A soundtrack is a curious thing. It can sometimes be a simple score or a collection of incredible songs, but one thing is for sure, aa perfect soundtrack certainly makes things better. However, not all soundtracks are created equal, and while some are destined to languish in the doldrums of the airwaves, others pop with a scintillating vibrancy. Over the years, Netflix has begun to find itself as the arbitrator of such effervescent companions.
The truth is, you can’t hear the wails of Ennio Morricone without picturing the slit eyes of Clint Eastwood, if you can hear ‘Little Green Bag’ without developing a Reservoir Dogs style swagger, then you’ve certainly got more decorum than me, and it would seem that we will never see the day that Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ doesn’t induce a slew of impromptu stomach-churning scenes between embracing couples. The soundtrack moments form an inseparable marriage with the scenes that housed them.
While cinema has often dominated such poignant moments, streaming platforms, with their disposable income and sugar-infused audiences, seem more ready than ever to take on the soundtrack market and make it their own. Within ten incredible soundtracks below, we may even prove that Netflix has found the sweet spot for such releases across a range of productions.
Geared at their younger audiences yet flecked with the romance of nostalgia, Netflix has managed to not only create soundtracks that stand up as mixtapes on their own but can even lure in a new audience all on their own. We need only point to the clever Duffer brothers, and their use of Kate Bush for confirmation of that.
While some of these soundtracks may not have arrived as original releases, below, we’ve got ten of our favourite soundtracks from Netflix hit shows and films, including Stranger Things, Marriage Story and many more.
The 10 best Netflix soundtracks ever:
This science-fiction series created by the Duffer Brothers has an unbelievable grasp over pop culture and has done since its release in 2016. The show takes place in 1980s Indiana and charts the supernatural and mysterious events in a fictional town called Hawkins. Stranger Things is influenced by a large portion of ’80s pop culture and style, most notably its music, which makes a trademark use of synthesisers as popularised by filmmakers such as John Carpenter.
The original soundtrack is composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, who are members of the electronic band Survive. The show also includes many hit songs from the decade it’s set in, which profoundly influenced young viewers this year when season four aired. Kate Bush’s classic ‘Running up that Hill’ was featured and thus, triggered mass streaming on Spotify as well as popularity on TikTok. Metallica also benefited from this season as heavy metal culture was introduced through the new character Eddie.
Netflix released David Fincher’s bibliography drama film about the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his writing of Citizen Kane in 2020 to critical acclaim. It collected numerous Academy Award nominations and won Best Design and Best Cinematography.
The film’s soundtrack was composed by Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Razor and Atticus Ross, both of whom frequently collaborate with Fincher. Razor and Ross left out their synth-heavy style and instead went for some period-authentic instrumentation from the 1930s and ’40s. The 52-track soundtrack received praise for emulating the film’s time period so successfully and received nine award nominations upon release.
End of the Fucking World
This British black comedy drama was a hit for Netflix users when initially released in 2017. It follows a teenager who is convinced he is a psychopath and his angst-ridden companion looking for an escape. Their journey across England is a mixed bag of murderous plots and blossoming teen romance.
The show’s soundtrack is one of the highlights for fans, especially musician Graham Coxon, the guitarist and singer in the English rock band Blur. The soundtrack also features Mazzy Star and Madigan to accentuate the show’s moody and tense atmosphere.
Sex Education is a British comedy-drama series that explores and educates aspects of teen sexuality, identity and dilemmas. The show features an assembled class of many uprising and talented actors and has received endless praise for its brilliant LGBT+ representation and creative design.
The show’s soundtrack is built from indie pop anthems, covers of soul classics and choir renditions of classic songs to align with story events. These include Billy Ocean’s ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, and a reimaging of Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away.’ One of the main characters Maeve brings some ’90s edge with her love for Nirvana, classic goth and riot grrrl music.
This inappropriate and disrespectful attempt at presenting screen icon Marilyn Monroe’s complicated life caused an outcry and rage months before it was unfortunately released. It may have a stylistic presentation using black and white with shifting aspect ratios and a beautiful soundtrack, however, that can only make up for so much of Andrew Dominik’s mistreatment and exploitation of Monroe as an icon and person.
The film’s soundtrack was composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in their fourth time working with Dominik. The music is designed and executed to elevate the fictionalised tragedy of Monroe’s life, as the film is oddly obsessed with it. The tracks are emotionally moving and stay in the audience’s minds due to their haunting nature.
The Power of the Dog
Helmed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog earned the director her first Oscar for Best Director, making her the third woman to take home the prize. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, who were both highly praised for their roles and received Oscar nominations. Set in rural Montana during the 1920s, Campion’s film follows a domineering rancher who torments his brother and wife until he slowly realises the possibilities of love.
The gorgeous soundtrack was recorded by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who has become one of the most impressive composers of the past few decades. With beautiful scores such as Phantom Thread, There Will Be Blood and Spencer under his belt, it’s no surprise that Campion chose the composer to provide the musical accompaniment to her film. When creating the Oscar-nominated score, Greenwood wanted to avoid the “sweeping strings” associated with Westerns, instead using atonal brass sounds to capture the “alien and forbidding” nature of the film.
Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern gave explosive career-defining performances in Noah Baumbach’s Oscar-nominated Marriage Story, with Dern taking home Best Supporting Actress for her role as Nora, a family lawyer. After employing Randy Newman to score The Meyerowitz Stories in 2017, Baumbach recruited the musician a second time for Marriage Story. The score was recorded with a 40-piece chamber orchestra which ranged from violins to bassoons to harps.
Newman described the result as a “rush of cool water in a moviemaking era that rarely asks for things like lyricism, or instrumental solos.” He also called it “celebratory”, “compassionate”, and “human.” The musician continued, “The visuals that are accompanying it in the beginning are mostly images of domesticity, or coupledom, or individual characteristics that makes us unique. Ordinary moments. And I felt like the score could sort of celebrate it, make these ordinary moments extraordinary.”
The Queen’s Gambit
Netflix found great success with The Queen’s Gambit, which became the first show on a streaming service to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. The coming-of-age period drama stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who struggles with alcohol and drug dependency as she strives to become a champion of her field. The show was scored by Carlos Rafael Rivera, who took home a Grammy for his work. Despite director Scott Frank desiring a piano-only score, he and Rivera eventually chose an orchestral soundtrack to create “instrumental depth and colour.”
Rivera said, “It started to hit me: What if her reality in the orphanage is all piano, but when she looks up and plays the games on the ceiling, it’s fully orchestral, like a dream?” The composer ensured that his score mirrored Beth’s emotional states, “the idea was to create music that would support her.” Furthermore, the gorgeous score is accompanied by plenty of standout tracks from the period, such as ‘Fever’ by Peggy Lee, ‘Tut tut tut tut’ by Gillian Hills, and ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ by The Kinks.
Dear White People
Based on the 2014 film of the same name, Dear White People follows black college students at the fictional Winchester University as they navigate systematic racism. The show, narrated by Giancarlo Esposito, was highly praised for its combination of social commentary and satiric humour. Whilst the show deals with racial issues, it also deals with college experiences such as love, sex, heartbreak and friendship. Kris Bowers’ fantastic score backs these events; however, the show also contains a jam-packed selection of tunes spanning decades.
Contemporary R&B and rap artists such as Childish Gambino, Tyler, The Creator, BROCKHAMPTON, Noname and Michael Kiwanuka sit amongst legends such as J Dilla, Erykah Badu and A Tribe Called Quest. Former KCRW radio DJ Morgan Rhodes supervised the series’ soundtrack and created a playlist for each student. Similarly, Bowers created an instrumental piece for each student too. Rhodes said, “Because the pervasive belief is that characters and their perspectives are nuanced and varied, just like their experiences. And so, in turn, their music should be.”
Created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll is a Groundhog Day-esque series that follows Lyonne’s Nadia as she repeatedly dies and becomes forced to live the same night. Despite the repetitive nature of the show’s themes, it was praised for its innovative approach and unpredictability. Music becomes a focal point of the show, with Harry Nilsson’s ‘Gotta Get Up’ playing every time Nadia dies and gets resurrected.
Lyonne claimed she picked the song because she was inspired by “the buoyant doomsday quality” of Nilsson’s life. She also considered The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’, ‘Crazy Feeling’ by Lou Reed and ‘Not Tonight’ by Lil’ Kim as the ‘reset song’. Besides Nilsson’s track, the show also contains some great musical moments, such as ‘Crimson and Clover’ by Tommy James and the Shondells, ‘La plus belle chanson’ by Jacqueline Taieb, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus, ‘Sunday Morning’ by The Velvet Underground and ‘Put a Straw Under Baby’ by Brian Eno.