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10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks8 min read

Most Hollywood films use orchestral arrangements in their scores to engage the audience and help express a wide range of emotions. But synthesisers and computer based music can offer an entirely new experience and enhance the film in many unpredictable ways. So here’s a list of 10 great movies with 10 great electronic music scores to add to your ultimate movie soundtrack playlist.

10. Run Lola Run (1998)

Lola’s boyfriend is in big trouble and the only way she can save his life is by running, sprinting and jogging across Berlin in pursuit of a huge stash of cash. The accompanying soundtrack drive’s the action forward with a wide range of acid beats, spikey synths and squelchy basslines. The Techno soundtrack was composed by the film’s director, Tom Tykwer. With more than a little help from Johnny Klimek and ’99 Red Balloons’ producer, Rinehold Heil.

9. The Social Network (2010)

The story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rocky road to success as head honcho at Facebook is underscored by music from Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor. The beautifully dark, post industrial electronica earned Reznor and Ross an Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack of 2010.


8. Beverley Hills Cop (1984)

Harold Faltermeyer’s indelible synth melody is as 80’s as a Rubik’s Cube, although far easier to play. It chattered away behind Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley as he attempts to track down the killer of his childhood pal, Mikey Tandino. The soundtrack to this comedy cop thriller opened the gates for a slew of music scores featuring contemporary 80’s instruments like the Yamaha DX7 and Roland Jupiter 8. All driven along by the robotic rhythms of classic Linn drum machine.


7. Forbidden Planet (1956)

The score for this science fiction epic was so experimental that MGM prohibited use of the term ‘music’ in the credits. Instead Bebe and Louis Barron’s ring modulated warblings were referred to as ‘electronic tonalities’. As neither of the avant-garde experimentalists were members of the Musician’s Union, this term avoided any union payments for the studio. But it also meant that this innovative soundtrack could never be nominated for an Academy Award. However, Forbidden Planet’s soundtrack is a rare gem and still perhaps the most unique sci-fi score ever produced.


6. Chariots of Fire (1981)

As Hitchcock once said. “If music and picture are doing the same thing, one of them is being wasted.”Perhaps that explains the success of Chariots of Fire’s synth heavy electronic score. The melancholic melody line of the main theme is the polar opposite of the extreme excursion felt by the athletes on screen. Yet it somehow works perfectly with the visuals. Helped by the use of slow motion to stretch out the agony just a little further!Of course, there were no synthesisers around in 1924. So it was a bold decision to use electronic pioneer Vangelis as the film’s composer. But it paid off big time, winning the film an Oscar for Best Original Score of 1981.


5. Midnight Express (1978)

Before ‘Shawshank’, before ‘The Green Mile’, even before ‘Caged Heat’, there was a prison movie to beat all prison movies called ‘Midnight Express’. The harrowing story of Billy Hayes. An American student who attempted to smuggle 2kg of hashish out of Turkey and ended up spending 5 long years incarcerated in a Turkish prison-from-Hell. The film’s director Alan Parker recruited Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder to compose something along the lines of his recent smash hit with Donna Summer, I Feel Love.

The result is a dark, incessant arpeggiated score that coils and slithers its way through the film like an angry snake. The Chase theme became a disco hit in its own right and earnt Moroder an Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1979.


4. Gone Girl (2014)

The music to this psychological thriller was the third collaboration between director, David Fincher and composers, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (the previous two being ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo’ and the afore mentioned ‘The Social Network’).Filcher’s vision for the music was to recreate an emotion he had felt after hearing muzak played at a recent chiropractor session. He described what he heard as ‘inauthentic’.

A soothing, reassuring soundscape that in fact had quite the opposite effect. Leaving him feeling anxious and ill at ease. The result was a soundtrack that included washes of beautiful tones and colours indispersed with spikey incongruous electronic noises and discordant notes. Unsettling to say the least, and another triumph for the pioneering composing team of Ross and Reznor.


3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Although not wholly electronic, the score for A Clockwork Orange must get a mention because of its hugely influential role in the history of movie scores. Recorded in real time (there were no sequencers back then) on a bank of modular Moog synthesisers, these haunting renditions of well known classical pieces took on a maniacal life of their own as they resonated in the disturbed mind of protagonist Alex DeLarge, head of the Droogs played by Malcolm McDowell.

Composer Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos) came to the attention of the film’s director Stanley Kubrick after releasing an album of speeded up electronic chamber music called Switched On Bach in 1968. After contributing to the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, Carlos went on to record the score for the Disney film Tron in 1982.


2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

There couldn’t be a list of electronic music score composers without mentioning the master of them all, John Carpenter. His mid 70’s film soundtracks terraformed the entire film music landscape and were a huge influence, not only on movie soundtracks, but other genres too, like Synth Pop, the New Romantics and Post Punk.As a director, he’s quoted as saying that the only reason he composed for his own films is because he was fast and cheap.

But the reality is way beyond that. His stark synth driven instrumentals locked with the visuals in a unique tensile alliance. A bond that became so strong that you couldn’t imagine one without the other.Christine, The Fog, Escape From New York, Halloween. Any one of these films could have appeared on the list. But ‘Assault’s insidious five note bassline has a way of getting inside your psyche. And just like the Street Thunder Gang.

Once it’s broken in, it’s difficult to shift.


1. Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi epic was by no means as successful on release as it has become since. It under performed in the US with critics calling it ‘plodding’ and lacking in pace. However, it has since become a cult classic and is was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and heralded as being ‘culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.’ It is now regarded by critics (probably the same critics that earlier panned it) as being one of the best science fiction films ever made.

A large part of the success of Blade Runner can be attributed to its soundtrack. A glorious sweeping synthesised wash created and composed by Greek composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Better known to fans as Vangelis.Vangelis began his career as a working musician in a covers band, moving on to become a member of the prog rock outfit Aphrodite’s Child. As side projects he began composing film scores, later setting up a studio in London dedicated to his solo album work and a steady stream of movie soundtracks. T

his brought him to the attention of high profile film directors and in particular, David Puttman and Hugh Hudson who were making a film called Chariots of Fire. An Academy Award followed and the following year he collaborated with Ridley Scott on the music for Blade Runner.The score is noted for capturing the isolation felt by replicant Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) as he scours the dystopian landscape in search of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

A replicant who has escaped to Earth in an attempt to extend his life cycle and elude his ultimate fate of being ‘retired’. After the release of the film, a disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission for his performance of the music being released. The studio instead hired a group of musicians dubbed The New American Orchestra to record the official album release. It took 12 years before the disagreement was resolved. The composer’s own work was released in 1994.

As with all the movies on the list, it’s important that a composer has an affinity with the narrative and subject matter of the film. Vangelis’s love of sci-fi is evident in his score for Blade Runner. He is quoted as saying, “mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write.”

His Blade Runner soundtrack is still seen by many to be one of his greatest works.


Other films with electronic soundtracks include:

  • Drive (2011)
  • Escape From New York (1981)
  • Dredd (2012)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • Friday The 13th (1980)
  • Christine (1983)
  • PI (1998)
  • Requiem For A Dream (2000)
  • Sorcerer (1977)

Bjorn Lynne

Bjørn Lynne is a Norwegian sound engineer and music composer, now living and working in Stavern, Norway. He was also known as a tracker music composer under the name "Dr. Awesome" in the demoscene in the 1980s and 1990s when he released tunes in MOD format and made music for Amiga games.