Nine American Movies Without Soundtracks

The China Syndrome

Now that my talented composer Christopher Farrell is finishing up the score for Claustrophobia – over 45 minutes of music for a 78-minute film – I find it hard to believe that at one time I didn't plan on using any music at all. It's only when I started researching this list that I truly realized how rare it is to find a film without a score. I decided to make my search even harder by limiting myself to American cinema (many of today's art films from Iran, Taiwan, and Denmark are soundtrack-less). I could find shockingly few American movies that neither had a composer nor, as with Scorsese pictures, a soundtrack of "source music" (rock songs, Beethoven, what have you). This proves once and for all how indispensable music is in film.

  1. The Blair Witch Project. The absence of music was part of the film's "This is real, undoctored footage" put-on.
  2. The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock's only film without a musical score (this includes Lifeboat), the director decided to use only the sound of menacing birds as his "soundtrack".
  3. Dog Day Afternoon. Sidney Lumet's reenactment of a famous New York bank heist cemented Al Pacino's star power; Lumet decided to keep his film music-free in keeping with his isolated setting and short time span (the story plays out across about 7 hours). This is the sort of film that, like The Birds, made me think I could get away with not using music myself.
  4. Fail-Safe. Lumet again! Boy, once upon a time he was a great filmmaker, wasn't he? Anyway, using a real-time scenario in Fail-Safe, the director must have simply found it inappropriate to include a score in such a claustrophobic setting.
  5. The China Syndrome. This famous '70s nuclear shocker predicted the Three Mile Island disaster by mere days. Like Lumet, writer/director James Bridges must have felt that his pressure-cooker storyline would be best served unaccompanied.
  6. Slacker. Though I distinctly recall some sort of tune during the last couple of minutes of Richard Linklater's groundbreaking (if boring) debut, it's the chatter of its titular blabbermouths that provide the real soundtrack. I believe his later film Tape also eschewed a score, but I didn't see it.
  7. The Tall Target. This is a little-known 1950s thriller about an imagined assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln – not to be confused with the actual assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln.
  8. I Spit on Your Grave. The notorious 1970s exploitation film's lack of music may have had something to do with its lack of budget.
  9. Marooned. As with many of the other movies on this list, the music-free soundtrack to 1969's Marooned was motivated by its story's suffocating physical environment – in this case, astronauts Gregory Peck, David Janssen, and Richard Crenna trapped in deep space. Ron Howard couldn't match it in his similar Apollo 13 decades later – he even had to throw in spacey "vocal stylings" by Annie Lennox. Doesn't Howard know that in space, no one can hear you sing?