R&B (or rhythm and blues) has long been a cornerstone of soundtracks, infusing films with emotional depth, soulful expression, and a timeless appeal. It’s versatile nature allows it to complement a wide range of cinematic styles, from romantic dramas to action-packed thrillers.

The blanket genre for sounds like soul, funk, and disco saw a surge in popularity on soundtracks thanks to artists like Prince, whose work on Batman blurred the lines between album and score. That compilation, which boasted tracks like "Trust" and "Scandalous," played a crucial role in the narrative and essentially made the music inseparable from the film's identity. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and his magical pen were also integral to both R&B and a wealth of notable blockbusters that utilized it.

During the Blaxploitation era, legends like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield reinvented the game by helping to infuse variations of the sound into classics like Shaft and Super Fly, respectively. "Prior to Blaxploitation, we didn’t dare show any intellect in films," Wax Poetics reported Mayfield saying in an interview with Jet Magazine. "The Black characters were always getting killed. But with Shaft and Super Fly, things were different."

Below lies 21 examples of iconic cuts from timeless cinematic offerings. Whether through classic ballads or more contemporary hits, R&B enriched the movie-watching experience by creating memorable moments that resonated long after the credits rolled.

1. Touch Me, Tease Me - Case, Foxy Brown, and Mary J. Blige

“Touch Me, Tease Me,” Case’s hit collaboration with Foxy Brown and Mary J. Blige, served as the opening cut on the soundtrack for The Nutty Professor. The genre-bending track, which featured backing vocals from Koffee Brown’s Vee Sales and sampled Schoolly D’s "P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?),” peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned all parties a gold certification. Shortly after the movie’s release, Case would add the song to his self-titled debut album.

2. Can We - SWV

“Can We” is a smooth, laid-back vibe that was utilized for the cult classic Booty Call, which starred Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, Vivica A. Fox, and Tamala Jones. The suggestive number was a moderate hit for SWV and Missy Elliott, who produced the R&B jam alongside longtime collaborator Timbaland. Sometime after its initial release, SWV would place the song on their third studio LP, Release Some Tension.

3. Give U My Heart - Babyface and Toni Braxton

For Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang, Antonio "L. A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds were tasked with creating its soundtrack, and the final result was a soulful compilation with appearances from Aaron Hall, Keith Washington, Johnny Gill, A Tribe Called Quest, and more. The soundtrack’s lead single was “Give U My Heart,” a funky duet with Babyface and Toni Braxton that went on to become a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

4. Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop) - Erykah Badu and Common

For the cultural classic film Brown Sugar, Erykah Badu teamed up with Common to create “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop).” Produced by Raphael Saadiq, the track spent four weeks atop Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The beautiful ode to rap would also win Best R&B Song at the Grammy Awards.

5. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) - Whitney Houston

Houston’s ode to growing up and learning to let go was the lead single from Waiting to Exhale and was written and produced by Babyface. The emotional cut topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum by the RIAA. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” also earned all parties a well-deserved Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.

6. Scandalous - Prince

The sexually charged "Scandalous" was written for Tim Burton’s Batman and played during the end credits. It’s also an edit from The Scandalous Sex Suite, which included three songs: "The Crime," "The Passion," and "The Rapture." Prince's father, John L. Nelson, is credited as a co-writer, as the elder’s music was often interwoven into his son’s hits. Additionally, Danny Elfman incorporated the melody into his Batman score, which can be heard on "Love Theme.”

7. Theme From Shaft – Isaac Hayes

With its iconic melody and percussive female background vocals, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft theme song helped to define his career and the Blaxploitation genre. The song was frequently referenced in parodies like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the iconic "shut your mouth" line has become a popular trope. Hayes made history as the first African American to win a non-acting Oscar for Best Original Song and the first to win for a track he wrote and performed. "Theme From Shaft” also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

8. New Jack City – Guy

Fans of the classic crime drama New Jack City will certainly remember a scene where the film’s main villain, Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown, was living it up at a New Year’s Eve party with his cohorts as Guy performed on stage. The song in question, named after the Mario Van Peebles-directed classic, served as one of the biggest singles from the official soundtrack, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and earned a platinum certification.

9. We’re Not Making Love No More – Dru Hill

Dru Hill’s “We’re Not Making Love No More” single was a powerful addition to the Soul Food soundtrack because its theme surrounding the failure of a relationship matched some of the film’s most notable moments. The ballad, which was written and produced by Babyface, peaked within the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold.

10. This Woman’s Work – Maxwell

Before it landed in Maxwell’s hands, “This Woman’s Work” was written and performed by U.K. singer-songwriter Kate Bush. It was even featured on the soundtrack to the romantic comedy She’s Having A Baby before its inclusion within Love & Basketball, where it set the mood for one of the Gina Prince-Bythewood-directed film’s most emotionally charged scenes. Maxwell’s falsetto alone made the cut one of his discography’s most important entries.

11. The Sweetest Thing – Lauryn Hill

This beautiful R&B number, credited to both Lauryn Hill and The Refugee Camp All-Stars, was a standout from the Love Jones soundtrack. Produced alongside longtime Fugees collaborator Wyclef Jean, the soulful offering was an ode to the ups and downs of love and relationships, a perfect match for what took place between Larenz Tate and Nia Long’s characters in the film.

12. Tonight (Best You Ever Had) – John Legend and Ludacris

John Legend and Ludacris’ "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" was co-written with Miguel and the production group Phatboiz, and was the lead single from Think Like A Man’s official soundtrack. The song achieved platinum status in the United States and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance. The track was specifically written for the movie and was featured in its final scenes.

13. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

"I Will Always Love You" was covered by Whitney Houston for The Bodyguard, which she also starred in alongside Kevin Costner – the person who suggested the remake in the first place. Originally written and released by Dolly Parton, Houston's version became one of the best-selling singles ever and helped the aforementioned film’s soundtrack become a critically acclaimed release. The cover topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks, setting a record at the time, and reached No. 3 on that chart following Houston's tragic passing.

14. Down And Out In New York City – James Brown

James Brown recorded a soundtrack album for the Blaxploitation crime drama Black Caesar, his first time writing music for a film. The 11-song compilation opened with the funky “Down And Out In New York City, which was written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon and found its way into the top half of the Billboard Hot 100. According to starring actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Brown took only $5 to score the film, but he retained all the rights to his music.

15. Pusherman – Curtis Mayfield

"Pusherman" is a song from the Super Fly soundtrack, which, along with other songs on the album, allowed the musical release to out-gross the film itself. The song is emblematic of the Blaxploitation era thanks to its audio depiction of the drug dealer’s protagonist, Youngblood Priest. “Pusherman” would go on to be sampled and interpolated by many within Hip Hop, including Eminem, Cam’ron, Juicy J, Ice T, and Chance The Rapper.

16. Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo

Before it became a promotional single for D’Angelo’s sophomore LP, Voodoo, the DJ Premier-backed effort landed on the soundtrack for the Hype Williams-directed Belly. The song marked a shift from the Virginia talent’s previous urban contemporary style to a more experimental, jam session-styled vibe with some sampling thrown in for good measure. Fun fact: Premier initially created the track for Canibus, who ended up rejecting it.

17. Is It Good To You – Teddy Riley and Tammy Lucas

The Teddy Riley-produced "Is It Good to You" was originally for Heavy D & the Boyz, who utilized the upbeat number as the lead single for their Peaceful Journey album. The track, which featured Tammy Lucas and sampled Junior Giscombe’s “Mama Used To Say,” was eventually reworked by Riley for the film Juice. Another version of the updated song included verses from Wreckx-N-Effect.

18. I Wanna Know – Joe

The silky smooth “I Wanna Know” was a big hit on The Wood soundtrack before ending up on Joe’s best-selling album, the aptly titled My Name Is Joe. According to co-producer Edwin “Tony” Nicholas, the track was supposed to appear on the singer’s second LP, All That I Am, but was ultimately removed due to creative issues with the label. Sometime later, Joe was asked to contribute to a soundtrack and “[’I Wanna Know’] was lying around.” The rest is history.

19. Ease On Down The Road – Diana Ross and Michael Jackson

"Ease On Down The Road" is taken from the big screen adaptation of the iconic musical The Wiz, a Charlie Smalls-led R&B adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. The track served as an amalgamation of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" and "We're Off to See the Wizard" from the movie’s original iteration and was sung by Diana Ross, who played the role of Dorothy, and Michael Jackson, who took on the Scarecrow character. Along with other members of The Wiz’s cast, “Ease On Down The Road” was sung multiple times throughout.

20. For You I Will – Monica

"For You I Will" was written by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster for Space Jam. The downtempo R&B ballad did well commercially, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming one of Monica's highest-charting songs of her career. The platinum-certified offering was later included on Monica's second album, The Boy Is Mine.

21. Trouble Man – Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” was taken from the classic Blaxploitation film and accompanying soundtrack of the same name. Notably, the album was the first to be written and produced entirely by the late singer and marked a departure from its more socially and politically charged predecessor, What’s Going On. The title track peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.