10 Surprisingly Good ’90s Movie Soundtracks
The '90s were a pretty amazing time for movie soundtracks. The best ones, like 1992’s 'Singles' and 1993’s 'Reality Bites,' were perfect companions for their respective films, and two decades later, they're like historical artifacts, encapsulations of the era's popular music. Those two set the bar high, but plenty of lesser discs -- and back then, they actually were discs -- allowed listeners to discover new music as if listening to handcrafted mixtapes. Here, in no particular order, are some hidden gems: 10 Surprisingly Good '90s Movie Soundtracks. The films themselves haven't necessarily held up, but the music sure has.
After he was Wayne, before he was Austin Powers, Mike Myers was Charlie McKenzie in this 1993 comedy – which, sadly, wasn’t nearly as well received as his other films. However, the soundtrack is an early-'90s alt-rock lover's dream. It features songs from the Boo Radleys, Soul Asylum, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Toad the Wet Sprocket. It even includes 'Two Princes' by the Spin Doctors! Big Audio Dynamite II’s 'Rush (NYC Club Version)' and the La’s 'There She Goes' (who doesn’t love a catchy opening riff played on a 12-string Rickenbacker?) are the two most outstanding tunes on this collection, which plays like a mix made by your best friend.
This late-'90s take on 'Dangerous Liasons' featured an all-star cast, including Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair. Its soundtrack reflects the dark and moody subject matter, and highlights include delicious versions of Placebo’s 'Every You Every Me,' Fatboy Slim’s 'Praise You' and Blur’s 'Coffee & Tea.' The standout, though, is the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which perfectly underscores the film's final scenes.
This Drew Barrymore vehicle -- produced by her own Flower Films -- finds a 25-year-old copywriter back in high school, working undercover to write a story for the Chicago Tribune. Alt-rock kings R.E.M. contribute 'At My Most Beautiful,' and the Smiths’ glorious 'Please, Please, Please (Let Me Get What I Want)' plays during a pivotal prom scene. Jimmy Eat World, Semisonic and Remy Zero also help score this “do-over" story.
'Clarissa Explains It All''s Melissa Joan Hart and 'Entourage’'s Adrien Grenier play high school versions of their best-known characters, she the overachiever, he the broody loner. The two pretend they're a couple to win the affections of the school's basketball star and ex-girlfriend. Of course, the plan backfires, and they fall for each other. Appearing here for the first of two times on our list of Surprisingly Good '90s Movie Soundtracks are the Donnas, who have a whopping three songs on this CD: 'Get Rid of That Girl,' 'Outta My Mind' and a delightful cover of REO Speedwagon’s 'Keep On Loving You.' The adorable Phantom Planet land a couple of tracks here -- 'Is This Really Happening to Me' and a cover of 'The In Crowd' -- and Supergrass, Plumb and Deadstar round out the set.
This is yet another underdog story based on a classic -- this time 'Pygmalion,' which also inspired 'My Fair Lady.' Ah, high school in the late '90s! Here, star athlete and pupil Freddie Prinze Jr. transforms ugly duckling Rachel Leigh Cook into a beautiful swan, unintentionally falling for her in the process. Remy Zero (a popular '90s soundtrack band, evidently), Superdrag and the Afghan Wigs all pop up, though the first lady of alt-rock, Ms. Liz Phair, steals the show with 'Baby Got Going.'
The soundtrack to this film about a teenage coven is one of two on our list that features Letters to Cleo. The most dark and dangerous track, though, comes in the form of Love Spit Love’s cover of the Smiths’ 'How Soon Is Now' – which was later repurposed for Aaron Spelling’s TV show 'Charmed.' Clearly, this is a song for supernatural action of the witchy variety. The film also boasts songs from Juliana Hatfield, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Matthew Sweet and Elastica. Another gem: 'The Horror,' penned by Royston Langdon and performed by his band, Spacehog.
This late-'90s retelling of Dickens’ 'Great Expectations' stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke and Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft, as Ms. Dinsmoor (aka Miss Havisham). The soundtrack fits nicely with the gorgeous artwork “drawn by” Finn (but really contributed by famed artist Francesco Clemente). The goddess of alternative music, Tori Amos, contributes two tracks and a whole lot to the score. Elsewhere on this great set, we've got Scott Weiland, Pulp, Chris Cornell, Reef, the Verve Pipe and Duncan Sheik, whose lush and lovely 'Wishful Thinking' is probably the best thing he's written. The breakout hit from the film, though, is Mono’s 'Life in Mono.'
By 1995, the Batman franchise had grown thin on plot and become bloated by its “summer blockbuster” status. Here, then, is a case of a soundtrack being better than its accompany film, as this disc spawned hits for U2 ('Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me') and Seal ('Kiss From a Rose'). The rest of the album is just as great, as PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, Massive Attack, Nick Cave, Sunny Day Real Estate and the Flaming Lips help distract from the cheesy action onscreen. If you want a mixtape that sums up 1995, this is it.
A black comedy in the vein of the '80s classic 'Heathers,' 'Jawbreaker' is high school at its worst. Hell, even Marilyn Manson scored a supporting role! The soundtrack highlights some '90s musical movie mainstays like Letters to Cleo and the Donnas, and Imperial Teen make two appearances with 'Water Boy' and 'Yoo Hoo.' The video for the latter revolves around Jawbreaker’s leading mean girl, Rose McGowen.
This film is a real doozy. The storyline revolves around two mentally challenged young people, played by Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi, who fall in love. Yikes! Both actors' performances are, shall we say, inappropriate, but the soundtrack is actually fantastic. It features the Lemonhead’s version of 'Mrs. Robinson' and tracks from Fastball, Paula Cole, the Soup Dragons, Joan Osbourne and Juliette Lewis herself. The Pretenders also turn up, which is only fair, since without Chrissie Hynde’s contributions to music, Lewis wouldn't have been able to start a band.