An incredible soundtrack can take a mediocre film and make it great. There are hundreds of highly recognizable and iconic movie and TV themes that are implanted in the brains of film
Game of Thrones — Light of the Seven
We’ve already talked at length about how on point Season 6’s music for Game of Thrones was, but it bears repeating that the opening of the season six finale was absolutely stunning.
Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi outdid himself in crafting an opening sequence that started with solemn beauty and quickly progressed into dread and evil. In entering its final act, Djawadi and the GoT team threw down the gauntlet with an unforgettable musical experience. Hands down, Light of the Seven had the best TV music of the year.
Moana — We Know the Way
There were more than a few musical numbers in Moana that felt special but it ultimately came down to highlighting “We Know the Way” for the simple reason that it was the one that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Up until this part of the film, we had an idea that we might just be dealing with a new Disney classic that can go toe-to-toe with the best. When Moana discovers the hidden boats and the secret of her people, the movie shifts into a powerful experience of visual and sonic beauty. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina put all doubts to rest in this moment.
Luke Cage — Long Live the Chief
Music is a huge part of the identity of Luke Cage and it is certainly the most musically prominent series in Marvel’s Netflix run so far. One of the greatest things about the show is how it intercuts live performances from Cottonmouth’s club into the action going on elsewhere.
It’s respectable enough that the show gives a platform to many buzzy black music artists, including Raphael Saadiq, Charles Bradley, Method Man and the late Sharon Jones. That said, it’s Jidenna’s performance of “Long Live the Chief” at the opening of episode five that takes the cake for being straight-up badass.
It’s an energetic kickoff to the second act of the season and just a majorly catchy rhyme.
La La Land — Someone in the Crowd
It isn’t the nerdiest entry out there but Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is rightly making waves this awards season. The modern-day throwback musical is rich with great performances and inspiring musical numbers.
While most of the film’s songs are more intimate solos and duets, the film’s second piece, “Someone in the Crowd,” is a rousing ensemble piece full of production and old-fashioned excitement that reminded me why I go to movies in the first place.
Westworld — Sweetwater
Westworld also had many music options to choose from. The haunting opening theme, the orchestral arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” in the pilot’s saloon raid, all the ghostly times Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” made an appearance — Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi outdid himself again here.
But the more I listened to it, the more I was impressed with how the show used music in its exposition. The introduction to our main host characters and their daily grind in the town of Sweetwater perfectly portrays the constant loop these characters go through every day with some innocence, plenty of western drive, and some nice hints at the menace to come.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Is She With You?
The entire score to Batman v Superman is pretty great, but people aren’t wrong when they pick out Wonder Woman’s introduction as the high point.
Thundering drums and a sick guitar riff introduce a flavor we hadn’t heard or seen yet in the film and it was electrifying. Mix it in with arrangements of the Batman and Superman themes and it made for a musically powerful finale.
Arrival — Ending
This one is tough. Arrival, by composer Johann Johannsson, has one of the most distinct scores of the year and has probably the most moving orchestral music moment of any dramatic film. The thing is, its seminal moment is actually classical composer Max Richter’s piece “On the Nature of Daylight”.
It’s easy to mistakenly attribute an orchestral piece used in the final 10 minutes to the main composer and a little odd that the filmmakers chose to use another composer’s established work when the material written for the film is already so similar.
That said, it would just feel wrong not to include this moment here due to how deep and emotional it is. Without spoiling too much, the filmmakers perfectly convey a choice that leads to a lifetime of joy and sorrow. Watching the whole film is the only way to fully appreciate this ending but, when you do, you can expect it to leave a lasting impression.
Star Trek Beyond — Sabotage
I think we all did a little groan last holiday season when the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond came out and played the Beastie Boy’s “Sabotage.” Yes, it was used in the first movie of the new series, but this use of the song next to the announcement of Fast and Furious director Justin Lin taking over felt very off.
Turns out there was no reason to fear because not only did Star Trek Beyond end up being really good, it had a reason to use that song in the actual movie. When it did, it was both a pleasant surprise and a logical catalyst for the film’s most breathtaking scene. Well done, Star Trek team.
See Also: 50 Best Star Trek Gifts
X-Men: Apocalypse — Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Sure, we may have seen the same trick pulled a couple times before in the X-Men films, but Bryan Singer and company still found a way to make X-Men: Apocalypse‘s big super-speed scene feel fresh and new.
Set to the endlessly catchy Eurythmics tune “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, the sequence of Quicksilver saving the inhabitants of an exploding mansion is the film’s most joyous detour. It’s funny, exciting and more than a little innovative if you watch some special features into how it got made.
It’s one of 2016’s best scenes and music moments all in one.
Props also to Deadpool and Everybody Wants Some!! for having consistently great music choices.