7:55 pm - 03/24/2012

Best Movie Soundtracks: The 15 Film Music Compilations That'll Change Your Life

Much ado has been made about this Hunger Games film, but what impressed us the most was the franchise's attempt to give movie soundtracks back their pop-cultural import with the film's heavily curated compilation. Produced by rock legend T-Bone Burnett, an Oscar-winner for his O Brother, Where Art Tho? soundtrack, it aims for iconic with a playlist ranging from a Biblically inspired Arcade Fire and a Civil Wars-assisted Taylor Swift to Neko Case, Miranda Lambert and Kid Cudi.

Most soundtracks are still quickly assembled cash-grabs, but The Hunger Games clearly hopes to join the ranks of the best collections of movie music. Many of the most meaningful ones have come from youth culture films like Hunger Games, so we dug into the stacks to look at similar soundtracks that matched or transcended the films they came from, and sometimes even helped define a generation.

Reality Bites

This '90s classic fully embodied Gen-X slackerdom, but the soundtrack held its own in the alternative era. The breakout track was Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You),” which went to No. 1 before the bespectacled singer was even signed. Juliana Hatfield Three, Dinosaur Jr and the Posies repped '90s alt-rock, but it was a more diverse compilation than some, leaving room for the Knack’s “My Sharona,” pair of Crowded House tunes and even Ethan Hawke proto-hipster crooning Violent Femme’s all-time classic “Add It Up.”

Pump Up the Volume

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a film about a pirate radio DJ would boast a stellar soundtrack. Christian Slater’s character defined himself in large part by his musical taste, which he then played for his audience, including Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, underrated N.W.A associates Above the Law and the brilliant “UK Surf” mix of the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation.” It also features a number of cool covers, including Bad Brains and Henry Rollins doing MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” and Cowboy Junkies tackling Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues.” Alas, Concrete Blonde’s theme-song cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” pales next to the original, which is the version that actually airs in the film. Several other great songs didn’t make the cut, either, so as a kid, I audiotaped the whole movie and cut together my own private soundtrack.


When Ice-T boasted about being “nightmare walking, psychopath talking/King of my jungle just a gangster stalking” on the title song, it was the mainstream’s first real exposure to the burgeoning genre known as gangsta rap. The soundtrack subsequently provided a perfect overview of the late-'80s scene, mixing throwback tracks from MC Shan and Roxane Shante with hard-hitters from Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap. But the album didn’t just compile past and present, its musical centerpiece -- Coldcut’s pioneering “seven minutes of madness” revamp of Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” arguably the greatest remix ever -- pointed the way to music’s future.

Natural Born Killers

Long before Trent Reznor won an Oscar for scoring The Social Network, he helmed the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s hyper-violent anti-mass media opus. Mixing dialogue samples from film with the expertly selected songs gave the soundtrack a unique identity all of its own, something more akin to a radio play. Perhaps it was the influence of Quentin Tarantino’s script, but the songs are as eclectic as his own soundtracks, with entries ranging from Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Duane Eddy and Patsy Cline to L7, Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction and Dr. Dre. Cowboy Junkie’s cover of “Sweet Jane” was a particular standout, stealing the song from Lou Reed forevermore, while Juliet Lewis got her first taste of rock stardom with “Born Bad.”

Dazed and Confused

Most iconic soundtracks feature new music that captures a pop-cultural moment in time, but Richard Linklater’s all-star retro-'70s classic achieves the same goal with a list of decades-old eight-track acts. But with such a strong playlist -- ranging from Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” to ZZ Top’s “Tush” with room for Black Sabbath, Foghat, KISS, Nazareth, the Runaways and War in between -- you can practically hear Matthew McConaughey drawl, “That’s what I love about these '70s songs, man; I get older, they stay the same age.”


Grunge took off thanks to a confluence of cultural artifacts coming out at the same time, not least of which was the pivotal soundtrack to an otherwise fluffy romantic film by Cameron Crowe that happened to be set in early-'90s Seattle. Though the film is tantamount to a trivia question at this point, the platinum-selling soundtrack remains a landmark document of the alt-era. The alternative revolution went from a whisper to a scream, with songs from Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins and Mudhoney, whose song “Touch Me I’m Sick” was parodied in the movie band Citizen Dick’s song “Touch Me, I’m Dick.” Pearl Jam, who cameos as Matt Dillon’s bandmates, landed two songs plus the eight-minute epic “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns" by PJ precursor Mother Love Bone.


This Scottish drug movie and its Cool Britannia soundtrack came out of nowhere to define a generation with his mid-'90s mix of Brit Pop (Blur, Pulp, Elastica) and electronica (Leftfield, Bedrock, Goldie). The producers later said the soundtrack’s popularity was “crucial” to the success of the film, which meshed music and imagery so well that they’re now inseparable. Just try not picturing the movie when listening to, say, Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” or Underworld’s “Born Slippy .NUXX." Aside from a few old tracks, including Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” the songs were largely recorded or remixed for the film or previously unreleased, a rarity in the soundtrack world which helped cement the album’s cultural status.

Garden State

It had been some time since a soundtrack had mattered, but when writer-director-star Zach Braff took the reins of the award-winning compilation, too, he helped push indie music into the mainstream with what was essentially a mixtape of what Braff was listening to when he wrote the screenplay. The crux of both the film and soundtrack is when Natalie Portman’s character hands Zach’s a pair of headphones playing the Shins’ “New Slang” and says “You gotta hear this one song -- it’ll change your life." But the mid-2000s music scene is captured throughout the album, most impeccably Iron and Wine’s Postal Service cover of “Such Great Heights.”

Judgement Night

Here’s a case of a soundtrack outshining the movie it soundtracked. Judgment Night the film is an eminently forgettable exploitation flick about Emilio Estevez and his buddies taking a wrong turn and ending up in a very bad neighbourhood. The album, however, was ground-zero for rap-rock, and I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise. While the limp rap-rock acts that followed were undeniably terrible, this album’s lineup hits almost all of them out of the ballpark -- Helmet and House of Pain, Teenage Fanclub and De la Soul, Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Slayer and Ice-T and Dinosaur Jr. and Del tha Funkee Homosapien. I’m nostalgically headbanging while typing this right now!


Between Swingers and the Bourne Identity, Doug Limon directed Go, a movie about a bunch of kids, including Sarah Polley, going to a rave. The film, despite its critical acclaim, quickly became a footnote, but the soundtrack still provides a great sampling of pre-millennial electronic music, from Fatboy Slim’s upbeat “Gangster Trippin’” and Air’s atmospheric “Talisman” to Esthero’s dour trip-hop “Song for Holly.” Bonus points for including Len’s still-awesome one-hit-wonder “Steal My Sunshine.”

The Crow

Though Goth music has roots that delve much deeper into the past than The Crow, the film and soundtrack became something of a rallying point for the black-clad kids. The original comic was inspired by musicians like Joy Division and the Cure, so it’s cool that the former get the opening song slot with “Burn” while the latter get their “Dead Souls” covered by Nine Inch Nails. Rage Against the Machine, Rollins Band, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Violent Femmes and Jane Sibery all show up to show off their dark sides.

Romeo + Juliet

Baz Lurhman's radical revamp of the classic Shakespeare tale was driven as much by its music as its MTV-friendly stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Fuelled by unlikely radio hits like Garbage's "#1 Crush" and the Cardigans' "Lovefool," not to mention Radiohead's fan favourite "Talk Show Host," the album went triple-platinum and became an alt-era staple. The film was so overstuffed with music that a second volume came out to release tracks like 14-year-old singer Quindon Tarver's "When Doves Cry" cover. Trivia note: The closing credits featured Radiohead's aptly named "Exit Music (For a Film)" though it wasn't on either soundtrack by Thom Yorke's request, as he was saving it for OK Computer.


Helmed by Lou Barlow, the Kids soundtrack was nowhere near as controversial as the underage sex and drugs film from whence it came, unless one is prone to fighting over which Barlow project is the best. We’re on team Folk Implosion, which applied hip-hop production to Barlow’s usual low-fi guitar rock to nail the classic cut “Natural One” and score the film. Barlow’s other band Sebadoh does make an appearance, too, as do Daniel Johnston, Slint and rap duo Lo-Down -- though the absence of other rap cuts from the film, including Crooklyn Dodgers, Jeru the Damaja and Brand Nubian, is kinda whack.

Pretty in Pink

Though The Breakfast Club’s Simple Minds theme “Don’t You Forget About Me” was also my high-school graduation song, the rest of its soundtrack leaves something to be desired compared to John Hughes’ other Molly Ringwald classic Pretty in Pink, which was actually inspired by the same-named Psychedelic Furs song that was re-recorded for the movie. The rest of the soundtrack helped to popularize new wave, with tracks from Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, the Smiths and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with their heartbreaker love theme "If You Leave."

8 Mile

At the height of Eminem’s pop-cultural ascent came this unexpected dovetail into credibility. Yes, he was a fine enough actor in the loosely autobiographical movie, but it was the Oscar-winning theme song “Lose Yourself” that turned him into a bona fide mainstream icon. The triple-platinum soundtrack debuted at No. 1 thanks to five new Eminem songs, including the underrated “Rabbit Run,” and also served as an introduction to 50 Cent, who appears several times but makes his big bow with his mixtape banger “Wanksta.”

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angi_is_altered 24th-Mar-2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
I have owned many of these soundtracks. I bought the Singles on cassette. Yes...I am old.
putyohandsonme 24th-Mar-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
Lol I remember cassettes, I used to play Sir-Mix-A-lot's Baby Got Back over and over and over until I annoyed my parents.
displacedkorean 24th-Mar-2012 07:32 pm (UTC)
I had Bobby Brown on casette. smh.
tiffanynichelle 24th-Mar-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
I had Prince's Batman soundtrack on cassette so don't worry, I'm that old too.

Why isn't that one this list? Scandalous was hot.
bettalaylow 24th-Mar-2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
I remember my Walkman that I held on for dear life
wauwy 24th-Mar-2012 06:51 pm (UTC)
You made your birth year a bit obvious, if you don't mind me saying so
officer_down 24th-Mar-2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
I owned them on wax cylinder.
carminaburana 24th-Mar-2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
LOL i'm still in the process of slooooowly replacing my cassette collection w/ CDs and mp3s.

And always happy to see another ontd-er from my generation.
cukoo4cocopuffs 25th-Mar-2012 04:55 am (UTC)
I remember mixing nailpolishes on NKOTB's Step-by-Step cassette as I was 'so over them.' I have 3 small boxes of cassettes in my basement and I cannot bear to part with them though I don't own a cassette player.
lreservoirldogs 25th-Mar-2012 05:57 am (UTC)
One of the 1st albums I remember owning was a cassette of Jagged Little Pill....you're not old.
superdogbiter 24th-Mar-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
What about titanic?
or did that even have a soundtrack
jmonkey3152 24th-Mar-2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
It did.
wigsnatcher 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
they're talking about song compilation soundtracks, not scores
toldmelies 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
Titanic was the first one I thought of when I saw the title. So fantastic.
sophistiquated 24th-Mar-2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
YES. I listened to that so much.

Now, you can find tons of them at used music stores for like $1.99 lol
badcord 24th-Mar-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
ummmm, where's the Lizzie McGuire Movie soundtrack?
collsers 25th-Mar-2012 03:50 am (UTC)
This is what dreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeams are made of

I got that cd the weekend I graduated high school, and listened the crap out of it. It always brings me back to that summer.
jmonkey3152 24th-Mar-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
IA with 8 Mile but missing

fakevoices 24th-Mar-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
comment twins
jmonkey3152 24th-Mar-2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
Ofc you'd having amazing taste. :')

hedgerowbustle 24th-Mar-2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
That album was my first thought. Amazing album. I wore that cassette tape out back in the day! lol

Also, the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack was great.
actxappalledx 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
haha when I was coming in, I was like, "The Bodyguard better be on here."
chenoweth 24th-Mar-2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
I remember listening to this on cassette with my friends.
wauwy 24th-Mar-2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
I don't see how they left this one out, considering how many gazillion copies it sold.
gogeta1 24th-Mar-2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
I immediately thought of The Bodyguard.
reach_the_end 25th-Mar-2012 02:02 am (UTC)
Story time!

When I was a kid someone broke into our house and stole our stereo while we were in the backyard. And out of all of our CDs, the Bodyguard soundtrack is the one they stole. A thief with good taste.
jordanabevan 24th-Mar-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
omg dis icon
xtinkerbellax 24th-Mar-2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
I like the Almost Famous soundtrack lol.
lalameanslove 24th-Mar-2012 06:46 pm (UTC)
bienenkiste 24th-Mar-2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
omg your icon
i still have that in VHS somewhere <3
onesilkstocking 24th-Mar-2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
omg i love your empire records icons sfm
fromyourashes 24th-Mar-2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
Empire Records soundtrack is one of my faves. I put the movie on for the music sometimes. Too lazy to buy/dl the tracks.
blueskin 25th-Mar-2012 12:14 am (UTC)
love Empire Records
jordanabevan 24th-Mar-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
pump up the volume <3
i am always and forever a christian slater stan
crimps4 24th-Mar-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
The Romeo & Juliet soundtrack was on constant repeat for me for a while
quote_me_once 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
so great.
lovepollution 24th-Mar-2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
Same. I remember I copied it to cassette for a school friend of mine as well. Oh to be 13 in the 90s.
punkylana 24th-Mar-2012 06:32 pm (UTC)
luminaris 24th-Mar-2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
I knew what it was, knew I was gonna cry because i just KNEW what it was, and did it anyways. OMG this song...
invisible_cunt 24th-Mar-2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
megedeborch 24th-Mar-2012 07:08 pm (UTC)
Same here. I LOVED the shit out of this one. Owned the 2nd one as well.
dirtyknife 24th-Mar-2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
lostinshalott 24th-Mar-2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
somefantastic 24th-Mar-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
word. I used to make mix tapes that were basically just the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack in a different order, with 1-2 songs from the Reality Bites soundtrack thrown in to fill up space.
kikiblues 25th-Mar-2012 12:52 am (UTC)
Late to the party but yessssssssss- staring at my Leo poster willing him to LOVE ME
harleenfrances 25th-Mar-2012 01:14 am (UTC)
ia i love that soundtrack. i even bought the "music special" edition of the dvd.
venetianglass 24th-Mar-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
I love the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, even though it's technically a musical.

And IA about 8 Mile.
maveness 24th-Mar-2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
Moulin Rouge and "O Brother Where Art Thou" probably fall more in that musical category, since the songs were all used in the movie, but damn, O Brother was the shit. I worship that soundtrack.
luminaris 24th-Mar-2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
I like to bop both when I'm cleaning. When I left my home state, I played "Man of Constant Sorrow" many times while packing. Damn.
rimbaudacious 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
Do Disney soundtracks count? Because The Hunchback of Notre Dame had the best OST of all films ever.
rimbaudacious 24th-Mar-2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
eaux compilations, pardon my blind.

closet_trekkie 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
ugh God Help the Outcasts saved my soul tbh
kaiserschmarrn 24th-Mar-2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
You speak truth. Hunchback had a flawless soundtrack and it made it my favorite Disney movie (that and the gorgeous visuals and the story and characters).
wauwy 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
wauwy 24th-Mar-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
smfh. "Garden State"? Fucking seriously? I guess they didn't mean scores, though.

Let's listen anyway.

stabby_mcgee 24th-Mar-2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
my love for this movie and score know no bounds.
hemsworth 24th-Mar-2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
ugh that soundtrack is so fucking beautiful
megedeborch 24th-Mar-2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
OMG I love that one, but it's not a compilation album, so it's kinda invalid for that list, but it's still flawless. Love it.
200kmwronglane 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
The Marie Antoinette soundtrack, when will ur faves
sometimes_mbv 24th-Mar-2012 06:24 pm (UTC)
any sofia coppola film, tbh.
grammaire 24th-Mar-2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
beating_heartss 24th-Mar-2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
except for somewhere

it had advertised that all music was done by Phoenix but then there was only one song played throughout the entire damn film lol
virgincantdrive 24th-Mar-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
dracopet 24th-Mar-2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
twistedtoxica 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
xtinkerbellax 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
Yep, that one is great.
leviicorpus 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
goofusgallant 24th-Mar-2012 06:49 pm (UTC)
el_natural 24th-Mar-2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
poli_jerk 24th-Mar-2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
OMG yesss!
lilyy 24th-Mar-2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
ark_metz 24th-Mar-2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
foxxywith2xs 24th-Mar-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
bienenkiste 24th-Mar-2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
parisdiorchanel 24th-Mar-2012 07:32 pm (UTC)
sequined_bones 24th-Mar-2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
scrolled through the list looking for this tbh
aphrodite5239 25th-Mar-2012 12:09 am (UTC)
allysouu 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
I have a couple of these but the Almost Famous soundtrack will always be one of my favorites.
ladywilde80 24th-Mar-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
The Garden State soundtrack is just about the most perfect mix of songs ever.
tres_francais 24th-Mar-2012 06:12 pm (UTC)

allysouu 24th-Mar-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
Yesss to A Single Man
the_wolski 24th-Mar-2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
bow at marie antoinette
bob_always_wins 24th-Mar-2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
Marie Antoinette had such a flawless soundtrack.
doperperson 24th-Mar-2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
YES at ASM and Drive
sometimes_mbv 24th-Mar-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
three movies i adore.
spankmypirate 24th-Mar-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Drive had an amazing soundtrack. Even if I didn't like the film itself.
dracopet 24th-Mar-2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
I got so sick of that 'real human being' song in Drive
smallaffair 24th-Mar-2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
yes to all of these!!
scientist 24th-Mar-2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
yes yes yes
twistedtoxica 24th-Mar-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
yes to all these omg
soul_amazinn 24th-Mar-2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
ASM soundtrack always makes me depressed. Love it.
el_natural 24th-Mar-2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
Marie Antoinette and Drive, yes and yes.

Haven't heard ASM though...
invisible_cunt 24th-Mar-2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
saltireflower 24th-Mar-2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
Drive and Marie Antoinette had amazing soundtracks.
bienenkiste 24th-Mar-2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
my creys @ how perfect this comment is tbh
suicidemotel 24th-Mar-2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
You have good taste. These three are definitely in my top soundtracks.
logan_lerman 24th-Mar-2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
i can never get tired of the drive sountrack
juniorquincy 24th-Mar-2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
a single man o m g
violet_crumble9 25th-Mar-2012 01:05 am (UTC)
you have perfect opinions.
emerald_soul 24th-Mar-2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
I was obsessed with the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack when I was a kid. That Garbage song owns me.
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