Best Movie Soundtracks

What makes a great soundtrack? A collection of killer songs, the perfect encapsulation of a film's storyline and mood, a cohesive album that stands on its own ... or better yet, all that at once.

We sifted through decades of movie soundtracks in every musical and cinematic genre, and came up with a Top 40 list of albums that moved us -- in all senses of the word -- from crowd-pleasers ('The Wedding Singer,' 'The Big Chill') to audiophiles' love letters ('High Fidelity,' 'Rushmore') to single-artist experiments ('Superfly,' 'The Graduate') and everything in between ('Nashville'). Check out the best soundtracks of all time ... you may find yourself singing along.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This list does not include music documentaries, concert films, musicals or movies whose soundtracks are mostly (or entirely) scores. We'll be doing countdowns of the best of those genres too, so check back with us soon (we're talking to you, fans of 'Grease,' 'The Godfather' and 'The Last Waltz'). Can't wait? Subscribe to our Features RSS feed to see those posts the minute they land.

The Wedding Singer40. 'The Wedding Singer' (1998)

Highlights: 'Somebody Kill Me' and 'Grow Old With You' by Adam Sandler, 'How Soon Is Now?' by the Smiths, 'Private Idaho' by the B-52's

Why It's a Hit: Spanning '80s pop, rock, alternative and pure cheese, it's a comprehensive, jubilant compilation spread across two volumes. But it's Sandler's two originals and the 'Rapper's Delight' medley featuring the Sugarhill Gang and Ellen Albertini Dow (Rosie) that make it worth the purchase price.

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39. 'William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' (1996)

Highlights: 'Talk Show Host' by Radiohead, 'Kissing You' by Des'ree, '#1 Crush' by Garbage

Why It's a Hit: Baz Luhrmann updated Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers tale not just with semi-automatic weapons, but also with a kickass mix of contemporary tunes that ran the gamut from haunting (Radiohead) to over-the-top romantic (Des'ree's love theme) to playful (the Cardigans' 'Lovefool'). If you weren't listening to this disc on repeat in 1996, you were missing out.

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38. 'Reality Bites' (1994)

Highlights: 'My Sharona' by the Knack, 'All I Want Is You' by U2, 'Spinning Around Over You' by Lenny Kravitz

Why It's a Hit: The film's attempt to define Generation X may have fallen a bit short of that goal, but the soundtrack still holds up, offering a satisfying blend of '70s and '80s hits, alternative rock, and an unexpectedly good cover ('Baby, I Love Your Way' by Big Mountain).

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37. 'Quadrophenia' (1979)

Highlights: 'I'm the Face' by High Numbers, 'The Real Me' by the Who

Why It's a Hit: Although it was released after 'Tommy,' this soundtrack, at its best, chronicles the glory days of Mods and rockers, when Pete Townshend and the rest of his peers were still popping pills, smashing guitars and listening to American R&B.

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Friday36. 'Friday' (1995)

Highlights: 'Keep Their Heads Ringin'' by Dr. Dre, 'Mary Jane' by Rick James

Why It's a Hit: Like 'Boyz N' the Hood' and 'Above the Rim' before it, this complement to the Cali chronic comedy captured not just the pervasive sounds of the early-'90s "gangsta rap" movement, but the vintage funk and soul (Rick James, Isley Brothers) it lovingly samples.

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35. 'Pump Up the Volume' (1990)

Highlights: 'Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)' by Pixies, 'I've Got a Miniature Secret Camera' by Peter Murphy, 'Kick Out the Jams' by Bad Brains With Henry Rollins

Why It's a Hit: Though it's disappointing that some of the truly defining movie cuts didn't make the soundtrack -- like 'Dad I'm in Jail' by Was (Not Was) and 'Scenario' by the Beastie Boys -- those that did make the track list comprise a decent cheat sheet for early '90s alt rock.

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34. 'Nashville' (1975)

Highlights: 'It Don't Worry Me' by Keith Carradine, 'Tapedeck in His Tractor' by Ronee Blakley, 'For the Sake of the Children' by Henry Gibson

Why It's a Hit: By having the actors write and perform their own songs, director Robert Altman managed to capture the sprawling heart of the '70s Nashville music scene -- the good, the bad and the just plain hokey. And while the album has its high and low points, the high points got their due: Keith Carradine's 'I'm Easy' won an Oscar for Best Song.

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33. 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008)

Highlights: 'Jai Ho' by A.R. Rahman, 'Paper Planes' by M.I.A., 'O ... Saya' by A.R. Rahman & M.I.A

Why It's a Hit: The soundtrack became a hot commodity as the film entered and practically swept the 2008 awards circuit (the song 'Jai Ho' took home Best Song at the Oscars). With a flurry of hip-hop infused, Bollywood-style tracks composed by A.R. Rahman, the soundtrack, also featuring British artist M.I.A.'s global hit 'Paper Planes,' perfectly captures the magic of the film.

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