Film 101: Movie Soundtracks

by | Oct 17th, 2011 | 8:00PM | Filed under: Film 101, Movies

footloose soundtrackAfter seeing (and, like Locke, enjoying) this weekend’s Footloose remake, I got to thinking about the power of movie soundtracks. You old-timers might remember that the Footloose album took the #8 spot in my “Top Ten Movie Soundtracks of All Time” list back in December 2008. I had braced myself for totally new (lame) songs in the 2011 version, but was pleasantly surprised to hear the original oldies-but-goodies incorporated in clever ways, or otherwise respectfully covered by appropriate artists.

All of this got me wondering about how and when film soundtracks first gained popularity, since the original Footloose album claimed the #1 position on the Billboard 200 for ten weeks straight in 1984, and was responsible for finally ending Michael Jackson’s Thriller‘s thirty-seven-week reign.

Turns out that the first commercially available movie soundtrack belonged to Till the Clouds Roll By, a 1946 fictionalized biopic of composer Jerome Kern. It featured songs from an impressive lineup of stars (who were also cast members), including Lena Horne, Angela Lansbury, Dinah Shore, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. But it wasn’t until the next decade when movie marketers started realizing the true potential of great soundtracks in drumming up interest (and extra revenue streams) for films. That’s when a slew of soundtracks for movies that were adapted from Broadway plays (such as Annie Get Your Gun, Singin’ in the Rain, and Gigi) became big hits.

tron-legacy-daft-punkThese days, film soundtracks are available to purchase for almost every movie, and increasingly well-known, mainstream artists are getting into the game (take Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor’s (Academy Award-winning!) work for The Social Network, as well as his collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O on the upcoming  Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

You might have noticed that I’m using “soundtrack” and “score” interchangeably—sometimes pivotal scenes in a film are set to already-existing songs (like in 50/50), sometimes already-existing songs are given an update for a film (like in Sucker Punch), sometimes original songs are the focus (like with Country Strong—I own BOTH of its soundtracks!), and then other times a completely original score (which may or may not include “songs with lyrics” in addition to instrumental themes) is what gets people’s attention. Recent examples of the latter include TRON: Legacy‘s electronica score by Daft Punk, and the eerie but addictive Hanna score by big-beat duo The Chemical Brothers.

What are YOUR favorite movie soundtracks of all time? What about some of the best recent soundtracks and scores? And would you ever buy a movie soundtrack without having ever seen the film itself, simply because you loved the composer and/or the featured artists?


Redbox movies with great soundtracks:

2 Responses to “Film 101: Movie Soundtracks”

  1. moviegoer123
    Posted on October 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I really like the Mamma Mia! soundtrack — I still listen to it every once in awhile.

    But I also liked the Help’s score…deeply enjoyed “The Living Proof” by Mary J. Blige — that song just sums up the whole film entirely.

    I recently had seen Hanna and the score makes the film even more sunspenseful.

    I buy the soundtracks because I would simply listen to them and it reminds me of watching the movie — imagining the images in my head while listening to it.

  2. Dave
    Posted on October 18, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Rocky Horror Picture Show.
    Natural Born Killers (compiled by Trent Reznor)

    I would and have bought soundtracks for movies I’ve never seen (Judgment Night for example).