Though we’re only halfway through, this decade has already been a phenomenal one for movie music, with both established greats and exciting newcomers producing influential, innovative scores for instantly iconic films.
Following our look at the best ’60s soundtracks, best ’70s soundtracks, best ’80s soundtracks, best ’90s soundtracks and greatest soundtracks of the noughties, here’s our pick of the finest movie music of this decade so far.
Arguably Hans Zimmer’s career-defining masterpiece (yes – even more so than Gladiator), the genre-blending theatrics of the great modern movie composer’s booming, influential music here are nothing short of thrilling.
‘Dream Is Collapsing’ is as exciting a signature theme as you can get, clashing nerve-jangling Johnny Marr guitar with bombastic orchestral brass. Then you have sweet, majestic epics (‘Time’) and pounding, synth-infused tidal waves of sound (‘Mombasa’), mirroring the movie’s acclaimed clash of adrenaline-pumping awe and quiet, emotional intensity. Those sick of all the token ‘bwaaarms’ in every major trailer since may curse Zimmer setting the trend, but first time round it was jaw-dropping. [MB]
Tron: Legacy (2010)
The French dance giants stunned film-goers with their sensational score – which is probably one of the most diverse and thrilling soundscapes in the history of cinema.
Taking the dynamic duo around two years to write and record, it’s no surprise that the electronic superstars muster some stunning Vangelis-esque synth sweeps and pulsating disco stomps. But the real revelation is their embracing and mastery of classical elements, resulting in a number of orchestral highlights that range from the awe-inspiring to the genuinely moving. [MB]
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
There aren’t many films I fall for after a single viewing, but after seeing 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon I became an instant convert to the world of dragons and Vikings, searching out the TV spin-off and putting John Powell’s stunning soundtrack on the iPod on a regular basis.
As befits the film’s setting, there’s something epic about the score that ensures large-scale battles are given some heft, while the stunning flight sequences are exhilarating when viewed on an IMAX screen (and don’t look too shabby on your 32″). But it’s in the smaller moments that the music really packs a wallop, with ‘Forbidden Friendship’ managing to add depth to the relationship between Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, without getting overly schmaltzy. Thankfully there’s also a score for HTTYD 2 out there with a third on the horizon. [JM]
Richard Ayoade’s first venture into direction spawned a very British take on the Wes Anderson-influenced indie flick, with bags of charm to boot. The film followed 15-year old Oliver Tate’s ventures into love and suburban boredom in Swansea – with all the pretensions and sense of self-importance being fifteen brings.
The film marries this hum-drum feel with the Oliver’s teenage melodrama beautifully in the soundtrack, going from brazenly simple and honest numbers penned by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner (no doubt, channelling Richard Hawley) to Andrew Hewitt’s angst-laden orchestral scores – which mix synth melodies and big dramatic string moments. Turner’s Submarine proved to be a popular release with tracks such as ‘Piledriver Waltz’ and ‘Stuck in the Puzzle’, but the combination of the two elements make it a true modern classic. [MDM]
The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher’s atmospheric take on the creation of Facebook managed to make the story of ambitious nerdy bedroom coders surprisingly cool, murky and gripping, and a large part of that is down to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s moody score.
Reznor became the famous face of industrial and experimental rock back in the ’90s with his groundbreaking band Nine Inch Nails, but it is his extraordinary work in film that has been turning heads of late. The Social Network is a phenomenal blend of insistent sounds, intoxicating rhythms and brooding beats that perfectly sets the tone for the drama at hand – and plays a crucial role in making Facebook’s story that much more compelling. It deservedly won an Oscar and Golden Globe. [MB]
More so than perhaps any other film of the past 5 years, it is the music of Nicolas Winding Refn’s slick, stylish arthouse thriller that sticks most in the mind once viewed. The song choices are simply perfect: The Chromatics’ ‘Tick Of The Clock’ ideal for the nail-biting opening getaway scene; Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ magnificent against the night-time LA streets; and ‘Under Your Spell’ and ‘Real Human Being’ bringing just the right amount of wistful romantic longing.
But don’t discount Cliff Martinez’s superb original compositions, which are rich in atmosphere and tone. His ambient creativity using the crystal baschet is simply beautiful – not least on the deeply poignant ‘I Drive’. [MB]
The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)
Before becoming a film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book that was, to some, a gateway to finding new uncharted territories of music. Indie music references came thick and fast in almost every page, so it came as very little surprise that the soundtrack to the film adaptation would be astonishingly good.
Keeping faithful to the tastes of the characters in the book, The Perks takes you on a musical journey touching on Bowie and The Smiths, to more obscure gems such as Galaxie 500 and Sonic Youth – using them all to spine-tingling effect. (AL)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen Brothers are no strangers to putting together complex and compelling narrative. But what often goes unnoticed his how they are able to weave original soundtracks into that narrative. making them become as integral to their characters journey as what is being spoken.
Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the prime examples of this – taking traditional songs and applying them to the lonerist journey of the protagonist. Plus, ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ is a stroke of genius when it comes to intentionally bad song-writing. [AL]
Whilst it may be difficult to argue against Hans Zimmer’s other soundtrack masterpieces, the score of Insterstellar really is a feat to behold. Zimmer may have solidified his sound with Inception but he was worried that it had become predictable through influencing others: “The textures, the music, and the sounds, and the thing we sort of created has sort of seeped into other people’s movies a bit, so it’s time to reinvent.”
The Interstellar score was written without seeing the movie itself and was based on a page of text that Christopher Nolan gave to Zimmer. The result is a colossal organ-led epic, which echoes the wrought emotion of the lead protagonist and the constant battle with time itself. Astoundingly, every note you hear was played by Hans himself – further connecting him with that sense of isolation of being lost in space. [MDM]
Under The Skin (2014)
An alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, stalking the streets of Glasgow on the hunt for human prey. That was the premise for Jonathan’s Glazer eerie, unsettling and brilliant Under The Skin, one of the sleeper hits of last year. Based (very loosely) on the Michel Faber novel of the same name, the film’s power lies in its ability to combine the fantastically surreal (a secret community of predatory aliens living in our midst) with the deeply quotidian (shopping centres, white vans, dodgy nightclubs). The soundtrack is absolutely pivotal to that juxtaposition.
Composed by English singer-songwriter Mica Levi (also known by her stage name Micachu), the score is an attempt to replicate the feelings Johansson’s creature experiences as she adapts to life on earth. The scene where she’s essentially distilling an unfortunate man’s lifeforce is accompanied by the kind of scraped strings that evoke nails and chalkboards. Not exactly easy listening, but a masterful example of sound and vision working in perfect (dis)harmony. [NM]