We’re 17 years into the century, and while that’s not too far, it still means we’ve seen a ton of 21st century movies already. If you figure there are at least a dozen noteworthy titles each year, there are plenty to look back on by now. So with that in mind, we did some thinking about a lot of the major releases we’ve seen over the years, and which ones had soundtracks that have stuck with us. This list is purely subjective, but it’s what I came up with as the top 10 soundtracks of the century so far.
10 – Friday Night Lights
People have different opinions on Explosions In The Sky, which is the instrumental “post-rock” group responsible for virtually this entire soundtrack. But I for one found it to be one of the most emotional and memorable soundtracks in some time. It ranked 31st on a similar list of the best movie soundtracks this century, and I agree with parts of that list. But this one deserves top-10 status.
9 – Ocean’s 11
There’s just something perfect about the way the Ocean’s 11 soundtrack came together. Mixing original songs from David Holmes with existing tracks, the filmmakers came up with a stylish but lighthearted blend, perfect for a new take on a somewhat vintage concept. Plus, this movie basically assumed ownership of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” which is no small feat.
8 – Sin City
With Robert Rodriguez leading the way, this soundtrack is kind of all over the place. And yet it’s strangely memorable. It’s actually part of the basis of the Sin City slot reel, which is one of the big name games that can be found on popular sites, and that speaks to its enduring popularity. Give that slot a spin, or simply pop in the movie, and everything from the guitar riffs to the saxophone interludes will sound familiar.
7 – Hustle & Flow
I’m trying to mostly steer clear of musicals, and that’s more or less what Hustle & Flow is. In this case the hip-hop soundtrack deserves recognition. This easily could have been a cult movie or a total flop, but the engaging and mostly relatable tracks gave it a little more mainstream appeal than one might have expected. It’s pretty remarkable that a song called “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” won an Oscar for Three Six Mafia.
6 – The Social Network
This might be the best simple score of the century. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross used minimalist electronic tones and background sounds to create a captivating, atmospheric soundtrack that fit the movie almost bizarrely well. And they won the Oscar for Best Original Score doing it. If it’s been on your mind again lately, it’s probably because the movie Detroit made use of the track “Hand Covers Bruise” in a trailer.
5 – Almost Famous
This movie might be more famous for its music than any other in the 21st century. It’s a fun-loving batch of songs mostly from the rock genre, which is naturally perfect because the film itself is about a journalist covering a fictional rock band. It actually won a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack, which puts it in rare company even on lists like this.
4 – Inception
Picking a score composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer is a tough proposition, but Inception has ranked as his best work, and I can’t disagree. It was quite a task to come up with tracks that could match the psychological magnitude of this movie, but rather than just matching it, Zimmer enhanced it. “Time” may just be his most enjoyable track outside the context of a film, also.
3 – Lost In Translation
If there’s one soundtrack on this list that just needs to be listened to in order to be understood, it’s this one. The track listing features a blend of mostly alternative rock, and establishes what one review referred to as the “hazy beauty” of the film. It’s a great listen with or without the movie on.
2 – The Lord Of The Rings (trilogy)
It’s hard to think of a more iconic score from this century so far, nor one that so magically elevated the cinematic material. The Harry Potter soundtracks also deserve some recognition in this regard, but the work Howard Shore did to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s work to life is unparalleled.
1 – Django Unchained
I just can’t imagine a bolder or more enjoyable track list than this one. Using a blend of artists from Ennio Morricone to Rick Ross, Quentin Tarantino put together an irreverent, operatic party of a playlist. And the movie is far better for it.