You have your Purple Rains, your Breakfast Clubs, and your Pulp Fictions, but there are plenty of fantastic soundtracks that go overlooked. Here are five soundtracks that get the job done just as well, and sometimes better:
1. Juno (2007)
Best Music Moment: Juno and Bleeker serenade each other with The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else But You“.
Every self-declared indie kid with an iced coffee in one hand and a guitar they’re teaching themselves how to play in the other knows – or should know – this acoustic, quirky soundtrack to an equally quirky movie. When putting together the music for the film, director Jason Reitman asked lead actress Ellen Page what music she thought Juno listened to. She promptly replied with New York anti-folk group The Moldy Peaches, and thank God she did. Not one artist’s particular music fits one particular movie quite like Kimya Dawson’s facetious yet bona fide lyricism and sprightly strummed melancholic chords matches Diablo Cody’s tongue-in-cheek but truly tender script. Highlights of Dawson’s contributions include “Tire Swing” and “Loose Lips“, while the film utilizes “Piazza, New York Catcher” by another indie staple, Belle and Sebastian. Precursors of the genre are also applied with The Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man” as Bleeker’s theme and Sonic Youth’s cover of The Carpenters’ “Superstar“, which defines Juno and Mark’s relationship. This is a rare soundtrack that really feels like Juno MacGuff herself made us a CD.
2. The Twilight Saga (2008-2012)
Best Music Moment: Bella joins the Cullens in a friendly game of baseball set to Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole“.
The Twilight Saga gets a bad rap. Yes, the acting is sub-par and the writing is questionable. The directing is awful – egregious at times, and these criticisms remain relevant to all five movies in the series. But there is one redeeming quality that rescues this kitschy franchise: a banging soundtrack. There’s no doubt that the emo and scene kids of the late 2000s spent some time in their bedrooms hating the world to compilations of many of their favorite rockers. Hot Topic hosted listening parties in their stores for the first movie’s soundtrack, which features a lead single by pop-punk superstars Paramore, “Decode“, that promptly went platinum, as well as spots by Linkin Park and indie folk icon Iron & Wine. Other big names lending their music to Bella and Edward’s twisted love story include Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, The Killers, Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, Green Day, and St. Vincent (who star Kristen Stewart would later date). Of course, it would be a huge mistake to let Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” be lost on this list, as it serves as the theme to the climax of the story, as well as bringing tears to audience’s eyes-whether they wanted them or not- during the close of Breaking Dawn: Part 2. The song has since gone seven times platinum, certifying it as the perfect wedding song for people that maybe wore a little too much eyeliner as teens.
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Best Music Moment: Miles bumps Swae Lee and Post Malone’s certified banger “Sunflower” in his headphones as he studies.
On the more contemporary side of things, comes the soundtrack to last December’s animated smash hit, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. An ode to the trap beats and emo rap topping the charts, Spider-Verse is no exception. The soundtrack has been climbing its way to the top, peaking at #2 on the US Billboard 200. The lineup includes hip hop and R&B powerhouses such as Vince Staples, Juice WRLD, Ty Dolla $ign, and Nicki Minaj (shout out to Barbz reading this). The soundtrack was designed to embody what a real teen like protagonist Miles Morales would listen to, and this has rung true, as the leading single and highlight of the compilation, Swae Lee and Post Malone’s smash hit “Sunflower” has been on the charts since its release, and hit number one in nine different countries. Spider-Verse has given us one of the most enjoyable and commercially successful soundtracks in a long time, and will likely appear on future favorites lists.
4. Curious George (2006)
Best Music Moment: George gets into some paint, and some trouble, as “Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernai” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Ernani plays.
Look, maybe I’m biased – I’m white. White people love Jack Johnson. On top of that, Curious George was the very first movie I ever saw in a theater. My parents owned the CD and often played it in the living room while my sisters and I fooled around like George himself. This served as the soundtrack to my growing up when my parents were sick of High School Musical and Camp Rock. But this holds more than just nostalgic value for me. Jack Johnson’s peanut butter smooth voice accompanied by calm, cool and collected instrumentals inspired by acoustic rock, jazz, and reggae could make even the Man in the Yellow Hat feel like a kid again. Johnson covers The White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends” and somehow makes it just as memorable, adding strings and piano in addition to the iconic guitar riff. He is joined by Hawaiian musician Kawika Kahiapo on “Talk of the Town” and creates a gorgeous harmony of acoustic guitars to paint a picture of the tropical landscape the pair describe. Finally, on the highlight of the album, spirited romp “Upside Down” pays homage to the titular character and his titular trait, an anthem for the curiosity that comes with discovering the wonders of the world and actively seeking them out for oneself, the purpose of childhood. Parents, play this for your kids.
5. Frances Ha (2012)
Best Music Moment: At the film’s consummation, dancers perform a cavort choreographed by Frances to electronic musician Felix Laband’s “Falling Off a Horse”.
Fellow cinephiles likely know the soundtrack to Noah Baumbach and indie darling Greta Gerwig’s tour de force Frances Ha quite well. To those who don’t: take eighty-six minutes out of your day to get to know Frances. By the end of the film – that comes oh too soon – the best word to describe it is an adjective prominent in Frances’ vocabulary: magic. The music evokes that hopeful feeling of hopelessness that comes from youth, turning points in one’s life, and New York City, in this portrait made of a mix of the three.
The soundtrack utilizes and references music from the French New Wave, a heavy influence stylistically and thematically on the film. Whimsical horns and bells follow Frances through the streets of NYC, Sacramento, and Paris, and punctuate her lovable, yet sometimes understandably immature delivery. She enters a crowded house party to the strain of T. Rex’s “Chrome Sitar” rings out, perhaps just pretentious enough for the scene of self-proclaimed artists and real-life Warby Parker advertisements she hangs out with. An impromptu trip to Paris is begun and brought to a close by Hot Chocolate’s funky “Every 1’s a Winner” which encapsulates Frances’ unshaken optimism, even when she sleeps through her entire get away. Undoubtedly, the most memorable moment would be the tribute to French director Leos Carax’s “Mauvais Sang“, in which Frances barrels down the streets of Chinatown to David Bowie’s “Modern Love“, a track that summarizes Frances’ ‘undateable’ personality, and proves it’s not something she’s ashamed of. Though, the song that best describes Frances Ha – film and character – is “Falling Off a Horse“, which plays during the resolution, and Frances’ dance. The song is a modern lullaby, a repeating string melody joined by wacky sound effects of bubbles, airplanes, and dial tones. It is reminiscent of life itself, the cycle of changes we will forever go through, with minor details peppered in, that should be embraced.