Right, before we start, this isn’t a list of the best soundtracks of all time. There are far too many fantastic scores, songs and pieces of music out there being used alongside our movie viewing pleasures. What this is, really, is my personal opinion of the best soundtracks to geeky films.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with the countdown:
10 – The CrowEven though this is a bit of a Marmite film (either you love it or you hate it), the soundtrack is a superb slice of 1990s music nostalgia with a great mix of rock, indie, goth and heavy metal. From The Cure to Stone Temple Pilots to Henry Rollins, The Crow‘s soundtrack is packed with moody, dark and brooding tunes, which are so intertwined with, and integral to, the feel of the film that it’s hard to listen to the music without wanting to don the black and white face paint. And then to go perch yourself moodily on top of a tenement building somewhere.
9 – Spirited Away In my opinion, this is one of the best animated films ever. This beautiful fantasy film by Hayao Miyazaki is a tale of pure imagination. To those people who say that Miyazaki is the Eastern Walt Disney: you’re wrong. Miyazaki is by far the better filmmaker; head and shoulders above Disney in the imagination, creativity and film magic stakes.
But enough of the east vs. west debate. The music in this film blows my mind with its creativity. Created by Joe Hisaishi, the film’s music completely evokes the feeling and magic of the animation, from the melodious One Summer’s Day at the beginning to the epic and breathtaking Procession Of The Spirits to the sinister Yubaba piece to the icky Stink Spirit score, the music (which is performed by a full Japanese orchestra) completes the film and adds so much to an already perfect film. Which makes it, I suppose, more than perfect, if that’s possible.
8 – Lost BoysThis is, for me anyway, the soundtrack of the late 80s. The movie is crammed with tassle-covered leather jackets, tattoos, American broadwalk carnival seaside resorts, comic shops, sax players, motor bikes and open air beach parties. The film’s soundtrack was also the epitome of cool at the time, as everyone who had seen the film went out and bought a copy of the tape. Tracks from INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen and Roger Daltrey fill the sound track but it’s Lou Gramm’s Lost in the Shadows and the moody theme tune from the film called Cry Little Sister by Gerard McMann that everyone remembers. The only song that is not in the soundtrack is I Ain’t Got A Home by Terrance ‘Frogman’ Henrym which is a shame as not only does it reflect the name of the two Coreys’ Frog Brothers characters but is also a great singing-in-the-shower song.7- Batman/Batman ReturnsEven if you aren’t a Prince fan, the original Batman soundtrack still has some classic songs on it, and it complements Danny Elfman’s atmospheric score perfectly. The same can be said for Batman Returns – that has some great tunes from the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees on it, but again it comes down to Elfman to capture the iconic nature of Batman. He brings to the screen not only the darkness of the main character, but also the fun, insanity and manical aspects of the villains.
Elfman’s score sets the tone for the entire film, and is a perfect melding of his trademark Edward Scissorhands/Nightmare before Christmas choral work and the sinister lurking sounds of Gotham City. The dark brooding main theme of the film was so good that Paul Dini and co used a variation of the theme music over the superb Batman: The Animated Series.6 – SupermanFrom the build up of the brass instruments sections to the ‘da da da’ bit, the Superman theme sends a shiver down your spine every time you hear it. John Williams managed to capture the complete heroic essence of Superman in this theme, and the score has become every bit as iconic as the first movie itself.
It was so good, in fact, that Brian Singer resigned himself to the fact that there was no way they were going to get anything as good as this for Superman Returns, so he sensibly decided just to use it. Strangely enough, the theme tune was by far the best part of that movie.5 – Star Wars Episodes 4-6Although the music from the prequels was okay (Duel of the Fates is superb), the music from the first three films will go down in cinematic history as one of the best scores of all time. John Williams once again provides orchestral scoring, including some of the most recognisable pieces of film music ever. Seeing the original films in the cinema again a few years ago, I was amazed to hear the usually quiet British cinema-goes publicly cheering as Williams’ score kicked in.
This iconic piece of music fully utilises the hugely impressive orchestra that Lucas and co employed when creating Star Wars to give what could have easily been a standard B-movie affair an edge of gravitas, and an epic scope which is yet to be bettered. From the Star Wars theme that accompanies the initial credits roll all the way through to the finale’s Ewok music, the entire trilogy is packed full of music that evokes the emotions of geeks everywhere. The music from Star Wars is a true music masterpiece that captured the imagination of an entire generation of geeks.4- Blade RunnerVangelis’ best work ever! A brooding, sweeping soundtrack from the Greek musical genius who bought us 1492 and Chariots of Fire that fits the noir world of Deckard, replicants, spinners and cyberpunks perfectly. Designed to enhance the film rather than drown it out, the score for the film shifts from tracks of pure peaceful tranquillity to grand sweeping movements that reflect the neon skyline of the futuristic LA. The soundtrack is an integral part of the film as much as the skyscrapers, adverts and rain, adding atmosphere and depth to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.
If you want to hear the soundtrack at its very best, then if you wait a month of two, Blade Runner: The Final Cut will be released, which will allow you to hear Roy Batty’s final words and that beautifully moving synth score in all its glory.3- Flash GordonFrom Ming’s first classic line, to the heavy bass beat and the iconic “Flash, ahhhhh, saviour of the universe!”, this 1980s effort from Queen is one of the most lively soundtracks you will ever hear. Nicking snippets from the film, the mix of over-the-top pompous rock and early 1980s synthesizers really brings Alex Raymond’s characters to life. Queen turn the guitar riffs and rock opera up to 11 as Flash plays alien American football, spins around Mungo defeating S&M-inspired bad guys, sticking his hand into scorpion-filled logs, and finally skewering Ming in the momentous crash landing finale of the film.
Of course 80s film fans will also know that Queen did the soundtrack for the Highlander movie. While not as iconic as Flash Gordon, there are still some good tracks, and the only reason I picked Flash rather than this for the #3 spot was that the entire of Highlander is spoiled for me in the last five minutes when Lambert is hoisted into the air to receive the prize and you can quite obviously see the wires that yank him up… grrr!
2- Lord of the Rings TrilogyNot since the original Star Wars has a musical score evoked such emotion. In my opinion (and apologies for ripping off Kevin Smith) this ‘real’ holy trilogy of geek films is so well-paced musically, and has so much effort involved in it, that I even spent the time to sit and watch how the score was produced on dvd – something that I have never done before.
From the ambling music associated with the Shire to the industrial and mechanical tones underlying any music from scenes the Two Towers to the hideous screeching of the Nasgul to the heroic Rohan-themed pieces, the music, sound and tone of the film is perfect. Howard Shore deserved not only credit, Oscar gold and the kudos of every LOTR fan but also acknowledgement that without the music all three films would not have enticed the audience along, through high points and low, from sweeping epic pieces to personal studies of characters’ struggles – the music emotes as much as they did. It’s the music that makes the trilogy more than just a masterpiece of filmmaking but instead something that was nearly legendary.
Of course, the film’s finale in the Return of the King score has the added bonus that the final song of the trilogy is performed by Annie Lennox. It’s this final Into The West piece of music that indicates that you have just watched possibly the best trilogy of films ever made; it’s guaranteed to bring a tear to eye of even the most hardened film fan.
1 – Indiana Jones Trilogy If there is ever a theme tune that sends shivers down the spine then it’s the Indy theme. A tune that guarantees quality film-making, action and adventure, the music (once again by John Williams) for all three films is just stunning. Never in film history has such a rousing and epic piece of musical work fitted so well with the surrounds, characters and themes of a move. From the bold enthusiasm of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the exotic attractiveness of Temple of Doom to the light hearted fun of the Last Crusade each of the films’ unique personalities shines through in the music.
In Raiders, we have The Raiders’ March, which came to symbolise Indiana Jones. It’s really the whole crux of the score, holding things together with the mysterious Ark Theme and the pompus Nazi music all revolving around this core piece. The score received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score in 1981, but lost out to Blade Runner.
Moving ahead to 1984, Temple of Doom had a much darker score. Weirdly enough for such a darker piece, the film (and soundtrack) actually starts with a song and dance routine at Club Obi Wan. Then of course we get to the meaner and darker film that includes voodoo, sacrifices, dark gods, slavery and of course the fantastic Mola Ram. From this we have the eerie music pieces from the bug tunnels, death traps and the morose captive children – however, it’s the epic mine cart scene and the upbeat finale tunes that people truly remember.
And finally we have Last Crusade. Many people believe that this is the weakest of all three films, but when the calibre is this high (the entire Jones trilogy is in a league of its own, movie-wise) it’s like saying that you don’t care for a certain model of Porshe as it’s not got a big enough glove box’ or your third favourite supermodel is just okay as she has slightly too long a third toe on her right foot. It’s hard to take apart perfection.
The score for these films are pitch perfect – John Williams’ complete understanding of what was needed tonally for all three films is superb and fully throws the watcher of the films into the action-packed world that Lucas created for Harrison Ford to have such a good time in. Fedora and whip in hand, fans can only wait until 2008 for the new adventures of everyone’s favourite archaeologist – and it can’t come soon enough for me!