Memorable Movie Soundtracks

Because there’s something magical about music set to moving pictures

I’ve always had an affection for great movie soundtracks (note: this piece is about both my favourite soundtracks and scores, the latter referring to mostly instrumental music used in movies). In the last few years, this affection has morphed into somewhat of an obsession.

Some talents wow me more than others, and musical composition for movies sits near to the top of that list.

Unlike creating popular music, here the aim is not just to sound good (or even to sound good at all), but to tell a story through sound, to study the extremely detailed, nuanced character descriptions of people, to grasp mood and energies, and to create music to complement and enhance it all. When the right composer melds with the right story, it’s pretty magical. In fact, I would go so far as to say that many of the films listed here would not have made as memorable an impression on me without their accompanying scores. In some cases, the score outshines the movie itself.

Anyway, here are my favourites, in no particular order.

American Beauty

Unsurprisingly, this original score — composed by Thomas Newman — was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999. This was a complex film, tackling challenging themes like repression, redemption, and sexuality. It often switched rapidly between darkness and humour. That Newman was able to capture all of this in his score is to be admired. For me, the standout track is Any Other Name, used during the iconic paper bag scene.

The Fault In Our Stars

I have to admit, this film (about two young adults who fall in love, and who both fall victim to cancer) ruined me after the first watch. The choice of songs embodied the melancholy that naturally accompanies terminal illness, but they also communicated the longing of young love disrupted before it could truly flourish. Oblivion by Indians is exactly as its title describes, while Wait by M83 tries, and eventually succeeds, in breaking down any resolve you may have had left.

The Holiday

This was the first movie score I remember actively seeking out and then obsessing over. Composed by the genius Hans Zimmer, it is an incredibly soothing, beautiful score which flawlessly captures the energy and mood of the film. The second half of Three Musketeers, used as a reference to the scenes featuring Jude Law and his two daughters, is a standout and, where pianos are concerned, probably the most dreamy use of the instrument. But it’s just one of many in probably the best overall soundtrack on this list.

Pearl Harbor

Once again, Hans Zimmer waves his musical wand. It’s no secret that many observers consider this soundtrack to be much stronger than the movie itself. I think both were well done, but there is certainly something special about the music created to accompany a very somber story and time in history. My favourite track is the sweeping drama of Tennessee — how do you know when a piece of music is good? It makes you feel safe and vulnerable, happy and melancholic, all at once.


The late James Horner can rest in peace. Besides Celine Dion’s giant hit, he orchestrated and conducted the beautiful instrumental music that is instantly identifiable as Titanic from the very first bar. My favourite is Rose’s Theme, used during the intimate Portrait Scene where Jack draws Rose (I don’t care if you are Bear Grylls — I know that you watched this scene, were mesmerized by this scene, and had a deep desire to be either Jack or Rose in those few minutes). An epic soundtrack.

Honorable mentions

These are some movie soundtracks that also left a great impression through the years:

  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Pretty Woman
  • Notting Hill
  • The Bodyguard

If you feel the need for a good cry, click on any of the above links and enjoy some of the music which I have found the most enthralling of anything I’ve heard. If you have a movie soundtrack that you find special, let me know by commenting below — I’d love to give it a listen!

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.