Ranking the best movie soundtracks

Sean Oates

Does 18 years of watching movies qualify this reviewer to create rankings of the top five films with the best soundtracks? Sure.

A film has to have quality acting, set design, and plot to be considered a good movie. But what can take a movie from good to great is the music.

Many times it can go unnoticed, but the score and soundtrack of a movie can totally take it to a new level. For instance, look at “Baby Driver,” which was released last year. I did not want to see that movie at all when I was dragged out to it. After seeing the trailer, I thought it was just another mediocre automobile action movie with a cheesy romance on the side and the guy from “The Fault in Our Stars” as its lead.

And that’s exactly what it was. The plot was so simple and the stunts were nothing we hadn’t already seen from one of the eight “Fast and Furious” movies. However, I ended up loving the movie because of its soundtrack. That’s what a movie’s music is capable of.

Having said that, I’ve created my own personal rankings of the best movie soundtracks. But before I get into it, there are some things you should know about my rankings. First, musicals are not included. “Les Miserables,” “La La Land,” “Grease”–all great, but it’s just not fair to throw these into the mix with standard movies. This also included biographical movies about musicians like “8 Mile” and “Straight Outta Compton.” Basically, if the actors are singing roughly three or more songs in the movie, it becomes unfair in my book.

Second, my decisions were based off of soundtracks of the movies, not the scores. While the instrumental music of the “Star Wars,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Harry Potter” movies are all iconic and set the tone for each scene, I chose to leave these out as well, focusing solely on the songs used. Now for the rankings:

5) “The Great Gatsby”

I first watched this movie sophomore year in Ms. Wilkinson’s American Literature class, and my initial reaction was happiness for Toby Maguire that he was back in a major movie after being replaced by Andrew Garfield for the role of “Spider-Man.” But then the music caught my attention. It was surprising at first, hearing rap and EDM songs being played at the 1920s parties. However, it grew on me as the movie went on. This movie blended roaring 1920s swing music with modern party music in a very unique way, though it is a bit hit or miss with audiences.

4) “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” & “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

While the first Anchorman is easily a better movie than its sequel, the argument over which soundtrack is best is not as simple. There are pros and cons for each. As a whole, I thought the second Anchorman had better music. However, there are certain moments in the original which are just too good to let me rank the sequel ahead of it. Having “Carry on Wayward Son” is always a big plus, and the Channel 4 News Team’s harmonizing on “Afternoon Delight” is just hard to beat. This decision was too tough for me to make, so I let the two Anchorman films share the number four spot. Either way, the soundtracks of these movies perfectly capture the 1970’s with their throwback hits.

3) “Baby Driver”

I already mentioned how impressed I was with this soundtrack, so it’s no surprise to see it on my top five. The entire pace and flow of the movie relies on the music being played. It uses the right song for every moment, from the steady “Unsquare Dance” during the heist planning scene to Queen’s “Brighton Rock” during high adrenaline getaways. Gears shift, punches land, and cars crash to the rhythm of whatever song is playing, which turned this from a basic action movie to one like nothing I had seen before.

2) “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Again, I decided to merge two movies of the same series into one spot. Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mix” Vol. 1 and 2 are both phenomenal cassette tapes. Whenever he presses the play button on his Walkman you know there is about to be a great 70’s throwback playing. The first Guardians movie ended greatly with “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 playing as the credits rolled. The sequel picked up right where it left off, with ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” during the opening credits. Both classic feel-good songs, they are part of what makes these movies great. At a time when a new Marvel movie seems to come out every other month, the music keeps “Guardians of the Galaxy” relevant among fans of “Iron Man” and “Captain America.”

1) “Forrest Gump”

Part of what made this such a successful movie is the soundtrack. While most soundtracks have songs from a single era, “Forrest Gump” spans several decades of great music as the movie goes on. The movie starts in the 1950s, when Forrest helps Elvis Presley with the creation of “Hound Dog.” From here the movie becomes a time capsule for historic events and memorable songs.

Nothing is more fitting than “Fortunate Son” playing in the background as Forrest takes a helicopter into Vietnam. The soundtrack is just loaded with great artists like Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Fleetwood Mac. The songs perfectly set the mood for each scene and its time in history. The music used throughout this movie makes an already great movie even better.