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The 30 best movie soundtracks you need in your life

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The soundtrack: A vibrant, passionate mix of Eastern tunes and rap artistry, it’s no wonder Slumdog Millionaire’s OST landed it Oscars and Golden Globes alike. Director Danny Boyle deliberately wanted to avoid a traditional, sentimental soundtrack, and so instructed A.R. Rahman to compose and curate and “edgy, upfront” sound to create a “pulsey” musical feel for the film. He definitely got it. 

Best song: ‘Jai Ho’ by Rahman always gets me itching to dance, despite the Pussycat Dolls' later butchering of it. 

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

The soundtrack: Joe Strummer, lead vocalist of The Clash, ensures that the original soundscapes in John Cusack’s cool as ice spy thriller are fittingly sharp. Add a decent amount of indie and left-field '80s and '90s tracks, and the end result is a diverse concoction of pop, ska, punk, and alt-rock. 

Best song: ‘We Care a Lot’ by Faith No More. Or maybe Echo and the Bunnymen's Killing Moon’. Or maybe... Yeah, it's another one of those. 

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010)

The soundtrack: A love letter to front room indie, with Edgar Wright wrangling Beck, The Rolling Stones and even Plumtree (whose T-shirt Pilgrim wears in the comics) for his movie’s basstastic soundscapes. Mixing with some classic material from T Rex and The Rolling Stones, the soundtrack also features several songs by Scott’s in-movie band Sex Bob-Omb, in truth all written by Beck. 

Best song: Metric’s ‘Black Sheep’ is a grungy, thundering treat. 

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

The soundtrack: Co-produced with The RZA - who added samples and beats to “keep the vibe going between songs” - Tarantino does it again, raiding his personal CD collection (and several classic Bernard and Herrmann film scores) for some little-heard sonic gems. The soundtrack album even includes iconic sound effects, not to mention an excerpt from Ironside. 

Best song: Tomoyasu Hotei’s ‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’ has been overused (especially in spoof-y copycats) but is still achingly awesome. Santa Esmeralda’s epic ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ comes close second. And Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Band Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) reaims as potent in recorded form as it is in the film’s intro. 

Trainspotting (1996)

The soundtrack: A blood-pumping collision of Britpop, rock, and electronica, as Danny Boyle fuses his film’s soundtrack with trippy tunes to match his edgy, energised visuals. Saturated with the likes of contemporary brilliance like Pulp, Blur, Primal Scream, Sleeper, and Elastica, it also makes all the right nods to tonally appropriate older tunes, taking in work from Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Brian Eno. 

Best song: So many classics, but Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ rightly became the unofficial theme tune for the movie, nailing the perfect tone of hedonistic excess and reflective catharsis. 

Drive (2011)

The soundtrack: Director Nicolas Winding Refn embraces the ‘80s with his violent crime thriller, and the soundtrack is no different, ebbing with electronic vibes. Cliff Martinez’s delicate electronic scoring, blended with multiple deadly cool original songs, is perfect for cruising the streets at night. Not that I do that. 

Best Song: Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s ‘Nightcall’ opens the film, and sets Drive’s uneasy mood. 

The Graduate (1968)

The soundtrack: Skyrocketing the profile of Simon & Garfunkel, this soundtrack is packed full of their folk-y delights, collating a great number of now-classic works from their previous few albums. But although the duo are the artists now most notably associated with the film, they don’t make up the whole album.  Their eight songs are broken up with jazzy orchestrations courtesy of celebrated composer Dave Grusin. 

Best song: Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ all but makes the movie. No, really. It's a classic example of the art of right song, right place direction. But the obvious track aside, their adaptation of traditional folk song ‘Scarborough Fair’ remains a fantastic listen, in or out of the film. 

Friday (1995)

The soundtrack: A curious - but entirely successful - blend of ‘90s rap and R&B with vintage soul. Cutting edge rappers share space with the very tunes they’re sampling, on a soundtrack that takes in the likes of Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill, and Ice Cube right next to Rose Royce and Rick James. And if you pick up the 10th anniversary version, you’ll get a bonus, ‘Old School Friday’ disc filled with yet more of the classic stuff. James Brown, Gladys Knight, and Curtis Mayfield abound. 

Best song: Dr Dre’s ‘Keep Their Heads Ringin’ remains a classic. 

Easy Rider (1969)

The soundtrack: Climbing all the way to number six in the Billboard charts, Easy Rider’s roving, roaring soundtrack, blending all manner of rocky, folky, counter-culture sounds, caught the imagination of an entire nation, its tracks carefully chosen to create a musical commentary on the film. 

Best song: Steppenwolf's ‘Born to be Wild’ is the one most iconically associated with the film, but The Jimi Hendrix Experience's ‘If 6 was 9’ is unbeatable. 

Dazed and Confused (1993)

The soundtrack: Teen heartbreak collides with teen euphoria in Richard Linklater's ode to young love. The ‘70s-themed soundtrack throbs with those themes, too, delivering its atmosphere is an eclectic variety of highly energised flavours. With Black Sabbath, KISS, Lynryd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, and Ted Nugent just four of the 14 artists filling out the album, it’s a good a sampler of ‘70s ebullience as you could ask for. 

Best song: Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ perfectly captures the joy of busting out of the classroom for a long, profound, stupid summer. 

Into the Wild

The soundtrack: Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s first solo album gets double cool points – not only is it a great album in its own right, it’s also the soundtrack to Sean Penn’s drum-beating, lone-wanderer road movie. 

Best track: ‘Hard Sun’ is a great one for a scorching summer afternoon. 

 And now, onto the more traditional scores...  

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.