It’s that time when we reward our ears with the movie year’s greatest tunes. We’ve dug about in cinema’s lugs and fished out the plumpest earworms to share with you. From the hilarious faux-Bieber anthems of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to the nostalgia of Stranger Things, via Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! jukebox. Oh, and Bill Murray sang for us too. See, 2016 wasn’t all bad.
Artist: Nils Frahm
A mighty film with a mighty soundtrack, one-shot meisterwerk Victoria had newbie film composer and Berliner Nils Frahm using home advantage to capture the late-night sounds of his own city with strings, piano and some sparse electronica. This track, incongruously overlaid on the final club scene, is a beauty.
Artist: Cliff Martinez
Movie: The Neon Demon
Cliff Martinez and Nicolas Winding Refn continued their fruitful alliance with a shimmering slice of doomy electronica that had echoes of Goblin’s scores for Dario Argento. You may not love all of Refn’s films, but you’ll struggle to fault his soundtracks.
Movie: War On Everyone
War On Everyone’s trailer announced itself with this monster hip hop anthem. ‘Ante Up’ was pretty much what John Michael McDonagh’s black comedy did, with a disregard for the traditional bounds of good taste that verged on the reckless.
'Pigs' (Atticus Ross remix)
Artist: Cypress Hill
Movie: Triple 9
We’re not sure what Cypress Hill have against farmyard animals but their anti-swine agenda got a fresh airing in John Hillcoat’s crime thriller Triple 9 this year. Pigs got the full Atticus Ross treatment, with Trent Reznor’s go-to collaborator dropping beats so heavy you couldn’t fit more than 12 of them in a elevator at any one time.
Artists: Brooke Blair & Will Blair
Movie: Green Room
You and your punk band are trapped in a dank green room surrounded by neo-Nazis baying for your blood and you’ve forgotten to put ‘guns and knives’ on your rider. It’s the kind of situation that deserves a moody piece of John Carpenter-y electronica to spell out quite how screwed you are. And here it is.
Artists: Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
Movie: Stranger Things
Everyone loved Stranger Things, thanks in no small measure to a throwback soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – AKA Austin electronic outfit Survive. The show’s creators, the Duffer brothers, stumbled upon them on Spotify and handed them what turned out to be a seriously plum gig. They returned the favour with a nostalgic title theme that’s basically a bubble bath for your ears.
Artist: Dario Marianelli
Movie: Kubo And The Two Strings
This cue from our favourite stop-motion fable of the year has all our favourite things: sweeping orchestral bits, emotional bits and plenty of nods to the film’s oriental setting (Dario Marianelli incorporates the shakuhachi, a type of Japanese flute, into the final bars).
‘A Horse With No Name’
Movie: The Nice Guys
This US rock classic has a long screen history, having been used in Breaking Bad, Air America and American Hustle (among many others). It still sounded pretty fresh in Shane Black’s nostalgic ‘70s crime comedy.
Artist: The Sugar Hill Gang
Movie: Everybody Wants Some!!
Hip-hop godfathers The Sugar Hill Gang’s seminal track was just one of the tunes cinema’s ultimate cratedigger Richard Linklater picked for his college jock-com this year. The jocks in question do their own rendition en route to their frat house. It’s a solid effort, though the course of rap history might have run differently if ‘Rapper's Delight’ had actually been recorded in a car.
Artists: Bill Murray and Kermit Ruffins
Movie: The Jungle Book
The sound of Bill Murray hijacking your office karaoke party, what this gravelly rendition of ‘Bare Necessities’ lacks in musical virtuosity it more than makes up with full-throated verve. The Murricane may not hit all the notes but he definitely hits some of them, and that’s enough for us.
‘Drive It Like You Stole It’
Artist: Gary Clark
Movie: Sing Street
According to Sing Street director John Carney, Gary Clark, lead singer of ‘80s pop heroes Danny Wilson, turned this slice of pop homage heaven around in a single night. Not that it sounds like it. Close your eyes and it’s 1988 all over again.
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Movie: A Bigger Splash
For our money, one of the best scenes of the year involved Ralph Fiennes gyrating around an Italian villa to a Stones classic like everyone’s favourite drunk uncle. You can only sit back, marvel at the snake-hipped brilliance and wish that, somehow, this is how The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 had ended.
Trip-hop survivors Portishead reinvented ABBA’s sugary pop classic as an unlikely miserabilist masterpiece in the biggest surprise in Ben Wheatley’s dystopian drama. Well, apart from Tom Hiddleston eating a dog.
‘You're A Creed’
Artist: Ludwig Göransson
We only got a tiny sample of Bill Conti’s classic Rocky fanfare in Creed but it came at just the right moment. After a pep talk-stroke-full-blown-therapy session, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), stirred by the greatest cornerman this side of Mickey Goldmill, returns to the fray with the horns sounding.
Artists: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
Movie: The Revenant
Ryuichi Sakamoto’s most melancholy theme since Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, The Revenant theme is a thing of beauty, if not cheeriness. Then again, Leonardo DiCaprio has just been savaged by a bear, had his kid murdered in front of him and been left in a hole. It’d be weird if it sounded like Justin Bieber.
‘My Guitar Gently Weeps’
Artist: Regina Spektor
Movie: Kubo And The Two Strings
Regina Spektor’s take on George Harrison’s lilting pop song comes right at the very end of Kubo. Laika movies always give you a reason to stick around for the final credits, usually by breaking the fourth wall in charming fashion. Here was just another one.
'For What It’s Worth'
Artist: Malia J
Movie: Lights Out trailer
Trailers were once again awash with eerie cover version of familiar tunes this year. Few of them were better (or more eerie) than this take on Buffalo Springfield’s classic ‘60s protest song by newcomer Malia J. We don’t know what the ‘J’ stands for, but it sure as hell isn’t ‘jaunty’.
Artist: Jóhann Jóhannsson
A gala year for both composer and director, 2016 saw Jóhann Jóhannsson and Denis Villeneuve glide from Sicario to Blade Runner 2049 via a terrific, unusual sci-fi. Icelander and Canadian have struck upon the kind of creative alchemy that enables them to make an aliens-talk-to-humans movie without once making you think of Close Encounters’ five tones.
Artist: Hans Zimmer
Show: The Crown
Queen Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne was a gentle affair, replete with courtly protocol, stiff upper lips and moments of understated tragedy. As far as we know, there wasn’t a single carriage flip, and at no point did Buckingham Palace fold in on itself. Nonetheless, Hans Zimmer turned out to be the perfect choice to pen the title theme for Netflix’s QEII-athon.
‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler’
Artist: Bud Flanagan
Movie: Dad’s Army
Would the original Bud Flanagan/Jimmy Perry theme feature in this year’s unlikely Dad’s Army movie? Does Hitler have a stupid moustache? Of course it would. Easier to spot than the movie’s Nazi spy, this classic telly anthem is as timelessly British as a man being chased across a field by a bull. As luck would have it, the film had one of those too.
‘City Of Stars’
Artist: Ryan Gosling
Movie: La La Land
Even Ryan Gosling wouldn’t claim to have the world’s greatest set of pipes, but he gives it a red-hot go with this hopeful yet melancholic number from 2017’s likely Best Picture winner. Of the pair, Emma Stone is the more natural at the song-and-dance stuff, but Baby Goose definitely has some chops too.
Artist: George Michael
One of the standout moments in Kay and Peele’s often hilarious tale of black identity issues and kitten-napping has Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) smoking a drug so potent he finds himself inside the video to George Michael’s pop hoedown ‘Faith’. For anyone else, it’d be a truly terrifying place to be. Not Clarence.
‘I Wanna Be Sedated’
Artist: Mirel Wagner
Movie: A Cure For Wellness trailer
Finnish singer-songwriter Mirel Wagner was one of Time Magazine’s 11 Great Bands You Don’t Know (But Should) back in 2012. A few more people should know her after her haunting take on the Ramones’ punk classic accompanied this year’s terrific A Cure For Wellness trailer.
‘Left Hand Free’
Movie: Captain America: Civil War
Turned out that Civil War’s music supervisor was an indie kid at heart. This 2014 alt-J single has been widely disparaged by the band since they first released it but it works perfectly to set up a film-stealing cameo from the newest Spidey on the block.
Artists: Willie Reale, Henry Krieger
Movie: Hail, Caesar!
Like ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’ from South Pacific only, well, more so, Hail, Caesar!’s ‘No Dames’ has Channing Tatum and a bunch of his sailor pals trying to convince us of how much they’re going to miss the company of women when they’re sea. Tatum – channelling Gene Kelly in the sequence – learnt to tap dance for a number designed by Broadway choreographer Chris Gatelli.
Artist: Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina & Lin-Manuel Miranda
The combination of Hamilton songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Rock and a super-catchy tune is one we’re basically powerless to resist. In it a singing Maui makes a series of claims about lassoing the sun and harnessing the breeze that would sound outlandish if he wasn’t a demigod and, you know, The Rock.
Artist: Ennio Morricone
Movie: The Hateful Eight
For The Hateful Eight Ennio Morricone and Quentin Tarantino buried the hatchet after their Django Unchained squabble – probably a real hatchet too, bearing in mind the movie – and the result was a thing of doom-laden majesty of which this, the central motif, was the standout track.
‘The Master Of The Mystic’ (End Credits)
Artist: Michael Giacchino
Movie: Doctor Strange
Basically Michael Giacchino’s ‘Revolver’, the Doctor Strange score was more packed with Eastern mystery than an evening with The Beatles and Ravi Shankar. Our pick of standout accompanies the final credits. Not that anyone’s leaving before they’ve finished a Marvel movie, right?
Artist: Ricky Gervais
Movie: David Brent: Life On The Road
David Brent meets a sexy traveller lady, sparks fly and nature takes its course. But problems arise (is she secretly a prostitute? Does her heather-selling business have a viable business model?) and Brent has to re-establish the parameters before proceeding with the act of love. Yup, it’s that awkward. We’d love to have seen this promo video in Life On The Road itself but it wasn’t to be.
‘Jurassic Park’ (ft. Daniel Radcliffe)
Artist: John Williams (kinda)
Movie: Swiss Army Man
The entity that will forever be known as ‘the farting corpse movie’ featured this uncanny, hummed version of John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme. Yes, death found a way, too.
‘When The Levee Breaks’
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Movie: The Big Short
Director Adam McKay had to scour the English countryside to find Jimmy Page and ask him for permission to use Led Zeppelin’s epochal tune in The Big Short trailer. Page was holed up in a pub. McKay made his case. His Riffness’s answer? Sure, as long as you don’t edit it. McKay didn’t, unusually running the track straight through the trailer instead. We reckon we know who bought the drinks that night, too.
‘Run Rabbit Run’
Artists: Flanagan And Allen
Movie: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
With Dad’s Army and this catchy number from Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, there was a double-dose of Bud Flanagan this year. Here he teamed up with Chesney Allen to form Flanagan And Allen, the Little Mix of its day, for this Luftwaffe-bashing ditty.
Artist: Pink Floyd
Movie: Everybody Wants Some!!
And now we stop this playlist of the year for a lecture from our friends from the early ‘80s. Specifically, the stoner undergrads from Richard Linklater’s bro-athon who get schooled in the psychedelic majesty of the ‘Floyd while coughing down a bong the size of Carnaby Street.
Artist: OMD (ft. Taron Egerton & Hugh Jackman)
Movie: Eagle The Eagle
Eddie The Eagle’s best track is this stomping piece of synth-heavy fluff, on which the film’s stars Egerton and Jackman show that there’s more to them than being ridiculously, ridiculously good-looking. Sticks the landing.
Artist: The Lonely Island (feat. Michael Bolton)
Movie: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
"I swear my mind... blows my mind!" raps Connor 4 Real, in the Lonely Island's perfectly-pitched pop pisstake, which also thoughtfully posed the question, "What if a garbage man was actually smart?"
‘Get On Greasy’
Artist: Andrew Hung
Movie: The Greasy Strangler
What the soundtrack to an Alvin & The Chipmunks torture porn film might sound like, this Greasy standout from Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung is off-pitch-perfect for a movie that turns the weirdness up to (and way past) 11. Only the bold attempt this one at karaoke.
Artist: Neil Sedaka
The Merc with a Mouth met the king of easy listening in Deadpool. This jaunty love song accompanies a solid year of bonking in a sweaty montage that Neil Sedaka probably didn’t conceive of when he penned such lyrics as “Maybe if I ask your dad and mom, they'll let me take you to the Junior Prom”. Not if they see this, they won’t.
‘Ricky Baker Happy Birthday Song’
Artists: Rima Te Wiata & Julian Dennison
Movie: Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Yes, we know. You’ll have it in your head for six days now and slowly lose your mind somewhere along the way. Welcome to our world.
Artist: Beastie Boys
Movie: Star Trek Beyond
It seems that no movie year is complete without at least one playing of this Beasties classic. Which is a good thing, because it’s excellent.
Artist: Twenty One Pilots
Movie: Suicide Squad
Ohio duo Twenty One Pilots played out Suicide Squad with an emo anthem that boasted allusions to hand ‘grenades’, ‘psychopaths’ and ‘murderers’. This automatically made it edgier than the film.
‘Is She With You? (Wonder Woman Theme)’
Artists: Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL
Movie: Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice
Would Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman have had that much of an impact in BvS had she not been accompanied by this? Pounding drums, an insistent, exotic electric cello hinting at otherworldly origins, this Zimmer/Junkie XL is a tune fit for a Prince.
‘Hey Good Lookin’’
Artists: Tom Hiddleston And The Saddle Spring Boys
Movie: I Saw The Light
The Hiddler spent the year showing his full range of talents with The Night Manager, High-Rise and a Hank Williams biopic that required him to sing, booze and look good in cowboy boots. He nailed them all pretty convincingly. In an ideal world, he’d go on to team up with Michael Shannon’s Elvis from Elvis & Nixon for a rockabilly version of The Avengers.
More from Empire's review of 2016:
• The best movies of 2016
• The best TV shows of 2016
• The best games of 2016
• The best on-screen deaths of 2016
• The biggest movie news stories of 2016
• The best trailers of 2016
• The best memes and videos of 2016