What would The Lord of the Rings or Lion King be without their soundtracks? Let’s just say most of the emotion would go down the drain pretty quickly without the music. In this blog post, filmmaker Nuno Sá Pessoa highlights 10 of the best soundtracks of all time.

First, I’d like to say that this is my personal selection of some of the soundtracks I consider among the best to have ever been composed. As with every opinion regarding any piece of art, it is subjective. It is based on my experience, my taste, and the films I have watched. And I still haven’t seen them all! These are simple facts which, surprisingly, seem to have been forgotten by many in the film business and the art world in general. Art should not be judged based on anything but, on one level, its technical exceptionalism and, on another level, the subjective feelings it arouses on the spectator.

For this top ten selection, I decided only to include films whose whole soundtrack was originally composed. I have also decided to leave out any soundtracks from musical films since I believe those are deserving of a top ten rank solely dedicated to the genre.

1. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Film Directed by Sergio Leone / Soundtrack Composed by Ennio Morricone

Morricone and Leone first met while attending elementary school together; this was the beginning of a bond that would arguably become the greatest collaboration between a composer and a director. Once Upon a Time in America is, in my opinion, the greatest soundtrack in the history of film; The movie took more than ten years to complete and it certainly shows, the soundtrack in and of itself is a masterpiece and worth listening to as a separate piece, when you combine it with the film, it becomes an unforgettable experience, from beginning to end, the soundtrack enhances all of the haunting and emotional feeling of a film that takes you in a journey through a unique era of America’s history.

2. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

Film Directed by Sergio Leone / Soundtrack Composed by Ennio Morricone

Following up, I chose The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, not just for the merits of how potent, unforgettable and fitting the soundtrack is, but also because of how recognizable and popular two of its themes have become, I’m referring to, of course, the coyote-howl inspired main theme, and The Ecstasy of Gold, most people will recognize at least one of those. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is not just one of the best westerns of all time, it is also an emotional and powerful anti-war film, the soundtrack perfectly reflects both spectrums and guides us through the whole plot.

3. Vertigo (1958)

Film Directed by Alfred Hitchcock / Soundtrack Composed by Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann’s incredible career could be summed up by mentioning the fact that he made his debut in film by scoring Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and retired after composing the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Herrmann and Hitchcock were, much like Leone and Morricone, a perfect match, all of their collaborations were something else, however, my favorite one is definitely Vertigo, Herrmann’s soundtrack enhances and helps create an unparalleled dreamlike state of mystery, haunting, and romance.


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4. Star Wars: Episode IV / A New Hope (1977)

Film Directed by George Lucas / Soundtrack Composed by John Williams

John Williams is one of the most prolific and talented composers in film, his collaborations with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are part of everybody’s life, and include films such as Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, E.T., and Jaws. His most famous and beloved works, needless to say, are the multiple Star Wars soundtracks. It all began, however, in 1977 with the first film of the franchise - Star Wars: Episode IV / A New Hope - from the opening theme to Darth Vader’s Imperial March, it’s hard to pick which one is the most legendary. In this soundtrack, Williams displays all his genius with a score that couldn’t fit the film any better.

5. Duck, You Sucker! AKA A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

Film Directed by Sergio Leone / Soundtrack Composed by Ennio Morricone

This is probably the least known of the four Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone films included in this list; nonetheless, it is one of my favorite movies. Many people have never watched it and I’m always happy when I introduce it to a new viewer, the reaction is usually of amazement at how they’d never heard of it. In this film, the soundtrack almost plays the role of an additional character, it tells us the story, it interacts with it, and it adds to the mystery surrounding James Coburn’s character John - or is it Sean? - the main theme and its variations are beautiful, unique, and they really enhance the whole experience, if you haven’t watched this film, please do!

6. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Film Directed by Sergio Leone / Soundtrack Composed by Ennio Morricone

Once Upon a Time in West tells a story of the collision between two different worlds, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, the death of the Wild West and the birth of the industrialized world, this strict contrast between the two could not be more perfectly reflected than through Morricone’s impactful soundtrack, the scene of the showdown between Frank and Harmonica, his flashback, and the way it all blends with the soundtrack, is truly remarkable and definitely one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of film.

7. Psycho (1960)

Film Directed by Alfred Hitchcock / Soundtrack Composed by Bernard Herrmann

The shower scene in Psycho is one of the most iconic scenes ever, it’s hard to say, but perhaps the theme that plays during the scene is even more recognizable than the scene itself. In another Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration, the duo delivers one of the most thrilling, nail-biting films ever. The whole soundtrack reflects the nerve-wracking state of the characters, the madness of Norman Bates, and the ever-present mystery surrounding the whole plot; Psycho is the perfect example of the prolific collaborative partnership that Hitchcock and Herrmann formed over the years.

8. Blade Runner (1982)

Film Directed by Ridley Scott / Soundtrack Composed by Vangelis

Vangelis is a self-taught genius, one of the most original and revolutionary composers of all time. His style was a perfect match for Blade Runner; the soundtrack is profound and emotional, while, at the same time, futuristic and visionary, it really takes you into a whole different time and space, add to it the mind-blowing cinematography and Ridley Scott’s overall vision, and you get one of the best films in the sci-fi genre.

9. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Film Directed by Roman Polanski / Soundtrack Composed by Krzysztof Komeda

In the haunting film by Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Komeda’s soundtrack plays a major role almost taking the dimension of a starring character, it is ever-present throughout the whole movie and it seems like its role is that of a ghost haunting Rosemary’s mind, creating, at the same time, confusion, illusion, fear, and hope. Komeda and Polanski formed a remarkable partnership, and their collaboration includes films such as Knife in the Water, Cul-de-sac, and The Fearless Vampire Killers; unfortunately, their collaboration was cut short after Komeda tragically died in 1969, less than a year after the release of Rosemary’s Baby.

10. La Dolce Vita (1960)

Film Directed by Federico Fellini / Soundtrack Composed by Nino Rota

Let’s close this top ten with another one of the greatest collaborations in the history of film; I’m talking, of course, of Federico Fellini and Nino Rota. Together, they crafted masterpieces such as Otto e Mezzo, La Strada, or Amarcord; it’s hard to choose which one is the best, but, in my opinion, La Dolce Vita takes the prize. The score transports the audience into Fellini’s world and beyond; no other soundtrack would so perfectly depict his world as well as Nino Rota’s, a brilliant melancholic combination between various distinct genres.

Much like choosing your favorite films, picking your favorite soundtracks is not an easy task. Which ones would you choose? As content creators, getting inspired by your favorite films and soundtracks is a great way to evolve and develop your creative and technical filmmaking skills. Try it out and see for yourself!

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