Top Ten Movie Soundtracks That Are Better Than Their Movies

I meet a lot of my music at the theater. Sometimes I don’t even bother seeing the movie. And there was an era in the ’90s when soundtracks were the only reason I’d even care about a film. So this is a nod to those flicks outdone by their tunes. Not all are bad movies. But they’re among my favorite albums of all time.

10. So I Married an Axe Murderer

Jane, get me off this crazy thing . . . called . . . love.

I always liked this movie. Loved, maybe. It’s full of quotable hilarity (It’s like an orange on a toothpick.) Ironically, one of its only weaknesses is the incessant recurrence of “There She Goes” throughout its entirety. But as fine as the movie is, and as annoying as that song becomes by the time it’s over, I love the soundtrack more. But since the movie’s so good, it comes in at number 10. (Let’s be honest, this one’s just here as an argument starter; I could have just as easily listed Tommy Boy.
Soundtrack highlight: “Brother,” Toad the Wet Sprocket

9. Dead Man Walking

I watched the movie once. I've listened to the soundtrack dozens of times.

Another great movie. And great in an entirely different way. But the soundtrack is complete, a work of art.
Soundtrack highlight: “In Your Mind,” Johnny Cash

8. Singles

Cameron Crowe, king of the scene-stealing soundtrack

Singles wasn’t terrible, but it pales in comparison to the Seattlecentric mix of greatness assembled by Cameron Crowe. And really, Crowe deserves a list devoted entirely to him. And that’s no slight against his skills as a filmmaker, he’s just got supreme taste in music.
Soundtrack highlight: “Breath,” Pearl Jam

7. Pump Up the Volume

The movie was obscene, but the soundtrack was filthy.

Christian Slater delivered a disturbingly fun performance as the same character he played in every movie from Heathers on, but he didn’t have a prayer of living up to the music his character cued up throughout this flick.
Soundtrack highlight: “Wave of Mutilation,” Pixies

6. Natural Born Killers

Oliver Stone likes to shock maybe a little too much, but he always sets it to good music.

Oh, Oliver Stone. I remember this movie. I can’t dream of a scenario when I’d ever watch it again. I could do with another spin of that album, though.
Soundtrack highlight: “Sweet Jane,” Cowboy Junkies

5. Elizabethtown

Two volumes of musical goodness

Cameron Crowe, again. I debated leaving this one off and substituting Hope Floats somewhere in here, but that movie was so not good, I didn’t see the point in including it’s just-okay soundtrack. This one, however, was inspired by Patty Griffin. In the end, the decision was a no-brainer.
Soundtrack highlight: “Jesus Was a Cross Maker,” Rachael Yamagata

4. Marie Antoinette

I've never seen it. But come on.

Sofia Coppola is probably a great director. One of these days I’ll actually watch one of her films. It would be easier if I could stop listening to this music.
Soundtrack highlight: “Natural’s Not in It,” Gang of Four

3. Footloose

Everybody cut. Every. Body. Cut.

Take away the soundtrack and what have you got? Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon would be the hardest game ever. John Lithgow would be a beet farmer in Pennsylvania. Sarah Jessica Parker never would have been sexy in the city, nor would she have married Ferris. And what’s-her-name who played the lead female role would have a shelf full of Oscars.
Soundtrack highlight: “Footloose,” Kenny Loggins

2. Dirty Dancing

Yeah. I'm putting Baby in a corner.

This movie is not good, people. It’s not. But it did bring dancing back with music that made it easy.
Soundtrack highlight: “Hungry Eyes,” Eric Carmen

1. Reality Bites

Here's the reality: the movie bites.

Never has a movie made it easier for critics to be honest with their one-liners. I mean, really. It’s too bad, because the music is so fantastic. And the cast is all kinds of awesome . . . look at those three! Just don’t watch the movie. Ouch.
Soundtrack highlight: “Stay,” Lisa Loeb

4 Replies to “Top Ten Movie Soundtracks That Are Better Than Their Movies”

  1. Alright, I LOVED Elizabethtown! I feel like we’ve had this discussion before. I like Cameron Crowe too and so maybe he gets a pass for me when it comes to movies. What about Vanilla Sky? Great soundtrack with Sigur Ros, too! But that movie?

    Also, love Singles but yes soundtrack was better and remains in my faves.

    Steph

    1. Full disclosure: I just never made it all the way through Elizabethtown. I think I would have liked it if I had finished it. And yes, with Crowe, I just think he makes the soundtracks too good. But I still generally enjoy the movies.

      Vanilla Sky is probably the best example, but the music occupies a sore spot in my heart because I still remember hearing it reverberating through our walls thanks to a bass-happy neighbor. That was the day we resolved for good that we had to move. 😉

  2. I’m a little late in just now reading your post, but I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I’m just wondering why you didn’t include The Little Mermaid on this list???

    1. Because The Little Mermaid is a triumph of cinema and sound. And when you consider Disney animated features, they’re practically musicals. And it is almost (but not entirely) impossible to differentiate a musical’s soundtrack from the work as a whole. Taking into account Mermaid’s commitment to the integrity of the songs as they appear in the film (as opposed to Beauty, Aladdin, and Lion King’s commercial farming of more radio-friendly versions of their power songs), and I just don’t see how I can view the soundtrack as anything but a vital, organic component of a phenomenally well rounded tour de force.

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