The 25 Best Movie Soundtracks Of The 21st Century So Far

Many moons ago, when The Playlist first began, we had a special interest in the place where movies and music met. We’ve long since expanded our interests to all manner of movies, and more recently TV, but it’s an area that we’ve always kept tabs on, from reporting the latest news as such to our annual Best Soundtracks Of The Year post.

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We’re no longer in the golden days of the soundtrack of the 1980s and 1990s. Whereas once every hit movie was accompanied by a single and music video, now many big films don’t even release a compilation of songs featured therein. But there’s still little like a moment where a master filmmaker deploys the exact right songs at the exact right time, and anyone who thinks the soundtrack is dead these days is simply wrong.

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Last week, we looked at the Best Foreign Language Films since the year 2000, part of an ongoing series examining the 21st century in cinema so far. And with summer putting music on our minds, we decided to tackle soundtracks next: below, you’ll find our 25 favorites of the last 16 years. We excluded scores (like, say, Grizzly Bear‘s for “Blue Valentine”), single-artist soundtracks (like the recent “Straight Outta Compton,” which is essentially a greatest hits), or films of Broadway musicals (like “Chicago” or “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”), but almost anything else could be considered. Let us know your favorites in the comments.

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Mommy25. ”Mommy” (2014)
The vast majority of soundtracks on this list are the type of thing we’re happy to listen to outside of the films they accompany, as albums per se. But that may mean we’re possibly being a little unfair to films that use music we pretty much loathe in totally transcendent ways, within the context of the movie. So the soundtrack to Xavier Dolan‘s “Mommy” is essentially going to have to stand for all of those films, and indeed no better exemplar could there be. With songs from Celine Dion, Sarah MacLachlan, Dido, Oasis and Counting frigging Crows, it’s basically aural Ovaltine: unbelievably middle-of-the-road blandness/terribleness that become completely transportative in context. We understand if you don’t believe us —there’s a reason The Fader described this soundtrack as “a music snob’s worst nightmare” and we wouldn’t have thought anything featuring Eiffel 65‘s “Blue” could ever make a Best of the Century list either— but watch the film, feel your heart soar during goddamn “Wonderwall” and talk to us after.

spring-breakers24. “Spring Breakers” (2012)
You can sneer at the already seemingly played-out rebranding of dance music as EDM and the teens who love it, but there’s a generation of kids who’ll grow up with the same affection for the soundtrack for Harmony Korine’s neon crime pic “Spring Breakers” that old farts hold for “The Breakfast Club” or “Pulp Fiction.” Supervised by the great Randall Poster and with a score by Cliff Martinez and everyone’s favorite girl-from-The-Ring lookalike Skrillex, the choice of songs works as a pretty perfect time capsule of a very particular time in youth culture, with strobe-y pop and dance from Ellie Goulding and Nicki Minaj, and speaker-shaking hip-hop from Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill and Gucci Mane to name but a few (plus James Franco, perhaps inevitably, singing more than once). Like the film, it’s not a deep, substantial piece of work, but it’s a pretty great party.

wackness23. “The Wackness” (2008)
Jonathan Levine’s likable, slight Sundance coming-of-ager about a weed-dealing New York teen (Josh Peck) in 1994 who falls for the daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of his psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) isn’t likely to go down in the annals of film history, as sweet-natured and well-made as it is. But even if the film gets lost to the mists of time, its soundtrack shouldn’t be, being an immaculately-assembled love-letter to ’90s hip-hop. The film is like what a Cameron Crowe movie would be if turntables and a mic were fetishized rather than guitars, and the tracks are built into the fabric of the film in the same way. The obvious bases are covered —A Tribe Called Quest, Will Smith‘s “Summertime”— but the highlights are from Notorious B.I.G, Nas and Wu-Tang Clan. It’s not just a great soundtrack, but a great summer mixtape.

all-the-real-girls22. “All The Real Girls” (2003)
For all of his experimentation with stoner fantasy comedies and Sandra Bullock studio vehicles, David Gordon Green’s best films remain his woozy, lyrical early work, and arguably his very best, certainly musically, is his second feature “All The Real Girls.” A finely honed and authentic romance detailing the relationship between womanizing twentysomething Paul (Paul Schneider) and the teenaged younger sister (Zooey Deschanel) of his best friend (Shea Whigham), much of the film’s dreamy, very specific atmosphere comes from the music. It’s not just Michael Linnen and David Wingo’s score that makes it succeed, but also a laid-back and frequently unexpected collection of gentle acoustic alt-country/rock tracks from Will Oldham to Sparklehorse and The Promise Ring, with the occasional curveball like Mogwai’s “Mogwai Fear Satan” or Isaac Freeman’s gospel ballad “Beautiful Stars.” Gordon Green’s been a restless filmmaker for better or for worse, but his musical choices have been one of his throughlines, and it all began with this excellent collection.

dead-mans-shoes21. ”Dead Man’s Shoes” (2004)
Shane Meadows‘ stunning 2004 psychological thriller/ revenge drama starring Paddy Considine and Toby Kebbell also boasts one of the lesser known but close to defining soundtracks of the era. Featuring cuts by Calexico, Aphex Twin, M Ward, Richard Hawley and Adem, the aesthetic veers between jittery electro discomfort, gentle Western-influenced instrumentals and lush, melodic neo-folk guitar, which builds to as accurate an impression of this violent, hard-edged but deeply melancholic film as you could hope for. Meadows has an abiding passion for music (he directed the documentary “The Stone Roses: Made of Stone” following that band’s 2012 reunion tour) and several other soundtracks for his films contended for a spot on this list, especially the great “This is England,” but this is still probably the finest he’s assembled to date, for arguably his best film.