With their avant-garde blend of ambient post-rock and minimalist neo-classicalism, not to mention frontman Jonsi’s tendency to sing in an invented language, Icelandic outfit Sigur Ros seemed destined to spend their days as an obscure cult act, capable of achieving huge acclaim but little in the way of sales, when they arrived on the scene in the late 90s. Step forward a decade, and the band’s experimental sound has become arguably one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in the world, almost solely due to the fact that no film trailer, life-affirming montage or emotional TV finale is considered complete without one of their songs. Here’s a look at five of the best uses of their often bewildering but always beautiful music on both the big and small screen.
“Njosnavelin” – Vanilla Sky
Keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson went onto describe Cameron Crowe’s headscratcher as ‘a crap film’ during a festival set in 2007, but it’s fair to say that the band probably wouldn’t have become such a soundtrack favorite had it not been for the acclaimed director. An ardent fan (Sigur Ros’ music was played constantly during the film’s shoot), Crowe was perhaps the first to realize their cinematic potential and after hearing a track at a Los Angeles gig that didn’t even have a studio version, he gained the band’s permission to use a bootleg recorded at Roskilde the year previous. Played over the climactic final scene where David (Tom Cruise) jumps off a building before waking up, the sweeping orchestral dream-rock of “Njosnavelin,” later renamed as “Untitled #4” for 2002’s (), was an inspired choice.
“Staralfur” – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Bizarrely not actually included on the official soundtrack but undoubtedly a key component of the film’s most pivotal scene, the standout from 1999’s Agaetis Byrjun cemented Sigur Ros’ indie-hipster credentials by appearing in Wes Anderson’s homage to Jacques Cousteau, The Life Aquatic. Played over the moment when oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) finally comes face-to-face with the glowing jaguar shark that previously ate his best friend. He ultimately realizes that it’s too beautiful to exact revenge upon. The equally stunning “Staralfur” proved once again that few can match the band when it comes to stirring the emotions.
“Samskeyti” – Mysterious Skin
Gregg Araki’s devastating tale of two teenagers struggling to cope with being sexually abused by their baseball coach a decade earlier, brushed away any notion that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun. The delicately sparse instrumental of “Samskeyti” might not have initially made as much impact as the more expansive numbers on (), but it would have taken a hard heart not to shed a tear when it was paired with the heart-breaking final scene.
“Hoppipolla” – Planet Earth
The track that transformed Sigur Ros from cult concern to mainstream favorites, “Hoppipolla” has become one of the most ubiquitous songs in the media over the last decade, appearing in everything from the trailers for Children Of Men and Slumdog Millionaire to highlight footage for the FIFA World Cup to the ‘reveal’ moment in nearly every TV talent show going. But taken from 2005’s Takk, the band’s signature tune was first and best utilized in David Attenborough’s award-winning 2006 series, Planet Earth. Indeed the marrying of Jonsi’s soaring falsetto, icy piano hooks and crashing percussion with breath-taking footage of the wonders of the world and nature in full flight has arguably never been topped.
“Festival” – 127 Hours
Having already selected the previous entry for their 2008 Oscar winner, Danny Boyle and composer A.R. Rahman looked to Sigur Ros’ fifth studio effort, Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust, and specifically the equally anthemic “Festival” to accompany the dramatic final scene from 2010’s hugely intense 127 Hours. Played as canyoneer Aron Ralston (James Franco) finally walks to freedom, albeit with one less limb, after being trapped in a Utah canyon for over five days, the track’s natural euphoria couldn’t be more appropriate.