Top List Thursday – Top 10 bad movies with great soundtracks

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It’s an unfortunate quirk of our existence, but not all movies can be good. Sure, there are some movies that are so bad they become good again. But then you get those po-faced stinkers that leave you feeling like you need a good scrub in the shower, or even worse, leave you feeling absolutely nothing at all. They’re just so… blergh.

And I get the feeling that sometimes the filmmakers themselves know exactly how blergh their products are, as they try to rescue (or make up for) these movies by pairing the lackluster visual action with some sweet, ass kicking tunes on the official soundtrack (because it’s harder to focus on silly acting when you’re headbanging).

So here are 10 movies* that I felt were not up to snuff as, well, movies, but they sure did get my feet tapping and head bobbing.

  • Empire Records

Look, I know that there are plenty of people who love this movie, and I’m not even saying it’s completely horrible or irredeemable either. It’s just not a great movie. Clumsy, predictable teen-romance fluff, it drops the ball a lot. But not when it comes to that soundtrack though. The fact that the movie is set in a record store meant that music was definitely going to be the uncredited co-star, and man, did it ever steal the scenes from the rest of the cast. The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better Than Ezra and more made this an incredible snapshot of mid-90’s music.

  • Queen of the Damned

While it definitely had its faults, Interview With The Vampire is often held up as a favourite among modern vampire movies. With all it’s gothic romanticism embodied by stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, the film may not have been a total smash critical success, but it was a huge box office win and stamped out its place in pop culture. It’s sequel on the other hand – besides for being the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question of what was the last movie that late RnB singer Aaliyah completed work in – is almost entirely forgettable. And the few bits you do remember are completely goofy and embarrassing.

But man, what a soundtrack! Korn frontman Jonathan Davis was set to provide all the music on the film, but when a contractual conflict prevented him from performing all of the songs himself, he roped in a who’s who (or more accurately, who’s Jonathan Davis’ friends) of hard rock and metal musos to perform all the songs he had composed. Disturbed’s David Draiman, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Static-X, Marilyn Manson, Dry Cell and more, they all combined for a gothic rock mashup that was as haunting as it was headbanging.

  • Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

It is widely accepted, and rightfully so, that Star Wars: Episode I is the goofy, booger eating cousin in the Star Wars family that we all just pretend is not related in any way, shape or form. But – BUT! – even with the flannel shirted Lucasian idiocy of midi-chlorians, Li’l Wooden Boy Vader and Jar-Jar [email protected]#$ing Binks, there’s no denying the musical genius of composer John Williams.

  • The Twilight Saga

What’s this? Bad movies and Twilight mentioned in the same breath? Not exactly a surprise, right? But what was surprising was just how good a collection of alt- and pop-rock music the makers of everybody’s favourite necrophiliac/bestiality love story assembled over the course of the franchise. While the first film mostly boasted the typically sappy licenced Dawson’s Creek-like musical cues, the soundtracks got considerably better as the movies went on (some would say, inversely proportional to the quality of the movies themselves), as they started introducing more and more original pieces while also pulling in the upper echelons of the genre with the likes of Muse, Thom Yorke, Florence + The Machine, The Black Keys, Paramore, etc.

  • Superman: The Movie

Yes. Superman. I know that we owe Richard Donner’s 1978 movie a ton of thanks for pioneering the comic book adaptation, and there are certainly plenty of aspects about this movie that are justifiably placed on a pedestal (Oh hey there, Christopher Reeve), but do yourself a favour, take off those rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and watch this again today. By Rao, as cheesy cool as some parts are, there are just as many if not more laughably bad moments to be found in it, from Lois Lane’s godawful in-flight poetry to Lex Luthor’s real estate scheme to slapsticky goofball Otis to FLYING AROUND THE EARTH REALLY FAST TO TURN BACK TIME!

But there’s one aspect of this film that is simply without reproach, and that is John Williams’ score. The entire sweeping orchestral soundtrack is a work of brilliance, but it’s that legendary theme song – about as perfectly heroic a song ever written by a human being – that had people around the world believing a man can fly.

  • I Am Sam

In the immortal, non-PC words of Ben Stiller: “You never go full retard”. I Am Sam may boast arguably the strongest performance of Sean Penn’s career, but it’s more blatant emotional blackmail than movie, with its saccharine, overwrought attempt at handling a serious issue.

But while the film handled its content with a hand as heavy as star matter, Penn showed an incredibly deft touch with the soundtrack. The entire soundtrack is comprised of songs from The Beatles, but when Penn failed to obtain the rights to use the Fab Four’s original music, he instead commissioned an incredible, eclectic group of pop/alternative/rock musicians to all do cover versions of the Beatles’ works. And the results are incredible. From Stereophonics’ “Don’t Let Me Down”, to Nick Cave’s jazzy version of “Let It Be”, to Aimee Mann’s “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and more, the entire collection is just one hit after another.

  • Batman Forever

This is it, the start of the Batman franchise’s head-over-ass tumble into the day-glo puerility that would see the Dark Knight’s movie aspirations shelved for a decade. It may not be as ludicrously bad as Batman and Robin, but Batman forever still features some real oinkers as Tommy Lee Jones and co ham it up like they’re on the strongest narcotics money can buy. And yet, even with all the frantic silliness, the movie is still bearable to sit through due to that fantastic soundtrack boasting an unexpectedly eclectic selection of tracks like U2’s bombastic “Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me, Kill me”, Method Man’s “The Riddler”, Michael Hutchence’s cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” and, of course, Seal’s haunting, triple-Grammy winner “Kiss From A Rose”.

  • Exorcist II – The Heretic

I can only imagine the pressure that comes with making a sequel to one of the most highly regarded horror films in history. That must be why director Boorman just decided to go for broke when he made his sequel to William Friedkin’s classic Exorcist. There’s no other way to describe Exorcist II: The Heretic other than batshit crazy. Boorman had always been a big, operatic idea kind of man, and sometimes that off the wall ambition worked out splendidly (see: Excalibur), but sometimes it just ended up a whole lot of WTF (see: Zardoz (actually don’t see, unless you’re in the market for mental scarification)). Exorcist II definitely fell into the latter camp, as it took a reasonably grounded movie world (well, as grounded as head twisting, projectile vomiting and crucifix masturbation can be), and then just turned everything up to 11. And then turned it up to 27, just to be safe. Couple that with a script that was completely rewritten several times, often on the set as the movie was filming, and you have what is widely considered one of the worst sequels of all time.

But while all that craziness worked against the movie, it definitely helped for Ennio Morricone’s hellish-disco-funk score, which somehow managed to combine creepiness with cool. In the latter parts of his career, Morricone ended up scoring many a bad movie, and it often showed in the end result. Here though, it’s like the veteran composer knew that the movie was going to be a total disaster so he could just do whatever took his fancy with the music, because who’s going to notice anyway?

  • Tron: Legacy

Around the office here, we do not speak of the Great Oscar Snubbery of 2011 aka that time just about everybody’s favourite movie soundtrack of the year didn’t even get nominated. French electronic duo Daft Punk’s synth-symphony for the long awaited sequel to cult classic Tron is about as perfect a soundtrack as modern movies has ever seen. With its seamless mix of electronica and orchestral music, there’s not a single bad note to be found as the soundtrack boasts tracks that will get your blood pumping with vital urgency, have you all introspective and moody or just skipping along to a giddy beat. Basically all the emotional complexity and effortless fun that the film itself actually lacked.

While I don’t hate on the film as hard as some of my colleagues, I will admit that while it looked outstanding and boasted some pure, undiluted cool moments, it had a silly, nonsensical story, just okay at best acting and run of the mill action direction. In short, it’s one of those not horrific, but not great either, easily forgettable flicks. It’s also the greatest Daft Punk music video the world has ever seen.

  • Purple Rain

I once read that if cinephiles were to judge movies on their soundtracks alone, Purple Rain would become the new Citizen Kane. Irrespective of what name he happened to be using for that week in particular, Prince has always been a true music virtuoso (also, possibly a vampire based on his eternally unchanging appearance). He’s produced several several hit albums in his long career, but he did his finest work on Purple Rain, the sixth album he released with his group The Revolution in 1984,

Constantly ranked as one of the best albums of all time, the multiple Grammy and Oscar winning album features numerous smash hit songs that run the full genre and emotional gamut. It’s varied, eclectic, raw and honest music making at its very best. Just a pity it’s also the soundtrack to Albert Magnoli’s feature film of the same name. Or should I rather say “feature film”.

Starring Prince, making his film debut as “The Kid”, the troubled frontman of the the rock band The Revolution, Purple Rain the movie is essentially just a massively extended music video for Purple Rain the album. Virtually every scene not part of the lengthy concert sequences in the film is a bland chore to get through at best, and an embarrassing throwback to all the things about the 80’s that we would rather forget at worst. It has a hokey, often unbelievable narrative, the performances can get hammy, and there are a few times when it’s downright offensive in its treatment of female characters.  But just when you’ve had your fill of Magnoli’s film, Prince busts out another chorus of “When Doves Cry”, and you’re sucked right back into watching this brilliant but also terrible thing all over again.

*I’ve kept the selections from movies from the last 4 decades or so, as the earlier era of the big Hollywood musical produced film after film that was more music performances than actual film.

Last Updated: July 31, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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