Music Staff Selects: Best Movie Soundtracks

A proper movie-watching experience goes far beyond the visual appeal. A good soundtrack heightens the viewer’s enjoyment and understanding of the film, articulating the emotional impact of a scene when words might fail. Our favorite soundtracks do just that. They elevate their respective movies from mere entertainment to true art. Lauren — “Little Miss Sunshine” soundtrack

 Little Miss Sunshine

Composed mostly by DeVotchKa, this soundtrack perfectly complements the film’s eccentric mood. With a score featuring a unique variety of strings and brass, “Little Miss Sunshine” follows a dysfunctional family on the travel to their daughter’s last-minute beauty pageant. The quirkiness of the film is only intensified by the inclusion of songs by Sufjan Stevens, the king of quirk, and the contrasting track "Superfreak" by Rick James, which oddly enough is played during the movie’s emotional climax.

Britny — “Detroit Rock City” soundtrack (1999)

Detroit Rock City

I’m a sucker for films about slackers with rad ‘70s soundtracks. “Detroit Rock City” is at the top of that list. The tracklist is packed with classics from the disco decade, from “Rebel Rebel” to “Surrender” to, of course, “Detroit Rock City.” For me, the highlights are the handful of covers on the album — like Pantera’s grittier take on Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” and Marilyn Manson’s trippy version of “Highway to Hell.”

Maria — “500 Days of Summer”

500 Days of Summer

Aside from having a killer tracklist, the “500 Days of Summer” soundtrack was a great accompaniment to the film’s story. Songs weren’t just thrown in the movie to introduce the audience to cool, new bands, but every song had a true purpose — to help tell the story of Tom & Summer. At Tom’s happiest point in the movie, a dance sequence “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates comes on. In his lowest point, Regina Spektor’s “Hero” provides insight into the character’s mind without him actually saying a single word — it almost tells the story for him. I think that’s what a soundtrack should always do, and “500 Days of Summer” did it flawlessly.

Jenna — “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”

The Hunger Games Mockingjay: Part 1

Although the anticipated movie won’t be in theaters until Nov. 21, the soundtrack listing has been revealed. Curated by Lorde, the soundtrack features artists like Charli XCX, CHVRCHES, Major Lazer and Tove Lo, all of whom wrote original music for the project. There will even be a Kanye West remix of Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat,” which was released as part of the soundtrack on Sept. 29. With such big names on the soundtrack, it looks like the newly turned 18 year old has done this one right.

Tess — “The Virgin Suicides”

The Virgin Suicides

The French duo Air created the dreamy, melancholic score that “The Virgin Suicides” is popularly known for. Their track “Playground Love” epitomizes the atmosphere created by Kirsten Dunst’s character Lux and helps create her mysterious persona. The soundtrack also includes ‘70s hits like “Strange Magic” by Electric Light Orchestra and “Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren — all coming together to make you feel nostalgic for the ‘70s, even if you didn’t actually live during the decade.

Sam — “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny”

"Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny"

“Tenacious D” IS rock. Less of a soundtrack, and more of a narrative, the movie’s score is pivotal — no, essential — to the progression of Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ wacky journey to rock stardom. The songwriting is vulgar and satirical, but still possesses a great musicality, carried along by Black’s versatile and soaring vocal timbre as well as Gass’ energetic and aggressive acoustic guitar antics.

Quinton — “Drive”


Rarely do you get a film that is both visually and musically stunning. Ryan Gosling strolling through peril in that white jacket is cool mainly because he is backed by Kavinsky's "Nightcall," which got some help from Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (one half of Daft Punk). It makes me want to vote Ryan Gosling during the next midterm elections.

Adam — “Good Will Hunting”

"Good Will Hunting"

About half of the soundtrack is composed of Elliot Smith, an artist known for his soft voice and relaxing music. The rest of the soundtrack follows suit with this style, which offers a juxtaposition for the main character’s personality: predominantly aggressive. Throughout the film he taps into his more emotional side, which begins to complement the soundtrack. This subtle touch is what makes the music selection impressive.

Devon — “Trainspotting”


Never could I be whisked so willfully along for a young heroin addict’s get-straight struggle without this soundtrack. Although clearly emerging from the Britpop-doused ‘90s, the cult classic features tracks by Iggy Pop and Underworld that perfectly balance dance-y comedy and dark drama. The pop takes on an acid punk edge when played alongside tracks like atmospheric “Deep Blue Day” by Brian Eno. British indie favorites like Blur, New Order and Pulp add to the grotesque versus glamorous portrayal of drug addiction. Wildcards like Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” only enhance the emotional contradiction faced by the story’s protagonist. When it’s all over, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or vomit.

Bryan — “Dazed and Confused”

 "Dazed and Confused"

From the laid-back cool of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” in the opening parking lot scene, to the smoky pool hall swagger where Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” blares, every song in Richard Linklater’s 1993 stoner comedy sets the right tone and whisks the viewer back to his golden decade. The most poignant scene comes near the end of the film, where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and an empty keg announce that the party is over. The sadness is short-lived, because the gang of misfit main characters are up and out early to buy Aerosmith tickets the next day, all to the tune of Foghat’s “Slow Ride.” The party may be over, but summer has just begun.