one thing - instrumental arrangements can help push the plot forward or give the audience clues on how to react during a certain scene. But a soundtrack is usually just a playlist of songs that appear in the movie for maybe 30 seconds, tops. Honestly, I don't even know why studios insist on making full length soundtracks available in stores.
A really amazing soundtrack, however, can improve a movie and make you feel so much more invested in the events happening on screen. The best compilations are never found where you'd expect them to be; sometimes it's the indie film you've never heard of that makes use of the most incredible music. Here are 12 of the most surprising soundtrack successes.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis
Is it cheating to put a movie about a folk musician on this list? Probably. Inside Llewyn Davis
was an underrated Coen brothers' production that follows the life of a struggling folk singer in 1950s New York City. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Adam Driver bring Greenwich Village to life on screen, but the real magic happens on the Marcus Mumford curated soundtrack.
11. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Based on a series of comic books, this 2010 comedy is the definition of a cult classic. Michael Cera plays an awkward garage-band bassist in peak awkward Michael Cera fashion. The soundtrack adds another layer of quirkiness to this already strange film, with Beck and Metric rounding out a list of surprisingly good fictional songs by fictional bands.
10. Grosse Pointe Blank
Every John Cusack movie is my favorite movie. Don't ask why, I can't explain it. The plot of Grosse Pointe Blank
is completely absurd,
but Cusack's well-meaning assassin is still one of my all-time favorite characters. Even though the 1997 film is under appreciated, it has the soundtrack of a big budget production - Echo & the Bunnymen, The Clash, and Violent Femmes are just a few of the classic names who lend their voices to the film.
9. (500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer
uses The Smiths as a major plot point, so of course its soundtrack makes this list. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the ultimate problematic fav in this bittersweet rom-com. His whiny, "nice guys finish last" character is a major setback to what would otherwise be a classic film. It seems so simple at first, but the movie makes a profound point about the complexities of modern love, all set to the playlist of any hopeless romantic's dreams.
8. Do the Right Thing
Nearly 30 years later, Spike Lee's notorious film still feels relevant. A close-up look at racial tension in a 1980s Brooklyn neighborhood, Do the Right Thing
was deemed controversial by critics nationwide, but remains one of Lee's most significant works. Music plays a huge role in this groundbreaking movie, with Radio Raheem's boombox blaring Public Enemy everywhere he goes.
Before Baby Drive
r, there was Drive
. Ryan Gosling starred as the unnamed Hollywood stunt driver who doubles as a criminal get-away driver. Drive
relies on an 80s synth-pop soundtrack that was later re-designed by former BBC radio host Zane Lowe. The highly criticized reissue featured brand new songs from Bastille, The 1975, and Chvrches, and premiered at a special screening of the film in the U.K.
6. Say Anything…
Another John Cusack film, another above average soundtrack. Say Anything…
is sometimes forgotten amongst the hundreds of beloved 80s rom-coms like Can't Buy Me Love
and Some Kind of Wonderful
. But because of the music, Lloyd and Diane's love story is unforgettable. Living Color, Cheap Trick, Depeche Mode, and of course, that iconic Peter Gabriel scene.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
I never would have expected music to be such an important part of this Marvel franchise. Peter Quill/Starlord uses an old mixtape as a way to stay connected to his past on Earth while he's stuck fighting crime in space (or whatever he does). The Guardians
soundtrack is full of classic 70s and 80s rock that makes Quill's story feel so much more accessible.
has two soundtracks: one with the songs featured in the film and another with all the songs that inspired the filmmaking process. Both of the albums are 90s Brit-pop goldmines that leave Noel Gallagher regretting he turned down the opportunity
for Oasis to be part of what this explosively popular film. Iggy Pop, New Order, Blur, and Lou Reed are just a few of the reasons this soundtrack is so great.
3. Into the Wild
I will never forget reading Into the Wild
in high school. The novel tells the tragic story of Chris McCandless, a young outdoorsman who attempted to survive on his own in the Alaskan wilderness. Later adapted into an award-winning film, rock legend Eddie Vedder provided a completely original (and completely magical) acoustic soundtrack.
2. Almost Famous
It's not surprising that a film about a teenage Rolling Stone reporter would have one of the greatest soundtracks ever curated. Cameron Crowe wrote and directed a beautifully honest and heartwarming take on the music industry in the 1970s - from fans and groupies, to bands and managers. Every time I hear "Tiny Dancer," I picture Stillwater, William Miller, and the Band Aids driving across the country in their tattered tour bus.
1. Pretty in Pink
When it comes to their soundtracks, John Hughes films never fail. The Breakfast Club
might be the mainstream favorite, but Pretty In Pink
definitely has the musical upper hand. Not only does Molly Ringwald's character work in a new wave record store, but the movie itself is named after a Psychedelic Furs song. And who could forget that brilliant Jon Cryer lip sync scene?