The Barbie soundtrack is revealed: here’s our pick of the best film music of all time
Yesterday we got our first glimpse of the musical line-up of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie – and for good reason, it sent the internet into meltdown.
Get ready: Ava Max, Charli XCX, Dominic Fike, Dua Lipa, Fifty Fifty, Gayle, HAIM, Ice Spice, Kali, Karol G, Khalid, Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, PinkPantheress, Ryan Gosling, Tame Impala, and The Kid Laroi will all have tracks on the upcoming soundtrack.
EXCLUSIVE: @DUALIPA, @icespicee_, @charli_xcx, @lizzo, @NICKIMINAJ, @AvaMax, @pinkpantheress2, Ryan Gosling(!), @tameimpala, and more will appear on the @barbiethealbum soundtrack.
Details: https://t.co/qSJeh0cUaH pic.twitter.com/9tMj7GEEDy
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) May 25, 2023
The last time film-goers were treated to a line-up this stonking was with the November-released Black Panther 2 album. It was jam-packed full of music from stars including Burna Boy, Tems, Stormzy and Future, and included Lift Me Up, Rihanna’s first solo single since 2016.
But for pop fans, the upcoming Barbie soundtrack might just take the biscuit.
Just hours after the big artist reveal, Dua Lipa’s new Barbie song, Dance The Night, dropped. Its music video – in which Lipa bops around a pink disco ballroom – has already racked up over one million views.
To celebrate the upcoming release, we’ve plucked out our picks for the best film soundtracks of all time.
We’ve opted for a mix of films – some of which consist of instrumental scores and some which are composed of popular songs – and chosen those with coherent soundtracks that work consistently throughout the length of an entire movie, rather than films known for just one particular theme. We've also left out musicals and biopics.
Our pick of the best film soundtracks
Hans Zimmer is well-known for his masterful soundtracks – the German composer has scored dozens of films over his four-decade career, including The Lion King (1994), Gladiator (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and Interstellar (2014) and has picked up two Oscars and four Grammys along the way. Dune was something particularly special for Zimmer, though: he grew up adoring the Frank Herbert novels, and always dreamt of being able to score the soundtrack one day. When director Denis Villeneuve Zimmer offered him the job, Zimmer almost turned it down, as it felt like too much responsibility.
Happily, he had a change of heart, as the soundtrack is utterly phenomenal. Zimmer, along with a team of talented musicians, sound artists and technicians, tried to imagine what music might be like unlimited by the sounds we are familiar with here on earth, and by human instruments. The result is an eerily intense score that veers between the industrial and melodic. It won him Best Original Score at the Oscars last year.
It’s partly because of its full-pelt, feel-good soundtrack that Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is still regarded as one of his best works. The careering and bonkers plot was matched perfectly by Tarantino’s selection of songs, which included Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man, Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon and Kool & the Gang’s Jungle Boogie. In fact, these tracks are so fused to the film that to play any of the songs is to conjure up scenes from the 1994 hit.
Blade Runner has one of the most evocative worlds ever put to screen, with a cityscape as futuristic and slick as it is sludgy and depraved. The mood was perfectly captured with the striking, mysterious score from Greek electro icon Vangelis.
Blade Runner was released in 1982, just a year after Vangelis’s triumphant score had been featured on Chariots of Fire – yet the two could hardly be more different in tone. The movie is packed with strange synthetic textures, and while it’s undoubtedly Eighties, there’s also a transcendent and timeless quality to it, which is one of the reasons the film still stands up decades later. Evocative romantic scenes are peppered with tasteful saxophone and fretless bass in a way that avoids cliche, while the main themes are a strange mixture of stark and emotive. It’s the perfect pairing for one of the most haunting sci-fi movies ever made.
Black Panther has to be one of the most culturally significant movies of recent years, and has an epic soundtrack to match. The tracklisting to the 2018 hit film – which was the first major black superhero movie, and a landmark moment for Marvel and Hollywood as a whole – is packed with some of the biggest and most expressive voices in hip hop, including Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Travis Scott.
Involving Lamar proved a masterstroke, with the rapper speaking eloquently on social themes like black power and loyalty as he has throughout his entire career. It fit perfectly with the film’s storyline. He leads the way on a selection of fantastic songs, not least the soaring All the Stars. It brought a contemporary edge to proceedings, and also stands alone as a fantastic collection.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Even 55 years after the franchise first arrived, Bond ‘s theme music is as big a deal as the films themselves. None of the series’ soundtracks are quite as timeless as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service though, which brings together the best, bombastic sides of Bond composition, with tender orchestrations. There are the mandatory variations on the classic John Barry Bond score – some of the finest film score writing ever – before the arrival of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World, which plays over the gut-punch ending of the film. It lends real emotional heft.
The Toy Story score is everything you’d hope for from a kids’ film: playful, charming and full of joy. Randy Newman’s work gives the film real verve – as animated as Woody and Buzz themselves – with songs like You Got a Friend in Me leaving an indelible mark on millions of children and adults alike. The emotive ballads, though, are where Newman’s songwriting prowess really comes to the fore. There is an ineffable pathos at the heart of the classic film series – it’s part of what makes them so relatable and unforgettable. Newman communicates this through moving tracks like I Will Go Sailing No More and When She Loved Me, which he wrote for Sara McLachlan to sing on Toy Story 2.
It couldn’t be a best soundtracks list without John Williams, one of the true heavyweights of film composition. We could have focused on any number of Williams’ movies – Jaws is one of the most instantly recognisable themes in film, Jurassic Park is deeply cinematic, and his work on Indiana Jones is full of adventurous spirit – but Williams’s finest work actually came on Star Wars.
Everything about the opening theme is as bombastic, expansive and immediate as the films, with the kind of thunderous strings and striding marches that put a sense of anticipation and excitement right into the listener's chest. The ability to match the scale of outer space itself, with vast, sweeping compositions like Duel of the Fates that capture the intensity of galactic battles, is a staggering achievement.
Despite the violence and bare-knuckle action, Drive is actually rather understated. There’s minimal dialogue – Ryan Gosling’s driver says just 891 words in the entire movie – and it’s the soundtrack that does most of the heavy lifting, with the music revealing how the characters are feeling, rather than having them spell it out.
There are tasteful splashes of synthwave and Eighties nostalgia, with the crepuscular synthesisers and thudding drums of Kavinsky’s Nightcall pulling us in and setting the tone over the opening credits perfectly. The use of A Real Hero by College and Electric Youth during a sun-drenched drive along the reservoir is beautifully done too, expressing the inner happiness of the movie’s protagonists even when they aren't able to.
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful use of tension was at the heart of all of his greatest achievements, and it’s the score in Psycho, as much as anything, that gives it such heart-thumping suspense. He enlisted Bernard Herrmann for the score, who had previously worked on Citizen Kane and Hitchcock movies The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man and North By Northwest.
The film's angular, visceral soundtrack is one of the most recognisable in cinema, with the shocking shower scene one of the most memorable in horror. It was, in fact, born out of necessity and could have been so different. The production's modest budget meant that Herrmann wrote the score to be performed by just the strings, rather than a full orchestra. The rest was so striking, uncluttered and direct that it led Hitchcock to claim that "33 per cent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” Praise indeed.
2001: A Space Odyssey
For a film that contemplates the entire span of human existence, the implications of artificial intelligence and other weighty themes, only music as towering and grandiose as Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra would do. 2001 is an example of a movie transporting music from elsewhere into new settings and situations – in this case, some of the finest classical compositions from history into the depths of outer space.
Director Stanley Kubrick’s selection of classical pieces is expertly chosen, with Ligeti’s Requiem II Kyrie ramping up the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere. The Blue Danube Waltz, meanwhile, adds a touch of the surreal to the thought-provoking sci-fi masterpiece.
Guardians of the Galaxy
If there’s one thing the often earnest, overblown DC universe can learn from Marvel, it’s how to have fun with its soundtracks. Guardians of the Galaxy’s inventive use of Seventies rock and pop music helped to create an atmosphere entirely of its own, injecting a loveable goofiness to the character of Chris Pratt’s Starlord and a spark of humour that can easily go amiss in big-budget blockbusters. Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling became the film’s anthem, while soundtrack staples like ELO’s Mr Blue Sky took on new life in this fresh intergalactic setting. As fresh as they come.
A Fistful of Dollars
No other soundtracks transport viewers to a specific time or place quite like Ennio Moriccone's scores. The Italian composer’s work is synonymous with the sound of Spaghetti Western pioneer Sergio Leone’s films, whether it be The Good, The Bad or the Ugly, or his masterwork A Fistful of Dollars. The latter's main titles are wonderfully evocative, with the shuffling drums pattering like horses racing across the land, the melody of the idle whistle of a cowboy riding into town and the bell strikes announcing his arrival. It’s packed with the kind of mischief and adventure that makes these films such exciting and compelling viewing.
Moriccone branched out into more mainstream hits like The Thing, The Untouchables, and later The Hateful Eight at the behest of his champion and fan Quentin Tarantino. However, it’ll always be his work on A Fistful of Dollars and other Leone westerns that made the biggest impact.
Barbie will be released in the UK on July 21