Something seems to have shifted in Hollywood during the last year or so with a renewed appreciation for soundtracks. Maybe it’s because of the wildly inventive, attention-grabbing compilation of songs Quentin Tarantino put together to highlight his visionary pseudo-Western Django Unchained, the big rock ‘n’ roll licenses of the superhero genre, or the rising popularity of silver screen musicals. Whatever the case, catchy soundtracks are in style, and in some cases have become just as big selling points as the movies themselves. Let’s look at just a few from the couple years.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The current rage and added emphasis on soundtracks can arguably be attributed to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The ensemble film is just as well known for its 1970s-laden soundtrack filled with hits like Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and much more. The classic hits managed to appeal to old and young audience members alike and it’s hard to imagine the movie without them.
This universal popularity helped it become the first soundtrack album consisting entirely of previously released songs to ever go number one on the Billboard charts. With its cassette mixtape feel “Awesome Mix” managed to tap into a vein of nostalgia that helped turn the movie from a hit into a cultural phenomenon. “Vol. 2” of the soundtrack is already being met with anticipation and will likely be another big smash.
DC’s attempt at a villain-centric “superhero” movie fell flat with critics. However, it has proven to have some life beyond its run at the box office, and much of what people seem to have liked is its soundtrack. The album was headlined by the pop hit “Heathens,” by Twenty One Pilots, and featuring music from the likes of Eminem, Skrillex, X Ambassadors, and Lil Wayne. It tried to capture the same soundtrack success as Guardians, but with a more modern twist. The soundtrack that had a little something for everybody, and it wound up on a lot of lists of 2016’s best.
This soundtrack may also wind up having more lasting impact than people would probably think. Word is that despite crashing with critics, Suicide Squad will be subject of a new game designed by Playtech as an online slot reel. These games traditionally reach a huge number of players, and they often take musical cues from their respective films—which means thousands may soon be playing slots to the tune of “Heathens.” It seems likely that other video games will follow, and could rely on this beloved soundtrack to recreate the action-packed atmosphere of the movie.
La La Land
The renewed interest and popularity of musicals also dovetails nicely into the resurgence of the hit soundtrack. It’s not uncommon to have an original song or theme from a movie make it big, but it’s rare that a whole musical catches on the way this one did. The soundtrack managed to make it all the way to number two on the Billboard charts, and was adored by critics and audiences alike.
A few songs rose to the top—most notably “Another Day Of Sun,” “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” and the Oscar-winning “City of Stars,” but the score itself was also successful, earning its own Academy Award. It’s rare to see a musical be such a hit today but La La Land and director Damien Chazelle have helped to propel the genre into the new millennium.
This one hasn’t been widely released yet, but it already looks like its ready to grab the torch for modern movies that thrive thanks to their soundtracks. Writer/director Edgar Write (who did Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) is known for putting a lot of emphasis on the music in his films, and so far it’s the track listing that’s getting Baby Driver a lot of its early publicity.
A write-up of the film’s debut at South by Southwest quoted Wright as saying that he always wanted to do an action movie that was powered by music, and it looks like this is it. With its heavy emphasis on its songs it could be a more adult answer to the soundtrack driven adventures of Guardians and Suicide Squad and is already receiving rave reviews from critics.