Soundtracks have always been an important part of movies, from soothing orchestral melodies to popular songs to rock ‘n’ roll classics. Even silent films had soundtracks. Today that tradition continues. Almost every mainstream picture released includes some form of music. Recently, however, filmmakers have been looking to the past for inspiration. Many modern films include songs from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sometimes they do this to make a historical period come alive. Other times it’s merely because the song fit. Though this annoys some older fans, it really does help introduce great songs to a wider audience. Here are a handful of our favorite modern movie soundtracks.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Unlike most comic book movies, Guardians of the Galaxy includes an absolutely amazing vintage soundtrack featuring songs by Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”) and the Runaways (“Cherry Bomb”). This is because the main character, an Earthman who spent much of his life in space, carries a 1980s Walkman wherever he goes. He often references the pop culture of his home planet, too, which helps bring this otherworldly movie back to earth.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017)
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a period piece about the punk scene, so of course there’s good music! The film opens with a classic song by the Damned (“New Rose,” which happens to be the first London punk single ever released). Many of the soundtrack’s other songs aren’t historical, however. That’s partly because half the characters are aliens. Still, the quirky mix of classic punk and futuristic dub works.
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
Repo! The Genetic Opera began life as a catchy, eccentric, bleakly comedic stage musical in 2002. By 2008, the creators released an oddly-cast film version. It takes place in a world devastated by an epidemic of organ failure. As a result, a company called GeneCo makes a fortune selling organs on special payment plans. If someone can’t pay on time, the infamous Repo Man takes the organs back. Also, in this world of weirdness, everyone loves opera for some reason. Perhaps that’s why they all sing constantly. The music’s surprisingly good, too, considering that Paris Hilton plays a main character. It’s so insanely catchy, people call it the Rocky Horror of this generation.
T2: Trainspotting begins with a modern, electronic soundtrack, then slowly descends into a nostalgic mix of old and new. After all, half the characters (metaphorically) live in the past. They spend too much time remembering more exciting times. Sick Boy and Begbie still hate Renton for his betrayal. Spud still uses skag, though he’s clearly not doing well. They’re all pathetic, watered-down versions of their younger selves. Eventually they must learn to accept that they’re old. The film ends with a Prodigy remix of Iggy Pop’s classic song “Lust For Life.” It’s perfect.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde weaves a complex tale of espionage and betrayal. It’s about an MI6 agent named Lorraine Broughton who is sent to recover a list of all the active spies in Berlin. Things get more complicated from there, including a subplot involving Broughton and a female lover. The filmmakers wanted to breathe life into what could’ve been a stuffy Cold War movie, so they added tons of period (well, early ’80s) music, from Bowie to New Order and the Clash to Siouxsie Sioux.
Sucker Punch (2011)
Critics and audiences alike weren’t exactly fond of Sucker Punch. It tells the sorry tale of a young woman abused by her stepfather. He sends her to a mental asylum to be lobotomized and she deals with this by fantasizing vividly. Half the story takes place in her mind. Music plays a major role, though the songs are all covers. The movie’s star, Emily Browning, sings a few of them, which adds to the feel of the film. It makes the music seem even more fitting. There’s also a surprisingly awesome Skunk Anansie version of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.”
Suicide Squad (2016)
Admittedly, Suicide Squad wasn’t so great. The plot made very little sense. None of the characters seemed too likable. It’s probably one of the worst superhero movies of the century. But that soundtrack? Wow. From modern hip-hop to classic rock, it sure sounded cool. The soundtrack album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 100. Also, the trailer’s use of “Ballroom Blitz” introduced glam band Sweet to a whole new generation of listeners.
Baby Driver is a simple, almost cliche story. The endearingly reluctant criminal nicknamed Baby Driver tries to get legit after paying off his debt. Sadly, there’s always one last job, and as you’d expect, things don’t go so well. This would be just another heist movie if it weren’t for the amazing music. Like an extra-long musical, this sublime movie revolves around its soundtrack. The songs all fit like a glove. If we didn’t know better, we’d think that Focus wrote “Hocus Pocus” specifically for this movie.
The Muppets (2011)
The Muppets helped bring that beloved family of puppets back into the public eye. Though far more child-oriented than the original show and 1979 film, The Muppets is still worth watching. It also included a variety of songs old and new. Some, like “The Rainbow Connection,” originated in earlier Muppet media. Others were written for the movie. There are also a few pop songs, including one by Jefferson Starship. And, at one point, a group of Muppets cover Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Rock of Ages (2012)
Rock of Ages isn’t a masterpiece, though it’s still entertaining. It tells the story of a washed-up rock star (Tom Cruise) who is hired by a failing club. The soundtrack consists primarily of heavy metal and ’80s glam covers. From Guns and Roses to Journey, Twisted Sister to Bon Jovi. Even the more ridiculous songs managed to seem epic. On the Billboard charts, the soundtrack album peaked at No. 5. The filmmakers also hired a few actors with musical backgrounds, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, who began her career in London’s West End. That always helps.