One of the great frustrations of being a bookworm, gamer, comics addict, or film devotee is knowing that the real world will never quite measure up to the ones in our favorite fictional worlds. It will never be quite as exciting, dramatic, romantic, or perilous: our world is mundane. The ones we devour through books and movies and shows and games are magic.
Still, there’s an easy way to add a little fantasy to everyday life: give it a soundtrack, and become your own protagonist. Here are a few movie scores to start with.
1. Add suspense with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., score by Daniel Pemberton
From Roberta Flack’s jazzy, sultry “No Matter What” to Peppino Gagliardi’s wistful “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (masterfully juxtaposed in the movie itself against a background of explosions and high-speed water chase), The Man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s soundtrack and score will make you feel like a glamorous counter-intelligence agent, no matter what you’re doing. Have a deadly dull reading assignment? Working on statistics homework? Wrestling with your weekly budget? The slinky “Signori Toileto Italiano” and tense “Breaking In (Searching the Factory)” will make you feel like you are simultaneously picking locks, sneaking secret documents in a faux film roll canister, and cruising along the Italian coast in a convertible while wearing the greatest sunglasses the world has ever seen after seducing an heiress and recruiting her to your side, of course.
As an added bonus, take a break with “Cry To Me.” It may be possible to resist that sexy bass line and slow-rolling rhythm, but I’ve never managed it yet.
2. Drive your way through a dystopian nightmare of chores: Mad Max: Fury Road by Junkie XL
You know what doing laundry needs (aside from automation)? A score that will remind you that, somewhere through the drudgery of chores, freedom exists, and a more beautiful, independent world is waiting for you somewhere beyond the task at hand. The pushing tempo of “Brothers in Arms” will move you along if you start to flag, and the introspective “Redemption” is the perfect midway breather—a spot for a water break and a chance to survey all you’ve accomplished and all you have yet to achieve. Chase and destroy dust bunnies with the intensity of “Spiky Cars” and “Chapter Doof,” and wind down in your newly cleaned space with the extended, satisfyingly peaceful “My Name is Max.”
3. Crush an apocalyptic workout with Pacific Rim by Ramin Djawadi
The next time I need a walk-out song, I’m going with the theme from Pacific Rim. Ramin Djawdi’s scores are always inspirational and energizing, but Pacific Rim is the theme you want for the background music of your training montage. It’s a muscular, adrenaline-laced score that pushes you to drive out that extra rep, hit a little harder, run a little further, grab whatever limit you think you have and rip it down. Intimidate with “2500 Tons of Awesome,” be the best and baddest with “Striker Eureka,” warm-up with the casually cool “Call Me Newt,” and then prep for the apocalypse with some wind sprints to the driving, gritty “Category 5.”
4. Center yourself for the day with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Tan Dun
Sometimes, what you really need is the musical equivalent to a power pose (and for those times Pacific Rim will rev you up too much). That’s alright. For those mornings when you need a little perspective and a lot of courage, may I suggest Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
This score feels like a slow wander along a river—calm and smooth at times, turbulent at others, and full of simple, soul-soothing beauty at all. The smooth strings and steady, uplifting flow of “The Eternal Vow” is perfect for those times when you need to close your eyes and count to ten, or a hundred, depending on how your day is looking like it might shake out. Yo-Yo Ma’s irresistible cello and Itzhak Perlman’s violin add a degree of sublime loveliness to a score gorgeous in its simplicity. Whether you need a moment of reflection and refreshment or need to gather yourself before a tough day, a few moments with “For the World” or “A Hero’s Overture” will fill you up like water pouring into a glass.
5. Cast a rose-colored veil of romance with Titanic by James Horner
Few scores give as comprehensive a picture of the story they tell as Titanic‘s does, and there’s a reason its themes are still so easily recognized and fondly remembered. Rose’s simple theme, slipping easily from solo flute to swelling vocalizations and a wall of sound, is so sweepingly romantic and hauntingly evocative that it makes even my jaded heart believe in the optimism of young love, and the rollicking, joyful “An Irish Party in Third Class” never fails to get my toe tapping. The powerful longing that defines both movie and score peak in “A Hymn to the Sea,” which manages to be both achingly wistful and sublimely evocative of something huge and unknowable. Have a listen, and if you weep openly about Jack and Rose, or the loss of life due to the continual onward drive of an unfeeling industrial world, or about your own lost loves, or because James Horner died last year and we will never have more of his music. Well, sometimes, that’s a good thing.
6. Improve any activity with Lord of the Rings by Howard Shore
This is a bit of a cheat, because the score and soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings is my favorite soundtrack not also written by Alan Menken. It is my favorite soundtrack to write to, and to listen to on long walks, and to have in the background. “Concerning Hobbits,” from The Fellowship of the Ring, is so evocative of the simple beauty, peaceful valley, and wide green fields of my childhood home that I will probably never be able to differentiate the Shire from the Pioneer Valley. The Two Towers’ “The Riders of Rohan” and “King of the Golden Hall” are some of my all-time favorite musical cues. I’d be hard-pressed to find a more stirring theme than the motif which announces the arrival of the Rohirrim. When I need to renew my faith in the world, and remind myself of all the beauty, both majestic and homely, which exists, I reach for The Lord of the Rings.
We may not live in these worlds, but these movie scores and soundtracks allow us to imagine we can. They lend us a little of their magic, take the ordinary world we live in and unfold it like a book to show how much else there is. It’s easy to make our lives a little more extraordinary. Just press play.