Acclaimed film score composer Hans Zimmer once said, “A good score should have a point of view all of its own. It should transcend all that has gone before, stand on its own two feet and still serve the movie.” The importance of a great soundtrack should not be undermined and that is certainly the case for the films listed below.
Soundtracks in films are a wonderful way of celebrating established artists as well as obscure ones who deserve the recognition. Films like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation have received much praise for their visual storytelling abilities as well as their musical coherence.
We take a look at some films that lacked in other departments but were saved by their soundtracks. Even though their stories might have been derivative or their visual narratives might have been underwhelming, it is their impeccable scores that bring them to life.
See the full list, below.
10 Films that were saved by their soundtracks:
Elvira Madigan (Bo Widerberg – 1967)
Although the Swedish film won a best actress Golden Globe, and a nomination for director Bo Widerberg, it has since been studied extensively for its use of slow movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21.
This particular feature of the film has become so iconic that it has been termed the Elvira Madigan concerto.
Official Film Synopsis: “Hedvig Jensen (Pia Degermark) has been performing as a tightrope walker under the name Elvira Madigan for years. When she meets Lieutenant Sixten Sparre (Thommy Berggren) in the Danish countryside, the two fall in love and decide to run away together. Sixten, an army deserter, has trouble finding work, and the couple face hard times. Then Sixten meets an old friend who questions his choices and urges him to leave Hedvig before their life becomes even tougher.”
Empire Records (Allan Moyle – 1995)
The 1995 romantic comedy is certainly an entertaining film but it won’t be remembered for the film itself. Featuring songs from Suicidal Tendencies, Cracker, the Buggles, AC/DC, Better Than Ezra, Evan Dando, the Cranberries and a song and cameo from Gwar, it has been famously called “a soundtrack in search of a movie.”
Empire Records is a perfect example of the importance of music in a film, perfectly capturing the spirit of the ’90s.
Official Film Synopsis: “A group of misfits who work at a small, independent record shop help their manager collect money to buy the enterprise. However, they discover kinship while also trying to fight off a corporate giant.”
Phenomenon (Jon Turteltaub – 1996)
Phenomenon is undoubtedly not one of John Travolta’s better films but it does have a killer soundtrack.
Stacked with uplifting and smooth songs like Bryan Ferry’s Dance With Life, Aaron Neville’s Crazy Love is silky and the Iguanas’ Para Donde Vas, the score really tries to bring the otherwise unimpressive film to life. However, the main jewels of the soundtrack are Taj Mahal’s Corrina, Marvin Gaye’s Piece of Clay and Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue.
Official Film Synopsis: “When a simple mechanic turns into a genius overnight after a strange incident, he decides to put his brains to good use. But everyone around him suddenly starts growing wary of him.”
The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann – 2013)
Baz Luhrmann’s debatable interpretation of Fitzgerald’s brilliant novel wasn’t perfect but he did make an interesting stylistic choice with the score for the film.
The director combined the aesthetics of 1920s New York City with songs from contemporary artists, creating a welcome anachronism. The highlight of the score is definitely Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful.
Official Film Synopsis: “Nick Carraway, a World War I veteran who moves to New York with the hope of making it big, finds himself attracted to Jay Gatsby and his flamboyant lifestyle.”
Waiting to Exhale (Forest Whitaker – 1995)
This 1995 drama was not well received by the Box Office and it failed to get critical acclaim as well, getting a score of 56% on Rotten Tomatoes to compound the misery. The best part of the film, without question, is its soundtrack which showcases works from most prominent female R&B singers of its decade, including Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin, Brandy and many more.
Official Film Synopsis: “Navigating through careers, family and romance, four friends bond over the shortcomings in their love lives — namely, the scarcity of good men. Both as the “other woman,” Savannah (Whitney Houston) and Robin (Lela Rochon) carry on relationships with married men, each believing their lovers will leave their wives for them. On the flip side, Bernadine (Angela Bassett) ends up alone when her husband divorces her for his mistress. Meanwhile, Gloria (Loretta Devine) finds love with a new neighbour.”
Purple Rain (Albert Magnoli – 1984)
Prince’s eponymous album has become an iconic work by the late singer but the same cannot be said about the 1984 film starring him. The soundtrack, however, was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys, hit number one on several charts around the world (including Canada and the U.S.) and it was certified diamond in the U.S.
Official Film Synopsis: “The Kid, a talented but troubled musician, struggles to navigate his career, the relationship with his parents, band, singer-girlfriend and a new rival.”
The Legend of 1900 (Giuseppe Tornatore – 1998)
Ennio Morricone’s legendary scores have appeared in some amazing films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Cinema Paradiso, among others.
The Legend of 1900 cannot be counted among those masterpieces but Morricone’s score is wonderful as usual, winning a Golden Globe for his amazing music.
Official Film Synopsis: “On New Year’s Day 1900, Danny (Bill Nunn), a crew member on an ocean liner, finds a deserted infant and decides to adopt him, nicknaming him ‘1900’. As an adult, the eccentric 1900 (Tim Roth) grows into a remarkable musician aboard the boat. Rumours of his brilliant piano playing eventually reach the shore, and his pal Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince) believes that success surely awaits 1900 on land. The only problem, however, is that the enigmatic pianist is loath to embrace life away from the ship.”
Head (Bob Rafaelson – 1968)
The experimental psychedelic film was ahead of its time and many did not understand its importance at the time of its release.
Although later works have been influenced by the film, its crucial element is still the soundtrack from The Monkees. Disappointed by the lack of appreciation, band member Davy Jones said in 2011, “We should have made Ghostbusters.”
Official Film Synopsis: “The Monkees, an American pop rock band, set out on a trippy, musical adventure through 1960s Hollywood where they meet personalities such as Dennis Hopper, Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson.”
Space Jam (Joe Pytka – 1996)
The 1996 film revels in its cartoonish absurdity, with Michael Jordan teaming up with characters from the Looney Tunes.
Many criticised the project for not living up to the spirit of the original animation series but it did have a pretty strong soundtrack, featuring Jay Z’s Bugs Bunny rap Buggin. Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, Method Man and B-Real are all contributors to the Monstars’ anthem, Hit ‘Em High. Salt-N-Pepa, Seal, Quad City DJs, Monica and D’Angelo each have songs on the list, and R. Kelly’s song I Believe I Can Fly became unavoidable in the late ’90s.
Official Film Synopsis: “After Michael Jordan’s retirement, he is abducted by Bugs Bunny from the Looney Tunes group and is asked to play a match to defeat the Nerdlucks, a criminal alien group led by Mister Swackhammer.”
The Bodyguard (Mick Jackson – 1992)
The 1992 film, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, managed to gross over $120,000,000 in the U.S but the film itself is bland and uninteresting.
The success of The Bodyguard was entirely predicated on its soundtrack which features some of Houston’s best-recorded work. I Will Always Love You (written by Dolly Parton) spent more than three months at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also had some memorable songs like I’m Every Woman and Jesus Loves Me.
Official Film Synopsis: “Rachel, a singer and an actor, receives death threats from an obsessive stalker. However, things turn chaotic when she hires Frank, an ex-Secret Service agent, to be her bodyguard and falls for him.”