Movie soundtracks used to really be a thing. To an extent, they still are. But there was a time when the anticipation for a movie was rivaled, or even eclipsed, by its accompanying soundtrack. In many instances, this resulted in double the payoff. Films like Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction, Juice and Singles are all great, and their soundtracks are equally awesome. Even an awesomely bad flick like Top Gun features a soundtrack that lives on in equal measure to this day.
This is not always the case. Often times, a soundtrack far outpaces its cinematic counterpart. This is what happens when bad movies happen to good soundtracks. (Note: This list is in alphabetical order.)
BATMAN & ROBIN
A lot of folks place Batman Forever higher atop the good soundtrack/bad movie list, but Forever is actually an underrated Batman film. Silly, yes, but solid nonetheless. Batman & Robin? Yeah, let’s just say it wasn’t the high point of George Clooney’s career. It did, however feature a kick ass lead single from Smashing Pumpkins (“The End Is the Beginning Is the End”), along with contributions from R. Kelly, R.E.M., Jewel and Goo Goo Dolls (back when such a contribution was cool). Plus, “Poison Ivy” from the perpetually underrated Meshell Ndegeocello is worth the price of admission alone.
I really dug Garden State when it was released in 2004, mostly because I had just graduated college and this type of film really spoke to a twentysomething with his whole life in front of him and no idea how to navigate that journey. Then, I grew up and realized that Zach Braff’s directorial breakout was kind of a pretentious slog. But, hey, at least it introduced the world to the Shins. The band appears twice on the soundtrack, with “Caring is Creepy” and “New Slang,” while other artists include peak-era Coldplay, Colin Hay, Nick Drake and Iron & Wine. The thought of revisiting Garden State these days is an unwelcome thought, mostly because I’m pretty sure I’d hate every character on the screen (save for Houston’s own Jim Parsons in a wonderful, albeit small, role). But the soundtrack is a welcome listen anytime.
THE GREAT GATSBY
Props to those involved in Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby remake who helped assemble the soundtrack, a near-flawless blend of hip-hop and alternative rock. Cuts from Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey stand out, but the high point belongs to Beyoncé, both for the remix of “Crazy in Love” and, in particular, her duet with Andre 3000 of OutKast on Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” If only the film kept up its end of the bargain. To be fair, the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer looked great, but in the end, it was a hollow affair that offered all sizzle and no steak. Leo rarely misses; this time he did.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Yes, I saw this movie in the theater. It’s a long story and you don’t wanna hear it. But the point remains: Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most boring, poorly acted films I’ve ever witnessed firsthand. Also, it helps when you’re delivering an erotic thriller that the two leads have, you know, actual chemistry. At least the soundtrack – with cuts from Annie Lennox, Beyoncé, AWOLNATION and an Oscar-nominated turn by The Weeknd – salvaged something from this cinematic train-wreck.
Not the 2014 version, which was actually pretty good. Rather, this installment is dedicated to the cinematic atrocity that was the 1998 remake, which to this day ranks among the worst big-budget summer blockbusters of all time. The plot is a mess, the special effects are overbearing and the film felt more like a marketing gimmick designed to sell toys as opposed to an actual film. But that soundtrack...hoo boy! For starters, the Wallflowers’ cover of “Heroes” is awesome; this is simple fact. Throw in tracks from Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, a still on-the-rise Foo Fighters and Silverchair, and you have one of the best soundtracks of the '90s. Plus, contrarians be damned, but Puff Daddy’s "Kashmir" remix featuring Jimmy Page, “Come With Me,” isn’t nearly as terrible as some may care to recall.
LAST ACTION HERO
Arnold Schwarzenegger seemingly couldn’t miss in the early '90s, a theory that was quickly debunked when this critical and commercial bomb was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences. But while Last Action Hero the film was an abomination, its soundtrack was anything but. Legendary acts like AC/DC and Aerosmith sat alongside more contemporary groups like Alice in Chains, Anthrax and Cypress Hill, making for one of the best, and most unique, movie soundtracks of its era.
Mortal Kombat the video game was such a phenomenon in the early to mid-'90s, it was bound to get the cinematic treatment. And while the 1995 film was a certifiable hit, that doesn’t make it good. That said, the film did produce a soundtrack heavily featuring industrial and electronic rock, during a time when those ranked among the hottest genres in all of pop music. Plus, George Clinton is featured on three of the album's 17 tracks, which certainly elevates the festivities.
This one is going to ruffle some feathers for two reasons. (1) Reality Bites was shot and set in Houston, and (2) Many regard it as the definitive Generation X movie. Neither of these points is inaccurate, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Reality Bites is essentially based in Neverland, where you never have to grow up. Sure, pass up the nice, successful guy for the misanthropic college dropout who essentially treats you like garbage. Somewhere, I hope Ethan Hawke’s Troy ended up fat, bald and working a dead-end job, having been left by Winona Ryder’s Lelaina years prior. What a train-wreck of a couple those two made, and the film devoted far too much time to them while bypassing far more interesting characters like Janeane Garofalo’s Vickie. Oh yeah, the soundtrack, soooo '90s, highlighted by artists like Dinosaur Jr., Lenny Kravitz and Crowded House. Plus, Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” remains a karaoke staple to this day in bars across America.
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ROMEO + JULIET
I got what producers were going for with Baz Luhrmann's modern-day take on the Shakespeare tragedy, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes did their damndest to make the thing watchable. But man, what a mess of a film this was. But, like many films of the '90s, Romeo + Juliet did save itself to an extent with a killer soundtrack, which featured decade-defining bands bands like Radiohead, Butthole Surfers, Everclear and the Cardigans.
What happens when you attempt to close out a superhero trilogy by having your star go emo and overstuffing the film with too many villains? You get Spider-Man 3, which served as a less-than-fitting end to Sam Raimi’s turn at the superhero genre (mostly because the first two films in his trilogy were fantastic). But whereas the third installment in the Tobey Maguire-led Spidey franchise fell on its face, its accompanying soundtrack did anything but. Artists like The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Walkmen, Black Mountain and Snow Patrol bring their A-games. Spider-Man 3 the film and soundtrack are both stuffed with talent; unfortunately, only the latter delivers on it.