What makes a great soundtrack? Well, silly, it’s something that enhances the film. It encourages imminent dread, or makes that final kiss actually mean something. Think about some of the scariest, happiest, tensest and sexiest moments, then imagine them all with no soundtrack. Unless it’s Blair Witch Project, it would probably just sound kind of jarring and creepy.
I love original scores, so to celebrate that weird love, let’s have a look at some of the greatest (according to me anyway, I guess). So no soundtracks that rely on licensed music, and obviously no musicals because this list would be all Disney films. Let’s make this hard for ourselves. Although then again I am counting most franchises as one because why not.
10. THE DARK KNIGHT
Tense and dramatic, The Dark Knight encapsulates Nolan’s world perfectly. From the slow, creeping early scenes to the dramatic overture of the ending, and let’s not forget the genius of using strumming piano wire to personify the Joker’s instability, Hans Zimmer gets every track right here.
Many may prefer the epic chanting of the follow-up film, The Dark Knight Rises, and obviously that is amazing too, but just listen to “Why so serious?”. It’s haunting, eerie but strangely addictive, and now that I think about it, that sums up the Joker perfectly.
A soundtrack with a legacy almost as great as it’s visual counterpart, although it may not be the most iconic of Horror-movie soundtracks, you still might recognise it from other sources. It has either inspired or been directly copied by a couple other films, but most notably The Hateful Eight, in which director Quentin Tarantino borrowed a few unused tracks of off the soundtrack album.
But for the soundtrack itself, I’d say the word that describes it best is probably ominous. It’s as tense as any other horror film soundtrack, and builds that isolated feeling perfectly, from the beginning of the film right up until the action crescendo which is portrayed by tracks such as “It Burns”, which with it’s loud abrupt synths play wonderfully in contrast to the rest of the quiet, methodical pieces.
Yet another sci-fi/horror film from the 80’s, what a coincidence, but this time it’s James Horner’s backing for Aliens (RIP). Similar to the previous entry, it’s haunting and isolating, but the difference between it and The Thing’s OST is it’s dramatic overtones.
Barely audible, throbbing tones suddenly give way to pulse pounding escapes and are perfectly themed, particularly “Queen to bishop” (wait, did James Cameron call him that just for that phrasing?) which incorporates all of these elements into a single, two and a half minute track. If you ever go into space (why would you, no-one can hear you scream) and someone starts playing this, just hijack the nearest escape pod and get the F out of D.
I suppose at this point, we can already tell one or two composers are going to dominate this list, but Hans Zimmer’s backing to Ridley Scott’s Sword-and-sandals epic is undoubtedly, well, epic.
From the grand battle theme that we all know even if we can’t remember it until it’s played, tot he relaxing and sorrowful “Now we are free” at the end, the music is deliriously entertaining, and sounds pretty much exactly that what I would expect if I went to an actual gladiator fight (Like roman style, not the TV show, that makes me shudder a little bit).
OK, so maybe I’ll lose a little credibility here, what with me putting this above other Hans Zimer films, because 1) everyone only really know’s “He’s a pirate” and 2) much like Danny Elfman, listen to many Zimmer films and you start to notice similarities between themes, as in this is very similar to the above entry, Gladiator.
But, you know, actually give it a listen, Mr Judgey-pants! From the mysterious “Fog Bound” to the epic “Barbossa is Hungry” and then, yes “He’s a Pirate”, this soundtrack encapsulates what it set out to do: personify an adventure. If there’s a soundtrack that embodies wonderment and adventure more, then I’d like to know. Wait, what’s that entry below?
Only the first John Williams OST to make this list (Don’t worry, obviously not the last) Inidana Jones exemplifies my earlier point of embodying adventurer. Of course, we all know that theme, but apart from that, it fills the listener with mystery and intrigue, the perfect catalysts for adventure.
Also shout-out to bonus track “Anything goes” which starts off with inspirations from “Imperial March” and ends with a swing number, how can you beat that? Tell me, please, I need to know.
Okay this soundtrack is my childhood, that’s it, done, I don’t need to say anything else.
From the first, ominous, booming drums of the beginning, to THAT THEME SONG, to calmer, more methodical tunes like “My friend the Brachiosaur”, it grabs you.
It’s tranquil at the right moments and ear-gasm-ly epic at others, and if the very sound of it doesn’t just flood you with nostalgia, then did you even a childhood?
But seriously, everything works with this soundtrack, it fills that majestic sense of wonderment everyone watching for the first time felt, adult or child, because once that soaring, beautiful theme rises, for a second you believe, no wait, you hope, from deep down that child within you desperately hopes, that these creatures are real, and anything is possible.
Probably most famous for it’s “BWAAAAAMP” noise that first appeared in the trailer, and now in probably every other trailer since it’s..uh..inception.
Of course, it’s not all Hans Zimmer’s incredibly work, there’s even a sneaky little French song played diagetically, Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, which, fun fact, is played in complete sequence throughout the film in segmented pieces.
But Zimmer’s pieces here are perfect, for the film. Mysterious and action packed, I can’t think of a Zimmer song I enjoy more than the endlessly iconic “Dream is collapsing”, I mean seriously, can you?
Come on, do I reeeaaalllly need to explain myself? The beginning theme is the every definition of iconic soundtrack, and even the much maligned prequels have some amazing tracks, need I remind you of “Duel of the Fates”?.
I honestly don’t know if I could pick a film that stands out more. So many iconic tracks, “Imperial March”, “Binary Sunset” “Across the stars” “Anakin vs Obi Wan”, even the Cantina song, gosh dang it. My personal favourite would probably be Return of the Jedi, if not just for that amazing music as Luke removes Vader’s mask.
I may have misspoke when I mentioned that Jurassic Park was the soundtrack to my childhood, for it must be just John Williams, so I say thank you, Mr Williams whom I will never meet. for the backing music for hundreds of thousands of children and myself, and letting us all dare to dream that we could be off having these adventures.
I mean, yeah, obviously.
The soundtrack which is the third part of the trinity of my childhood/teenage years I guess, from the opening, light frivolity of Hobbiton all the way to the volcanic crescendo of “End of all things”, Howard Shore’s epic (I know I’ve been using that word alot, but I don’t normally I swear) choral sounds perfectly embody the feeling of adventure and danger that encapsulates The Lord of The Rings trilogy so, so well.
It’s dramatic, tense, exhilarating and so much more, it’s the perfect soundtrack because you don’t need the visual accompaniment to explore Middle Earth, because this music will transport you there instantly. Although you might as well put the visual accompaniment on, because come on, they’re great films.
Well that’s my subjective list based on my favourite childhood franchises, obviously. I’m sure you have lots you would much rather have on this list, but hey, this is a discussion point right? Films may be beautiful in their own right, but visuals alone can’t transport you away to far-off lands, so why not celebrate that a little?