Our tastes in music tend to change through the generations, but the very best movie soundtracks have a timeless quality to them which transcends changes in the wider popular music market. Today, we’ll be looking at the best and most memorable movie soundtracks of all time, with a focus on the action genre.
When many of these movies were released, the musicians and sound designers did not have access to the wide variety of tools and resources available today. If you are a musician and are currently working on a music-for-video project, get inspired here and go seek out some royalty free music for your project. You’ll be amazed at how much time you can save without sacrificing quality!
(In no particular order)
Top Gun (1986)
The recent release of Top Gun: Maverick has brought this 80s classic and its star Tom Cruise back into the limelight again, so it seems fitting to mention it at the top of the list. Tony Scott’s iconic blend of action and drama just wouldn’t be the same without its over-the-top, melodramatic 80s pop soundtrack. Each song has been masterfully paired with a similarly over-the-top film sequence for maximum effect to produce a film that stands up every bit as well in 2022.
From the “Top Gun Anthem” to the Oscar-winning hit “Take My Breath Away”, the Top Gun soundtrack captures the mood of the 80s decade perfectly. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” perfectly sets the stage for many of the aerial sequences, and is probably our favourite of the bunch.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Here’s another wonderfully 1980s movie, featuring Michael Kamen on soundtrack duties who started work on Lethal Weapon within weeks of finishing his work on Highlander – another film with an unforgettable soundtrack! The first track “Jingle Bell Rock” seemed to strike a particular chord with viewers, especially those on the television stations who seem determined to play Lethal Weapon or one of its sequels every Christmas until the end of time.
The soundtrack caters for every mood, with plenty of distinct highs and lows; Eric Clapton’s huge guitar riffs can be hitting in time to the action one minute, then before you know what’s next you’ll be humming along to David Sanborn’s saxophone. A masterful audio rendition.
Kill Bill (2003)
Quentin Tarantino’s films are known for their superb soundtracks and noughties martial arts thriller Kill Bill is no exception. Interestingly, Kill Bill was later voted as being one of the most heavily sampled films for dance music production later in the decade – great soundtracks can breed further (probably great) soundtracks, it seems!
Tarantino’s films always pair an eclectic mix of musical scores perfectly to the energy level of his movies scenes. Take Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, for example, a sombre track to set the stage before the action, or the high-paced energy of “Green Hornet” as the Bride arrives in Tokyo. The second part had a great soundtrack too, of course, but we believe the first just about has the edge.
Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
We couldn’t write a list of soundtracks without getting Indie in here somewhere; the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” soundtrack was nominated for an Academy Award, but the competition was strong that year and John Williams ended up being beaten by Vangelis’ and his score for Chariots of Fire. Despite this disappointment, there is no denying that “Raiders March” is one of the most iconic themes in cinema history!
The Indiana Jones movies have an undeniably old-school style, and Williams orchestral soundtrack complements that style perfectly. Combined with Spielberg’s directing and Harrison Ford, for us, this was the movie of the year.
There have been numerous attempts to surpass Tim Burton’s groundbreaking adaptation of the caped crusader since 1989, but in our opinion, nobody has managed it yet. The soundtrack is an interesting mix of a traditional score and a selection of original songs by Prince, and the theme song is one of the most iconic, well-known themes of all time. When Batman: The Animated Series was created a few years later, the original melody was licensed from the 1989 film.
Some members of the audience weren’t as convinced by Prince’s contributions as they were Danny Elfman’s score. Nevertheless, the result is undeniably unique and haunting, which fits well with the surreal, gothic atmosphere that Burton was trying to create.