Choosing the best movie soundtracks of all time was a hard task, so we developed a system to help us score them. First and foremost, they had to easily come to mind. If you have to go searching for what to include, then that doesn't deserve a slot.
We then combined a few factors. One was that the songs themselves had to be great in their own rights. Another was that they had to be worked into the movie in a meaningful way, not simply licensed to sell the soundtrack. And finally, hearing the songs must now bring up strong memories of the films.
Basically, their use must be so powerful that you can never hear these songs in the same way again without associating them with the movies, just like with the best movie scores of all time. We also cover some runners up and honorable mentions below, so don't miss that. With that said, let's jump right into the list of the best movie soundtracks of all time...
Choosing a "notable song" from the Forrest Gump movie is absurd, since every one was a huge hit somewhere between 1956 and 1980. That's why this soundtrack ranks among the best, but it's almost cheating to rank it too highly. It operates on a higher plane than most others. It also suffers from not having any exclusive songs. It spanned several genres like Pop, Rock, Country, and Soul.
When the soundtrack album was released on June 28, 1994, it opened at #34 on the Billboard 200 charts. By the July 30th it hit #7, then the next week it hit #3, and finally hit #2 and stayed there for seven weeks. That's incredible for a soundtrack. It only was dislodged because The Lion King soundtrack came out.
Trivia Facts: This movie soundtrack contains 34 songs, but there were an additional 16 songs used in the film that didn't make it onto the soundtrack, which already stretched across two CDs (or three LPs). John Lennon's hit song Imagine was mentioned in the movie but was never actually played and was thus left off of the soundtrack.
The Big Chill soundtrack came out in September of 1983, and much like the Forrest Gump one above, it featured some of the top songs from the time period the film takes place in. They couldn't include them all, but later they released a second soundtrack album that included others, and expanded the first one on CD with four additional tracks.
This one stays within the R&B and Soul genres, featuring artists like The Temptations, Three Dog Night, Aretha Franklin, and many others. It managed to reach a peak rank 17 on the Billboard 200 upon release. Ultimately a deluxe edition came out featuring 16 of the 18 songs used in the film plus three instrumentals.
Trivia Facts: After several versions came out, the album found itself achieving Platinum and Gold status from the RIAA in the USA. By 1998, which was 15 years after the initial release, The Big Chill soundtrack went 6x Platinum. It was released on the Motown Records label.
The Flashdance soundtrack came out on March 26, 1983 and quickly went 6x Platinum. It was so good it bumped Michael Jackson's Thriller from the #1 spot on the US Billboard 200, which had been there for 17 weeks. Even in Japan it held the #1 spot for 10 weeks. Like all others, not every song from the movie ended up on the soundtrack. The genres fall largely into the Electro Pop and Synthpop genres.
It received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year and won the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. It featured artists like Irene Cara, Donna Summer, and others that well in the 1980's. Irene Cara actually re-recorded Joe Esposito's "Flashdance... What a Feeling" song to make it fall in line with the female perspective of the film.
Trivia Facts: The Flashdance soundtrack stayed on the Billboard 200 charts for 78 weeks. Two singles from the album hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the charts in United States, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Austria, Norway, and Switzerland.
The Romeo + Juliet soundtrack is kind of like a time capsule of 1990's Alternative Rock and Post-Grunge, featuring artists like Garbage, Everclear, Gavin Friday, and Radiohead. Volume 1 was the true soundtrack, released on October 29, 1996, and later on Volume 2 was released which was the original score.
The critics laughingly gave it on average around 3 out of 5 stars, yet the people voted with their wallets far differently, as you'll see in the trivia facts below. It spawned three singles out of its 13 tracks, which is pretty solid when you realize the rest isn't filler like most albums by single artists or bands these days.
Trivia Facts: The soundtrack went 4x Platinum in the USA, 5x Platinum in Australia, and 3x Platinum is Canada. In Canada it was the 2nd highest selling album of 1997. The 10th anniversary re-release in 2007 featured 4 bonus tracks, two of which were from the Volume 2 score.
Released on September 27, 1994, Music From the Motion Picture Pulp Fiction enjoyed high acclaim from the critics but less so from the normal listeners who pushed it to only #21 on the Billboard 200. It contains songs in genres such as Rock & Roll, Pop, Soul, and Surf Rock. Seven songs from the film didn't make it to the soundtrack because it's also full of dialogue snippets and tracks.
The soundtrack contains nine songs from artists like Kool & The Gang, Al Green, and Dusty Springfield. People felt this soundtrack, moreso than any other, chose the songs to aid the film rather than simply collecting songs from artists they like and stuffing them into the movie.
Trivia Facts: This soundtrack ended up launching the careers of the band Urge Overkill. It also caused a resurgence of Surf Rock to the point that TV commercials started using the genre. A collector's edition version came out in 2002, adding five more songs.
The Dirty Dancing soundtrack was released on July 18, 1987 and was a huge success. It sold 32 million copies and sat at #1 on the Billboard 200 for 18 weeks. It contained 12 tracks and each one was worthy of being a single. The album is so good that it went 11x Platinum in the USA, and performed similarly globally.
I can tell you the titles of songs like "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" or "Hungry Eyes" and you probably hear the songs in your head as you read them. That's how potent this collection of tracks is, especially due to how good the movie was and how it used these Pop Rock, Soft Rock, and R&B songs.
Trivia Facts: In 1988, the album More Dirty Dancing came out and was a complete flop. They tried again in 2003 with the release of Ultimate Dirty Dancing that features every song from the film in the order they appeared. A 20th anniversary edition exists with 27 total tracks as well.
These Marvel movies are huge successes and they know how to create a cultural phenomenon. Released on July 29, 2014, the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy went platinum with its 12 tracks, all recorded between the years of 1967 to 1979. That was the appeal, hearing "oldies" while watching a futuristic sci-fi movie. We just love juxtapositions.
The lead character carried around a literal mix tape on cassette that he'd listen to, and these are the songs that were on the tape and featured in the film. The fun of these songs is that the actors in the movie sing most of them at some point, like "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone. It brings up mental images of the movie strongly.
Trivia Facts: This album reached #1 on the Billboard 200, making it the first soundtrack album in history to do so with only previously released music. There were other songs used in scenes that were cut from the film, and thus the songs were cut from the soundtrack. The "Awesome Mix Vol. 2" exists as the soundtrack for the sequel movie.
The 1995 soundtrack to Batman Forever was a pretty big deal at the time, being propped up by six singles in rapid succession. This sent the album to #5 on the U.S. Billboard 200, going multi-platinum. It didn't sell as much as some others above, but it had a long-lasting run with music fans. Several of these songs were written for the film, and the rest were licensed.
You get songs, some exclusive, from huge artists of the time like U2, Brandy, Seal, Mazzy Star, Method Man, The Flaming Lips, and many more. The producers wanted a Pop soundtrack and made it happen. They were concerned with competing against Prince's soundtrack to the 1989 Batman film, and did it well.
Trivia Facts: The song "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal led to three Grammy Awards wins, including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. I don't exaggerate when I say this album was a huge deal, despite the lower sales.
Music From Vanilla Sky was released on December 4th, 2001. This movie is the most powerful collection of songs woven so tightly into the movie that you can never hear them the same again. There were tons of choices from the movie, and the soundtrack had to settle on 17 tracks to include. They chose correctly.
Some of the songs are original exclusives, like "Vanilla Sky" by Paul McCartney. Others are simply great, atmospheric songs from the likes of R.E.M., Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, The Chemical Brothers, and more. It's hard to emphasize how much the movie makes the soundtrack, and not the other way around.
Trivia Facts: Paul McCartney's song "Vanilla Sky" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The New York Times labeled the soundtrack "a musical masterpiece." It's said that the eclectic selection of songs is what helped this movie become such a cult classic.
Released on November 17, 1992, The Bodyguard soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all time, full of songs performed by Whitney Houston, one of the best singers of all time. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and went, get this... 18x Platinum. It is, without a doubt, the best soundtrack of all time. It's literally one of the best-selling albums of all time, too.
The hit single (notable song above), written by Dolly Parton and sung by Whitney Houston spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The next two singles also entered the Top 20, making Whitney Houston the first female to have three songs in the Top 20 at the same time. It was a crazy time. This was the first album my brother ever bought, funnily enough.
Trivia Facts: For the 25th anniversary, Legacy Records and the Whitney Houston Estate released I Wish You Love: More From The Bodyguard, containing live and alternate versions of the songs.
Choosing only a top 10 would be a travesty. There were several many of us argued should make that list, but we all didn't quite agree. So we've created this runners up section to celebrate the movie soundtracks that almost made the cut.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack came out on November 15th, 1977 in the Disco genre, supported by six singles marketed in rapid succession. It went 16x Platinum (thanks to being a double album) and stayed on the Billboard Album Charts of 120 weeks. In the UK it stayed at #1 for 18 weeks straight.
The Bee Gees contributed five songs to the soundtrack that were intended for their own album plus two more unreleased tracks. Three more of their songs appear in the film but not on the soundtrack. They said "we basically lost an album in the process" but I doubt they care due to the massive success. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, so you know they were rolling in the dough and very pleased.
Trivia Facts: This album has been preserved in the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being culturally significant. It won six Grammy Awards, including a Hall of Fame Award in 2004. It hit #1 on the Weekly and Year-End charts in nearly every major company.
The Top Gun soundtrack came out in May 13th, 1986, featuring an initial 10 songs in the Rock and Pop genres. Future editions expanded it to a total of 20 tracks, including artists like Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick, Otis Redding, Jerry Lee Lewis, and REO Speedwagon.
"Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins and "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin were the lead singles that pushed the soundtrack to #1 on the US charts for 5 weeks straight. "Take My Breath Away" won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
Trivia Facts: Toto, Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon, and Corey Hart were all first approached to perform "Danger Zone" before Kenny Loggins ultimately recorded it. The album went 9x Platinum in the United States.
The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack came out on November 14th, 1995, entirely in the R&B genre and crushed it. Every one of the 16 songs was written by Babyface (except one) and performed by top female acts like Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin, Brandy, TLC, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, and on and on. It received 11 total Grammy nominations.
The album stayed at #1 on the Billboard 200 for 5 weeks and the R&B chart for 10 weeks, ultimately going 7x Platinum. The number of accolades this album won number at least 58, with even the singles going platinum and gold. If you're an R&B fan and don't have this album, go get it!
Trivia Facts: Babyface produced the entire record and wrote all but one of the songs. Bootsy Collins gave him the nickname. He's considered one of the greatest music producers ever and has written songs for all of the biggest artists. That's why this soundtrack is so good.
The Clueless soundtrack is another that acts as a time capsule for the 1990's, this time focusing on the Pop artists of the years surrounding 1995. It features acts like Counting Crows, Radiohead, Beastie Boys, Coolio, and more. The movie itself was a smash hit among teenagers and we all watched it dozens of times. It's crazy that it 25 years old now. I'm getting old, too...
A year after it the soundtrack was released, it received gold status, and by 1998 it was certified platinum. The movie is stuffed full of even more popular artists of the time. Movies that are contemporary at the time are doomed to age poorly, but they serve as great ways to reminisce or show younger crowds what a decade was all about.
Trivia Facts: No Doubt didn't make it onto the soundtrack because Tragic Kingdom was slated to be released soon after the movie had its theater run, and Capitol Records didn't want the soundtrack to be made up entirely of their own roster. People talk about the Clueless soundtrack as two sets of songs: the ones on the soundtrack and the ones that didn't make the cut.
And finally there were a handful that made it into the deliberations but didn't get a lot of backing by the other judges. They're still worth a mention since they so easily came to mind. They are:
One thing you'll notice is that we didn't allow soundtracks for musicals into the list. The reason is that that's not quite what people are looking for when they search this topic, and secondly because we already covered the Top 10 Best Musicals of All Time, which you may enjoy checking out.
I'm sure you would add to or remove from, and especially re-order, the top 10 list. Hit us up and tell us what you'd do different. You may have one of the best movie soundtracks of all time in mind that will make us wonder how we forgot it.