At one point or another, a movie soundtrack inks itself so deeply into your taste buds, it manages to guide your tastes for the next several years. Sometimes it happens across society all at once, like Saturday Night Fever and disco or Purple Rain and Prince, or, for those of us who came into movie-going age in the late ’90s or early/mid-2000s, basically anything directed by Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette). Coppola’s skilled needle-drops didn’t stop there, as more recent efforts like Somewhere, The Bling Ring and On the Rocks boast some of the best soundtracks of the last decade and a half.
From the coquettish ennui of Marie Antoinette to the ageless inquiries of Lost in Translation to youth’s obsession with hedonism and status in The Bling Ring, Coppola’s search for meaning-packed films possess something poetic and almost Kundera-esque in their juxtapositions. They often comment on what it’s like to be unfulfilled and always come with a soundtrack that adds another dimension to what’s appearing onscreen. Thanks to appearances in her movies, bands like Air and Phoenix shot into popularity on this side of the pond and shoegaze reunion tours included festival headline slots for bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Her latest film, Priscilla, premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in September (and is set to hit theaters today). With that in mind, it seemed like the perfect time to take a look at the 25 best songs from Sofia Coppola soundtracks.
25. Phoenix, “Identical,” On the Rocks
On the Rocks — much like its lead single, “Identical” from Coppola soundtrack stalwart Phoenix — carries with it a somewhat unexpected ethos in that it feels like lighter fare, but something darker lurks beneath. The Bill Murray/Rashida Jones vehicle arrived during that dark first COVID fall when we all needed something a bit brighter — even if it came with a touch of morose reality — and both director and band delivered. The song itself bobs and weaves with that familiar Phoenix tone, upbeat and synthesized but with cynical lyrics skulking below, and we’re left to consider the bond between parents and grown children as well as the way relationships change over time.
24. W. W. Fosdick and George R. Poulton, “Aura Lea,” The Beguiled
The Beguiled was anything but typical for one of Sofia Coppola’s soundtracks. She traded in her usual 1990s and 2000s dreamy indie pop for a sort-of score (composed by Phoenix) and several pieces of source music, including “Aura Lea,” originally written by W. W. Fosdick (lyrics) and George R. Poulton (music). While it might not be a modern Top 40 single, it was certainly popular in its time, and its melody was used in Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” which makes it fit neatly into a line leading to Priscilla.
23. Chet Baker, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” On the Rocks
“I Fall in Love Too Easily” has a history with the movies. Introduced by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh, it ended up being nominated for an Oscar and is now widely considered a jazz standard. The song is just 16 bars long, but perfectly encapsulates the feeling of helplessness we all experience in the face of love. Chet Baker recorded one of the finest versions of the track, and years later, it made its way onto the On the Rocks soundtrack, and there’s never not a good moment to fall in love with the way Baker does it.
22. Amerie, “1 Thing,” Somewhere
The second twin strippers sequence in Chateau Marmont-based daughter-father drama Somewhere features tennis rackets, short skirts and an early inkling that this kind of repetitive debauchery might have its drawbacks. That spirit carries itself throughout Amerie’s “1 Thing” as the upbeat feelings built around a sample of the Meters’ 1970 version of “Oh, Calcutta!” plays against the singer’s personal conflict where one aspect of a relationship keeps her hooked, despite all the other negatives. “It’s this one thing that’s got me trippin’,” she sings.
21. Frank Ocean, “Super Rich Kids,” The Bling Ring
Looking for a song whose lyrics perfectly explain the ethos of a set of a movies’ main characters? Coppola and her frequent collaborator Brian Reitzell hit the nail on the head with Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” in The Bling Ring. “Parents ain’t around enough / Too many joy rides in daddy’s Jaguar / Too many white lies and white lines / Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends / Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.” That kind of soundtrack-building excellence deserves applause.
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20. Peaches, “Fuck the Pain Away,” Lost in Translation
Coated in purpled and uncomfortable feelings, the scene in the Japanese strip club where Bob Harris (Bill Murray) awkwardly waits for Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) to arrive gets an added bit of surrealism thanks to Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” bellowing out from the stereo. Those lurid lyrics juxtaposed against the more tender night that follows gives added meaning to the scene that leads to it.
19. The Strokes, “What Ever Happened,”Marie Antoinette
While Coppola’s Marie Antoinette may be a bit fantastic, as a coming-of-age story about a royally privileged young woman suffering from a very modern sense of ennui, it sings, and much of that brilliance comes down to its soundtrack. A young Kirsten Dunst running heartbroken across Versaille to the Strokes’ “What Ever Happened” manages to capture something both timeless yet very much of the modern moment.
18. Todd Rundgren, “Hello It’s Me,” The Virgin Suicides
With the Air-guided Virgin Suicides soundtrack, Coppola captures 1970s suburban teenage angst in all its dreamy glory. The 1972 version of Rundgren’s track manages to capture that kind of vague and woozy feeling we all seem to have when reflecting on the decade. It also appears in the 1998 pilot of That ’70s Show and has gone on to feature in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as well as a variety of other films.
17. Kevin Shields, “Are You Awake?” Lost in Translation
The first new music from former My Bloody Valentine frontman Kevin Shields in a dozen years was something the music world was begging for, so, at the very least, we need to thank Coppola and music supervisor Brian Reitzell for that. Add in that it’s the glimmering and driving “Are You Awake?” that plays with the lights of Tokyo like insomnia does with time, and it’s easy to understand what we all were missing.
16. The Police, “So Lonely,” Somewhere
We find The Police’s “So Lonely” at a moment shared by action star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) as they play Guitar Hero together. Unlike many of Coppola’s soundtracks, she chooses to use diegetic music — when the characters in the film can hear the music the audience hears — in various scenes throughout Somewhere giving its own type of authentic emotion. The one here explores tenderness and distance as the relationship between father and daughter grows.
15. The Cure, “Plainsong,” Marie Antoinette
Despite being particularly divisive amongst critics upon release, Marie Antoinette has grown a serious fan base over the years. Its use of ’80s classics like “Plainsong” give a sense of modernity to moments like Louis and Marie’s coronation, adding to the timelessness of the coming-of-age story at the film’s heart.
14. Death in Vegas, “Girls,” Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation‘s opening track sets the tone for the dreamy, eye-opening 101 minutes that follow. Hazy and pensive, the song comes alongside Murray peering out a taxi window as he begins to take in the bright lights of Tokyo.
13. Al Green, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” The Virgin Suicides
Al Green’s 1972 cover of the Bee Gees’ 1971 hit “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” carries a soulful vibration that fits the blurred light and blue nights of the Lisbon sisters’ wealthy Detroit suburb as well as the weight of adolescent emotions. It also adds to the other-worldly nature Coppola and Air deliver throughout the soundtrack.
12. Phoenix, “Bankrupt!” The Bling Ring
After Phoenix took over the indie-rock world with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, lead singer Thomas Mars (at this point married to Coppola) and the band departed from the sounds and feelings of their previous records to comment on the superficiality of, well, pop and popularity. The result was Bankrupt!, and its eponymous second track helped steer the soundtrack and aesthetic of The Bling Ring. On both, all those moments of youth, where we’re convinced everything means something or that someone is watching, burn like sparklers in slow motion: “Caledonian, rich and young / Self-entitled portrait / Court in session, justice done / I’ll rush into it anyway / Forever is for everyone else.”
11. Phoenix, “Too Young,” Lost in Translation
Young Phoenix perfectly captured that space between late-’90s over-the-top pop and the Converse and suits of early-2000s indie rock, bringing raw joy and simplicity to a scene too often coated in cliche and marble wax. Its timeless yet youthful spirit might be best captured in “Too Young,” a neon-bursting dance rock track that deals with the anxiety of getting older and fits superbly into the challenges faced by Bob Harris and Charlotte as they race around Tokyo.
10. M.I.A., “Bad Girls,” The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring’s 10th anniversary was Oct. 11, but its message about youths’ obsession with hedonism and status remains timeless. Few songs represent those feelings better than M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls,” especially when rich teenagers rap “live fast, die young, bad girls do it well” as they whip through the streets of Los Angeles.
9. Aphex Twin, “Avril the 14th,” Marie Antoinette
“Avril the 14th” cuts in as Marie Antoinette’s Swedish lover gallops off, leading to shots of long dresses tugging forlornly over tall grass and up endless staircases. Here, the track gives weight to the despondent stares and muddled sky that dawdle wistfully, juxtaposed against the ornate ensembles and fertile trees.
8. Heart, “Magic Man,” The Virgin Suicides
The sunglasses, the hair, the elevated pool — Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) had the answer to every girl’s raging hormones (and to all the tests thanks to those same girls). Has there ever been a better introduction to a teenage heartthrob than Hartnett walking down the blue locker-lined hall as every knee length skirt swayed, turning in his direction? As Ann Wilson sings, “A pretty man came to me / I never seen eyes so blue / You know, I could not run away it seemed / We’d seen each other in a dream / Seemed like he knew me, he looked right through me.”
7. Phoenix, “Love Like a Sunset Part I & Part 2,” Somewhere
At this point it’s obvious that Phoenix pops up time and again on Sofia Coppola soundtracks, which could have something to do with her marrying the lead singer. The band also scored Somewhere, which hit screens a year after Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix reached airwaves. “Love Like a Sunset Part I & Part 2” bookended the film, giving it a sense of closure and also progression.
6. Sleigh Bells, “Crown on the Ground,” The Bling Ring
Bling Ring opening track “Crown on the Ground” lives in the red. On screen, the distortion of the guitar is backed by security camera footage, and, together, they manage to sum up the meaning (or rather, the struggle for meaning) that staggers alongside the film. As far as movie opening songs go, Derek Miller’s jackhammer riffs combined with Alexis Krauss’ calm confidence thriving within the chaos, makes for something immediately engrossing.
5. New Order, “Ceremony,” Marie Antoinette
The debut single from New Order, and one of the last songs composed by Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, the history of “Ceremony” carries significant weight when considering the ominous future of both Antoinette and Curtis. The visuals — a birthday filled with gambling, Champagne pouring, mother of pearl glimmering, stacks of pastries seemingly a mile high — seem too big to fail; for a moment it’s all rich colors as we watch the sunrise from the Versailles gardens. Here, Coppola juxtaposes the beauty of celebration versus the brutal future we already know. Running with Champagne bottles along the ponds, the heavy and metallic guitar riffs raw against those extravagant costumes: “Oh, I’ll break them down, no mercy shown / Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time / Avenues all lined with trees / Picture me and then you start watching / Watching forever.”
4. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey,” Lost in Translation
The dream-pop atmosphere created by Coppola and soundtrack supervisor Brian Reitzell throughout Lost in Translation gets summed up in all its haunting, hovering and cautiously optimistic glory with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey.” It plays the perfect punctuation to those unknown words shared by Murray to Johansson, which still leave us all wondering. As Jim Reid sings, “Listen to the girl / As she takes on half the world / Moving up and so alive / In her honey dripping beehive.”
3. The Strokes, “I’ll Try Anything Once,” Somewhere
The B-side to First Impressions of Earth album opener “You Only Live Once,” “I’ll Try Anything Once” proved more durable than the single it came behind. Featuring rhythm guitarist Nick Valensi playing electric piano while Julian Casablancas sings, the track finds the crooner in a more contemplative and withdrawn state that fits Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco, as he fights for personal evolution and identity as a father, rather than a playboy. On screen, it’s a simple backyard father-daughter moment where the sound of ping-pong is accompanied by green ivy, light ripples geometric through chlorinated water, and the blue skies and puffy white clouds of Southern California offer the kind of moment too rarely shared. As Casablancas sings, “Ten decisions shape your life / You’ll be aware of five about.”
2. Air, “Playground Love,” The Virgin Suicides
The Francization of indie rock in the late 1990s and early 2000s can pretty much be traced back to Air (though Phoenix and Daft Punk should certainly be thanked as well). And while their debut album, Moon Safari, garnered national attention, it was their turn producing Coppola’s 1999 psychological romantic drama The Virgin Suicides that put them on a pedestal all their own. “Playground Love,” the lead single from the soundtrack — featuring additional help from Gordon Tracks aka Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars aka Coppola’s future husband — with its sexy saxophones and sensual harmonies builds and plays in an almost carnal manner as the blushing pinks of the chords blossom against the monotonous sweaters of the Lisbon family. It’s the tension found here that prophesizes the drama to come.
1. My Bloody Valentine, “Sometimes,” Lost in Translation
It took Kevin Shields 22 years to make the follow-up to the second My Bloody Valentine album, 1991’s nearly flawless Loveless. According to Shields himself, the pressure of a follow-up nearly did him in, but luckily for us, there was a partial resurrection in the form of the Lost in Translation soundtrack in 2003, where he released four new tracks and included “Sometimes,” a perfectly weighted song for one of the film’s most poignant moments.
Coppola’s work often deals with lonely young women or actors searching for meaning; in Lost in Translation she interacts with both, while also grappling with family life and fame (two more common themes throughout her canon). Throughout the film, Coppola repeatedly shows us Tokyo through a taxi window. She coats the scenes in digital blues and streetlight yellows as Harris and Charlotte take turns staring out, but the most impactful scene follows their first night out together. This shared moment — where “Sometimes” strums out in repetition — brings peace, however shortly lived, to all of these surrounding pressures, including those experienced by Shields.
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