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My Ten Favorite Film Soundtracks
The Soundtrack of Your Life
If you had music to go along with your daily routine - what would it sound like? The powerful pounding of drums? The 'synthy' twang of a guitar? Or maybe a silly flute whistling while a piano plays your lighthearted theme song?
Just imagine - there is a beautiful young woman swimming in the ocean along the beach all by herself, minding her own business. The water is dark, but nothing seems out of the ordinary. All you can hear amid the silence is the splashing as she swims. All of a sudden something tugs at her leg from below. Her face looks shocked, but confused. What is it? Maybe it's her boyfriend playfully toying with her. Maybe it's just a powerful rip current.
How BORING is that? That and terrifying scene from "Jaws" is just not the same without that familiar pulsing sound signaling the shark is approaching and hungry. Build up is everything and without that score it doesn't exist. "Dun dun........dun dun........dun dun...dundundundundundunCHOMP!"
Soundtracks MAKE the movie. They really do. Like the scene from "Jaws", just imagine your favorites without the score. One thing I listen for and keep in mind while creating this list is whether or not I can picture exactly what is happening at that point in the movie while simply listening to the album at home. A good soundtrack not only pulls you further into the story, but is also enjoyable to listen to and recognizable without seeing the actual movie. If you have read any of my past Hubs, you will notice some of the same movies are listed here. That is not because "they are the soundtracks of my favorite movies" - It is actually due to the fact "they are my favorite movies partly because of the soundtrack".
With each of my selections below, I've added a YouTube clip of my favorite track. Enjoy!
"Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner"
10. "Star Wars" (1977)
Composed by: John Williams
Easily one of the most recognizable soundtracks of all time, the main title from "Star Wars" gets you excited from the very start of the film. It was the winner of the Academy Award for "Best Original Score" beating out John William's other sci-fi soundtrack "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It's high and low tones that blast through the speakers as you read the yellow words that scroll across a space backdrop instantly letting you know what you are in for. This is an easy favorite for film fans and geeks throughout the world and for good reason. As the soundtrack plays you can flawlessly picture the scene taking place during any particular track. Your imagination will add Chewbacca's gargling bellow, Darth Vader's raspy breathing and the Stormtroopers firing their blasters (without hitting a single thing, of course). Each of the movies in the franchise have the same signature sound from master composer John Williams.
"Push the Button, Max!"
9. "The Great Race" (1965)
Composed by: Henry Mancini
Nominated for an Oscar for the song "The Sweetheart Tree", the soundtrack for "The Great Race" is a joy to listen to. During the most hilarious and ridiculous moments in the film, the score makes it even more funny. The villain (Professor Fate played by Jack Lemmon) has a theme song that perfectly describes the character through music. It is goofy, but you can also tell he is always up to no good. Hearing the track causes me to reach up and twirl my evil mustache and scream at my not-so-bright assistant "MAX!". "He Shouldn't-a Hand't-a Ought'n-a Swang On Me" is just as silly as the title suggests. So many of the songs are memorable in classic Henry Mancini fashion. Other films he scored over his lengthy career are "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and of course, (some of my Dad's favorites) the amazing soundtracks of the original "Pink Panther" films starring Peter Sellers.
8. "Gladiator" (2000)
Composed by: Hans Zimmer
Oh, Hans Zimmer. When I first created this list I had 6 of his scores. 6. Out of 10. I figured that was too many (he's THAT good though), so I tried to be fair and narrow it down, but there are two I just couldn't live without. Nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Original Score", "Gladiator" has the perfect combination of a great story along with an equally incredible music score. The soundtrack truly defines what this film is about along with everything the lead characters experience - good and bad. "Am I Not Merciful" makes your skin crawl just as much as the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) did each time he was on screen. Hearing the track "Sorrow" brings tears to your eyes as you can clearly picture Maximus (Russell Crowe) breaking down after finding his wife and young son murdered. It's an emotional roller coaster from the very first track to the last.
"I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow"
7. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
Produced by: T-Bone Burnett (Compilation Soundtrack)
Featuring musical greats Alison Kraus, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Ralph Stanley, this soundtrack became an instant hit once the movie was released. The winner of two Grammy's, each song takes the listener through each moment from the movie and leaves you wanting more once the credits roll. Favorites "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" and "In the Jailhouse Now" that are performed by our heroes The Soggy Botton Boys surprisingly fail to overshadow the smoother, low-key songs such as "I'll Fly Away" and "Don't Leave Nobody but the Baby". I purchased this soundtrack immediately after seeing the movie and it has been a go-to for roadtrips ever since. Don't listen to this album if you are not prepared to fall in love and sing along.
"End of the Line"
6. "Tron: Legacy" (2010)
Composed by: Daft Punk
The first thing I realized when I sat down in the theater to watch "Tron: Legacy" was how amazing the soundtrack was. Going in, I can honestly say I didn't expect to be blown away by it. Don't get me wrong - I like Daft Punk, but scoring a film was something I never expected out of the group. With Jeff Bridge's voice narrating over the "The Grid", the music is electronic and soothing with the main title coming in at the end of the dialogue. That edgy futuristic trend continued on tracks such as "Armory" and "Rinzler" all while being able to pick up the pace during the action sequences during "Fall" and the hit single from the soundtrack "Derezzed". Once again, I bought the CD the moment I stepped out of the theater and I continue to listen to it on a day-to-day basis while I write. About a year ago while at a bar one night with some friends, I heard one of the songs come over the speakers and it totally made my night.
Hans Zimmer Composing Away
"Agent of Chaos"
5. "The Dark Knight" (2008)
Composed by: Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
Hans Zimmer again?! This is the last one, I promise. Maybe. Some of my favorite soundtracks of his are ones he composed for Christopher Nolan's films - especially "The Dark Knight Trilogy". Although all three are phenomenal, "The Dark Knight" score has some of the best dramatic rifts of the franchise. Zimmer's "Batman Theme" can be heard clearly and subtly throughout the album while the hauntingly eerie sounds of the Joker can be heard in tracks "Why So Serious?" and "Aggressive Expansion". The lighter more emotional scenes of the film are illuminated by "Blood on my Hands" and during "Watch the World Burn". My favorite piece of the soundtrack can be heard during the scene where Batman and James Gordon are hurrying to rescue Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. "Agent of Chaos" flawlessly changes from intense and heart pounding to a soft, somber ending.
"The Shawshank Redemption"
4. "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
Composed by: Thomas Newman
Thomas Newman has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards for Best Original Score (including "The Shawshank Redemption" Soundtrack), but (just like "The Shawshank Redemption") has not won any. Don't get me started. The soundtrack is one of a million reasons this is my favorite movie of all time. Just like the movie, the music causes me to laugh and cry. While listening, you are able to recall the movie so vividly that you get chill bumps. I can hear Morgan Freeman's voice reading softly over each track. I can hear Brooks reading the letter he had written to his friends still imprisoned during the soft piano in "Brooks Was Here". I can perfectly see Andy and the others drinking "Suds on the Roof". And the epic climax of the film is forever embedded in our minds along with the brilliant, moving sounds of the appropriately named "Shawshank Redemption".
"Blade Runner" Soundtrack Compilation
3. "Blade Runner" (1982)
Composed by: Vangelis
Fans of the Greek musician/composer Vangelis are not the only who will appreciate the ominous and subtle electronic tones of the "Blade Runner" original score. If I were a therapist and had to play music for my patients - I would choose various songs from this album. That may be crazy, but it would totally happen. (Good thing I'm a writer! You're welcome, world.) As it tingles away, the synth-heavy music really gives you a feel for the futuristic world shown in the film and the way the diverse range of characters interacts. "Love Theme" and "Rachel's Song" are beautiful and moving pieces while "Tales of the Future" and "Damask Rose" have a darker tone. Hearing the theme over the opening and ending titles instantly puts the ominous scene of 2019 Los Angeles in my mind, glittering with bright colored lights in the distance and flying cars zipping through the dark sky.
"Lucia Di Lammermoor" & "The Diva Dance"
2. "The Fifth Element" (1997)
Composed by: Eric Serra
"The Fifth Element" is another great sci-fi movie and soundtrack combination. With it's electronic overall feel it manages to infuse different influences including Reggae ("Heat"), Middle Eastern ("Timecrash" & "Akta") and Itatlian opera ("Lucia Di Lammermoor"). The song "The Diva Dance" is a huge draw for people to buy this soundtrack. It starts off as a soft and beautiful aria performed by the incredibly talented diva Inva Mulla Tchako and it suddenly transforms into a dance infused number, all while the diva continues to sing over the score. "Korben Dallas" is an excellent introduction song to the leading character (Bruce Willis) while his love interest, the Fifth Element named LeeLoo has her own theme, aptly titled "LeeLoo" that repeats in different forms throughout the rest of the soundtrack. I can listen to this album any time of the day, any time of the year.
And the Winner is...
"Theme From Jurassic Park"
1. "Jurassic Park" (1993)
Composed by: John Williams
While watching a movie about dinosaurs you don't expect to cry unless it's from fear. Alas, each and every single time I hear the theme song from "Jurassic Park" I bawl my eyes out. "Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler - Welcome to Jurassic Park..." *sigh*. The very first time they see the dinosaurs walking freely over a picturesque backdrop is really something special. The music is what makes me as emotional as the characters. Just listening to the YouTube video before posting it got me a bit choked up. John Williams is a master of his craft and knows how to tug at the audience from every angle.
While the theme and songs like "Journey to the Island", "My Friend the Brachiosaurus" and "A Tree for my Bed" are light and magical, other tracks take you to the very brink of the action and push you to the edge of your seat. "Incident at Isla Nublar" is a suspense builder with the terrifying "Raptor Attack" soon after. As "Dennis Steals the Embryo" it's impossible not to become furious at the man responsible for sabotaging the park, whether you are watching the film or just listening to the soundtrack. "T-Rex Rescue & Finale" has me chewing intensely on my nails as I can distinctively picture Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, Lex and Little Timmy feverishly trying to escape the vicious Raptors. Just when all hope seems lost, they are saved by the most unlikely hero - T-Rex himself! The way he showboats, picking up a Raptor and whipping him through skeletal remains (that of his very own long-dead relatives) and then roars triumphantly with the mighty score blasting in the background makes for an absolutely perfect blockbuster ending.
My Favorite Soundtracks Breakdown
"The Fifth Element"
"The Shawshank Redemption"
"The Dark Knight"
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
"The Great Race"