11 reasons why ’90s movies had the best soundtracks

We explore the golden age of movie soundtracks throughout the 1990s

11 reasons why ’90s movies had the best soundtracks
Dan Slessor

Thanks to Elvis Presley and his contemporaries, rock music has had a place in the movies almost since it began. In the ’80s, AC/DC provided the entire musical backing to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, big-haired rockers Fastway helped make Trick Or Treat a heavy metal-infused cult classic and the likes of Top Gun and Rocky IV would be very different without riff-heavy songs blaring in the background every five minutes.

In more recent years, franchises like Twilight and Transformers have had high-profile artists such as Paramore, Muse and Linkin Park weigh in on the records that accompanied each new chapter. However, there’s never been a better time for quality rock and metal soundtracks than the first half of the ’90s, during which a slew of records that still stand up today were released. We take a look back at the best of the bunch, all of them attached to films that remain worth checking out if they’ve passed you by so far…

The Crow (1994)

Most famous for the tragic death of star Brandon Lee – son of Bruce – in a freak on-set accident, The Crow has remained a favourite of the gothically inclined. A tale of eyeliner-clad, back-from-the-dead vengeance set in a Gotham-esque urban hellhole, it’s an action packed, dark-hearted romp, but perhaps the best thing about it is its music. Featuring previously unreleased material from Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, Pantera, Rage Against The Machine and more, it’s rock fan-nirvana, with NIN’s standout Dead Souls frequently showing up in their live sets in the years since.

Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995)

The first full-length movie to be spun off from the cult TV series, Demon Knight is a straight-up good-vs.-evil horror flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has plenty of blood for the gore-hounds out there. Starring a young Jada Pinkett and a bald Billy Zane gloriously chewing the scenery as the demonic villain of the piece, the opening credits unfurl to Filter’s Hey Man, Nice Shot and it’s all good from there on. Also featuring Sepultura, Ministry, Rollins Band, Machine Head, Biohazard and Pantera, it’s a must for burly metal fans.

Judgement Night (1993)

Before 1993 no-one had thought to curate an entire album comprised entirely of songs that paired contemporary artists from both rock and hip-hop genres. Putting together Faith No More with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E, Helmet with House Of Pain, Slayer with Ice-T, and Cypress Hill with both Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, it makes for a varied collection with a lot of different approaches. Its rough feel is also the perfect accompaniment to a group of suburbanites spending a hellish night fleeing for their lives after taking a wrong turn in the worst part of town.

S.F.W (1995)

A darkly satirical look at fame, S.F.W tells the story of Cliff Spabb, a nobody who alongside Wendy Pfister (a young Reese Witherspoon) is held hostage in a convenience store by terrorists for a month. Demanding their captivity is televised, it’s kind of like an involuntary pre-Big Brother, if you will, taking potshots at media culture. Having a somewhat grimy feel, the soundtrack was well constructed to match this. With songs coming courtesy of Suicidal Tendencies, Hole, and Marilyn Manson, any film that features Soundgarden’s Jesus Christ Pose and Monster Magnet’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead has to be worth checking out.

Last Action Hero (1993)

With young protagonist Danny Madigan hurtled into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie via a magic cinema ticket, Last Action Hero gets all meta and pokes fun at itself, making for a cheesy good time. The same can be said for much of the soundtrack, which for the most part ignores the fact that in 1993 established rocks bands were increasingly losing out to the grunge onslaught - though does include two tracks from Alice In Chains. AC/DC’s Big Gun is arguably the best here but it was Def Leppard’s ballad Two Steps Behind that scaled the U.S. singles chart.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

The second entry in the Bill & Ted franchise sees the Wyld Stallyns bumped off by evil robot doppelgängers and sent to Hell, tricking (then befriending) The Grim Reaper, and committing a mugging in Heaven before finally becoming true rock legends back on Earth. Such malarkey deserves suitable musical backing, and more big names got involved than was the case for its predecessor. KISS provide the triumphant God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II for the film’s climax, but it is cuts from Megadeth and Faith No More’s The Perfect Crime that are the real standouts here. An excellent collection indeed.

Singles (1992)

Capturing the zeitgeist, this Seattle-based romcom is set against the background of the city’s burgeoning grunge scene, following the romantic ups and downs of its 20-something protagonists. Released three months before the film, the soundtrack to Singles was immediately a sensation due to the presence of previously unreleased material from the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. The latter two also have scenes set at their concerts, while Pearl Jam make a non-musical appearance as ‘Citizen Dick’, Eddie Vedder swapping microphone for drum stool so Matt Dillon’s dopey grunger character Cliff could front the band.

Mallrats (1995)

Chronicling a day in the life of slackers TS and Brodie as they mooch around local malls while intermittently attempting to win back their respective girlfriends, the second movie from director Kevin Smith was not as well received as its predecessor Clerks, but it’s a fun time with plenty of black comedy. And it’s also home to tracks from alternative rock big names Weezer, Bush, and Silverchair, as well as the likes of Girls Against Boys and Sublime. Alongside this, the soundtrack is littered with clips from the movie, providing for plenty of chuckles in between opportunities to mosh in your bedroom.

Airheads (1994)

Can’t get a record deal for your metal band? If you’re The Lone Rangers this means taking a local radio station hostage – with realistic replica toy guns – and demanding having your demo played over the airwaves. Simultaneously taking the piss out of metalheads and showing them affection, it’s a funny movie featuring a pre-superstardom Adam Sandler as the band’s drummer, and showcases tracks from Anthrax and Primus, while Motörhead team up with Ice-T and Whitfield Crane. White Zombie also show up in the film, playing to a packed LA club, and Lemmy himself makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Far from the best film to make it onto this list, Johnny Mnemonic is a flashy, messy, sci-fi techno-thriller based on a short story by legendary cyberpunk author William Gibson. The titular Johnny – played by Keanu Reeves – is tasked with couriering vital information in a hard drive installed in his brain, finding himself pursued by the Yakuza and a Bible-bashing Dolph Lundgren for his trouble. Music-wise, it goes for a somewhat futuristic feel with industrial units Stabbing Westward, KMFDM and God Lives Underwater lining up alongside the beefy sounds of Helmet, Rollins Band and Cop Shoot Cop.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Supervising the accompaniment to the most controversial film of the year, leave it to Trent Reznor to redefine the boundaries of what a soundtrack can actually be. The movie chronicling the media circus murderous rampage of Mickey and Mallory Knox (yep, that’s where the band got their name), its soundtrack is not as full on rock as other records here, with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Dr Dre included alongside Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction. However, it’s an experience, the tracks bleeding together and sometimes cleverly hybridised, interspersed with dialogue samples, pulling you back into the film every time you listen to it.

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?