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Danny Boyle’s Greatest Hits

From ‘Trainspotting’ to the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Danny Boyle

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"Early on, I remember being accused of making films that were like MTV videos," says Oscar-winning, British director Danny Boyle, whose new film Trance premieres April 5th. "But I always loved MTV, so I didn't see it as anything to be ashamed of. I was quite proud of it, actually. Like, 'No, fuck off!' With the arrival of Walkmen and earbuds, the music was running in your head all the time." From the dance anthems of Trainspotting to the throbbing dread of 28 Days Later, the thumping M.I.A. of Slumdog Millionaire, and his jagged soundtrack for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle's career has had a bold pop backbeat. "Pop music has just become so much a part of our lives," says Boyle, 56, who grew up on the Beatles, then fell in love with Bowie and Zeppelin, punk, dance music and Britpop. "I emphasize that in the work because pop music refreshes us, it completes us, it renews us." Here he walks through his filmography's greatest hits.

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John Murphy, ‘In the House, In a Heartbeat,’ (’28 Days Later,’ 2002)

To score the gathering sense of post-apocalyptic terror and dread in his fast-moving horror film 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle collaborated with John Murphy, who would go on to score Millions and Sunshine. "It comes from Wagner," says Boyle. "All these big, swelling, slightly atonal pieces that are kind of dissonant but actually building. And a lot came out of my discovery of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their song, 'East Hastings,' which we used at the beginning of 28 Days Later. It's got this very slow build and then explosive things come out of it. I love that dynamic. There's something beautiful about the way a very quiet beginning opens your ears in a film. If you sustain that for a while, you open up the audience's ears, and then they are vulnerable and open and you can charge in there, you know. You can make people feel loud, as well."

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The Clash, ‘Hitsville U.K.’ (‘Millions,’ 2004)

"We had 'Hitsville U.K.' at the end of 28 Days Later, actually, and there's a couple of times when I've been ashamed I've let the industry manipulate my taste. We got talked out of using it because they promised to release the CD as an album if we used this other song by Blue States. I always regretted that. So I put 'Hitsville U.K.' in Millions in a key section where the kids have got money and influence at school and feel like heroes. Right around then, Joe Strummer had died, and I felt very grief-stricken about it. Britain has always been so much better at music than film. What we're good at is, kids get together and make a band. British music is defiantly idiosyncratic. It's not fashionable. And it really is unafraid. That song represents that for me."

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M.I.A., ‘Paper Planes’ and ‘O Saya’ with A.R. Rahman (‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ 2008)

"My daughter sent 'Paper Planes' to me, early. And it was perfect. M.I.A. said, 'No, you can’t just use it. I want to see how you’ll use it.' And she's very smart. She gave us two or three notes on the film, which had nothing to do with the music. And she worked with A.R. Rahman, who did the rest of the score, and is like Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Beyoncé all wrapped up in one in South India. They wrote 'O Saya' together and were nominated for an Oscar, and that was just incredible."

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Free Blood, ‘Never Hear Surf Music Again’ (‘127 Hours,’ 2010)

Hiker Aaron Ralston's favorite band was Phish. He was so obsessed that in the movie, Boyle has Kate Mara look into James Franco's camcorder and say, "Aaron, you're never going to get a girlfriend if you keep singing Phish lyrics." But Boyle just couldn't bear to include a Phish track. "Listen, I tried listening to Phish out of respect to Aaron," he says. "I listened to it endlessly, continually. But I just thought, I can't. So I didn't. And then we were scouting locations in a truck, and Suttirat Larlarb, the designer on the film, was playing Free Blood, and it drives you into the beginning of the film. It's seriously quirky, like Aaron."

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Underworld, ‘The Heist,’ (‘Trance,’ 2013)

Boyle's latest film, a twisty, mind-bending thriller starring James McAvoy and Vincent Cassell as art thieves and Rosario Dawson as a mind-bending hypnotherapist, begins with a high-octane art heist, scored by Boyle's frequent collaborator, Rick Smith (who also supervised the music for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony). "Because of the nature of hypnotism, which lures you into a sleepy state, there's a danger the film gets somnambulant and you doze off. It was up to Rick to try and score these trances as you go deeper but not make the audience fall asleep. So the instruction with Rick was always to really drive it. There are these reassuring counterpoints with songs by Moby and a bit of fun with Bowie sampled by U.N.K.L.E., but there are twists, which I don't want to spoil, so Rick's score was really about propelling you through this gathering darkness. And then Rick wrote a song at the end with Emeli Sandé, who worked with Rick in our Olympic opening ceremony. It's a love song, a Hollywood ending after all the darkness, to give you a little hope in the end."