Not since “Greased Lightnin'” and “Night Fever” electrified the movies in 1978 have soundtracks proven to be such an indomitable force in the music industry. Triple-platinum sales of Disney’s Frozen soundtrack, the No. 1 album of 2014, and its anthemic single “Let It Go” set the tone for a blizzard of outstanding albums throughout the year. (Two single versions, a studio offering by Demi Lovato and a theatrical version by Idina Menzel, made it the year’s ubiquitous classic.) The Frozen behemoth — No. 1 for 13 nonconsecutive weeks — even threatened to dislodge the peak performance by the Titanic soundtrack, which held the No. 1 spot for 16 weeks in 1998.
Movies tug at our emotions through nostalgic songs, as powerfully experienced in the quirky space adventure Guardians of the Galaxy. Its compilation soundtrack of ’70s tunes, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, includes David Bowie‘s “Moonage Daydream” and Tammi Terrell‘s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It became the first collection of songs from a film entirely made up of previously released pop nuggets to top the charts (a perfect fit for the Grammy’s best compilation soundtrack for visual media category). Director Richard Linklater built a similarly panoramic soundtrack for Boyhood, a coming-of-age story that spans 12 years. His awesome mix includes Arcade Fire, Yo La Tengo and Cat Power.
Other soundtracks harnessed some of the most vital young artists working today. All-star collaborations shine on sci-fi flick Divergent‘s soundtrack, its dystopian futuristic sounds inspired directly (according to orders from director Neil Burger) by Kanye West‘s Yeezus. Kendrick Lamar guests on a remix of Tame Impala‘s “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” and French DJ Gesaffelstein and ASAP Rocky join forces on the banger “In Distress.” Epic teen drama The Fault in Our Stars balances emotional tracks by Lykke Li and Birdy with the rousing lead single “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX. The Hunger Games franchise locked in the formidable Lorde to handpick the soundtrack for its third installment, Mockingjay, Part 1. Her electro-pop “Yellow Flicker Beat” was released as the set’s first single in September, setting the stage for another soundtrack’s perfect storm.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.