17 movies with soundtracks that you need to listen to

Prince during Super Bowl XLI - Indianapolis Colts vs Chicago Bears - Half Time Show at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida, United States.

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Prince during Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis Colts vs Chicago Bears – Half Time Show at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida, United States.
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Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images

  • Music can elevate a film and make certain scenes stick in the minds of audiences forever.
  • “The Lion King” soundtrack starts with all the familiar musical numbers from “Circle of Life” to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” then it flows into four score tracks by Hans Zimmer before ending with three renditions by Elton John.
  • The “Shrek” soundtrack was nominated for a BAFTA Award for best film music and a Grammy Award for best compilation soundtrack album for a motion picture, television or other visual media.
  • Thanks to songs like “Darling Nikki,” “When Doves Cry,” and the titular “Purple Rain,” the album has sold over 20 million copies to date.
  • Here are 17 movies with iconic and award-winning soundtracks.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

There is no foolproof recipe for cooking up a classic movie, but if there’s one thing that can make an OK movie even better, it’s a great soundtrack.

Whether it’s an animated feature for kids or a cheesy rom-com geared toward young adults, the music chosen for a film’s soundtrack is important for setting the tone. It can also help ground the story in a specific time and place.

This is by no means a definitive list, but here are 17 movies that were made better by their iconic soundtracks.


“Garden State” won a Grammy over Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol 2” soundtrack.

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“Garden State” premiered in 2004.
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Fox Searchlight Pictures

Zach Braff wore a lot of hats during the making of “Garden State,” including actor, writer, director, and compilation producer. In a 2004 interview with IGN, Braff said that he personally chose the rock, folk, indie, and pop songs to match the vibe of the rom-com.

“Essentially, I made a mix CD with all of the music that I felt was scoring my life at the time I was writing the screenplay,” he told IGN.

With tracks by bands like Coldplay, The Shins, Iron & Wine, and Simon & Garfunkel, the album became an instant classic and won a Grammy over Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol 2” and the “Shrek 2” soundtrack.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


“The Lion King” soundtrack is the bestselling animated feature soundtrack of all time.

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The soundtrack has several songs from Elton John.
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Disney

Disney has enough classics to fill its own soundtrack list, but when you’re talking iconic compilations you have to kneel before the King. “The Lion King” soundtrack starts with all the familiar musical numbers from “Circle of Life” to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” then it flows into four score tracks by Hans Zimmer before ending with three renditions by Elton John.

As of 2014, it was the best selling soundtrack of all time for an animated feature with over 7.8 million copies sold.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The “Space Jam” soundtrack includes a rap performed by Bugs Bunny and written by Jay-Z.

If you are a child of the 1990s, odds are you owned “Space Jam” on VHS and had the soundtrack on CD, cassette tape, or both. The theme song by Quad City DJs is still played at parties and sporting events over two decades later. There’s also appearances by Monica, Seal, Coolio, LL Cool J, Method Man, Salt-N-Pepa, Barry White & Chris Rock, and a rapping Bugs Bunny with rhymes courtesy of Jay-Z.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The “Shrek” album was nominated for Grammy and BAFTA awards.

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The soundtrack for the 2001 film featured the band’s hit single “All Star” as well as their cover of the Neil Diamond tune, “I’m a Believer.”
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DreamWork Animations

Thanks to DreamWorks, Smash Mouth will forever be associated with ogres, talking donkeys, and computer-animated fairy tales. The soundtrack for the 2001 film featured the band’s hit single “All Star” as well as their cover of the Neil Diamond tune, “I’m a Believer.” There was also a second cover of the song performed by Eddie Murphy, a cover of “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright, and songs by Baha Men, Leslie Carter, and The Proclaimers.

The album was nominated for a BAFTA Award for best film music and a Grammy Award for best compilation soundtrack album for a motion picture, television or other visual media.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


Though “The Big Chill” premiered in the 1980s, its soundtrack has a Motown feel.

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“The Big Chill” is about a group of once-close friends.
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Summit Entertainment/Criterion Collection

Walk into almost any record store and you’ll find a copy of “The Big Chill” in their soundtrack section. The mix of rhythm and blues, soul, and a smidge of classic rock has become a time capsule that captures the real vibes of the 1960s and 1970s without feeling like a cheesy infomercial.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


“The Harder They Come” soundtrack introduced reggae to the world.

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Jimmy Cliff starred in the film and provided half of the songs on the soundtrack.
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The Harder They Come/New World Pictures

“The Harder They Come” was by no means a global smash when it was released in 1972 (1973 in the US). According to The Los Angeles Times, however, it does have the distinction of being the film that “brought reggae to the world.”

The legendary Jimmy Cliff starred in the film and provided half of the songs on the soundtrack. He was joined by other major stars of the musical genre including The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and The Slickers.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack gave him his first number one song and first number one album.

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Prince performing on stage during Purple Rain Tour.
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Richard E. Aaron / Getty Images

Prince’s semi-autobiographical film “Purple Rain” premiered in 1984 and brought with it an album that, thanks to songs like “Darling Nikki,” “When Doves Cry,” and the titular “Purple Rain,” has sold over 20 million copies to date.

It also won Prince his first three Grammy awards and gave him his first number one song and first number one album. According to the Recording Academy, it is the third best selling movie soundtrack in history.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The soundtrack of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” took home Best Album of the Year and Single of the Year Award for “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” at the CMAs.

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George Clooney in “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
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YouTube/movieclips

What “The Harder They Come” did for reggae in the 1970s is arguably what “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” did for bluegrass and American folk music in the early aughts.

Most of the tracks are modern recordings of period-accurate songs that effectively transported viewers back to the Great Depression.

The soundtrack won best album of the year and single of the year award for “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” at the CMAs and also took home three Grammys, including album of the year in 2002. It has been certified octuple platinum by the RIAA and was also included on NPR’s list of “The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings.”

Listen to the soundtrack here.


1980s icons like Run DMC, Sheila E, The Fat Boys, and LL Cool J are featured on the “Krush Groove” soundtrack.

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“Krush Groove” had a star-studded cast.
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Krush Groove / Warner Bros.

One of the first films in hip hop history, “Krush Groove” has a soundtrack that is just as packed with legends. Run DMC, Sheila E, The Fat Boys, Debbie Harry, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, and the Beastie Boys offer up pre and early Def Jam tunes that help tell the story of the record label, which was instrumental in shaping and sharing the new genre.

With tracks like “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Holly Rock,” Krush Groove puts together a collection of tracks that capture the culture of New York City around 1984.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The “Top Gun” soundtrack is one of 10 top-selling movie albums of all time.

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Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’ (1986).
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Paramount Pictures

For some truly iconic soundtracks, it is virtually impossible to separate songs and their performers from the films they were used in. For generations of movie-goers, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers are intrinsically linked with “Top Gun” and its high-flying bromance.

Berlin won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best original song in 1986, and according to Mental Floss, the “Top Gun” soundtrack is among the top 10 best-selling movie soundtracks of all time.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


“The Bodyguard” soundtrack went 18-times platinum.

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Whitney Houston was the co-executive producer of the movie soundtrack.
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The Bodyguard / Warner Bros.

When Whitney Houston is the star of your film, of course, you let her co-executive produce the soundtrack and fill it with her music. Not only are “I Will Always Love You,” “I Have Nothing,” and “I’m Every Woman” all featured on the album, but they are the first three songs on the track list.

The project was an instant smash, selling a record 831,000 copies in its first week and going on to be certified 18-times platinum by the RIAA.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


Over four decades of music are covered the “Forrest Gump” soundtrack.

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Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in the film “Forrest Gump.”
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Paramount Pictures

Just as the title character takes viewers on a visual journey through the decades of his life, the soundtrack for “Forrest Gump” takes audiences on an aural journey through the popular music of the times.

Marketed as “32 American Classics on 2 CDs,” the soundtrack begins in the 1950s with Elvis Presley and progresses to Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band in the 1980s. Wilson Pickett, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Doors, The Supremes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fleetwood Mac, and several others are included on the double album, which is 12-times platinum with over 6 million units sold.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


With 11 Grammy nominations, the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack featured Whitney Houston, Patti Labelle, and Mary J. Blige.

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Actress Lela Rochon attends the ‘Waiting to Exhale’ New York City Premiere on December 19, 1995 at Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, New York.
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Ron Galella, Ltd. / Getty Images

The track list for the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack is a who’s who of 1990s R&B. Babyface wrote and produced the entire album, with the exception of one song, and it featured the vocal talents of Whitney Houston, Patti Labelle, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, TLC, Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Brandy, Sonja Marie, For Real, and Shanna. The album sold 177,284 copies in its first week, spent several weeks near the top of the Billboard Top R&B Albums and Billboard 200 charts, and was nominated for 11 Grammys.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The “Black Panther” soundtrack was a collaboration between Nobel Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar, director Ryan Coogler, and composer Ludwig Göransson.

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Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther.”
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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Some may argue that “Black Panther” is too new to already have an iconic soundtrack, which is fair. However, the collaboration between director Ryan Coogler, composer Ludwig Göransson, and Nobel Prize-winning rapper/producer Kendrick Lamar peaked audience interest when it was announced, so the passage of time is only relevant in regards to how it ages.

Critics initially praised the album for its newness and “boundless soundscapes,” and predicted that it would be remembered as one of the best of Kendrick Lamar’s career, which is very high praise.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


“The Crow” soundtrack is filled with goth, grunge, and metal classics.

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Brandon Lee as The Crow.
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Miramax

For angsty teens and pre-teens everywhere, “The Crow” soundtrack struck a nerve in 1994.

Bands like The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Violent Femmes, Panthera, and Nine Inch Nails checked all the grungy, metal, dark, shoegaze-y, goth boxes that they needed to be checked in order to reach the kids wearing all-black who really connected with the big-screen adaptation of James O’Barr’s superhero comic.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


“Awesome Mix Vol 1,” the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack, lives up to its name.

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“Awesome Mix Vol 1” was the first soundtrack in history to reach number one without a new song.
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Disney/Marvel

Incorporating a playlist into a film and calling it “Awesome Mix Vol 1” only makes sense if the songs you choose are undeniably great. Fans of “Guardians of the Galaxy” were elated when the classic mixtape featuring Blue Swede, The Jackson 5, David Bowie, and The Runaways received an official release during the summer of 2014.

The success of the film correlated to the success of the soundtrack, which stayed on the charts for 16 weeks and was the second-best-selling soundtrack of the year (number five overall) behind Disney’s “Frozen.” According to The Wrap, it was the first soundtrack in history to reach number one without a new song.

Listen to the soundtrack here.


The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack won a Grammy for album of the year in 1979.

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The BeeGees carried much of the load with energetic bops like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” and “More Than A Woman.”
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Paramount Pictures

The film is the ultimate depiction of the disco era, so naturally, the soundtrack had to be just as lively, flared, and covered in sequins. The BeeGees carried much of the load with energetic bops like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” and “More Than A Woman.”

They were assisted by KC and the Sunshine Band, MFSB, David Shire, and Kool & the Gang. The soundtrack won a Grammy for album of the year in 1979, and in 2012 it was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for preservation.

Listen to the soundtrack here.