6 Movie Soundtracks That Put the Actual Movie to Shame
I bought a lot of soundtracks in the 1990s. My two favorite CDs with pictures of movies on them were The Jerky Boys and Mortal Kombat, because 12-year-old Tom had an odd fascination with techno music and Collective Soul. While those two feature films and the albums they spawned have long since fallen victim to the amnesiac nature of pop culture, there are a handful of mediocre-to-terrible '90s movies that are only remembered fondly (or remembered at all) because they had hugely popular soundtracks.
Dangerous Minds was based on a relatively light-hearted memoir that Hollywood snatched up and beat with a tears-and-action stick until one of the characters died for maximum dramatic potential. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a no-nonsense former Marine turned English teacher, and you can tell she doesn't take any sass by the way she stands around crossing her arms in a leather jacket all the time.
And by her proficiency in leather jacket karate.
Michelle tries to teach a bunch of teenage rap fans in the mid-'90s about poetry by using Bob Dylan as her talking point, instead of, say, Tupac, because apparently people stopped writing song lyrics in the 1960s and she really only wants to reach out to these kids if she can do so without familiarizing herself with their interests on even a superficial level. It's like Stand and Deliver if Edward James Olmos tried to connect with Lou Diamond Phillips by speaking to him in nothing but quotes from the movie Grease.
"'Shoot a homeboy.' This is how you cats jackjaw, right?"
Dangerous Minds was a big commercial hit but was almost universally derided by critics for taking an uplifting story about inner city kids and turning it into a movie about a bunch of improbably attractive juvenile assholes and their patronizing asshole teacher.
The Dangerous Minds soundtrack album went triple platinum thanks to "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio, and almost 20 years later we still know all the words to that goddamn song. It was everywhere -- the video was in constant rotation on MTV, and it got played twice an hour on literally every radio station. I'm pretty sure Billy Graham's radio ministries were taking breaks to spin that jam. Everyone walking the planet in 1995 loved "Gangsta's Paradise."
Although I am convinced the video's popularity had more to do with L.V.'s impassioned sweaty goldfish face.
The song went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide, earning Coolio a Grammy and a permanent place on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card.
And a rare immunity to leather jacket karate.
Coolio tried to repeat this success two years later with "C U When U Get There" on the Nothing to Lose soundtrack, but that paradisiacal gangsta lightning bolt would only be trapped inside a bottle one time. "C U" still went gold, but it was arguably overshadowed by the late 1990s' fascination with writing terrible lyrics to Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major" (see also "Graduation" by Vitamin C) and never reached the heights of "Gangsta's Paradise." Within that same year, Coolio also hosted an art deco motorcycle race for Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin and issued a bitter public denouncement of Weird Al Yankovic, which is something only monsters do.
Batman Forever was a big financial success, and the critical response at the time of its release was evenly divided among people who liked campy ridiculous nonsense and people who liked good movies. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who will defend Batman Forever nowadays, particularly in the wake of Batman and Robin, when Joel Schumacher definitively proved that, unlike Ben Affleck or Zack Snyder, he really was trying to make Batman as stupid as he possibly could.
However, everyone, without exception, loves the Batman Forever soundtrack, because of these four words: "Kiss from a Rose."
Four sexy words.
Seal's magnum opus, the song that most people aged 25 to 40 know every single word to, was first unleashed on the world at large as a single off of the Batman Forever soundtrack. I have no idea what schizophrenic marketing genius assembled this record (it contains songs by PJ Harvey, the Offspring, and Brandy, three grossly disparate entities apparently united by their common passion for Batman), or who thought the best way to promote their retooled superhero franchise was to take a British R&B vocalist with a more prominent facial scar than the one Tommy Lee Jones wears in the fucking movie and have him sing a love ballad in front of the Bat signal with his shirt blowing around like a wailing poltergeist.
Whoever it was, that person hit a home run of pure victory, because "Kiss from a Rose" was a goddamned monster. The next time you have a group of friends gathered at your house, just start playing "Kiss from a Rose" without preamble or context and try to count the frowns. You can't, because there won't be any. (If by some freak occurrence someone does make a sad fart-crease with their face, kick them the hell out of your house, because that person is likely a robot.) That song won Seal three Grammys, millions of dollars, and Heidi Klum (although he eventually had to give Heidi Klum back, because he's apparently kind of an asshole).
"Don't cry, Seal. We'll let you keep the shirt."
Batman Forever: Original Music from the Electrifying Motion Picture Masterpiece also has "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2, a much less ubiquitous song that still managed to sell enough copies to be certified gold. That's two No. 1 singles on one soundtrack, and it was for a Batman movie that most Batman fans prefer to pretend never existed.
Space Jam is one of those rare movies that manage to be utterly psychotic both on paper and in execution. There were no "Oh, it'll make sense once you see the finished product" conversations held about Space Jam. The initial pitch was never distilled into anything more coherent than "Michael Jordan teams up with a bunch of licensed cartoon characters to defeat aliens at basketball" and was only ever revised to include the addendum "And also Bill Murray is in it, as Bill Murray." In fairness, Michael Jordan was little more than a licensed character himself at this point in his career, so most of us weren't that surprised to see him in a 90-minute commercial with Bugs Bunny.
"OK, everybody's wearing their Hanes now, right?"
Also, there's an interesting Space Jam dichotomy I have noticed among my peers -- everyone I know either watched it once and then forgot about it or has an aggressive fondness for the movie that borders on combative (I'm not naming any names, but if you go to the search bar in the upper right hand corner of the site and type in "space jam," you will notice that three quarters of the results were written by Dan O'Brien).
This is probably what it looked like when Michael tried to cash his Washington Wizards paycheck.
I am convinced the reason this fondness exists is because of the Space Jam soundtrack.
Released in a time when Jay-Z got second-to-last billing right before Bugs Bunny.
Think about it -- when you hear someone say something positive about Space Jam, the conversation usually goes something like this:
PERSON ONE: Hey look. Space Jam is on television, or is otherwise being referenced in some immediate way.
PERSON TWO: Oh, I love Space Jam!
PERSON TWO begins singing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," or alternately "Space Jam" by the Quad City DJ's.
That soundtrack went platinum six goddamned times. It was like a lightning rod for successful '90s soundtrack contributors -- Seal recorded a respectable cover of a terrible Steve Miller Band song, and Coolio lent his voice to two different tracks (see "trying desperately to replicate 'Gangsta's Paradise,'" above). More importantly, it turned R. Kelly into a worldwide star, throwing wide the doors of possibility for his face-pissing antics and earning him three Grammy awards, which he has probably also peed on.
Presumably while making airplane arms.
If Space Jam hadn't given us all those songs we still enjoy singing, nobody would be talking about Space Jam anymore, and R. Kelly could never have released a 33-chapter music video about hiding from a cuckolded husband in a closet full of his own sex mist.
But he'd still have his airplane arms. Nobody can take those from him.
Empire Records is essentially Reality Bites and/or Singles for people who were in high school in the '90s instead of college, which is fitting, because the movie feels like the type of "Man, I just want to work in a record store with a bunch of awesome people for the rest of my life" fantasy that a high school student would have. It bombed when it came out and was farted upon by critics, despite the presence of Liv Tyler's midriff and Ethan Embry's dopey moon face, which would later prove to be a much more successful combination in the objectively superior musical comedy That Thing You Do!
The world simply wasn't ready yet.
Despite its $270,000 theatrical run, Empire Records has an overwhelming cult following thanks to all the music featured both in the film and on the soundtrack. The soundtrack was reasonably successful, featuring "Til I Hear It from You" by the Gin Blossoms (the penultimate top-ten single of the Gin Blossoms' entire career, and the first one not written by the guy who got forced out of the band and later shot himself) and "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins (which had appeared on one of Collins' albums the previous year but wasn't released as a single until Empire Records). "A Girl Like You" went on to be used in several more movies and TV shows, and becomes the quintessential "Hey, I remember that song!" whenever it is heard in public, particularly when it is heard by Edwyn Collins.
"Oh, that's right! I did exist!"
The movie itself features over 30 songs from a handful of moderately obscure rock bands of the mid-'90s, so watching it is like stepping inside a Gen-X time capsule with Matt Pinfield. If the movie wasn't drowning in a nostalgia-laden licensed score and was about a bunch of kids trying to save a rec center instead of a record store, nobody would care about it, and Empire Records would have dwindled into VHS oblivion. Just like all those movies they made about kids trying to save rec centers in the 1980s.
If those movies taught me anything, it's that nothing staves off financial ruin like irreverent dancing.
With Honors is an embarrassing melodrama about a hobo named Joe Pesci who burns Brendan Fraser's college thesis in order to blackmail him for food and shelter but winds up dying anyway to teach Brendan that class warfare is wrong. It got terrible reviews, did mediocre box office, and was played endlessly on HBO for a short window in the mid-'90s before disappearing into obscurity forever alongside virtually every John Grisham movie ever produced.
And 60 percent of the careers on this poster.
The one and only single from the With Honors soundtrack, "I'll Remember" by Madonna, reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts and sold over 500,000 copies.
Notice that Brendan Fraser does not appear anywhere on this packaging.
Additionally, it received both Grammy and Golden Globe nominations, making it one of the most critically and commercially successful releases of Madonna's career, which isn't bad for the official theme song to a 20-year-old movie about the lessons of homeless Joe Pesci.
Oddly, a few of Madonna's biggest songs ("Live to Tell," "This Used to Be My Playground") came from soundtracks, which suggests that either A) Madonna is a genius who realizes that film studios will market the shit out of her songs for free or B) Madonna is some kind of vampire wizard who draws her power from the motion picture industry. Her marriage to Guy Ritchie and the quality of his subsequent films lends credibility to that second theory.
"Great take, Madonna! Also, why the fuck are you dressed like Anne Rice?"
The Bodyguard is one of the worst movies I have ever seen, ever, in the history of light entering my eyeballs and being translated into images. It was made during that confusing window of the early '90s when people thought that Kevin Costner was incredible, and that Bobby Brown was the only person in Bobby Brown's marriage doing drugs. Whitney Houston spends much of the movie dressed like she is about to host a monster truck rally in Thunderdome:
However, the film's most fanciful moment occurs when her character wins an Academy Award for Best Actress at a ceremony hosted by Robert Wuhl. There are so many things wrong with that picture; it's like the back cover of Highlights magazine.
The Bodyguard soundtrack is one of the most successful albums ever recorded. Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" went quadruple platinum, and the soundtrack album itself was certified 17 times platinum just in America. Worldwide it sold 45 million copies. That means one out of every 160 people on the entire planet bought that freaking album.
Sitting on a chair in the middle of a forest is an unspoken requirement of R&B singers.
Even more incredible is the fact that "I Will Always Love You" is a song Dolly Parton wrote in the 1970s. Dolly's version wasn't a rare B-side or anything, either -- it was a No. 1 Billboard hit. Whitney Houston's version was so good that it erased people's memories, and it was recorded for a movie widely considered to be one of the shittiest things the human race has ever created.
"Don't look at it, Whitney! For God's sake, don't look at it!"
Tom will defend the Jerky Boys soundtrack to his dying breath. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.