Kids these days will never know the true joy of going to a local record store, pushing open the door, hearing the bells jingle, alerting the clerks to a new customer, walking to the right area, and sliding out a record, tape, or CD displaying all the songs from their favorite movie.
Videos by American Songwriter
Yes, movie soundtracks were king. While the landscape of soundtracks has changed, there are still some classic soundtracks that deserve their due. And there was no decade in history where the movie soundtracks reigned so supreme as the 1990s.
For example, check out these nine pristine collections below.
1. Pulp Fiction
The grandpappy of them all, the soundtrack for the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film is iconic, from its front cover with Uma Thurman in a dark wig, smoking a cigarette, to its undeniable playlist that features the likes of Dick Dale and Dusty Springfield. The soundtrack was lauded for its mix of popular songs and more obscure ones like Urge Overkill’s cover of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” The soundtrack, which also includes skits and scenes from the movie, later hit No. 21 on the Billboard Top 200.
2. Good Will Hunting
The soundtrack for this 1997 movie, starring Matt Damon and Robin Williams, introduced the world to the soft-voiced, cerebral songwriter Elliott Smith. With songs like “Miss Misery,” Smith became a household name thanks to the Oscar-winning film and its soundtrack. Soundscapes for the movie were also composed by Danny Elfman, and those tracks also appear on the compilation record. Both Elfman and Smith were nominated for Oscars for their work, but lost to Titanic.
The 1992 rom-com from director Cameron Crowe focused on the lives of young, single musicians in the Pacific Northwest. Capitalizing on the grunge movement in the city, the soundtrack featured the biggest names in the genre, from Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains to Soundgarden. But as much as the music is great, the compilation also marks a significant moment in time when young people were at the tipping point of changing the world through songs. And Crow, who was married to Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, was right in the middle of it in many ways.
4. Boyz n the Hood
The soundtrack for the 1991 film hit No. 1 on the U.S. R&B chart and No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200. The rap compilation featured big names like Ice Cube, 2 Live Crew, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. But more than any name, the soundtrack, and its accompanying film helped usher in important sounds and stories in the mainstream consciousness. It also helped Ice Cube become a household name and led to more films like Friday.
5. Pretty Woman
This 1990 film made Julia Roberts a star and the soundtrack helped it all happen. Even the song “Pretty Woman,” sung by the golden-voiced Roy Orbison immediately pops to mind when the subject of the film comes up. You can hear it instantly. The soundtrack also includes songs from Red Hot Chili Peppers and David Bowie. But perhaps no other movie or movie title conjures up musical associations like this one.
6. Forest Gump
The 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks boasted one of the best collections of songs for any film. The movie takes place over five decades, or so, and therefore touches on countless important musical moments in history, from Elvis to the Beatles to much more. The double disc contains more than 30 tracks and that doesn’t even match the number of memorable songs in the movie itself. From “Hound Dog” to “Go Your Own Way,” the collection is unmatched.
7. Space Jam
For kids of the ’90s, the movie Space Jam was a major touchstone. Heck, kids of today still watch the movie, which stars Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. The soundtrack for the movie at the time of its release in 1996 was a hot topic amongst kids and adult music fans. It included comedy from Chris Rock and soulful songs from artists like Seal and All-4-One. Jay Z is on the album, as is Busta Rhymes. It was such a well-received album that it hit No. 2 on the US Billboard 200.
8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
What’s this? What’s this! Four words that spring off the tongue whenever considering this 1993 animated movie. Bridging the scariness of Halloween and the joy of Christmas, this soundtrack also includes Danny Elfman, who wrote and performed the songs as the main character Jack Skellington. A bonus version of the soundtrack was also released that features covers of the song by artists like Fiona Apple and Panic! at the Disco.
If there’s one thing that director Martin Scorsese likes, it’s a drug-addled scene with a bit of heart-racing rock and roll music. And the movie that hit this on the nose was his classic mafia film, Goodfellas. The soundtrack for which featured Cream, Aretha Franklin, and Derek and the Dominos, along with crooner Tony Bennett and more.
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images