Sometimes movie soundtracks are far more memorable than the actual film. Many young people back in the 90s and early aughts (2000s) would purchase a soundtrack because it was a giant playlist of different songs and artists all on one CD. (“CD” stands for compact disc for you younglings. Don’t worry they’ll make a comeback.)
From Elvis shaking his hips in Jailhouse Rock to Quentin Tarantino’s expertly curated compilations, music and film have been a complementary pairing for well over 60 years. (Really, they’ve been a pair since the silent days of yore, oxymoronic as that seems.)
Many artists – past and present – have written songs just for a film project. Once upon a time, the only way you could listen to that song was by purchasing the film’s soundtrack. Nowadays, digital music has made it easy to buy just the MP3, so in order for a soundtrack to sell in toto, it has to be good from top to bottom. Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is a good example. Even though it consisted entirely of previously released songs, it went certified platinum and hit no. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart because it was filled with hits by the likes of David Bowie, The Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye.
What are some of the greatest soundtracks of our younger years? (To be clear, I’m not talking about best original film scores – sorry James Horner.) After careful research, both online and in my box of old CDs, I have my lists for both the 1990s and 2000s. I’ve focused on those decades for obvious reasons. (Not because that’s when I was at my most impressionable, but because that’s when the best music was made, clearly!)
Some may scoff at that characterization of 90s music, but, if you’re of a certain age, I know that you cranked these playlists in your bedroom while singing into a hairbrush.
Hold on tight as we ride the wayback machine into some classic tunes and cinephilia music of the ages. And feel free to give me your lists in the comments!
Best Soundtracks from 1990-1999
Dazed and Confused OST (1993)
For my money, this is the greatest soundtrack of the 1990s, and could easily be in the discussion of greatest of all-time. Remember blasting “Slow Ride” by Foghat while driving to Denny’s in 1993? (Side note: Mmmm … Moons Over My Hammy.) For some, the most memorable aspect of Richard Linklater’s ode to 70s hijinks is watching now-iconic stars blossoming as youngster; for me, though, it’s the music. You can see what I mean in the clip below.
Pretty Woman OST (1990)
This was a massive soundtrack for the 1990 film starring Julia Roberts, who plays a prostitute finding love in high places. There is nothing cheap about this soundtrack that features the likes of Roy Orbison (obviously), Peter Cetera (you can’t have an early 90s soundtrack without him), David Bowie, and a Red Hot Chilli Pepper-less Anthony Kiedis. But nothing gets you dancing in your seat like “King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West. This is easily one of the top soundtracks of the cheesy 90s.
My Girl OST (1991)
The movie made you cry but the soundtrack is chock-full of upbeat songs that everyone can enjoy. Who doesn’t like to clean their house to Sly and the Family Stone, Chicago, The Flamingos, Creedence Clearwater Revival? Though Macaulay Culkin is no longer that cute little boy anymore, the songs on this soundtrack will live forever … as long as they stay away from (SPOILER ALERT) bees.
Pulp Fiction OST (1994)
Quentin Tarantino is a music connoisseur who writes his scripts while listening to tunes. His tastes are vast and on the fringes of obscure, and his soundtracks follow suit, featuring everything from 70s soul to 50s surf music. Tarantino spends so much time crafting his soundtracks that they tend to become integral parts of all his films. His eclectic musical tastes turn great scenes into truly unforgettable ones.
The Pulp Fiction soundtrack is the best of the bunch, in my view. From Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” scores the opening scene, and the hits – like Al Green’s smooth vocals on “Let’s Stay Together” – just keep on coming. This is a classic playlist from start to finish.
Clueless OST (1995)
Don’t be ashamed; you listened to this soundtrack and you listened to it a lot. The CD has the scratches to prove it. This is such a classic album that on the 20th anniversary of the film, the soundtrack was re-released on vinyl. If you need a pick me up, this little 90s playlist will bring some nostalgia to your day with songs like “Rollin’ With My Homies” by Coolio and “Kids in America” by The Muffs. If you’re not down with Clueless then, whatever! (I’m making a W with my fingers right now.)
Space Jam OST (1996)
This soundtrack and its great selection of hip-hop and R&B rose to #2 on the Billboard charts back in 1997. In 2001, the soundtrack went six-times platinum thanks, in large, to R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly, which was a huge hit and became a karaoke classic. If you need a little retro jam before hitting the courts, my personal favorite is “Hit’Em High” (The Monstars’ Anthem) which is still a bumpin’ track today.
- Reality Bites
- Matrix Soundtrack
- Dumb and Dumber
- Reservoir Dogs
- Romeo & Juliet
- Judgment Night
- The Body Guard
- Natural Born Killers
- Forrest Gump
- Now and Then
- Boogie Nights
- Batman Forever
- Empire Records
- Lost Highway
- Grosse Point Blank
- Spice World
- Scream 2
- Austin Powers
- Can’t Hardly Wait
- Cruel Intentions
- American Pie
- 10 Things I Hate About You
Best Soundtracks from 2000 to 2010
O Brother, Where Art Thou? OST (2000)
The Coen Brothers’ 2000 film was a hit, but the soundtrack was a smash; it won a bunch of Grammys, went eight-times platinum, and is still making money today. If you’ve only hear “Man of Constant Sorrow,” you might think this soundtrack is for country fans. Yet it’s so much more than that, blending bluegrass, gospel, blues, and folk music. This is a fantastic mix to listen to on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Snatch OST (2000)
I probably listened to this soundtrack on repeat for most of the early 2000s. Like Tarantino, Guy Ritchie likes to stylize his films with his musical choices. Songs like “Sensual Woman“ by The Herbaliser will have you chillin’ in a haze of smoke. You can also strut to Klint’s “Diamond” and get hyped with Oasis’ “F’ing In the Bushes.” This entire soundtrack is amazing!
8 Mile OST (2002)
The 8 Mile soundtrack was one of top albums of 2002, instantly hitting #1 on the Billboard 200. A lot of the songs are by Eminem, himself, but tracks like Jay-Z’s “8 Miles and Runnin” and Macy Gray’s “Time Of My Life” added some great variety to a killer two-disc compilation. It was a massive seller for good reason.
Kill Bill Vol.1 OST (2003)
Another decade, another Quentin Tarantino-curated soundtrack that became an instant classic. The way the director blends his musical choices with his storytelling is a thing of beauty. At this point, it’s tough to say what gives a movie away as a Tarantino flick more: the dialogue or the soundtrack.
Kill Bill was divided into two films (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) and both soundtracks had some killer tunes. But if I had to choose, I gotta go with Vol. 1 just because it has a few of my faves, like “Run Fay Run” by the great Isaac Hayes or “Don’t Let me be Misunderstood” by Santa Esmeralda. Also, I recommend cleaning your house to “Woo Hoo“ by The 5,6,7,8’s.
Garden State OST (2004)
Many call this one of the best soundtracks of the aughts. Don’t worry that the movie, itself, hasn’t aged well; just enjoy the smooth sounds of Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” and Zero 7’s “In the Waiting Line.” In the movie, Natalie Portman’s character told us that the song “New Slang” by the Shins would change your life. Whether it did or not, this is still a legendary playlist that people still listen to today.
50 First Dates OST (2004)
This is another soundtrack that was better than the movie. (I guess that shouldn’t be shocking for an Adam Sandler flick.) The 50 First Dates playlist is a staple for those sunny days on the beach or backyard BBQs. You can get swept away listening 80s covers like Ziggy Marley’s rendition of “Drive” and UB40’s “Every Breath You Take.”
Really chill tropical sounds helped push this soundtrack into the top 30 of the Billboard charts in 2004. But the soundtrack was missing one of the biggest songs in the film and that was Israel Kamakawiwo’ole s Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
- Into the Wild
- High Fidelity
- The Beach
- I Am Sam
- Donnie Darko
- The Life Aquatic
- Napoleon Dynamite
- Kill Bill Vol.2
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- 24 Hour Party People
- Lost in Translation
- Moulin Rouge
- Norah’s Infinite Playlist
- Slumdog Millionaire