The role of a soundtrack in the critical and commercial success of a movie is one that’s often overlooked. While some outstanding films have iconic soundtracks that are just as good as the movies themselves and will stand the test of time (see: The Graduate, Saturday Night Fever, Grease et al.) there’s a disconnect that can take place when the music that’s meant to be enhancing the film, outshines it.
We’ve decided to take a look back at some examples of soundtracks that are better than the movies they’re from. Lights. Camera. Action!
The Boat That Rocked
A great example to kick things off. Despite popular perception, Richard Curtis’ love letter to the pirated radio stations of the 60s is not especially bad, but when you’ve got a two-disc compilation of sure-fire classics, the film simply can’t compete. It’s only fair, after all, The Boat That Rocked is all about peoples’ passion for music and once again showing writer/director Curtis’ great (if slightly schmaltzy) music taste. Featuring stone cold cuts like The Turtles’ ‘Elenore’, The Who’s ‘I Can See For Miles’ and Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, just to name a few.
Cameron Crowe is another director with impeccable musical taste, and as such his soundtracks are usually of a very high quality. While Almost Famous may be his most iconic movie, Vanilla Sky, boasts an equally stellar soundtrack to accompany the severely underwhelming, Tom Cruise-fronted movie.
Said soundtrack features some of the biggest and most respected names in music (Radiohead, R.E.M., Bob Dylan) alongside some personal choices of Crowe’s (Red House Painters, Jeff Buckley). He even managed to convince an ex-Beatle to record the title track and get Sigur Rós to offer an (at the time) unreleased track for the film’s closing sequence.
I Am Sam
I Am Sam tells the story of a mentally handicapped father, played by Sean Penn, who is obsessed with the Fab Four and filters his experiences through their music. The soundtrack, which is entirely made up of Beatles cover songs, is among our favourite on the list. Even though The Beatles have been covered to death, and even though there’ll never better the originals, there’s still enough good takes on here (The Vines’ ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Across The Universe’), to ensure the soundtrack is far better than the film.
The movie was a rubbishy thriller shot in the style of 90s slasher flicks with quasi-religious overtones. The soundtrack is automatically superior to the film in every way as it contains one of the greatest songs ever written: Björk’s ‘All Is Full Of Love’. That epic aside, the soundtrack is still noteworthy with a selection of moody numbers by the likes of Massive Attack, Afro Celt Sound System and even David Bowie. The latter half of the CD is dedicated to the film’s evocative score composed by none other than virtuoso rock pianist Mike Garson & Billy Corgan (back when Smashing Pumpkins weren’t synonymous with ‘desperate attempt to reclaim former glory’).
The Darjeeling Limited
Just slightly predating Slumdog Millionaire‘s popularisation of Bollywood, Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy and its compilation soundtrack of Bollywood pieces, predominantly from Indian auteur Satyajit Ray. Included also is Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’, the key song from Hotel Chevalier, the short that precedes the film proper. Its meditative acoustic guitar chords and Sarstedt’s swooping, circular melody seem to fit snugly alongside the majority of masala on offer here. Also included are some curios from The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and even some Debussey.
Sofia Coppola had already set a trend for fashionable as well as enjoyable soundtracks with her previous films thanks to her musical buddies Air and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine for The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation respectively. But for her rock n roll portrait of the French monarch, Coppola went all-out with a two disc set.
Though the film was criticised as a matter of style over substance, it was hard to fault the smorgasbord on offer in the audio department. Taking in ’80s cult acts such as Bow Wow Wow, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Cure, and New Order – as well as a healthy dose of modern groups such as The Strokes, Aphex Twin, and a return appearance from Air. When it came to the soundtrack, Marie Antoinette let Coppola have her cake and eat it too.
Bit of a controversial one, this. It’s hard to argue against the importance of Easy Rider in ushering in a new wave of American cinema, nor its influence – mirrored equally by its soundtrack. For better or worse, without Easy Rider we wouldn’t have all those albums entitled “music from and inspired by” or “music from the motion picture”; as one of the first to promote a compilation of contemporary tunes instead of an accompanying score.
Its rock and garage sounds perfectly complemented the free spirit and controversy of the film and has since become a part of popular culture. Few can disassociate Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ without images of revving Harleys hitting the wide open desert road.
It may be taken for granted now, and even laughably melodramatic on a revisited viewing, but back in 1984, Purple Rain was the coolest thing going around. Capitalising on Prince’s rising success, it was clear the weak script was shoehorned around the songs which were some of the biggest of the artist’s career.
Conveniently presenting a sort of mythological backstory to Prince’s near-arrogant ambition and beguiling sexuality via a love story with protégé Appolonia. That description makes the film sound far more interesting than it is, save yourself the time and give the record a spin instead. Unlike the film, the album is wildly inventive, eventful and the display of a unique performer in full control of his artistic abilities and ambition.
There can be no greater disparity between the quality of a film and its soundtrack than Roland Emmerich’s trainwreck remake of Godzilla. Perhaps in fear of the impending stinker-to-be, TriStar pictures went on an elaborate, multi-pronged advertising campaign that included roping in Sony Records to do the soundtrack.
The resulting compilation, Godzilla: The Album, pooled deep and wide from Sony’s excellent stable of labelmates, featuring excellent original recordings from some killer bands the likes of Jamiroquai, Silverchair, Foo Fighters, and Green Day. Including a much touted re-tooling of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ from Puff Daddy that managed to enlist Jimmy Page. Most ironically though, none of the tracks appeared in the film, though the record is annoyingly laced with samples of Godzilla‘s shriek. If you can put up with that though, it’s a great collection that vastly outstrips the mistake that was the cinematic equivalent.
The Twilight franchise has often been blamed for ruining an entire generation of kids. As one of the most popular film series of the past decade among the under-15 demographic, it hasn’t served as the most wholesome or inspirational film for the younger set. Luckily though, the soundtracks more than makes up for the films themselves. Remarkably grabbing acts with more authenticity in their little toes than the vampire romances could ever hope to muster. Featuring the likes of Death Cab For Cutie, Thom Yorke, and a beautiful collaboration between Bon Iver and St. Vincent, the cool-cred of this soundtrack almost makes the film’s existence worthwhile…. almost.
Natural Born Killers
While Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor is known today as an Oscar winning film composer for his scores for David Fincher’s The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; he arguably got his first break in producing the soundtrack for this controversial film. Reznor followed a similar premise to Stone’s 1994 film, namely an audio collage that was as darkly schizophrenic as the minds of the twisted murderous duo – Mickey and Mallory.
Containing spoken word samples, a dense cohesion and high octane shifts in genre (Dylan to Dr Dre in just six tracks), it remains a powerful sucker-punch of a soundtrack while the film has dated somewhat.
The second Cameron Crowe film to appear in our list (sensing a pattern, anyone?). 1992’s Singles tells the tale of a bunch of twenty-somethings falling in and out love and lust. While the film itself may be a cult classic, few would defend it for any sort of cinematic integrity. The soundtrack however, is a different story. Featuring the very best of the early 90s grunge scene (Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam), we dare say the soundtrack tells a more convincing story than the film itself.
Viva Las Vegas
No one is saying Elvis Presley’s films weren’t a riot; featuring the King invariably as a prison dilettante, an American GI, and other variations of the down-on-their-luck anti-hero. Most everyone will agree though, that the strength of Presley’s films, (other than his boyish charm) was their soundtracks. None more so that Viva Las Vegas and its iconic titular rock out, though you could substitute almost any other Elvis film and get the same result.
I’m Not There
The sprawling idea behind 2007’s I’m No There is nothing if not admirable: seven actors portraying seven different sides of Bob Dylan. Helmed by indie director Todd Haynes however, the execution of the idea was questionable. Its audio accompaniment however, was stellar. Alongside a spate of Dylan originals, the soundtrack also boasts everyone from Sonic Youth to The Black Keys tackling the great master, as well as Karen O to Sufjan Stevens, and back again. The highlight? Antony And The Johnsons’ haunting cover of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.
Dazed & Confused
Released in 1993 but set in 1976, Dazed And Confused remains one of the ultimate stoner comedies, setting the blueprint for a host of modern imitators. Boasting an all star cast including Lil’ Miss ’90s herself, Parker Posey, the high school comedy’s soundtrack constantly outshone the film itself. Focusing on a host of ’70s rock staples, including ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and, of course, KISS’ ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’.
Another controversial one, despite starting well, Garden State‘s ideas just didn’t seem to gel for some. Not so the soundtrack, beginning with Coldplay’s ‘Don’t Panic’ it goes from strength to strength with a consistent mood and tone that gravitates around acoustic instropection. From indie darlings The Shins, to some classics (Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel), before winding things down with an excellent cover of The Postal Service’s ‘Such Great Heights’ by Iron & Wine. As much as we love Natalie Portman, it’s hard to go past Sam Beam’s dulcet tones.
Way before comic book movies became blockbuster business, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films made them legit, the 1997 silver screen adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s hell-spawn anti-hero was a hammy, gratuitous exercise in how NOT to do a comic adaptation. Its accompanying album however, avoided the same fate, by following a neat premise of pairing rock and electronic acts. Witness The Prodigy collaborating with Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, DJ Spooky vs. Metallica, and Marilyn Manson with the Sneaker Pimps. It was enough for the record to debut at #7 on the US albums chart.
Based on the early days of Def Jam Recordings and Russell Simmons’ career Kush Groove is a terribly executed film that so happens to have one of the best hip-hop soundtracks around. Featuring everyone from Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Force MD, to Ms Chaka Khan herself, who provided the vocals for the film’s title track, the soundtrack is something of a beauty from the golden age of hip-hop.