10 Great Soundtracks Hidden In Terrible Movies
Movies and music just go together like bacon and more bacon. A lot of great films have iconic soundtracks that pair nicely with them. This list isn’t about those movies. No, this is about those terrible, forgettable films that commit the cardinal sin of hiding an amazing soundtrack beneath a layer of bad movie.
The Plot: Can the combined acting talents of Liv Tyler, Johnny Whitworth, Rory Cochrane, and a bunch of other actors from the '90s who vastly overestimated their appeal, defeat “The Man” and his wicked plan to acquire their crummy record and turn it into just some chain music store? Since this is the '90s, the obvious answer is “yes” followed by a smash cut to credits with an upbeat rock song.
The Soundtrack: The movie on its own isn’t much to talk about, but separate the soundtrack from the film and you’ve got an album that features a damn good Gin Blossoms single, The Cranberries, the debut of Better Than Ezra, the breakthrough of Toad the Wet Sprocket, and a decent cover of Big Star’s “The Ballad of El’ Goodo” by Evan Dando of The Lemonheads (featuring Liv Tyler). Classics? Probably not, but if you’re looking for the equivalent of the “yearbook I forgot I looked hot in” of music, you could do worse.
Plot: Bridget Fonda serves coffee and crushes on dim-witted Matt Dillon. Dillon, despite having every member of Pearl Jam (playing a bar band) in his band, has yet to become anything resembling success. This being the '90s, only serves to make Bridget want him more. Come for the cameos of the late-great Chris Cornell (still feels weird typing) as “next door neighbor who admires car sound system and plays in a bar band,” and Alice In Chains as “different bar band," stay for the story of another “will they or won’t they?” from a boring-as-hell couple.
Soundtrack: Say what you will about the man, Cameron Crowe knows how to put a soundtrack together. Singles features Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and an assorted hodgepodge of other grunge stars; all a good year before most of these artists truly broke out onto the mainstream. With the tragic death of Chris Cornell still fresh on everyone’s mind, the Singles soundtrack offers as great a way as any to really get a comprehensive feel for the sound that once defined a generation. As an added bonus, the film is far from the worst thing ever, it's just boring. Think of it more like an incredibly pale fish tank that just happens to be there.
Plot: Kevin Costner milks out his last bit of his '90s era goodwill to “star” as the titular bodyguard. The body he must guard in question is that of the amazing singer but less-than-memorable actress, Whitney Houston. Together they ran around in a crazy plot involving a stalker and a domestic terror plot while going on to gross over $400 million at the box office and creating a setting where Whitney Houston falling for Kevin Costner seemed perfectly believable.
The Soundtrack: The Bodyguard is the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time and one of the best-selling albums of all time. The Bodyguard soundtrack currently ranks 15th in the number of records sold in the United States and the record has gone on to go 17x Platinum. The marketing juggernaut that propelled this movie and the soundtrack to the forefront of conversation cannot be downplayed, but the real star is Whitney Houston and her dynamite vocal performances and production work. The first half of the album features an explosion of some of the best pop songs this side of Michael Jackson, and the second still manages to hold its own with a good mix of Curtis Stingers, Joe Cocker, and Lisa Stansfield.
Standouts: Besides the obvious standout: Whitney Houston - “I’m Every Woman” (originally performed by Chaka Khan) is “Queen Of The Night," S.O.U.L.S.Y.S.T.E.M - “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day,” and Curtis Stinger - “What So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding?” (Elvis Costello cover).
The Plot: Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin inexplicably have gorgeous women who are into them and live in a nice house with a car despite having no visible means of income or anything resembling redeemable qualities. After making mouth sounds for the first 20 minutes, the plot is kicked off when the duo finds themselves locked in the titular Bio-Dome with a team of scientists as part of a research experiment. They then spend the remainder of the film’s run time getting those said scientists and the audience to thoroughly resent them thanks to their antics; including but not limited to, juvenile humor, terrible dancing, Pauly Shore’s literal squawking, and attempted rape. Surprisingly, the movie has yet to make its budget back.
The Soundtrack: While the film is godawful, for every moment that you're convinced that God is dead and you begin to request a different in-flight movie, a forgotten gem of '90’s pop punk chimes in just in the nick of time. The soundtrack runs the gauntlet of funky alternative rock, ska-infused punk, electro-dance tunes, and Steeler Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” as the odd man out for some reason. But somehow all of it works together and can genuinely be enjoyed separately from the movie. Something I strongly encourage.
Last Action Hero
The Plot: Bear with me on this, but young actor Austin O'Brien (whose largest role besides this one was as a walk-on for an episode of Bones) gets sucked into a fictional movie within a movie, starting fictional Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing a character named Jack Slater (who’s more or less a stealth parody of all of Schwarzenegger's roles). When the villain played by Game Of Thrones' Charles Dance escapes from the movies fictional world into the movies real world, he plans to kill fictional Arnold Schwarzenegger, played by real Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s like Adaptation basically, but just a lot dumber.
The Soundtrack: Last Action Hero’s soundtrack exists to do one thing; grab you by your lizard brain and rock you hard till you’ve forgotten the plot. At that it succeeds, mixing in some heavy rock, some grunge, and a touch of metal to make for a loud, but not unpleasant cocktail
Standouts: AC/DC - “Big Gun.” Fishbone - ”Swim." Megadeth - “Angry Again.” Tesla - "Last Action Hero."
The Plot: Very loosely based on true events, Michael Jordan chews up scenery and is propped up by Neuman from Seinfeld, as he struggles in the doldrums of an unfulfilling baseball career, one that he took up because he loved the sport and totally not because of any sort of suspension by the NBA for his notorious gambling problems or anything. He gets sucked into the world of the Looney Tunes who are desperate for help to play against a team of aliens who have stolen the basketball talents of Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnsons, and for some inexplicable reason, Shawn Bradley. Spoiler Alert: The good guys win.
The Soundtrack: “EVERYBODY GET UP IT’S TIME TO SLAM NOW!” If you grew up in the '90s your parents' soundtrack might have been The Bodyguard, but this was your soundtrack. Where to start? The Space Jam soundtrack eventually went platinum and virtually any song off it was a hit. Blending R&B, pop, hip-hop, this thing crafted the perfect earworms that stayed in your head long after the movie was over.
Standouts: R.Kelly - “I Believe I Can Fly” aka the song that ensures no matter what gross thing R.Kelly did, he can still find work. The Quad City DJ’s - “Space Jam.” Seal - “Fly Like An Eagle” (Steve Miller Band cover). B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool Jay, and Method Man - "Hit Em' High" (The Monstars Theme).
The Pick of Destiny
The Plot: To their credit, the lads of Tenacious D put a lot of thought into the music of the movie, and some of the best parts play off like an insane musical. It’s just a lot of the plot ends up being at best, a series of jokes stretched out for far too long, and at worst, unfunny schlock. The story is supposed to be about the fictional origin of Tenacious D, and some of the musical bits kill. The cameos of the late Ronnie James Dio as a poster come to life, Meatloaf as an uber-Christian dad, and Dave Grohl as the Devil alone might be enough to check it out in small doses. But outside of that, it’s a bit of a drag to slog through it in a straight through watching.
The Soundtrack: It's the strongest thing about this movie by far. It had to be. By all accounts, not only were the songs written well before the movie, the songs had been intended to be released as a standalone Tenacious D album that happened to be called The Pick Of Destiny. Tenacious D wail over dueling acoustic guitars and Led Zeppelin-esque refrains, tied together with their tongue in cheek lyrics and Jack Black's surprisingly good vocal delivery. The soundtrack isn’t anything you’d take seriously and that works in its favor because they don’t take themselves seriously either.
The Plot: It’s a difficult thing to conjure up a plot based on a magazine that had multiple stand-alone stories contributed to it over a 50 year period, but damn if the writing duo of Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum didn't try. After the movie starts with a bad-ass opening involving an astronaut's return to Earth through the atmosphere in a pink Corvette with a glowing space rock in tow (don't question it) the space rock in question reveals itself to be a cosmic, eldritch orb that disintegrates him. The rest of the movie then is a series of short stories told by the glowing creature, each with different directors about its journey through the cosmos. There are some strong stories here. Namely the John Candy-featuring tale, “Harry Canyon,” about the misadventures of a cosmic taxi cab driver, and the last story “Taarna” about the bad ass warrior woman who ultimately defeats the space rock narrator. But, there’s an awful lot of dreck to sift through as well.
The Soundtrack: Outside of the magazine, the soundtrack is possibly the most iconic thing about the Heavy Metal franchise. Interestingly enough, the soundtrack really doesn’t consist of a lot of heavy metal. Even more interesting, the rock band Blue Oyster Cult were originally on board to do the entire soundtrack before that idea was scrapped. As it stands, the album is a collab of a ton of late '70s early '80s, ear-pleasing hard rock featuring the likes of Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Riggs, Cheap Trick. Stevie Nicks, Grand Funk Railroad, and more.
The Plot: Zach Braff's mother has died, forcing him to go home to New Jersey. Once there, our hero proceeds to get high an awful lot, attempts to talk about his feelings to manic pixie dream girl stand-in Natalie Portman, and generally mucks about, complaining about everything and accomplishing nothing other than making a pathological liar the inspiration for him to get his shit together. Also, he yells at a bunch of rocks at some point and Portman eulogizes a hamster.
The Soundtrack: Apart from being an annoying “things Zach Braff loves” fest, the soundtrack is actually pretty good. It’s a good blend of not unpleasant-sounding indie rock tunes and feels like the exact sort of thing you’d be way into if you to were a college freshman when it came out.
Standouts: The Shins - “New Slang.” Thievery Corporation - “Lebanese Blonde.” Simon and Garfunkel - “The Only Boy Living In New York.” Iron & Wine - "Such Great Heights" (The Postal Service cover)
The Plot: Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow and propelled this film into the cult hit that it is. The late Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was killed on set when a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks was shot at him with live ammunition. This was an absolute tragedy and a big "what if" in Hollywood lore as the guy had some serious acting talent. All that being said, The Crow is a silly, overnight, overdramatic, overrated mess about Brandon Lee being brought back from the dead (boy, is that an uncomfortable plot point now) by a mystical crow to avenge himself and his lover who were both killed by gang members with incredibly ridiculous names (i.e, T-Bird, Funboy, Grange etc.). He accomplishes this by wearing corpse paint, displaying a weirdly defined set of powers (including at one point a Jedi mind trick to get someone off drugs), and reciting some really cringy LiveJournal entries.
The Soundtrack: The soundtrack for The Crow is incredibly fitting. It's moody, it's gothy, and it's a bleak ride straight through hell. Industrial tunes, gloomy bass overtones, and a blend of post-punk induced darkness with a sprinkle of metal define this soundtrack. Artists like Nine Inch Nails, Pantera, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Helmet, the Violent Femmes, and more are featured to great effect.