15 Movies Defined By Amazing Song Choices

best movie soundtracks

Music is a powerful tool in a moviemaker’s arsenal. The right song can make a movie as much as the wrong song can break it, and the best musical cues come to be indelibly linked with the scenes they accompany. Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, know this well, using music to define key sequences and lend a unique flavor to an already offbeat space opera.

Here, we take a look at some of the best uses of music in movies that already boast impeccable soundtracks, and what it is that makes them so special.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The Best Needledrop: “Tell Him” — The Exciters

Why the Music is so Important: Music is used sparingly in 10 Cloverfield Lane — there are just three songs to complement the score and they’re all diegetic — and as such, it’s always to great effect (think No Country for Old Men). The songs all come from the jukebox Howard (John Goodman) keeps in the shelter that he’s built, and they’re all chillingly apt. “Tell Him” plays as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) discover that, truly, not all is as it seems, and lies start to unravel as the song’s lyric’s push for truthfulness. “I know something about love,” it also croons, just as the characters’ perceptions of it begin to come into question.

Runner-Up: “I Think We’re Alone Now” — Tommy James and the Shondells. Needless to say, they’re not quite as alone as they think they are.


The Best Needledrop: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” — The Shirelles

Why the Music is so Important: Filth is about as pleasant as its title suggests, but it’s packed full of the kind of buoyant songs that seem to prompt a certain cognitive dissonance. The Shirelles’ song is a chipper number (even Tom Jones features on the soundtrack), but they’re all songs that are a little darker than their sounds make them seem. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is a prime example, as it’s a song that, in the end, is about uncertainty and loss. It’s that same doubt that drives Bruce through the entire film despite his bravado, and the fault between sound and content takes us into a delirium that’s hard to forget.

Runner-Up: “Love Really Hurts Without You” — Billy Ocean. The end credits are incredible on their own, let alone in context.

Blue Velvet

The Best Needledrop: “In Dreams” — Roy Orbison

Why the Music is so Important: David Lynch is a master of using music to elevate a scene, so it’s hard to choose just one cue, but it’s arguably “In Dreams” that’s stuck most prominently in the public imagination, which is a feat in and of itself given that the movie the song is named after comes up multiple times throughout the film. In a film that often feels like a dream and ventures into the surreal and strange, it’s this Roy Orbison number, lip-synced by Dean Stockwell, that reaches the sublime. The choice of song and artist are both apt (Bruce Springsteen once described Orbison as the master of the “romantic apocalypse”); there aren’t really enough words to do it justice.

Runner-Up: “Blue Velvet” — Bobby Vinton (Isabella Rossellini). Naturally.

The Hateful Eight

The Best Needledrop: “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” — Roy Orbison

Why the Music is so Important: Quentin Tarantino’s background as a cinephile is something that’s informed every choice he makes as a director, perhaps most notably in the songs he picks for his movies. The Hateful Eight is notable straight off the bat for boasting an entirely new score written by the legendary Ennio Morricone, as well as unused tracks from The Thing. But it’s the song that plays over the end credits, Roy Orbison’s “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home,” that packs the biggest punch. Originally from a movie that starred Orbison himself (The Fastest Guitar Alive), it’s equal parts saccharine and grim as it describes the idealization and then the reality of war, i.e. the perfect closing note for a movie that delves so deeply into the myth of America.

Runner-Up: “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” — Traditional Ballad (Jennifer Jason Leigh)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Best Needledrop: “Salut D’Amour” — Edward Elgar

Why the Music is so Important: For a movie about the Cold War, the heart of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is warm, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the tracklisting. While Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour” translates to “Love’s Greeting,” the song serves to mark the end of the relationship between Haydon (Colin Firth) and Prideaux (Mark Strong). It’s as Prideaux listens to a nearby salon trumpet player perform the song that he pieces together that something’s gone wrong, and he’s shot and taken captive in the next moment. The typical arrangement for “Salut d’Amour” is for violin and piano, but the trumpet arrangement is perfect for the scene, hewing towards simplicity. It’s fitting for a movie in which one of the characters, reflecting on her memories of her time at the Circus, says, “If it’s bad, don’t come back. I want to remember you all as you were.” The title of the song suggests looking to the future, but the entirety of the movie is about looking back.

Runner-Up: National Anthem of the USSR. In another extremely apt cue, this song plays as a joke during the Circus Christmas party, but it notably scored over Smiley’s (Gary Oldman) discovery of his wife’s affair with Haydon, blinding him to the fact that Haydon is the Soviet spy.

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