There is nothing in the world quite as immediate as the emotional wallop of music. Music mimics our vocal and physical expressions of emotion in order to convey the intended mood; for instance, when a person gets excitable or fearful, their expressions will likely be loud, fast and frantic—an excitable genre like trance echoes these adjectives.
This direct transposing of emotion into sound means that, from an incredibly early age, we can intrinsically interpret musical triggers like major or minor keys into a feeling. This is a shortcut to the human soul that the big screen of cinema has implemented and transmuted to devastating, wondrous and magical effects.
Sometimes, however, the soundtrack does not meet its match, and the emotional wallops remains on record rather than coming together as a whole, meaning you spend more time looking at Shazam than the screen.
Below, we’re looking at a few examples where the magnificent music finds itself sorely let down with the best soundtracks ever to grace god-awful movies – or middling, at best.
9 Soundtracks that are better than the movie:
9. Soup For One (Jonathan Kaufer, 1982)
Soup For One is pretty much the quintessential example of a film that has faded into obscurity to such an extent that nobody even realises that some of the smash hits from it were penned for the movie. From the instantly off your feat bassline of Carly Simon’s ‘Why’ to the disco classic title track by Chic that Modjo went on to sample, this flick races through bonafide classics.
The film itself, however, is quite a turgid take on the romantic comedy genre that even the prime selection of tracks fails to get raise above lukewarm. If Chic can’t cause a spark, then I’m afraid nothing can
8. Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, 2004)
Now, if there is one thing I’d like to make very clear from the off, it is my firm belief that all reviews of kids films should also be accompanied by a five-year-old’s opinion. You can’t have the same person who writes about Andrei Tarkovsky’s appraisal of Marxism whereby in any given capitalist environment the proletariat will rebel against the bourgeoisie’s inherent oppression and after a brief period of socialist rule a reemergent classist society will slowly manifest to govern, and then critique whether Peter Rabbit’s fart jokes undermined the plot. It’s like Stevie Wonder writing a column for AutoTrader.
That being said, the soundtrack to Shrek 2 is an unbelievable oddity that proves hard to wrap your head around. The film somehow introduced a generation of kids to Tom Waits, Nick Cave, David Bowie, Joseph Arthur, Eels and more in one fell swoop. What’s clearly at play here is that the producers got a little self-indulgent and splurged on their own favourites, and fair play to them for that.
7. Above the Rim (Jeff Pollack, 1994)
Sometimes one single song can make a soundtrack great, but generally speaking, it takes more than one scene to say the same about a movie. Warren G and Nate Dogg’s classic ‘Regulate’ is the sort of song that flirts so close to novelty that you wonder whether it will ever become badly dated, but so far so good for one of the best hip-hop tracks around.
Above the Rim, on the other hand, never reached the slam-dunk heights to ever have time drag it back to earth. The tale of a promising basketballer beleaguered by drugs starring Tupac had one too many cliches to ever pass muster.
6. Purple Rain (Albert Magnoli, 1984)
Musicians making movies is somehow not always a bad thing. On paper, it sounds like the sort of recurring trait that would exclusively deliver cinematic defecation, but, surprisingly, there are too many exceptions to prove the rule… Purple Rain isn’t one of them.
The soundtrack is one of Prince’s finest albums, which places it in rarefied musical heights that the film never really stands a chance of reaching. It’s not bad, but perhaps The Purple One should have taken a leaf out of The Graduate and just let his music do the talking on screen.
5. Super Fly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972)
Super Fly stands out as a culminating moment in Curtis Mayfield’s career. The drip-feed of funk into his soul suddenly meddled head-on, his political involvement sprung to the fore in a much more notable way, but all of his musical craft and coasting honeyed vocals remained on the masterful soundtrack.
The anti-drugs anthem of ‘Pusherman’ captures street life in amber and presents it with class, style and one the funkiest basslines to ever rumble onto a record. The critical and commercial highpoint of his career was a melee of everything that went before and rather than sounding hectic it sounds like the golden hour of the party embalmed with a hue of cognizance and musical excellence. The film, however, fails to stand out from the ranks of the genre in the same way the album does.
4. Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
Admittedly, I really enjoyed Romeo + Juliet when I first watched it as a 14-year-old in school, but as a rule of thumb, anything a 14-year-old finds “edgy and cool” is probably not an opinion that stands the test of time.
Now, the only moments from the film that lives on in the mind are the spine-tingling acapella delivery of the line “Brothers and sisters together we’ll make it through…” and the timeless wonder of ‘Lovefool’ by The Cardigans.
3. Judgement Night (Stephen Hopkins, 1993)
Judgement Night is a film that actually seemed to prioritise the soundtrack all along. The mixtape saw alt-rock bands pair with hip-hop artists for a soundtrack that at the very least could be termed interesting and innovative.
Teenage Fanclub met with De La Soul for the ‘Fallin’ and Sonic Youth mashed with Cypress Hill for ‘I Love You Mary Jane’. By no means are the results greater than the sum of their parts, but they far outstrip the film that much is for sure. The movie is simply one of seemingly thousands of gang-thrillers that littered the gutters of nineties cinema.
2. The Boat That Rocked (Richard Curtis, 2009)
The Boat That Rocked was a rollicking celebration of pirate radio, sadly the same can’t be said of cinema. While it is far easier watching than the legions of horrid reviews online would suggest, it sinks well beneath the surface of its creditable soundtrack.
With tracks from The Kinks, Leonard Cohen and The Turtles is provided with a solid smorgasbord of counterculture classics without sticking directly to the safe waters of classics. It even shines a light on underappreciated stars like Herb Alpert and Skeeter Davis while it’s at it. Not a lot of laughs but a good few toe-taps.
1. Silent Running (Douglas Trumbull, 1972)
In Silent Running an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s botany housed in a spacecraft after flora went extinct on the third rock from the sun. Fortunately, the poor bastard has a cracking soundtrack to listen to while he goes about his thankless task.
The man behind the mixing desk is Peter Schickele, who is known for his cracking work arranging Joan Baez’s records. This turned director Doug Trumbull’s ear and he proves a brilliant fit. Alongside a wonderfully gaudy orchestral score, Baez lends her pipes to two songs that sound as good as everything she turns her hand at.