The best movie soundtracks of all time

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: September 20, 2022 (Last updated: January 20, 2024)
The Greatest Showman

Soundtracks are a vital part of a movie or TV show, as they can trigger your brain to immediately associate the movie with the soundtrack if heard outside of the movie, leading you to want to rewatch or encourage others to rewatch. There are also different types of soundtracks attached to movie franchises, for example, the soundtrack to a musical vs a film score. 

Movie score

Movie/film scores are traditionally instrumental, and are among the most influential types of music out there. They add emotion to scenes where, without the addition of music, emotions aren’t usually felt. They can also guide you into feeling a certain way – sad music can prompt you to cry, or upbeat music can trigger feelings of tenseness and happiness. 

They also make the film easily identifiable. In the case of big movie franchises, such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, each film has its own individual soundtrack and score that can allow for immediate association to the film when the music is played. 


Musicals have different types of soundtracks, which are actually being sung by the characters as opposed to being added in post-production to trigger emotional responses. Musical soundtracks are generally used to convey the emotions and feelings of the characters, and can prompt a different type of engagement with the movie. As they are not instrumental, people remember the lyrics to the songs and associate those with the movies. 

Movies like The Greatest Showman, Grease, and Les Miserables have characters sing the songs to add emotion and convey their feelings about certain events. 

Non-instrumental soundtracks

Soundtracks with lyrics can have these effects too, as in the case of songs like Hungry Eyes, All Star, and Girl, and You’ll Be A Woman Soon, all of which are associated with a particular movie, such as Dirty Dancing, Shrek or Pulp Fiction.

What are the best movie soundtracks by genre?

Movie genres are another influential element to a movie, as not only do they help to categorise movies, they also indicate the type of soundtrack that will likely be added to the movie. The soundtrack helps to set the tone and mood for certain scenes, so the genre of the movie is important so as to avoid the soundtrack seeming out of place or random. 

Adventure / Fantasy

In this genre, we see the world-famous film franchises like the Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia series. These movies, while successful in their own right, have famous soundtracks that help to increase recognition and association. 

According to, the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, written by famed composer Hans Zimmer, sold over 220,000 copies worldwide. Additionally, based on findings from Classic.FM, The Lord of the Rings soundtrack earned composer Howard Shore “no less than four Grammys, three Oscars, two Golden Globes, and a raft of other awards.” 


The Sci-Fi genre has introduced us to some of the most well-loved movies of all time, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Matrix and more recently, Interstellar. During their reign at the box office, each of these movies garnered critical and international acclaim and won numerous awards and accolades. However, one movie in this category has recently had its soundtrack hit the charts once again, decades after its original release. 

From a 2015 article from Insider, we see that, “twenty-two years after the release of “Jurassic Park,” the memorable theme song from the 1993 film has found its way to the top of a Billboard chart.” After the release of the reboot ‘Jurassic World,’ trilogy, sales and streams of the Jurassic Park theme song have risen. This proves the power of sequels, as they can reignite association or memories of a theme song or soundtrack, encouraging fans of the original series to dig into their music archives once again and listen to the soundtrack once more. 

Also in this genre, we see the vastly famous Inception movie, which featured music by Hans Zimmer, as did the 2014 movie Interstellar. Both these movies earned Hans Zimmer a plethora of awards, including a BAFTA and an Oscar. The most notable of the soundtracks produced is Time, which featured on Inception. This score is definitely up there in the ranks for the best movie soundtracks of all time. 


In this category, the most notable movies include Titanic, Romeo and Juliet and La La Land, among others. Titanic and La La Land both won Oscars, however, to this day the Titanic soundtrack is still being brought up and remembered. 

“The score for the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic, composed by the late James Horner, is the best-selling classical album of the last 25 years, according to the Ultimate Classic FM Chart, the biggest ever countdown of classical music album sales in the UK.” When watching Titanic, the song that sticks with us the most is Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, which earned itself an Academy Award in 1998, the same year of the movie’s release. 


Thrillers are suspenseful and hard-hitting, especially if they feature some sort of twist or mind-boggling plot line. There are different subgenres connected to this one too, namely psychological thrillers and horror-thrillers. This genre has birthed some of the best movies with equally good soundtracks. These include Jaws, Joker, Get Out and Escape Room. 

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has found itself with three Academy Awards, two of which were for Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound. The Jaws soundtrack remains to this day, one of the most iconic, with immediate association and a thrilling feeling felt when it is played. 

Joker, possibly one of the most successful movie renditions of the original Joker, has also won awards for its movie score. Pitchfork states that, “Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media today at the 2021 Grammy Awards. The Icelandic composer’s Oscar-winning score for Joker picked up the win against Max Richter (Ad Astra), Kamasi Washington (Becoming), John Williams (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker), and Thomas Newman (1917).” Joker’s chilling and haunting soundtrack has rightly-so earned praise and acclaim. 

Why are soundtracks important?

With all these soundtracks receiving worldwide acclaim and winning Oscars, what exactly makes a soundtrack worthy? 

Set the tone

Of course, soundtracks need to match the scene that they’re in the background of. Instrumental music is great in the background of a sad scene, as upbeat and lively music is great in the background of a fast-paced or action-packed scene. 


Having a soundtrack specifically associated with one movie or franchise means it’s a lot easier to identify the movie when the soundtrack is played. If you have a favourite movie, you’ll also be more likely to download the album or songs from the soundtrack, ranking them higher in the best soundtrack list. 

Character building 

Sometimes, individual characters can have their own themes, which usually play in the background of each scene they’re in. According to,soundtracks are such a vital part when creating and watching a movie – it helps the director set the tone of a scene, and helps the audience member empathise with a character.” Music also establishes the atmosphere of the scene, allowing us to feel relief for the characters or closure, as though they have finally achieved their goals. 

The best movie soundtracks to work to

There have been many studies that suggest that listening to classical music when studying is useful for more efficient brain stimulation and information processing. In this case, here are the top instrumental soundtracks we recommend you add to your study or work playlist. 

  • Time, Hans Zimmer
  • Requiem for a Dream, Clint Mansell
  • The Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Gregson Williams
  • UP, Michael Giacchino

More from Ready Steady Cut

At Ready Steady Cut, we have an abundance of movie and TV show reviews and opinion pieces for you to read. Anything movie or TV related, we’re your best bet. You can also browse our streaming service section, for information and reviews on all the latest platform news and releases.