An entertaining screenplay, excellent acting, and well–done cinematography are all necessary for a great movie, but one more piece is required to elevate one to a masterpiece: a fantastic soundtrack. Since the inception of film, sound has been integral to creating a mood that seeps into the audience like a mesmerizing potion. Without scores, motion pictures would be a dull affair. That being said, a few stand out above the rest—so here are a few recommendations for soundtracks that everyone should listen to:
Starting off the list is the haunting and riveting Interstellar, composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer. With hypnotic use of organs that mesh neatly with countless woodwind and string instruments, you almost feel like an astronaut journeying into a terrifying unknown without guarantee of safe return. A track such as “Stay” encapsulates the multitude of emotions associated with an explorer’s departure over the course of nearly seven minutes, while “Where We’re Going” is emblematic of the empty tranquility of space. The centerpiece of this outstanding work, however, is “No Time for Caution,” a grandiose piece that delivers a sense of urgency and excitement. The track’s drawn–out build towards its climactic chords is nothing short of brilliant.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
It’s impossible to separate the three Lord of the Rings films from one another: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all share overwhelmingly similar instrumentation that includes countless leitmotifs based on the locations and characters appearing on the screen. Composed largely by Howard Shore, the scores are arguably the greatest work in the history of film music and a must–listen for everyone. A combination of choirs, soloists, and orchestral groups formed the ensemble for these soundtracks, and they generated an absolute masterpiece. From the classic uplifting theme of “In Dreams,” to the terrifying anger of the “Isengard Theme,” to the adventurous “Fellowship Theme,” the elaborate compositions that make up these scores are immediately recognizable and magnificent works that most definitely earned the three Oscars that they received.
Blade Runner (1982)
From the instant the “Main Title” theme kicks in, the dystopian and futuristic atmosphere of Blade Runner becomes apparent. Although he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score the previous year for Chariots of Fire, this movie is Vangelis at his finest—innovating with a synthesizer and vocal arrangements to generate an incredibly unique soundscape that fits the novel concept behind the film’s setting. Pieces such as “Blush Response,” “Rachel’s Song,” and “Blade Runner Blues” capture the mysterious mood with scintillating electronic harmonies and melancholy melodies, while “End Titles” is a perfect ending cut that generates hype for a sequel (although that sequel did take over three decades to be made). There’s also a significant beauty in a track such as “Tears in Rain,” which contains the famous eponymous monologue and serves as a poignant conclusion to the soundtrack.
The Godfather (1972)
Unlike the previous entries on the list, The Godfather is relatively minimalist in its use of orchestra and jazz band. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s choice of composer Nino Rota and conductor Carlo Savina (both Italian) for a mafia classic was an outstanding decision, as their background allowed them to bring authenticity to the music. Songs such as “The Godfather Waltz” and the “Love Theme” are distinctively beautiful, as they carry an idyllic air that fits seamlessly into the bright, quiet, sunlit gardens found throughout the movie—and the leitmotif for such settings is perhaps the most recognizable in all of film. As the viewer, you’re almost drawn into swaying your head back and forth to the various flute and violin ensembles or singing along to “I Have But One Heart” with artist Al Martino.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Lastly, we have our most innovative selection in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Stanley Kubrick chose to discard the score created by composer Alex North and use a soundtrack made of classical symphonies and modernistic compositions, and it worked wonderfully. The iconic opening fanfare of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss introduces you to space in a whirlwind of drums and trumpets that signify its role as the final frontier of exploration, while the use of Johann Strauss’s “The Blue Danube” creates a unique association between the motions of satellites and waltz dancers. Three separate pieces by composer György Ligeti effectively suggest the more tenuous moods that underlie the movie, and the incorporation of Aram Khachaturian’s “Adagio” flawlessly depicts a mournful tone. The music of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a landmark work that everyone should listen to.