The 20 Soundtracks That Defined The 2000s

The sounds of a dark knight, a mischievous Parisian, a troubled family and one flying house

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img.album { opacity:0.8; filter (opacity=80); /* For IE8 and earlier / } img.album { opacity:1.0; filter(opacity=100); / For IE8 and earlier */ } a.header { font-family: "Fjalla One"; color:#ababab; font-size:28px; line-height:30px; text-decoration ; } a.header { font-family: "Fjalla One"; color:#333333; font-size:28px; line-height:30px; text-decoration ; }1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s Select an album to hear samples and to find out why it made our list. [ 8 Mile]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p2%29 [![The Royal Tenenbaums]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p3%29 [![Garden State]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p4%29 [![Lost In Translation]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p5%29 [![Requiem For A Dream]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p6%29 ![]%28 [![Moulin Rouge!]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p7%29 [![Amelie]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p8%29 [![The Dark Knight]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p9%29 [![Donnie Darko]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p10%29 [![Into The Wild]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p11%29 ![]%28 [![Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p12%29 [![Once]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p13%29 [![Sunshine]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p14%29 [![There Will Be Blood]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p15%29 [![Up]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p16%29 ![]%28 [![O Brother, Where Art Thou?]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p17%29 [![In The Mood For Love]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p18%29 [![About A Boy]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p19%29 [![Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon]%28http://www.empireonline.com]%28/features/decade-defining-soundtracks-00s/p20%29 ![Marie Antoinette]

8 Mile

Composer: Various Artists

With the kind of casual attitude to Mom’s spaghetti that would have got him whacked in The Godfather, Eminem’s Lose Yourself was an 8 Mile anthem that captured the underdog dream better than any number of Step Up movies. An earworm in hi-tops scratched out between takes, his crossover hit helped make the movie – rap music’s Rocky – a surprise hit and propelled the soundtrack onto the iPods of people who knew him best as the dude who’d locked Dido in the boot of his car. With a sales pitch of ‘Come for the Eminem, stay for the Nas, Jay-Z and Xzibit’, the album sold over three million copies in two months. Which buys a lot more spaghetti. Back to the menu

The Royal Tenenbaums

Composer: Various Artists

Wes Anderson soundtracks are always a treat, butwhere Tenenbaums scores over even Rushmore and the more recent Moonrise Kingdom is in its sheer variety. Anderson picked tracks such as Nico’s These Days and Paul Simon’s Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard for their emotional connection each scene or moment, rather than going for an overall theme. It still works. Plus, with Dylan, Ramones, the lush vocals of tragic L.A. troubadour Elliott Smith and more, it’s like a starter kit for cool music. The various soundtrack releases are united by Mark Motherbaugh’s typically wonderful score, which works particularly well on 111 Archer Avenue. Back to the menu

Garden State

Composer: Various Artists

A mixtape of songs that meant something to Zach Braff at the time, Garden State’s soundtrack is a compilation of the introspective and the wistful, but remains carefully upbeat. One Of These Things First is at the chirpier end of the Nick Drake spectrum, and it sits surprisingly well alongside the oomph of The Only Living Boy In New York and more recent navel-gazers like Coldplay. Imogen Heap is aboard with her old ‘band’ Frou Frou, and special mention goes to Iron And Wine’s drowsy version of Such Great Heights (originally by fellow Sub-Poppers The Postal Service). The Shins, reflecting the fact that they’re actually recommended by a character in the film, appear twice. Hope they bought Braff something nice to say thanks. Back to the menu

Lost In Translation

Composer: Various Artists

Sofia Coppola’s musical picks gave her ode to alienation a shimmering soundscape to accompany Bill and Scarlett on their lovelorn meander through each others’ lives. Along the way, it also became a soundtrack staple for shoegazing movie fans, thanks to Coppola’sNick Fury-like assemblage of indie heroes, including the distortion of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields (S.H.I.E.L.D.S.?), the melodic melancholy of Air’s Alone In Kyoto, The Jesus And Mary Chain’s hot fuzz and the pep of Phoenix, band of future-hubbie Thomas Mars. And lo, the bar was raised for feedback-drenched soundtracks. Back to the menu

Requiem For A Dream

Composer: Clint Mansell

Former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell had scored Pi for director Darren Aronofsky, but it was his collaboration with The Kronos Quartet for Aronofsky’s second film, Requiem For A Dream, that separated him from his Poppie past. Tellingly, you don’t have to have seen the film to recognise its haunting theme, Lux Aeterna. Not only was this piece used repeatedly in trailers and on TV shows, it was also rearranged and given the full orchestral and choral treatment for the trailer for The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (and retitled ‘Requiem For A Tower’). For a time it was as closely associated with that franchise as Howard Shore’s own score. Back to the menu

Moulin Rouge!

Composer: Various Artists

Bollywood. Ballroom. Bowie. For his stab at bringing the operatic musical back, albeit with a decidedly postmodern twist, Baz Luhrmann drew on a variety of forms, but the inspiration was Indian. Researching his version of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Opera in India, Luhrmann caught a Bollywood film and wondered, “Could I create a cinematic form like that? Could a musical work? A musical must be able to work in Western culture again, and could it be comic-tragic? So, then, began this commitment of moving toward Moulin Rouge.” The result spawned a soundtrack bursting with classic tunes covered by the cast, none with more gusto than McGregor and Kidman’s Elephant Love Medley. Back to the menu


Composer: Yann Tiersen

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet was planning to approach Michael Nyman to score his modern fairy-tale Amélie when he was struck by the CD his production assistant had just put on in his car. He was so impressed with what he was hearing, he bought the performer’s entire back catalogue and commissioned him to compose some new pieces for the film. The resulting Amélie soundtrack — a gorgeously whimsical blend of accordion, piano, typewriter and bicycle wheel — put composer Yann Tiersen on a whole new level; much to his surprise, he was even lauded as the ‘Gallic Michael Nyman’. Not bad for a project he’d initially found irksome: “I was working on [my next album] L’Absente,” he shrugged, “and I told [Jeunet] I didn’t have a lot of time…” Back to the menu

The Dark Knight

Composers: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

No-one has done more to define what a modern blockbuster should sound like than Hans Zimmer. On Batman Begins, he and Christopher Nolan opted for something grungier, something darker to carry the Caped Crusader through their new Gotham. By the time The Dark Knight arrived their sound was a perfect match for the scarred cityscape and Bruce Wayne’s growing strife. “I’ve spent longer hours on these more organic Batman scores, making new sounds and building instruments,” Zimmer told Empire before The Dark Knight Rises arrived. “I wanted the music to seep out of Wally (Pfister)’s cinematography.” Thanks to Zimmer, we’re now only ever an unexpected “BLAAAARRRM!” away from leaping out of our skin. Back to the menu

Donnie Darko

Composer: Michael Andrews

Eighties classics vie with a haunting original score in the musical accompaniment to Richard Kelly’s strange parallel universe fable. The songs – Joy Division, INXS, Pantera, Echo And The Bunnymen, Tears For Fears – ground us in the period setting, while the film’s more ethereal bent is addressed by composer Michael Andrews. Andrews was forbidden by Kelly to use guitars or drums, so stuck to the likes of the piano, marimba and xylophone (and played them all himself, since the budget was so low he couldn’t afford to hire anyone else). He entirely reinvented Tears For Fears’ Mad World for a new generation in the process. Kinda funny and kinda sad. Back to the menu

Into The Wild

Composer: Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder had provided a couple of songs for Sean Penn’s Dead Man Walking, but surprisingly Into The Wild was his first solo album away from Pearl Jam (it’s since been followed by Ukulele Songs). Penn’s faith in Vedder wasn’t misplaced however, and he conjured an appropriately folksy, acoustic, thoughtful collection – anchored by the central mission statement of the Golden Globe-winning Guaranteed – for the story of Chris McCandless’ self-imposed exile to the Alaskan wilderness. “It was startling how easy it was for me to get into his head,” Vedder mused. “I think all this stuff was right under the surface for me. I was inspired. ” Back to the menu

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Composer: Howard Shore

Howard Shore has scored a plethora of classics – Silence Of The Lambs, Se7en and The Fly among them – but it was his Middle-earth melodies that put him on the moviegoer’s map. Composing for a three-hour epic is no small task, but Shore had a suitably operatic vision in mind. He used dwarfish and elvish in choral pieces to represent the landscape of Middle-earth, and exploited Enya’s eerie vocals to haunt its quieter moments. Peter Jackson may have made movie history by directing the first fantasy blockbuster, but Shore took film soundtracks to another level with complex compositions that earned him an Academy Award. Back to the menu


Composer: Glen Hansard

This quiet romance is so understated, so delicate, that it takes quite a while for viewers to realise that it’s a musical. Still, the signs are there: the characters break into song at moments of high emotion, and somehow seem able to figure out one another’s melodies in advance to skate alongside them in harmony. It’s just that the central characters are both musicians, which camouflages it somewhat, and it’s all based around simple guitar chords rather than crashing orchestral compositions. If Guy Garvey were a musical, he’d be Once; this is a musical much more in keeping with the music we actually listen to than most. It also brought us one of the best Oscar moments in recent years (skip to 2mins), and spawned a successful Broadway musical that transfers to London this year – which is a happy ending for a small film with immense heart. Back to the menu


Composer: John Murphy / Underworld

Two of Danny Boyle’s films feature in this compendium, but, frankly, we could have picked the lot. Even when the movie itself doesn’t come off, Boyle’s musical choices are invariably ‘just so’ – as A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach proved – although the often-dazzling Sunshine hardly falls into that bracket. His love of music is on record (just get him on The Clash) and with this solar sci-fi’s ambient score he oversaw a partnership between Underworld and 28 Days Later composer John Murphy that has endured. Just try to go a movie month without hearing Murphy’s heartbreaking Adagio In D Minor. Back to the menu

There Will Be Blood

Composer: Jonny Greenwood

With scores for Norwegian Wood and We Need To Talk About Kevin, and two Paul Thomas Anderson films to his name, Radiohead’s guitarist has proved himself a master of jittery scores to underpin equally discordant stories. Got a megalomaniac oilman, mass-murdering teenager, suicidal teen or petrol-quaffing wanderer on your hands? Flash the giant ‘J’ in the sky, sit back and let this gifted musician do the rest. His work on There Will Be Blood sits alongside Clint Mansell’s Moon score as an example of a new wave of British composers who can create a sense of unease, crank up tension, or, in this case, provide the perfect music to drink other people’s milkshakes to. Back to the menu


Composer: Michael Giacchino

There is no more heartbreaking or emotionally resonant soundtrack melody in the last decade than Up’s Married Life. Michael Giacchino had already established himself with his work on a series of J.J. Abrams TV shows and earlier Pixar effort Ratatouille, but it was Up that landed him a much-deserved Oscar and propelled him into the very top ranks of Hollywood composers. Now he has Star Trek under his aegis (another cracking soundtrack) and could soon add Star Wars if he follows his auld mucker Abrams. If you’re wondering why he’s so big right now, listen to this effort in full: it combines stirring adventure, delicate comedy and that great life-spanning romantic theme in one glorious package. Back to the menu

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Composer: Various Artists

Well, that was a turn up for the books. No one was expecting anything more of O Brother, Where Art Thou? than another quality-offbeat Coen jaunt featuring dodgy hair and screaming men, with added Greek-mythological allusions and a Sullivan’s Travels in-joke or two. What we got was a borderline musical that not only powered millions of CD sales, but also single-handedly brought about a bluegrass revival. T-Bone Burnett was the man behind its winning blend of folk, gospel and country that interestingly favours modern recordings over archive material. Empire infamously gave it one star on release. We’ve been Men Of Constant Sorrow ever since. Back to the menu

In The Mood For Love

Composer: Michael Galasso/Shigeru Umebayashi

Wong Kar-wai saw in the millennium with a lingering kiss of a movie that romanced audiences with music every bit as gorgeous as its (very gorgeous) visuals. Gathering the combined gifts of American composer Michael Galasso, the great Nat King Cole and Japan’s Shigeru Umebayashi, and mingling them with traditional Chinese motifs, the arthouse auteur evoked a mood of wistful romance. The tender passions of Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), the film’s lovelorn protagonists, are evoked in the lilting strings of Yumeji’s Theme and Angkor Wat, while Nat King Cole's Quizás, Quizás, Quizás is heart-stoppingly poignant. Back to the menu

About A Boy

Composer: Damon Gough

Best remembered for the songs provided by Damon Gough (AKA ‘Badly Drawn Boy’) – most notably Silent Sigh – About A Boy’s soundtrack resulted from filmmaking brothers Chris and Paul Weitz listening to Gough’s work as they were adapting Nick Hornby’s book for the screen. So, naturally enough, they asked Gough to craft the majority of the music heard in the movie, as well as using A Minor Incident, which Hornby himself has listed as one of the tracks that hasmost influenced his life. A radio-friendly, endlessly re-listenable score was born, and one that avoided the bland selection of covers that had usually accompanied a Hugh Grant comedy. Back to the menu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Composer: Various Artists

Behind the most significant wuxia films of recent years is Tan Dun, a Hunanese composer whose music reverberates through Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee), Hero (Zhang Yimou) and The Banquet (Xiaogang Feng). A decade ago, Dun teamed up with Lee on Crouching Tiger to blend haunting compositions with the director's visual dazzle and, in the process, launch both a boom in Chinese martial arts films and music among Western audiences. To make matters more impressive, Dun's emotional score was penned in only two weeks, its easy mix of Chinese and Western influences, and the use of Chinese cellist Yo-Yo Ma, getting it noticed to the tune of an Academy Award and a BAFTA. Back to the menu

Marie Antoinette

Composer: Various Artists

Like her dad Francis, whose Apocalypse Now had made The Doors’ back catalogue music to wallop buffalo to, Sofia Coppola’s movie jukebox has thrown up some unlikely gems. But few of them are unlikelier than Marie Antoinette’s whirligig of ‘80s post-punk (Gang Of Four, Siouxsie Sioux) and woozy indie (The Cure, The Radio Dept.), a mix the director would later categorise, a little sheepishly, as “wall-to-wall pop songs”. Nothing wrong with that. Her playlist, brash like the movie, blazed a trail for anachronistic cues that feels influential, if rarely imitated. Not too many directors could get away with using Adam Ant to soundtrack pre-Revolutionary France. Back to the menu | Back to Empire's Soundtrack Celebration

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