It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes one of the most memorable aspects of a film is its score or soundtrack. Of course, there are some iconic examples that come to mind, like John Williams’ work on the original Star Wars trilogy, which is the stuff of legend. It’s a little more difficult to identify recent, 21st-century soundtracks that, whether through the work of a single composer or a collection of well-chosen tracks, stand out in particular.
But here are a few examples that we’re betting people will be referencing for years to come whenever they discuss iconic modern scores and soundtracks.
Harry Potter (Series)
Watch the final trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and you’ll be struck at the end by the homage to the main Harry Potter musical themes, despite the absence of longtime composer John Williams. The Harry Potter score is the greatest modern example of Williams’ talent. Multiple generations will always associate a few simple notes with the fantasy series that continues to captivate the world.
“Lose Yourself” was ranked a few years ago as one of Rolling Stone’s top-50 rap songs of all time and it was written specifically for the pseudo-autobiographical film 8 Mile. That alone makes this project by Eminem one of the great modern soundtracks. Throw in the a cappella hip-hop that introduced a lot of people to the idea of rap battles for the first time, and you can safely say that 8 Mile had an amazing cultural impact.
If John Williams is the gold standard in film composition, Hans Zimmer is at least the silver. Known more recently for his work on Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and Inception, Zimmer may have done his best work for 2000’s Gladiator. Some of the recognizable numbers are still popular today and can even be heard among the games available at Betfair, where Gladiator is one of the most popular titles. It plays like a traditional slot reel but also includes actual music from the film along with the main characters from the movie. The idea that Zimmer’s compositions are being used to lure fans 16 years after its release speaks to the enduring quality of this soundtrack.
Granted, we expect Quentin Tarantino to do unusual things in his films. But packing a slavery era action dramedy with hip-hop was pretty wild, even for him. Django Unchained had a little bit of everything, but a lot of alarming, memorable musical sequences played almost like mini music videos rather than ordinary parts of a movie. The theme number by Luis Bacalov and Rocky Roberts made a huge impression on its own, and a track list with variety stretching from Jim Croce to Tupac to John Legend kept things entertaining throughout.
Once isn’t as well known as the other films on this list, but those who do know it know it almost entirely for its soundtrack. It’s a sort of Irish indie musical and, as noted by Empire Online’s list of the top-20 soundtracks of the 2000s, it spawned a successful Broadway show as well. The movie generated quite a bit of attention by winning an Oscar for Best Original Song despite a production budget less than $200,000.