BFI's Best Movie Soundtracks

BFI's Tim Stevens talks us through the biggest sonic gamechangers in film. From The Beatles to Vangelis to David Lynch, he sheds light on forgotten masterpieces and rare gems.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 16 Jan 2015
  • min read
The British Film Institute (BFI) has played a starring role in the UK’s movie industry since its thirties’ heyday.

By championing the best in homegrown talent, the organisation has helped us savour the big screen’s most moving moments over the last eight decades.

It has also long recognised the close ties between music and film, bringing the two together in regular festivals of sight and sound at its flagship space on London’s Southbank.

We caught up with the BFI Southbank’s senior producer Tim Stevens, and co-creator of its Sonic Cinema strand, to learn about his favourite movie soundtracks all time.

He expertly walks us through the filmscores that have changed the game and the songs that have elevated mundane movies into sublime storytelling.

As well as his work at the BFI, Tim is director of The Auditory, a London based music and sound design agency. Tune into his Spotify playlist below...

The Beatles: Can't Buy Me Love
Hard Day's Night (1964) Dir Richard Lester

I'm not the biggest Beatles fan, but I remember this blowing my mind when I first watched it. Incredible soundtrack, and with this film Lester basically invented the modern music video.

David Lynch: Eraserhead soundtrack
Eraserhead, (1977) Dir David Lynch

For me Lynch is one of the great directors of our day, mostly because his involvement and use of sound is second to none. With Eraserhead he manages to tell the story almost exclusively with sound design.

Cat Stevens: Don't Be Shy
Harold and Maude (1971) Dir Hal Ashby

One of my all-time favourite films, and accompanied by a real life affirming soundtrack by Cat Stevens. Perfect combination.

Keith Carradine: I'm Easy
Nashville (1975) Dir Robert Altman

Altman's best film and sonically his most accomplished. Even if you're not a fan of country and gospel music it's still worth it for the experience - a tour de force of American culture. Also worth noting that it was despised by the music industry at the time, reportedly because Altman shunned any real life musicians, instead opting to let the actors compose their own songs. All the better for it, as shown by Keith Carradine.

Vangelis: Title Sequence
Bladerunner (1982) Dir Ridley Scott

I feel like this shouldn't really be in here as it's too obvious, but Vangelis' soundtrack is the best part of this film, and probably one of the best soundtracks ever. So I can't ignore it.

Harry Nilson: Jump into the Fire
Goodfellas (1990) Dir Martin Scorsese

No words needed. Just masterful in every way.

John Brennan and Éamon Little, sound engineers
Silence (2011) Dir Pat Collins, (no credited composers)

The antitheses to a traditional soundtracked film, this wonderfully paced work really stands out for its lack of musical score and makes you really listen to it as a result.

Grygory Ligeti: Lux Aeterna
2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) Dir Stanley Kubrick

Forget the two Strauss's and Khachaturian - Ligeti's music is leagues ahead and is terrifying and beautiful in equal measure. I've been lucky enough to see it performed live and it's just breathtaking.

Jayne County: Paranoia Paradise
Jubilee (1978) Dir Derek Jarman

Jarman, post-punk apocalypse, Ant, Eno - what else do you need!

Johann Sebastian Bach: Tocata y Fuga
Fantasia (1940) Dir (many)

A beautiful and ambitious film from Disney (remember this is 1940). The challenges of the soundtrack led to the development of Fantasound - an early forerunner to contemporary cinema surround sound. Wonderful music, psychedelic visuals and technically very complex for the time.

Cliff Martinez: First Sleep
Solaris (2002) Dir Steven Soderbergh

It's unfortunate that it's not the greatest film, but the soundtrack is just phenomenal. Its legacy has informed a whole new generation of composers and really challenged what a musical score means for big Hollywood films. See Gravity for most recent example.