The best movie soundtracks of all time

The best movie soundtracks of all time, from 'Star Wars' to 'E.T.'

best movie soundtracks

We all know movie magic isn’t just on the screen — it’s also in your ears. We’re not just talking about breathtaking surround sound technology like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. We’re talking about the music itself.

Long after you exit the theater and floss the popcorn out of your teeth, the best film soundtracks stick in your head. Sometimes you hum along to them with your family and friends — the incredible first line of Star Wars is a great example (you’re hearing it right now, aren’t you). Other times, you’re not even aware how integral they really are (the hollow austerity of Interstellar, for example). But they’re always there, viscerally drawing out your emotions.

To celebrate these cinematic musical masterpieces, we’ve put together a list of our favorite film soundtracks, separated by scores and soundtrack compilations, in no particular order. Whether you’re a lover of the purpose-composed epics that propel your favorite films’ plot points, or a fan of the perfectly assembled playlist that colors a film’s overall tone, you’ll find something to love below.

Best original scores

Star Wars saga — John Williams

Arguably the most iconic film music ever written, John Williams’ epic themes for the Star Wars films are not only instantly recognizable around the globe, but they also created a film score renaissance, bringing back the grandiose scores from cinema’s earlier days. To create the Star Wars backdrop, the legendary composer drew heavily from space-themed classical compositions like Gustav Holst’s Planets series, using diverse layers of strings and horns sewn with unforgettable melodies to capture the emotions of the space opera set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As for Williams, get used to hearing about him, as the iconic composer’s name is repeated heavily throughout this list.

See it

The Lord of the Rings trilogy — Howard Shore

Massive choirs, huge drums, and epic brass ensembles join soft and supple woodwinds and strings in composer Howard Shore’s soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a diverse array of sounds that showcases a wide universe of creatures and magic, using techniques like odd time signatures and Celtic violin melodies to spawn feelings of tension and release that fit well inside the epic three-part storyline.

See it

Indiana Jones series — John Williams

John Williams uses various percussion instruments and dissonant melodic structures to bring a sense of adventure to the Indiana Jones franchise’s music. He also draws on concepts like simple repeating melodies — in this case among the catchiest film themes ever written — to help propel the story through each act.

See it

‘Interstellar’ — Hans Zimmer

Slow, sparse, and haunting, Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score moves through your ears like a dust cloud in the vast emptiness of space. Strings and organ float languidly throughout director Christopher Nolan’s space epic, creating a musical backdrop that invites deep introspective thought, and brilliantly draws your eyes to the beautiful shots on screen.

See it

Jurassic Park series — John Williams

Shimmering bells and slow-moving vocal backgrounds mark the scores of the Jurassic Park films, a series of works that Williams once called “these kind of funny ballets.” To mix the primal and the modern, the score includes a plenty of percussion instruments and subtly mixed synthesizers, pitting ancient sounds against the most contemporary tones (and, for you music nerds, that epic flat 7).

See it

‘The Godfather’ — Nino Rota

There is a distinct tinge of the old world in the warbly trumpet and string tones composed by Nino Rota for the Godfather score — a group of melancholy compositions with an eye firmly planted on classic Italy. Beautiful accordion-driven waltzes meet jazzy swing music, with all the songs woven together by dark and somber orchestral music.

See it

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ trilogy — James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer

Co-composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard did well to avoid superhero tropes in their score for Christopher Nolan’s dark Batman trilogy, going so far as to hold back introducing a main theme until almost the end of the first film. Instead, the pair used deep drum, synthesizer, and brass tones, and helped create a Batman franchise that felt more primal than anything before it. Holding off till nearly the last moment makes the theme all the more dramatic when it finally does arrive.

See it

‘Back to the Future’ trilogy —  Alan Silvestri

There’s a playful and mysterious nature to the sounds of the Back to the Future trilogy, with composer Alan Silvestri using shimmery harp and percussion tones for fun-loving moments, as well as deep horn cues for fast-paced intensity. Like many others on this list, recurring melodic themes play a huge role in drawing your ear, with the main theme typically appearing in a cloud of brass and strings. And while the orchestral numbers are fantastic, we can’t leave out Huey Lewis here, who pumped out some of his catchiest ’80s hits for the original film. That’s the power of love, folks.

See it

‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ — John Williams

The spirit of the wizarding world is perfectly captured by John Williams on Hedwig’s Theme, a mysterious keyboard-driven ballad that appears throughout the first Harry Potter film. In general, Williams shows off his intimate side on this score, with many quick-paced horn and string lines underlying the longer, more melodic elements of the music.

See it

‘Jaws’ — John Williams

The bold, ominous main theme crafted by John Williams for the Jaws franchise is a work of simple and elegant genius. Slowly creeping into your ears like the sight of the massive shark itself, the composer builds tension over time, eventually bursting into your head with sharp, tooth-like tones.

See it

‘Psycho’ — Bernard Herrmann

The slow-building, high-pitched string wail composed by Bernard Hermann for the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains among the most panic-inducing sounds in the history of modern cinema. The remainder of Hermann’s strings-only soundtrack perfectly complements the black-and-white classic, creating a constant air of suspense throughout what remains one of cinema’s best thrillers.

See it

‘The Great Escape’ (1963) — Elmer Bernstein

The essence of this intrepid, creative prisoner of war film was perfectly captured by composer Elmer Bernstein in his classic (and utterly whistlable) theme for The Great Escape. It’s a gently flowing string melody with quick-paced woodwinds, brass, and percussion cues. In fact, the soundtrack is so catchy, it was repurposed by fans in the English Premier League in the 1990s as one of their massive, full-stadium chants.

See it

‘E.T. the Extra Terrestrial’ — John Williams

The score for E.T. the Extra Terrestrial resembles John Williams’ work on the original Star Wars trilogy in many ways. Though not quite as melody-focused as the Star Wars compositions, the musical landscape is driven by deep woodwind tones, shimmering strings, and soft flutes — a group of sounds that helps humanize the strange alien on screen, and showcases his overall emotion and fear of the darker side of humanity.

See it

‘Blade Runner’ — Vangelis

Classic ’80s synthesizer tones and epic string arrangements transport the listener instantly to Ridley Scott’s dark dystopia, with recurring bell tones that call out through a constant musical mist. Though each song feels unique — from the saxophone-laden Wait for Me to the soft female vocals of Rachel’s Song — there is a reverb-soaked mystery to everything on Vangelis’ soundtrack that helps the elements of the film flow together.

See it

‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ — Burt Bacharach

The playful and poetic nature of both main characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is well-reflected in the musical accompaniment of Burt Bacharach, who uses classic tones like out-of-tune piano and melds them with more modern string and horn arrangements. It’s a score that sounds equal parts Broadway musical and country classic.

See it

Home Theater

Spotify Wrapped reveals rad facts about your musical tastes and habits

The website may be a bit tough to find at first, but Spotify Wrapped tells you awesome facts about your year in listening. From how many minutes you spent jamming out to your top artists, and beyond, there's a lot to dig into.
Deals

The best Apple Watch deals for December 2018

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Computing

Style up your MacBook Air with one of these great cases or sleeves

Whether you’re looking for added protection or a stylish flourish, you’re in the right place for the best MacBook Air cases. We have form-hugging cases, luxurious covers and padded sleeves priced from $7 to $130. Happy shopping!
Smart Home

These accessories take your already awesome Instant Pot to a whole new level

If you're familiar with the Instant Pot, you know that this bad boy acts as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, cake maker, egg boiler, and a lot more. Here are some must-have accessories to make Instant Pot cooking even better.
Deals

Liven up the holiday party with the 10 best white elephant gifts for $20 or less

We tracked down 10 awesome gifts with the perfect mixture of humor, practicality, and most importantly, affordability. Take a look at the best white elephant gifts under $20 and get ready to get your white elephant on.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Music

Apple Music may sign up more exclusive artists with purchase of Platoon

Apple purchased London-based Platoon, which is a startup that helps independent musicians get discovered by major labels. The acquisition may help Apple Music sign up more exclusive artists.
Music

From Paul McCartney to Mariah Carey, this is the best holiday music

Whether you're a fan of classic jazz standards or modern R&B masterpieces, there's something for everyone on our playlist of the best holiday music. Pour some eggnog and curl up by the fire, this one is sure to get you in the holiday…
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Music

The best new music this week: Josh Homme, Domo Genesis, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases just for you. On tap this week: Josh Homme, Domo Genesis, Eddie Palmieri, and Jacob Collier.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Music

Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ becomes the most-streamed 20th-century song

Queen's iconic Bohemian Rhapsody has become the most-streamed 20th-century song. Knocking Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit off the top spot, the British band's 1975 classic has now been streamed 1.6 billion times globally.
Music

Jam out in style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Music

From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.
1 of 2