Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.

Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.

It used to be said that the best soundtrack to a movie was one you didn't notice, because it so seamlessly blended with the pictures. Yeah, maybe but with the rise and rise of the pop song-based soundtrack and greater appreciation of the work of film composers, attention is inevitable and justifiable. So much so that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's program this year features a wealth of film music, from the works of John Williams (E.T., Schindler's List) to a live orchestral accompaniment to a screening of Gladiator.

To keep things manageable, our list does not draw on movie musicals, as those songs are integrated wholly into the action rather than functioning as supplementary elements. So, brilliant as they are, there is no Singin' in the Rain, Oklahoma or, by the grace of Zefron, High School Musicals 1, 2 and 3.

10 MANHATTAN (George Gershwin, 1979)

That Gershwin could write a decent tune. Conducted by Zubin Mehta, the soundtrack is a love affair with New York and its characters. There are few films more romantic and even fewer whose score is equally, blissfully a matter of falling in love.

9 THE MISSION (Ennio Morricone, 1986)

You could pick any of Morricone's work (the score for Once Upon a Time in the West is equally great) but this one has grandeur and grace, as well as surprising prettiness that melds music from Europe and South America.

8 O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (Various artists, 2000)

T-Bone Burnett pulled together old folk, bluegrass, country and gospel songs, mostly performed by modern artists, and lifted the film's already high level of joy. The music is rooted in the soil and helps keep the story's mix of comedy and homeric* travails grounded. This soundtrack revived a sound and style thought uncool for decades and gave people such as Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch the exposure they deserved.

7 VERTIGO (Bernard Herrmann, 1958)

Perhaps the peak of Herrmann's collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo has tension and romance, drama and subtle sexuality. Somehow obsession and incipient madness seem more understandable as Herrmann's score guides you. Director and composer seem to be responding to each other and spurring the other to go a step better.

6 SUPER FLY (Curtis Mayfield, 1972)

The blaxploitation genre, both film and soundtrack, started here: funky, emotive and angry with wah-wah guitar and lyrics that expanded the story and kept it rooted in reality. Mayfield had begun in doo-wop and excelled in soul, before his attitude and sound hardened. All can be heard in this driving, groove-laden and sensitive soundtrack.

5 DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (Maurice Jarre, 1965)

Lush, romantic, dramatic and as vast at times as the widescreen epic, this soundtrack became, almost by default, the "sound of Russia'' for a generation who might never read Boris Pasternak or Leo Tolstoy but figured they understood the intensity. There are orchestral sections that nod to actual Russian composers and the use of the signature balalaika - most notably in Lara's Theme.

4 PULP FICTION (Various artists, 1994)

Director Quentin Tarantino revived the Scorsese art of finely judged contemporary musical touchstones for character and plot. The soundtrack for his Jackie Brown may have topped it for depth but not for impact, not least on the back catalogues of artists such as surf guitar man Dick Dale. There is humour and unlikely resonance, as well as perfectly judged tone. The mixed-up nature of the soundtrack matched the chopped up structure of the film.

3 THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (Peter Gabriel, 1988)

It lifted beyond "ethnic'' music with ancient rhythms and instruments paired with modern sounds. The soundtrack introduced voices including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to a new audience, not all of whom actually saw Martin Scorsese's under-rated film. The mix of Egyptian, Kurdish and Armenian styles with some Western musicians and an innate spirituality were driving factors behind the film's appeal. A year after its release Gabriel put out the album, called The Passion.

2 ANATOMY OF A MURDER (Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, 1959)

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's eloquent and sometimes erotic music took jazz out of its 1950s-film straitjacket. These selections for a regular court drama had about them the lure of sex and the weight of retribution. Ellington, one of the great composers of the 20th century, had not been asked to score a film before but showed what we'd been missing.

1 A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (The Beatles, 1964)

It captured the excitement and mad fun of the pop life with songs and performances that inspired thousands to pick up a guitar. Some of the songs were already known to the audience but they came to (bigger) life on the screen, which gave them a whole new existence. The soundtrack to Help! a year later might have had better songs, but A Hard Day's Night had immediate vibrancy and the shock of the new.

Music from the Movies: Robertson Conducts John Williams is at the Opera House on Saturday, March 1; Gladiator Live is at the Opera House from April 3-5.

*Corrected after a reader complaint.