There are some movies that were immortalized not only for what they do on the screen, but also by the music that comes through the speakers. Now, a good soundtrack will benefit most movies, but some movies are raised onto an entirely different level by their soundtracks. I’m not talking about movies that are about the music, like Saturday Night Fever or A Hard Days Night. I am talking about movies that are about something totally different, but have music in them to add to the mood or tone of the movie.
Here is a list of, in my opinion, the top ten movies where music (or in some cases, the lack there of) elevated the film to another level. Now sure, these movies would have been great without the music, but the music has definitely made them even greater. This list is in order of when the movies were made, not from worst to best or anything like that.
Psycho – 1960
This iconic movie will be forever remembered by its great story line and by its iconic shower scene. This has be one of the most classic murder scenes in American cinema, and it might not have happened without the work of composer Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock said that the murder scene in the shower did not need any orchestra score, but, fortunately, Herrmann insisted, thus giving us the awesome screeching sounds of violins, violas, and cellos. This changed the feel of the scene and made it the symbol for cinema thriller moments. And because of this movie I can no longer hear a violin sharp without wanting to stab someone in a shower, but I digress. Anyway, Psycho would be long remembered as one of Hitchcock’s greatest works, and it might have not been so, if it weren’t for that great violin score.
James Bond (Franchise) 1962-Present
No movie franchise has had a more interesting history than James Bond. From the Aston Martin’s and the Walther PPK’s, to the famous Bond lines, there are a ton of icons that when seen or heard, you immediately think Bond. One of these is the music. Everyone recognizes the “James Bond Theme” which appears at the beginning of the film, and there is also the “007 Theme”, the “Suspense Motif”, and many classic songs such as “Goldfinger” and “Nobody Does it Better”. I am not saying without the songs James Bond would not have been a success, but the songs did help cement the franchise as an icon forever.
The Godfather (Part 1) 1972
Where do I even start with this one? From the slow, sweet trumpet score in the opening scenes to the famous restaurant scene, the music in this movie just worked. Nino Rota, the composer, heightened every scene to its maximum potential by the music and background noises that he incorporated into them. He used soft, sweet music to lure you into a trance, just to be shock back out of it. He built suspense and anxiety with the music, but also with the background noise. In the pivotal restaurant scene, all the noises are heightened and there is no music, giving you the feeling of nervousness as the scenes builds in intensity. Rota used every resource at his disposal to enhance every scene with music or sound, making an already great movie an almost perfect piece of cinema art.
American Graffiti – 1973
“41 Original Hits From the Soundtrack of American Graffiti” This album had 41 songs from American Graffiti and did not include all the songs from the film. The album hit number 10 on Billboard’s top 200. There is no denying that without the music this movie, in which George Lucas and Harrison Ford got their starts, it would not have hit it big.
Jaws (Number 1) 1975
In this movie the music is used to build the watcher up before the monster is revealed. If you try watching a movie like this without the music the suspense just is not there, the fear is lost. John Williams, the composer, uses the music to build suspense and then adds to the excitement with big scores, much in the same way Herrmann did in Psycho.
Taxi Driver -1976
Yet another great Herrmann composition, and the last before his death. This movie had so many good things going for it, and the music is no different. Herrmann knew what he was doing. He could take any scene and write just the perfect music for it. Robert Barnett of MusicWeb International said ” it contrasts deep, sleazy noises, representing the ‘scum’ that Travis sees all over the city, with the saxophone, a musical counterpart to Travis, creating a mellifluously disenchanted troubadour.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Star Wars (Trilogy) 1977-1983
Whenever I think Star Wars I think Darth Vader and the classic musical intro. This is another composition by Williams and ,in my opinion, the best of his career. From the introduction to the background the scores are just perfect. Lucas wanted the music to be familiar to the audience, since the rest of the film is set in a strange, unknown place. In fact, Lucas still maintains that trilogies success comes not from the visual effects but from the emotional appeal of the plot, the characters, and, importantly, the music. So you see the music did have a great impact of this movie, as it does in most, making this one of the most iconic movies ever. I can never think about Star Wars without thinking about the music. (And Darth Vader, I always think about him.)
Indiana Jones (Trilogy) 1981-1989
Another classic George Lucas/Harrison Ford team up, the Indiana Jones trilogy again shows how music can not only become iconic but also help make the movie so much better as well. John Williams is the composer for this classic score. Remember that name, you should. It appears that everything he touches turns to musical gold. The now infamous music that was in this movie really made a difference in the action scenes and if you watch it without the music it really makes a difference. Much like Star Wars, the score in this movie will be eternally linked with Indiana Jones, George and Harrison, and John Williams.
Top Gun – 1986
This is one movie that is commonly overlooked when talking about great music in movies but I felt it should be included. First of all, “Danger Zone” is the perfect introduction to the action packed film. Then, as the movie progresses, the songs progress with it, finally ended with “The Top Gun Anthem”. I believe that without the rise and fall of the music, the movie would have been very flat. This is why it made the list, not only because the music was great, but because it took the movie to a whole-nother level.
Interstellar – 2014
It is still too early to determine how well this movie will do, but no matter how legendary, or forgetful, this movie will be the music and in some cases the silence, definitely made it much better. Hans Zimmer was the composer for this film and he did an excellent job with the music. In some scenes (a few of the ones occurring in the icy cold, soul sucking darkness of space)
Zimmer did not use any music, but dead silence, to create a sense of vastness. In this film the music not only fit perfectly with the movie, it elevated the movie to another level entirely, and that’s what this list is about.
In conclusion, we can see how in all these movies the music took them to the next level in awesomeness. These are just some examples of how the music elevates the mood of a film, though I believe them to be some of the best examples. What makes a movie is not just what you see but what you hear as well. George Lucas once said “The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie.” And who can argue with George Lucas?