A good soundtrack does more than accompany the scene. It creates context, sets a mood, and builds the emotional universe wherein the characters and their problems exist. A proper soundtrack brings depth to the visuals, adds a new dimension, and even helps the audience relate to the fictional world. It brings the movie to life. Best of all, it brings us back to the cinematic experience every time we give it a listen.
While most soundtracks go relatively unnoticed by everyday consumers, every once in a while a soundtrack comes along that’s so perfect, it conjures a moment. It should come as no surprise that, at the apex of his creative and commercial power, Kendrick Lamar has conjured such a moment. Lamar’s curation of the Black Panther The Album (Music From And Inspired By) has inspired us to revisit other perfect soundtracks of this decade.
Released on Feb. 16, 2018 — one week before the film saw wide theatrical release — this star-studded LP captured the imaginations of movie and music lovers months before it saw the light of day. Lamar, with his signature knack for balancing commercial appeal with artistic integrity at the expense of neither, was the perfect creative force to spearhead the important job of soundtracking Marvel’s first Afrocentric offering in a way that was both meaningful and entertaining. It’s 14-tracks feature the best minds of a generation, from The Weeknd to SZA, Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and more. Eight of its songs charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and it topped the Billboard 200. It’s the definition of a cultural moment, both on screen and off.
You can’t talk about Drive without talking about the soundtrack. Released in 2011, the neo-noir thriller featured minimal dialogue. It’s more of an audio-visual experience, driven (pardon the pun) by actors’ expressions and a brilliant use of synthetic sounds. The soundtrack, spearheaded by Cliff Martinez, became as much a foundation of the aesthetically-pleasing experience as Ryan Gosling‘s iconic performance, that car, that jacket or anything else. Opening credit theme “Nightcall,” from French producer Kavinsky featuring CSS singer Lovefoxxx is the standout anthem, but Martinez’ moody compositions give the soundtrack the weight of its sonic personality.
The soundtrack to 2017 favorite Baby Driver opens like a punch of funk to the face. It also immediately marries the soundtrack to the plot of the film, as the titular character is introduced by pressing play on an old iPod to play said opening track. The film even takes its name from a Simon and Garfunkel song, which appears at the tail-end of disc two of the massive 30-track double LP. The Baby Driver soundtrack featured tunes from numerous eras with an additional cover of The Commodore’s “Easy” by Sky Ferreira, and two original songs from Danger Mouse feat. Run The Jewels and Big Boi, and Kid Koala.
Reviving a cult classic is always a tricky endeavor. Disney’s ’80s sleeper-hit Tron was a generational favorite for geeks, gamers, and futurists of all kinds. Bringing a modern sequel to life was worrisome until it was announced French electro duo and anthropomorphic robots Daft Punk would score the film. No better match could have been written in the stars. It wasn’t even problematic to feature the duo in an on-screen cameo. The duo’s digital, neon sound perfectly mirrored the grid’s evolved landscape. It also showcased a more cinematic and classically-influenced side of the French touch icons, though it does feature beefier beats on “End of Line,” “Derezzed” the titular end credits theme.
Junkie XL made his name as an electronic dance producer and remixer in the early 2000s, but when he moved out to California, he started his career all over again, learning the ins and outs of film scoring from one of the best in the business; Hans Zimmer. His apocalyptic, industrial masterpiece for Mad Max: Fury Road made him a soundtrack icon in his own right. He performed most of the score single-handedly, outsourcing only the string and brass sections to an orchestra in Sydney, Australia, and subtle guitar features by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner.
This Oscar-winning soundtrack almost never happened. When The Social Network director David Fincher originally approached Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor to come aboard, Reznor initially declined. He’d wanted to take some time off after completing a NIN tour, but soon changed his mind and asked to be considered again. Fincher said he’d waited for him all along. It’s a dark, ambient work that often balances an undercurrent of anxiety with top layers of hopeful melodies.
When music is part of the storyline, you can almost guarantee a killer soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy hero Star-Lord lives his life around the mix-tapes his deceased mother made for him, and Momma Star-Lord had great taste. Composed of ’70s classics from David Bowie, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and more, it tapped into nostalgia for a Golden Age of rock, funk, and soul everyone can agree on. It topped the Billboard Soundtracks chart for 11 consecutive weeks.
Not all soundtracks amplify works of fiction. This 10-song instrumental from Scottish post-rockers Mogwai helps tell the true story of life in a post-nuclear age. The documentary film, full title Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, is constructed from archival footage, exploring the pros and cons of life and death in the 70 years since the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The band performed the soundtrack in full during a showing at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2016, a year after its 2015 release.
Director Quentin Tarantino has always been known for his wild characters, ground-breaking storylines and killer soundtracks. Django Unchained is his stab at a spaghetti western, and the soundtracks dutifully reflects the untamed frontier sound. It takes serious sonic cues from ’60s genre staples like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with definite nods to ’70s soul and modern hip-hop. It features original songs from Rick Ross and Jamie Foxx, John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton, and Ennio Morricone and Elisa.
This adaptation of the cult favorite graphic novel of the same name may be the most perfect indie kid teenage love story of all time. It’s only fitting that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World gets the perfect indie rock soundtrack. Metric, The Rolling Stones, The Black Lips, T.Rex and more all make appearances, as well as a handful of songs written by Beck Hansen for the film’s fictional band Sex Bob-Omb.
If you’re missing some of these incredible records in your own record collection, we’ve created a list for you in the Discogs Database The Best Movie Soundtracks Of The Decade In The Wake Of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther so you can grab them all! You can also dive into Kendrick Lamar’s unbelievable discography via Play By Play: Kendrick Lamar.