After assembling lists of the best songs from movie soundtracks of the 1980s and 1990s, a compilation of the best movie music from the 2000s was only inevitable. In reviewing that decade's options, what quickly became apparent was that the popularity of soundtracks slowed significantly after the turn of the century, when digital platforms allowed collectors to buy just the one or two tracks they wanted from the movies they loved, leaving curated albums as a bit of a curio, appealing mainly to lingering physical media collectors and a handful of auteurs.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of great soundtracks to choose from, even if narrowing down a list to the absolute best requires a judicious ear and a willingness to sacrifice personal favorites for some enduring crowd-pleasers.
1. High Fidelity (2000)
After a career marked by movies whose soundtracks featured diehard classics, it’s no surprise that John Cusack delivered a nonstop selection of bangers for this film about a Chicago record shop owner, which the actor helped adapt from the Nick Hornby novel of the same name.
Cusack’s eclectic tastes are well-represented in the film, as characters name-drop everyone from Ryuichi Sakamoto to The Chemical Brothers. But this single-disc release features classic tracks by The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, and Love alongside newly-minted standards by Royal Trux, Stereolab, and The Beta Band—whose track “Dry The Rain” Cusack pointedly uses to showcase the irresistible attraction of a random banger dropped into rotation on a record store sound system while you think you’re shopping for something else (as seen above).
2. American Psycho (2000)
Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho offered a revelatory portrait of toxic masculinity and vapid consumerism, which she paired with a collection of songs that condensed ‘80s pop, rock, and hip-hop into a buffet of best offerings. In addition to John Cale’s performance of an elegant, piano-driven score, the official soundtrack features remixes of David Bowie, The Cure, and Eric B. and Rakim’s legendary “Paid in Full,” along with one hit wonders like Information Society’s “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and M/A/R/R/S’s immortal “Pump Up The Volume.” Sadly, none of the homicide-inducing Huey Lewis or Whitney Houston tracks actually made it onto the soundtrack, but what takes their place is more than good enough to slay the dance floor.
3. Love & Basketball (2000)
Gina Prince-Blythewood’s tribute to all the young women who’d rather play sports than subscribe to outdated gender stereotypes was itself a masterpiece. But the songs on its soundtrack charted a progression into adulthood that transcended jams of the jock or any other particular variety. Its use of then-contemporary artists such as Lucy Pearl, Donell Jones, and Angie Stone gave the film a modern energy, even as the collection shuffled them in between undeniable, even timeless hits like Guy’s “I Like,” Roger’s “I Want To Be Your Man,” and the all-time party-starter, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.”
4. The Virgin Suicides (2000)
Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut adapted Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel of the same name with a tenderness and hypnotic immediacy, amplified by the one-two punch of a score by French band Air and a soundtrack featuring some of the biggest and best hits of 1970s AM radio. Spread across two releases, score and soundtrack, you could choose which vibe you wanted, but Air’s “Playground Love” perfectly sets up the cascading, semi-melancholy melodies of tracks like Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me,” The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe,” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s heartbreaker “Alone Again (Naturally).”
5. Almost Famous (2000)
It would be a crime to exclude one of cinema's greatest music lovers, Cameron Crowe, from a list of soundtracks in virtually any decade in which he was active. But it’s easy to recognize the more than semi-autobiographical Almost Famous as his magnum opus, and its soundtrack more than keeps pace with its intimacy and specificity. Sure, there are the tracks like “Tiny Dancer” that were already classics that his film catapulted into stratospheric cinematic immortality, but in tracing his own journey from Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” to Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”—with a handful of distant soundalike originals from the movie’s fake-real band Stillwater tossed in for good measure—Crowe captured something truly special: the soundtrack of adolescence as it’s happening.
6. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Whatever you may have thought of Lars von Trier’s minimalist approach to telling stories on film, he created an undeniable triumph with this weird, mechanical, beautiful musical featuring songs composed and created by Björk. Utilizing diegetic sounds from the spaces the characters in the film occupy, von Trier and Björk still somehow conjure a Technicolor movie musical that lumbers and pirouettes with equal weight and dexterity, from the vibrant “Cvalda” to the meditative “I’ve Seen It All,” featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It was undeniably a movie for a certain moment in film history, but the music has enabled it to endure.
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Coen Brothers had already proven themselves skillful chameleons before this film was released, but their Depression-era semi-musical made them chart-toppers as well. Enlisting T-Bone Burnett to create a collection of songs that were either covers of or inspired by songs from the time in which the movie was set. They captured an unforgettable moment in the zeitgeist when gospel and Appalachian music made an explosive comeback, culminating in the Grammy-clinching original “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow.”
8. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Based on the stage musical by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows the professional and romantic misadventures of the eponymous German rock singer (Mitchell) navigating a musical career that gets stolen away by Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), Hedwig's much younger lover and collaborator.
To some extent, this particular soundtrack feels a bit like a cheat—no less so than, say, the exceptional music for Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls, anyway—because of its stage pedigree. But the comparative obscurity of Mitchell and Trask’s source material, and the undeniable fact of Mitchell’s skill in directing its big screen adaptation, makes it a more than worthy addition to this list. “The Origin Of Love” remains one of the loveliest songs about romance recorded in the last two decades, while Mitchell and Trask, as Hedwig and Gnosis, provide perfect counterpoints for the film’s musical tete-a-tete.
9. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont’s big-screen adaptation of the Archie comic and Hanna-Barbera series of the same name took its time achieving cult status after a rough run at the box office. The film’s soundtrack, however, employed a murderers' row of pop, punk, and pop-punk luminaries, from Babyface to Letters From Cleo to Matthew Sweet. The result was a soundtrack that not only perfectly suited the fictional band but matched the explosion of that mall-punk sound that was enormously popular at the time of the movie’s release.
10. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
A close runner-up for this film’s title of “postmodern masterpiece of the decade” goes to Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale, which utilized a string of jock jams for the soundtrack to its Medieval-set, coming of age, rom-com period piece, but Baz Luhrmann handily mesmerized audiences worldwide with this Parisian-set jukebox musical about a hungry young poet (Ewan McGregor) who romances a cabaret actress (Nicole Kidman). Luhrmann’s dedication to securing the rights to his chosen songs took more than two years, but he eventually used them to transform some bona fide standards, from Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” to Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” into contemporary pop standards.
11. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Choosing one soundtrack among Wes Anderson’s films to best represent him is a Sisyphean task, but The Royal Tenenbaums's nexus between his independent roots and crossover audiences makes it the obvious, and possibly most deserving, candidate. The way the director uses Nico and Nick Drake perfectly aligns with the world’s then-resurging interest in those artists. Yet he also manages to revive tracks like Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Is Here” to serve his sweet, somber, lowkey character studies in a way that makes the viewer want to give his characters hugs after we watch them get put through their disastrous, semi-comical paces.
12. About A Boy (2002)
Another Nick Hornby adaptation, this film—directed by Chris and Paul Weitz (American Pie)—features a score by Badly Drawn Boy, whose ascent to scorer and songwriter for film epitomized the transition of indie and alternative rockers growing and expanding as artists. Which isn't to say that anyone was yet quite claiming the outlier status that would be staked out by Jonny Greenwood in his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson and others. But Damon Gough not only created some terrific, catchy songs (especially “Something To Talk About” and “Silent Sigh,” which capture the film’s bittersweet but irrepressible spirit), but some great instrumental music to capture an important transition into adulthood—not just for young Nicholas Hoult, but for Hugh Grant as his erstwhile role model, too.
13. Brown Sugar (2002)
The soundtrack to Rick Famuyiwa’s second film (following 1999's The Wood) remarkably captures the unmistakable and singular sound of rap and R&B in 2002. Mos Def, of course, plays a character in the film, giving him plenty of opportunities to wax poetic on the microphone, but Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)” is an all-timer of a tribute to the music that forms the film’s backbone. Meanwhile, The Roots and Mary J. Blige are among the other artists who contribute tracks that stick in your memory almost as well as the ones that inspired them.
14. 8 Mile (2002)
8 Mile, Eminem’s semi-autobiographical acting debut, teed up a lot of great opportunities for the rapper, not the least of which was the biggest commercial and artistic success of his musical career. But it also led to one of the purest expressions of creativity in movie music history: The main track, “Lose Yourself,” chronicled Eminem's own desperate determination to show the world what he could do, even if he had to wipe away some anxiety-driven vomit in order to do it. It also won Em an Oscar. In addition, it allowed Marshall Mathers to further showcase some of the members of his crew D12, while attracting guest performances from Xzibit, Nas, Rakim, Gang Starr, and 50 Cent, who got his own prestige biopic, Get Rich or Die Tryin', in 2005.
15. City Of God (2002)
Not quite fairly dubbed a Brazilian Goodfellas, Fernando Meirelles’s breakthrough film offered a jolt of energy bathed in the golden sun of São Paulo, and its score by Antonio Pinto and Ed Cortes captured the time and place with a vivid specificity that makes its story unforgettable. But combined with that score, Meirelles used tracks by Azimuth, Hyldon, Raul Seixas, and others to further focus on the moment between the 1960s and 1980s in which its characters pursue their ruthless criminal ambitions. In the process, the soundtrack aids in telling a culturally and musically authentic story and introducing audiences around the world to Brazilian music royalty that it behooves them to know.
16. Bad Boys II (2003)
P. Diddy executive-produced the soundtrack to Bad Boys II, and marshaled many of the biggest artists (past, present, and future) in the industry to create a collection of songs that, quite frankly, holds up better than any other aspect of the Bad Boys films throughout the history of the franchise. "Show Me Your Soul," featuring Diddy, Pharrell, Lenny Kravitz, and Loon, is produced by the Neptunes, as is Jay-Z’s “La-La-La.” From there, “Shake Ya Tailfeather” gave Nelly another hit, Beyoncé tossed off the first of what would be an indefatigable string of bangers with “Keep Giving Your Love To Me,” and Justin Timberlake continued to carve out his solo career with “Love Don’t Love Me.” Then there was “Realest N*ggas,” which brought together the late Notorious B.I.G. and then-exploding star 50 Cent.
17. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright is a lot like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and even Sofia Coppola in his extremely specific, extremely attuned musical accompaniment for his films. And he proved that from the get-go with the soundtrack for Shaun of the Dead, which is a nonstop blend of score and songs. While there are some original songs, many of them are classics and/or obscurities mashed together in unique ways to showcase his expert, unique creativity. That he backs Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” into Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” and then combines Goblin’s “Zombi” from Dawn of the Dead with Zombie Nation’s “Kenrkraft 400” is nothing short of a nonstop stroke of genius. Tracks like Lemon Jelly’s Chicago-sampling “Soft,” meanwhile, offer delicate interludes and breaks in the action that perfectly match Wright’s masterful manipulation of pacing and emotion.
18. Garden State (2004)
Zach Braff’s directorial debut has lived on since the enormous success of its release as a too-often-twee romantic comedy. Yet its soundtrack defined a musical moment almost like no other on this list. While Badly Drawn Boy blanketed About A Boy almost completely with his music, Braff licensed tracks from Coldplay, The Shins, Zero 7, Remy Zero, Thievery Corporation, and more for an overview of rock in the mid-2000s that almost immediately receded as the industry splintered into subgenres and streaming platforms that made monoculture music appreciation obsolete.
19. Grindhouse (2007)
Like Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino always give music collectors something to enjoy and explore, but Death Proof—his directorial half of Grindhouse—maintains a unique balance in his filmography between soundtrack and score. Opening with Jack Nitzsche’s “The Last Race,” Tarantino leverages his knowledge of movies and music to explore entire subgenres of music alongside chugging classics like T. Rex’s “Jeepster” and rediscovered masterpieces like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick & Tich’s “ Hold Tight,” which is used so expertly that you'll never be able to hear it without picturing the brutal fate of a young woman's leg.
20. Once (2007)
Once captured the romantic imaginations of its audience as much as it did their ears. John Carney directs this Dublin-set story of a busker (Glen Hansard) who falls in love with a young woman (Markéta Irglová) who ends up making beautiful music with him. The film introduced Hansard, frontman of The Frames, to a global audience and the film essentially captured the time during which the co-stars fell for each other in real life. Their song “Falling Slowly” not only provided the glue that connected their characters on-screen, but earned the duo a much-deserved Oscar for Best Original Song, too.
21. I’m Not There (2007)
Even before he recruited a who’s who of contemporary pop and rock giants to cover Bob Dylan's most famous songs for the soundtrack, Todd Haynes’s kaleidoscopic semi-biopic about the enigmatic singer-songwriter felt like an exciting art project. Eddie Vedder does a version of “All Along The Watchtower,” Karen O covers “Highway 61 Revisited,” and Jeff Tweedy sings “Simple Twist of Fate” on Disc One, while Charlotte Gainsbourg reimagines “Just Like A Woman” on Disc Two next to Antony & The Johnsons’ “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” It’s a greatest hits album featuring versions you’ve never heard before, and it’s as endlessly listenable as it is constantly surprising.
22. Bronson (2009)
Nicolas Winding Refn justifiably made his name internationally with this impressionistic portrait of British criminal Michael Peterson (mesmerizingly played by Tom Hardy in a kind of cinematic one-man show), which was photographed by Stanley Kubrick cinematographer Larry Smith and features an eclectic, endlessly fascinating collection of songs on its soundtrack. The Walker Brothers’s “The Electrician” opens the record and the movie with an ominously romantic tone, before songs by Pet Shop Boys and New Order capture the restless, synthetic energy of Refn’s main character. He ultimately uses a lot of opera and classical music to give the film a lot of the complexity and emotional depth that he refuses to express in the dialogue or storytelling. However, it’s Glass Candy’s “Digital Versicolor” that brings the film fully into the present moment.