Summertime and the livin’ is easy. No time evokes a sense of freedom and possibility quite like summer. As the sun shines bright and the weather heats up, the season calls for spontaneous road trips, beach parties, and outdoor adventures – and what better way to amplify those carefree moments than with an amazing soundtrack?
We combed through the best summer movies, with iconic soundtracks that capture the essence of the season, to create the essential playlist for all your sunny escapades. From the nostalgic 80s classic Dirty Dancing to indie gem Little Miss Sunshine, here are our top 10 movie soundtracks for creating lasting summer memories.
Kicking off our list with a film set decades before its release, Grease transports you back to the 50s with its electrifying soundtrack. Get ready to relive high school summer love with the memorable karaoke favourite “Summer Nights” and dreamy ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. We know musicals aren’t for everyone, but the sounds of Grease continue to delight audiences of all ages and encapsulate that first pivotal teenage romance.
Why does 80s music feel synonymous with summer? There’s something so nostalgic and energizing about the shamelessly explosive pop bangers from 1984’s Footloose. It’s hard not to kick off the Sunday shoes when you play the infectious title track by Kenny Loggins or Bonnie Tyler’s bombastic (and just a little cheesy) “Holding Out for a Hero”.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Step back in time for a legendary summer romance with the timeless Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Though shot in the 80s, the coming-of-age story is set 20 years earlier, and features 60s hits like “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. The selection is a perfect blend of energetic pop and emotional ballads to dance the hot summer night away.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Fuelled by rock anthems and groovy 70s vibes, our next soundtrack comes from cult classic Dazed and Confused. Set in the 70s, the comedy also explores a coming-of-age story on the last day of school. From Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” to Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” the collection of songs encapsulates the hazy, carefree spirit of summer and teenage revelry.
Almost Famous (2000)
We can’t mention the 70s without including the Almost Famous soundtrack. Iconic tracks by Led Zeppelin, Elton John, and Simon & Garfunkel capture the free-spirited essence of a summer road trip packed with rock ‘n’ roll music, new experiences, and reckless exploration.
Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Few sun-soaked soundtracks embody rebellious youth quite as well as Lords of Dogtown. This adrenaline-fuelled drama about the 1970s skateboarding pioneers, the Z-Boys, boasts a compilation of punk and rock tracks from Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie. The film introduced a new generation to an important era of music and a defining moment in surf and skate history (which might just inspire you to pick up a board this summer).
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Brighten up any road trip with the charming and eclectic soundtrack of Little Miss Sunshine. Ranging from the upbeat classic “Super Freak” by Rick James to more intimate picks like “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, the songs will have you singing along and bopping in your seat. Prepare for an unexpected, offbeat adventure.
Indie music lovers, we’ve got you covered! The Juno soundtrack is a heartfelt compilation of quirky tunes by indie rock and folk artists like Kimya Dawson, Belle and Sebastian, and Sonic Youth. This charming mixtape is a perfect companion for introspective walks on lazy summer afternoons (and even includes a cover by lead actors Michael Cera and Elliot Page of The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else but You”).
Into the Wild (2007)
Feel the call of the great outdoors and embark on an introspective journey Into the Wild. Composed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the haunting acoustic songs accompany the main character on a sentimental solo search for meaning, amplifying the film’s themes of solitude, freedom, and reconnection with the natural world. Perfect for peaceful campfire listening.
500 Days of Summer (2009)
No summer soundtrack list would be complete without the dreamy, bittersweet 500 Days of Summer. A mix of indie pop and alternative rock from artists including The Smiths, Carla Bruni, and Hall & Oates, the music complements the film’s tale of love and heartbreak, reminding us that summer love burns bright, but doesn’t last forever.
Summertime already feels like a movie, and with the right selection of music, you can romanticize the season even more! So grab your keys, turn up the volume, and let these 10 beloved film soundtracks transport you through different eras and guide you to new destinations.
For more top 10 playlists, check out our article on the Top 10 Horror Movie Scores Through the Decades.
Written by Maryse Bernard
Illustration by Yihong Guo