Our editors have found a range of films that will take your surround-sound experience to new levels. In this post, we present the best sounding movies of 2020/2021.
Our idea of movie-going has undoubtedly changed in the past two years. Trying to beat the Friday night crowds at the theater is a thing of the past. Instead, you can hang out in your cozy living room and catch a blockbuster hit the very same day as the theatrical release. This has made for a fascinating shift in film-making as the demand for an authentic at-home theatre experience is at its peak.
See also: 10 Most Visually Stunning Films of 2020
Sound, a pivotal element to film, has certainly become even more defined in recent films to simulate a theatre in the most immersive, engaging way possible at home. The quality of audio can separate the single-watch, easy-to-forget movies from the cult classics and Golden Globe legends. Fortunately, we have collected and curated an exclusive list of recent films with some of the most cutting-edge use of sound, giving us the most captivating and crisp audio we’ve heard since the theatres closed.
From the chilling score of Halloween Kills to the film-adapted Broadway ballads of Dear Evan Hansen, here are ten of the most brilliant, seat-gripping, and hypnotic sounding films of 2020/2021.
1. Halloween Kills (2021)
Michael Myers returns to wreak havoc on Haddonfield, Illinois, once again reprising the infamous monster in the 2021 slasher/thriller Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green. Highly anticipated by horror lovers, this chapter of the Halloween saga preys on the audience through its paralyzing use of sound and score, reprising the original villainous score “Halloween Theme” composed by John Carpenter. The chilling main theme song is a tune known to every connoisseur of film, most notably for its easily recognizable, fear-inducing beats.
The film follows Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle, the duo echoing the killer’s spirit) and his ritual massacre while opposing forces Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and other victims of Myers set their intention to end Myers’ tyranny once and for all. It seems every slash, chop, screech, and breath can be heard in the intricate and layered audio of the film. While Myers hunts down each helpless target, you can experience the stalk of the kill with the LG Electronics BH5140S 500W Blu-Ray Home Theater System, making you feel as though his cloaked figure is prowling up to your front doorstep, ready to make you his next victim. Halloween Kills is sure to haunt you during your watch and follow you once the lights are off.
2. Dear Evan Hansen (2021)
Changing pace from the thrills comes a beloved new classic musical, Dear Evan Hansen, a touching and inspiring Broadway to film adaptation. Directed by Stephen Chbosky, this 2021 film comes following an incredibly successful debut and run on Broadway, receiving eight Tony Awards and one Grammy award in just the last four years. Ben Platt reprises his role as Evan Hansen for the film version, giving us the falsettos and rich vocals from his previous on-stage performance.
Along with the help of post-production, this revitalization of the show delivers vocal quality in ways a live performance cannot reach. Cast members including Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, and Kaitlyn Dever take us through this story of self-discovery and grief through memorable and striking lyrical genius, all composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The songs will play at your heartstrings, spark joy, and most certainly leave a mark on your soul, making this one of the most impactful films of the year.
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3. A Quiet Place Part II (2021)
Back to the eye-catching horror films that this year had to offer, A Quiet Place II—written and directed by fan-favorite John Krasinski—has changed the way we use sound in film. But, perhaps, a lack thereof of sound is the most effective way to entrap an audience into the grips of a movie. Sequel to the 2018 film A Quiet Place, this sister film takes audiences through two timelines: before a cataclysmic alien invasion and continuing after the events of the first film, post-alien takeover. The contrast between these two parts is clear and stark, making for a harrowing tone for the latter portion of the film. These insect-like creatures are highly susceptible to sound, making any tiny shred of noise or whisper a target of their vicious and murderous nature.
Before the invasion, we get a glimpse at the life of the Abbott family, bustling between baseball games and errands. In contrast, post-invasion life includes a sound-proof bunker and silence amongst the family. Similar to part one of the franchise, part two consists primarily of slight, insignificant noises, like the crackling of stepping on leaves and the creak of a floorboard. Oddly enough, the lack of sound is spine-tingling, leaving you on edge, waiting for a terrifying alien lifeform to pounce. This movie is unlike any other, putting all the attention on what sounds will trigger the following action of the characters and monsters. Not for the faint of hearts, A Quiet Place Part II will make you rethink the next time you assume simply hiding will keep you alive.
4. Soul (2020)
Pixar has mastered the quintessential “feel good” movie-making, seen through the streaming success of Soul directed by Pete Docter. Soul reminds us of the very precious life we are given and how we need to indulge in our dreams and passions while we have the chance. Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a band teacher whose goal one day is to join a jazz group as a piano player.
However, upon being given the opportunity of a lifetime, he temporarily passes away in an accident, putting him on an out-of-body journey that focuses on before and after life on earth. Besides the film’s existential themes, the scores and piano solos perfectly placed throughout the viewing make for a just as impressive musical experience.
Each scene’s music in Soul evokes feelings of joy, pain, confusion, and inspiration. Eighteen awards have been presented to its composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, for their incredible scoring work, including “Best Original Score” from the Golden Globe Awards. The awe-inspiring musical elements set this Pixar film above and beyond other animated films of 2020. Its heavy focus on music in both the plot and production of the film makes it one of the most masterful uses of score and sound in the last few years.
5. The Invisible Man (2020)
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has elevated our understanding of artful scoring in Leigh Whanell’s The Invisible Man. Starring thriller favorite Elizabeth Moss as the film’s protagonist, Cecilia Kass, the plot focuses closely on Kass’ escape turned into a hunt for her abusive husband, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). The latter uses a high-tech invisible suit to haunt her life after escaping his clutches. The score is a significant element that Wallfisch used to keep audience members uneasy and disturbed through the film’s duration.
The score is relentless in its ability to throw in strange and unnerving sounds above a somewhat traditional and recognizable orchestra tune. It sets the tone perfectly for you to join the characters in their severe and psychotic fits of paranoia throughout the film’s events. The feeling of someone lurking behind you is precisely the feeling that lingers as each score begins its tyrannical and distorted first note. Every twinge and growl of the music can be heard with the Bose CineMate 15 Home Theater Speaker System, making your viewing experience that much more captivating and chilling. The Invisible Man is a must-watch for any person interested in a queasy and punching psychological thriller.
6. Black Widow (2021)
It goes without saying that a Marvel movie was bound to make it onto this list of the best-sounding films of the year. Finally, providing a glimpse into the superhero/former spy’s past, Black Widow is the Marvel backstory film we needed in 2021. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) revisits her past life as a Russian spy and undergoes a world-saving mission alongside her estranged adoptive family to end the organization that abused herself and many other women as young girls.
In classic Marvel style, the scoring and sound mixing used in this film are larger than life, highlighting explosions, perfecting each fight scene, and placing a manicured and grand score behind it all. Composed by Lorne Balfe and the sound mixing team at the Walt Disney Company, this stunning harmony of sound and audio engineering is as impressive as other Marvel staples, such as the beloved Avengers: Endgame film in 2019.
The intelligence of this scoring is the biggest accomplishment of the film, as Balfe presents us with polished, suitable, and consistent scores, and they are the reason movie-goers keep coming back for more. For example, what would the climax combat scenes be without an inspiring and intensifying orchestra to balance each punch, kick, and slam? Black Widow, as predicted, is another massive success in the Marvel universe that demands your attention in plot and audio quality.
7. Free Guy (2021)
Video-game enthusiasts unite! Shawn Levy’s Free Guy has perhaps the most exciting use of audio that we’ve seen this year. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a non-player character (NPC) that gains consciousness in a video game titled “Free City.” After becoming aware that he’s a fictional figure in a virtual world, Guy and player “Molotov Girl” (Jodie Comer) begin a revolution to change the world he and his peers live in.
Following Guy’s mind-bending discovery about his existence, the film shifts between his reality in the video game and the actual reality where Molotov Girl is a game developer. This plot point called for some highly advanced use of sound. For example, in one instance, the audience is immersed in the video game and its loud booming action, while moments later, in Molotov Girl’s reality, you’re listening to the silly and ambient sounds of a video game from her computer.
Through this creative choice, Guy’s reality becomes so much more important and real, making the cause to preserve and save his world that much more compelling for audience members. Additionally, the sound engineering allows us to sympathize and relate to what would be a minor and insignificant character should we encounter him in a video game. Overall, this film goes above and beyond to deliver a plot and character worth rooting for and sounds that are unique, invigorating, and worth listening to.
8. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Any composer or layman can agree that the score used in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 is a modern pop and rock layered masterpiece. Sequel to the 2017 film Wonder Woman, Diana Prince (superhero sensation Gal Gadot) and Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristin Wiig) fight their most profound desires through the action-packed and visually stunning superhero story. Of course, the film’s plot is just what you would expect from a classic superhero tale of good versus evil, but what is exceptionally impressive is the scoring composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight).
The score is full of flavor and variety, commanding its reign and glory throughout the film. Zimmer creates recognizability for each project he works on, and Wonder Woman 1984 is no exception. The composition is grand and guides us through the inner workings of every scene, defining the emotion and tone of the onscreen visuals. Once again, Zimmer and DC comics make a film worthy of all praise from fans of Wonder Woman herself and scoring experts alike.
9. The Last Duel (2021)
Recently released in theatre, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel is a piercing historical drama that explores the historical figure Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), wife of Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), and the heinous acts she endured at the hands of the perpetrator Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Of course, this is a story of the survival and bravery of Marguerite de Carrouges; however, the split perspectives throughout the film make for a disturbing recount of the events.
The film is separated into three parts: Jean de Carrouges’ perception of the years leading up to and following the assault of Marguerite, Jacques Le Gris’ twisted recount of the same timeline, and finally, the truth told by Marguerite herself. The heavy subject matter is accompanied by powerful scoring by Harry Gregson-Williams, who uses storytelling to lead his scores rather than historical accuracy. In addition, the music is designed to provoke and enhance the performance and story rather than overwhelm each scene.
In fact, the use of sound in this film often is without music, having scenes exclusively with dialogue to focus closely on the performance of the leading actors rather than add to the audio with a score. The marriage of Ridley Scott’s directorial skills and Williams’ ability to assess a scene and its need for a score or not is what makes this film incredibly engaging. The Last Duel will absolutely force you to think about history and the critical aspect of perspective when relaying events as fact.
10. Tenet (2020)
Master of mind-bending films, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is highly regarded as one of the strongest films and scores to come out of 2020. A nameless protagonist (John David Washington) is given instructions to prevent society’s fall and the onset of World War III while navigating the ropes of a reality-shifting technology. Composer Ludwig Göransson was selected to write for this sci-fi action project, and it is safe to say he perfectly captured this complex film and put a bow on it. Admittedly, it was unlike Nolan to collaborate with another composer instead of Hans Zimmer, but this did not take from the quality and value that Göransson brought to the table.
As advanced and confusing as this plot could seem at first glance, Göransson’s score works to unpack and reveal the secrets and logic this film delivers by the final scene. Nolan and Göransson collaborated to create a cohesive and slightly pop-oriented base for the rest of the film to be layered upon. Göransson plays with his background in pop production and the film’s use of time to make the score sound like it’s played backward at points in the movie where time reverses.
This advanced level of sound engineering is precisely what made this film reach the next level making this another massive success for Nolan and indeed an achievement for a young Göransson.
- Sylvie’s Love: Directed by Eugene Ashe and composed by Fabrice Lecomte
- Minari: Directed by Lee Isaac Chung and composed by Emile Mosseri
- No Time to Die: Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and composed by Hans Zimmer
- Cruella: Directed by Craig Gillespie and composed by Nicholas Britell
- The Many Saints of Newark: Directed by Alan Taylor and composed by Peter Nashel
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things: Directed by Charlie Kaufman and composed by Jay Wadley
- Stillwater: Directed by Tom McCarthy and composed by Mychael Danna The Suicide Squad: Directed by James Gunn and composed by John Murphy
- Nomadland: Directed by Chloe Zhao and composed by Ludovico Einaudi Promising Young Woman: Directed by Emerald Fennell and composed by Anthony B. Willis.