Film and Music: A Playlist

Like Laurel and Hardy, it’s clear that music and film were meant to be together. Whether it’s a carefully selected crop of existing songs (see Pulp Fiction for a soundtrack that effortlessly peppers the action with old soul and surf rock) or the new score that seems to enjoy an almost symbiotic relationship with the imagery (see Psycho), we enjoy, discover and often enhance our enjoyment of music through film. Indeed, anyone who thinks they do not enjoy “classical music” probably hasn’t noticed that it’s been woven into dozens of their favourite films from Star Wars to Apocalypse Now.

At its best, music is at the heart of why a film moves us, scares us, reels us in. David Whelton, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s managing director, said of Jaws, “every time you see the image, the soundtrack comes back, and every time you hear the soundtrack, the image comes back. That is a perfect partnership.

We’re very excited about our upcoming Film, Archive and Music Lab week (FAMLAB) which brings together 16 musicians, composers and film makers from around the UK and East Asia. This will provide an opportunity for learning through workshops, masterclasses and screenings of new work. Inspired by recent events like the British Film Institute’s Hitchcock 9 project, which saw archive footage lovingly restored and shown with live performances of new scores from the likes of Nitin Sawhney and Tansy Davies, the lab week will provide the perfect breeding ground for future collaborations between the worlds of music and film. 

Our partners for this project are the British Film Institute (BFI), PRS for Music Foundation and HOME in Manchester and it seemed fitting that we asked them all to share some of their favourite film songs and sountracks with us as part of our usual playlist feature and here they are! What are your favourites?

– Stephen Bloomfield


Our Playlist

Here's our playlist in full. Find out who chose what and why further down the page.


Tim Stevens, Senior Producer – BFI

Johann Sebastian Bach: Tocata y Fuga

Fantasia (1940, dir. Norm Ferguson et al)

A beautiful and ambitious film from Disney (remember this is 1940). The challenges of the soundtrack led to the development of Fantasound, an early forerunner to contemporary cinema surround sound. Wonderful music, psychedelic visuals and technically very complex for the time.

David Lynch: Eraserhead soundtrack

Eraserhead, (1977, dir. David Lynch)

For me Lynch is one of the great directors of our day, mostly because his involvement and use of sound is second to none. With Eraserhead he manages to tell the story almost exclusively with sound design.


Cathy Graham, Director Music – British Council Music Team

György Ligeti: Kyrie

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

Ligeti, one of the giants of the avant-garde of the second half of the twentieth century, only found out that his music had been used when a friend wrote to congratulate him on his contribution to the film’s soundtrack. Astonished, he went to see it himself, hearing music plundered from three of his recently recorded works. I love this work. Commissioned by the legendary Swedish Radio Choir – who I heard many times while living in Stockholm in the 1980s – this was music like no-one had ever heard or imagined before. Phenomenally difficult to perform but immensely exciting, the dense, swirling, buzzing music is used in the monolith scenes.

Jonny Greenwood: There Will Be Blood soundtrack 

There Will Be Blood (2007, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

In 2004, I was running the London Sinfonietta with Gillian Moore (now Director of Music at Southbank Centre). It was a time when Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood was developing the classical side of his phenomenal musical talent and the year the ensemble premiered his work Smear. The next year saw him curating two whole evenings for the ensemble at the Royal Festival Hall including works by Ligeti, Penderecki, Henri Dutilleux and Messiaen as well his own works. Fast-forward to 2007 and I’m sitting at the Vue, Islington, watching There Will Be Blood.  I’m really taken by the film score, by the use of silence as well as the striking music (I love silence in a film score). I had no idea who had written the music until I recognised Smear. Then it dawned on me the composer must be Jonny Greenwood. I was delighted, and also amused to notice the old orchestra manager in me surfacing almost immediately; I started fretting about sync rights.


Elisa Ruff, Senior Media & Communications Manager – HOME

Neil Diamond: Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino is the master of connecting film with music, always using an eclectic selection of songs by various artists. For Pulp Fiction he used a mix of American rock’n’roll, surf, pop and soul, and this tune is the one that for me stood out the most. It’s sexy, it’s humorous, it’s powerful, it’s intoxicating and it is one of the scenes that has turned Pulp Fiction into the cult classic it is.

Kronos Quartet: Lux Aeterna

Requiem For A Dream (2000, dir. Darren Aronofsky)

This is one of the most soul-touching songs I’ve ever come across, and this was long before The Lord of the Rings. When I first heard it, it formed part of the soundtrack of Aronofsky’s beautiful and sad Requiem For A Dream. The film depicts different forms of drug addiction in the most powerful and harrowing way, but combined with this song I found that the characters’ fates affected me as if they were people I knew. 


Vanessa Reed, Executive Director – PRS For Music Foundation

Mica Levi: Under the Skin soundtrack

Under the Skin (2013, dir. Jonathan Glazer)

I was lucky enough to see this film in two of the best settings for discovering a brilliant soundtrack. First, at the film’s BFI London Film Festival premiere where the score was mentioned in the Q&A on stage as being one of the film’s key strengths. Then, with live score conducted by Mica at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, where the reverberation of those repeated and unsettling sliding strings, had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. This is music as alien force which returns just as the silence becomes reassuring. Music as protagonist at its best. 

M.I.A.: Paper Planes

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dir. Danny Boyle)

M.I.A.’s gritty, percussive "O Saya" and "Paper Planes" jump out from an exuberant score by the prolific A R Rahman, aka the “Mozart of Madras”. This soundtrack’s combination of urban edge and sweeping tunes are a perfect vehicle for the slumdog’s rags to riches story. This is also a great example of how collaboration facilitated by a film director’s vision for the soundtrack led each music composer into new territory (and into the lists of award nominations too).


Joel Mills, Senior Music Adviser – British Council Music Team

Ennio Morricone: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966, dir. Sergio Leone)

My Mum had a bunch of old vinyl records, some quite scratched, mainly country and western and Top of the Pops compilations. The record I most loved was Great Western Movie Themes. Ennio Morricone is a master, capturing the essence of the western landscape and the loneliness of the cowboy. I love the whistling, choral work and voice in this music. Still whip-crackingly good! 

Once Upon A Time There Was A Pretty Fly

The Night of the Hunter (1955, dir. Charles Laughton)

Music contrasts both comfort and danger, innocence and evil, in this 1955 Charles Laughton film. The soothing lullaby, Once Upon A Time There Was A Pretty Fly (music and lyrics by Walter Schumann and Davis Grubb) in the river scene is discomforting against the dream-like magic of the film. The gospel singing of Robert Mitchum’s love-hate preacher is unnerving as he chases the children downriver and sits and waits outside their place of refuge. Superb. Dark. Watch it.


Naomi Belshaw, Grants & Programmes Manager – PRS for Music Foundation

Romeo Must Die (2000, dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak)

Aaliyah: Try Again

Great little American Kung Fu Movie starring the singer Aaliyah. This was the lead song to promote the movie and I listened to it non-stop when the film was released!

The Mission (1986, dir. Roland Joffé)

Ennio Morricone: The Mission

One of the most affecting soundtracks I have in my collection, as it combines the use of classical and choral music in the setting of the jungles of South America. The music reflects the strange situation of western civilisation coming into the primitive rainforest converting local tribes to Christianity; one of Ennio Morricone’s most memorable soundtracks to date. 


Liam McMahon, Communications Manager – PRS for Music Foundation

Jurassic Park (1993, dir. Stephen Spielberg)

John Williams: Theme from Jurassic Park 

Such an iconic score from a Steven Spielberg classic. The scene where the theme kicks in as we see the brachiosaurus for the first time still gives me goosebumps today!

Ray Parker Jr.: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (1984, dir. Ivan Reitman)

This was the theme tune to my childhood and one of my favourite examples of a pop song marrying so seamlessly with a cult film.


Will Massa, Film Adviser – British Council Film Team

Caetano Veloso: Cucurucucu Paloma

Talk to Her (2002, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

A startlingly moving arrangement that externalises the trouble the main character is having dealing with all the beauty and pain in the world.

Skrillex: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Spring Breakers (2012, dir. Harmony Korine)

Filthy, lurid trash that doesn't care whether you like it or not, just like Harmony Korine and this gem of a film.


Wendy Mitchell, Programme Manager – British Council Film Team

The Weeknd: Earned It

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015, dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson) 

Pretty cool to see a song from this envelope-pushing R&B artist included amongst the Oscar nominees. Just because it was in Fifty Shades of Grey don't hold it against the music.

45 Years (2015, dir. Andrew Haigh)

The Platters: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

A great oldie from 1958 that you can never listen to the same way again after seeing it in Andrew Haigh's amazing 2015 British drama, 45 Years, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.


Gary Thomas, Film Adviser – British Council Film Team 

Shelley Duvall: He Needs Me

Popeye (1980, dir. Robert Altman)

He Needs Me was written by Harry Nilsson and sung by Shelley Duvall, but as used by Jon Brion and (respectfully) remixed, cut up and played around with in his soundtrack for Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002).

Elisabeth Welch: Stormy Weather

The Tempest (1979, dir. Derek Jarman)

This. As much for the sailors as the singing.