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Evening the (Film) Score: My 10 Favorite Movie Soundtracks

As a senior with several electives in her schedule this semester, I decided to take two film courses because it’s something I have always wanted to do in college but never had the time. My first class is FILM 140 which is a broader overlook at great films throughout time and FILM 240 is all about thrillers.


In this piece, I’ll look at 5 of my favorite film scores from my assigned viewings in these two courses and then 5 of my overall favorites for April 3, which is National Film Score Day.


Favorites of My Film Course(s)


  • Casablanca (1942)—This film is known for its wonderfully crafted romance, but a big part of that is the iconic Herman Hupfeld song “As Time Goes By.” In the film, it’s sung by Sam (played by Dooley Wilson). The song is used diegetically—meaning heard by the audience—and non-diegetically where it aids the audience’s perception of a scene without changing how the characters move within it. It’s a beautiful ballad.


  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—This film was incredibly long, but it makes for long, sprawling, orchestral swells that capture the expansiveness of this space sci-fi film. In a vignette about the film I watched for class, it was described that the viewing experience of this film should be operatic in nature. The music is grand and feels theatrical, so an opera vibe to this score is definitely correct. You’d probably recognize this if you heard it.


  • Fargo (1996)—This is definitely one of those films Midwesterners and Minnesotans in particular are compared to a lot for the dialect, but the sounds and soundtrack only make the film better. Despite the symphonious snow crunching, the song I’m actually thinking of is linked here. The harp is soft and melodious, which humorously juxtaposes the humor and crime story that is this film. It’s a perfect choice (one of many, really) made by the Coen Brothers.


  • Hanna (2011)—This spy film basically uses its score as a supporting character which is so cool and is a testament to how expressive the music is throughout the plot. While there are iconic sounds from the film—like whistling—the Chemical Brothers really know how to make a synth-y pop score that adds tension and intrigue to all action. It’s a cinematic sensory overload in the best way possible. One of my favorite uses is depicted in this clip. It’s also fascinating that when the music doesn’t make your pulse rush to your ears, the soundtrack softens because within this spy thriller lies a beautiful, whimsical coming-of-age film.


  • Skyfall (2012)—The opening sequence of this film is bloody beautiful, and that’s without taking into account the crystalline blue pools that are Daniel Craig’s eyes. The title song written by Adele was one of my favorites before seeing the movie nearly ten years later, which says something. The song complements the title sequence in a haunting and beautiful song that builds to a head, like the best of tense espionage ploys.


Personal Favorite Soundtracks


  • The Sound of Music (1965)—There are so many good songs in this musical that it’s hard to imagine picking a favorite. I’ve never wanted so badly to both frolic through a field and then leave the convent to return to my true love. If you have no idea what I’m talking about… (1) stop reading this article and go watch the movie & (2) listen to “Do-Re-Mi” and “Climb Every Mountain.” It’s a classic for a reason, y’all.


  • The Breakfast Club (1985)—I think we all know where I’m going with this. I grew up wanting to be from the 80s because of these bops featured in John Hughes’ films. They create a yearning to be young and wistful all at the same time. Not to mention, they lead to epic dance montages. How can anyone think of The Breakfast Club without Simple Minds’ song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me”?


  • The Wedding Singer (1998)—Not only is this film making the list because I’m a sucker for a Drew Barrymore-Adam Sandler rom-com, but it also utilizes one of my all-time favorite songs which is “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates. The linked clip is a mega-montage of movies that use this song as well like 500 Days of Summer and Step Brothers


  • Hairspray (2007)—I resonate so much with Tracy Turnblad in this film, although I am a terrible dancer. I have had a debilitating crush on Zac Efron though, so we also have that in common… although her crush is within the film. This soundtrack captures the swingin’ sock-hop nature of the era and difficult topics about civil liberties, civil rights marches and love without prejudice in perfect ways. Every single crush I’ve had in my life has led me to think about and sing “I Can Hear The Bells” at max volume.


  • Someone Great (2019)—I have actually already written an article breaking down this soundtrack because I love it that much. The soundtrack knows exactly when to have a jam sesh with “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo or to emotionally gut-check you with “Supercut” by Lorde. Whenever I watch this film, I find myself misty-eyed more so at the music choices than the scenes unfolding on screen… and that’s how you know the soundtrack is solid. 


A quote from my intro to film textbook from legendary director Steven Spielberg says, “the eyes see better when the sound is great.” And you know what I have to say about that?


Sounds about right.


My name is Hannah Hippensteel, and I like to say I'm a Chicago city-slicker, but I'm actually from the 'burbs. I'm currently a senior at Winona State with a major in mass communication-journalism and a minor in sociology. Catch me enjoying all Winona has to offer: the bluffs, the incomparable Bloedow's Bakery, and not to mention, Minnesota boys. With a goal of working at Teen Vogue, Seventeen or Glamour magazine, I'm soaking up every opportunity to keep my finger on the pulse and share my personal voice!
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