Imagine Trainspotting without “Lust for Life.” Do the Right Thing without “Fight the Power.” Shaft without…”Shaft.” You can’t. The perfect song choice can make a good cinematic moment great, and a bad one can ruin an otherwise decent scene.
There’s an art to building a stellar movie soundtrack, and plenty of them fail to strike the balance. Some might have a memorable single, but don’t come close to offering up an album’s worth of music worth to listening to outside of the film. The best movie soundtracks succeed in supporting the films that they were created for, but also standing on their alone—they benefit from the context the movies provide, but are also solid listens on their own.
Crafting a list of some of the best soundtrack albums ever requires some ground rules: No out-and-out musicals, mostly; it seems fairer to cordon those off into a separate category. Also, the soundtracks albums have to mostly feature music actually used in the movie; a few songs that didn’t wind up in the finished film are excusable, but none of this “inspired by” business. All of these albums should all be readily available wherever you stream music.