Listen up! These are the best movie soundtracks of all time

best movie soundtracks

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

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 Magnificent Seven’ (1960) — Elmer Bernstein

The essence of the American frontier was perfectly captured by composer Elmer Bernstein in his classic (and utterly hummable) theme for The Magnificent Seven, with a gently flowing string melody and quick-paced woodwinds, brass, and percussion cues. In fact, the soundtrack is so catchy, it was repurposed for advertising by both Marlboro cigarettes and Victoria beer, as well as the James Bond film Moonraker, among numerous other references.

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

Photography

These are the best camera straps you can get your hands on

Choosing the right camera strap for your needs can be a tough decision. To help sort through the junk, we've rounded up the best camera straps on the market for you to choose from.
Smart Home

We’re lovin’ these toaster ovens that do way more than brown bread

Are you looking for a toaster oven that can make jerky or steam vegetables? Do you need a dedicated countertop appliance for making pizza? Fortunately, these toaster ovens provide a wide array of functionality.
Home Theater

Put your home theater to the test with these spectacular Blu-ray releases

What's the point of having all of that awesome home theater gear if you can't breed a little jealousy in your friends and family? We've put together this list of fantastic Blu-rays that have the goods to drop a few jaws.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, each suited for a different occasion.
Music

A wealth of rich tunes: Cash in with the best songs about money

There may not be as many songs about money as there are songs about love, but it's a close second. If you're looking for a skrilla-inspired playlist, check out our picks for the best songs about money.
Music

The 15 best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.
Mobile

Got Verizon Unlimited? Get six months of Apple Music for free

Verizon's new offer stands to benefit both Apple Music and its own subscribers, as the one-of-a-kind offer appears compelling to both existing and potential new subscribers. Find out when the offer begins, and if there are any strings…
Music

The best new music this week: Adrianne Lenker, Mitski, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new songs. On tap this week: Adrianne Lenker, Mitski, Big Red Machine, Mountain Man, Anna St. Louis, Marissa Nadler, and The Dodos.
Home Theater

Get the most boom for your buck with the best headphones under $100

Everybody wants a bargain, and this list has a bunch. For those looking for a solid set of headphones without spending a big stack of cash, this list is is your starting point. Check out all of our picks for the best headphones under $100.
Deals

Score a new Audio Technica turntable for $129 and get a free $50 Dell gift card

Want to break out your old vinyl records without spending a fortune on a high-end turntable? The Audio Technica AT-LP60BK-BT turntable is a highly affordable way to enjoy the warm analog tones of your vinyls, and it's now on sale for $129…
Home Theater

5 gorgeous turntables that spin stacks of wax in style for less than $500

Vinyl records are awesome, but they're also finicky. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's best to play them on a quality turntable. Here are the best turntables to be had for under $500.
Music

Spotify may eventually allow free users to skip all ads

Spotify is rolling out a new feature that may allow free users to skip ads whenever they want. Currently, the test is being conducted in Australia but if successful, it may be spread to other countries.
Product Review

Optoma’s NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds cut the price, keep the good sound

Taking out all the wires and glossy paint, Optoma still gives its NuForce BE Free5 the goods to play audio better than Apple’s AirPods at a cheaper price. But are these the affordable true wireless earbuds for you?
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
1 of 2