The Music was Better than the Movie
Sometimes movies suck; but that doesn’t mean everything about them sucks.
It’s a fact of life: not all movies are good.
In fact, there are some really crappy ones out there, and Hollywood never seems to learn from these mistakes, cause they keep happening. This year, for example, has seen some great flicks like Avengers: Endgame and Us, as well as some critical bombs like Dark Phoenix.
But just because you didn’t like the movie doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to like. In fact, one of the few saving graces for any bad movie can be the music.
Recently I decided to compile a playlist of music that deserved better than the movie they were written for, simply because some of these works are beautiful and don’t really deserve to go down with the ship. I’ll include the playlist (which is still a work in progress, mind you) at the end of this article, but I want to take a moment to highlight and talk about some of my choices. Now, not every movie on this playlist sucked; some of them are actually personal favorites of mine. But even if the movie wasn’t a horrible film, it will be included if the music feels like a clear step above the film it was saddled with.
So, herein starts the list! It’s not comprehensive, and there are plenty more tracks on the playlist than what I’ll talk about here, because I feel like a playlist should be more than ten songs (and most movies have more than one good track).
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Song on the playlist: “Gap” by Hans Zimmer
This is where the playlist started, probably because this movie- and its soundtrack- was still fresh in my memory. I didn’t hate Dark Phoenix; in fact, I liked it better than other installments in the franchise (see my full review here). But the music was a clear mile better than what appeared on screen.
Hans Zimmer is a master at soundtracks, creating breathtaking pieces for everything from Batman (twice) and Sherlock Holmes to some of Chris Nolan’s most mind-blowing films (such as Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk). But he’s not immune to writing for a bad movie; in fact, no composer is. But even if the movie his score is associated with is considered a train wreck, Zimmer still gives it his best. Here, he created a stunning new theme for the X-Men, which had to follow the familiar theme John Ottman had used in the previous two installments. I personally loved this theme, one of the best of the franchise, and I’m grateful that Zimmer decided to do a superhero film again (he had previously “retired” from scoring superhero movies after Batman V Superman).
This isn’t Zimmer’s last time on this list, however.
Amazing Spider-Man 2
Oh, Andrew Garfield, how we hardly knew you. I didn’t have a problem with Garfield’s Spider-Man; in many ways, he was an improvement over Tobey McGuire. And while I initially enjoyed his second (and final) outing as the webslinger, his second movie left a lot to be desired (including a coherent plotline). So much so that the first movie’s composer, James Horner (rest in peace) left the sequel because it didn’t have the same heart as the first movie.
In stepped Zimmer, who delivered a solid theme for Spidey and Electro, but really outdid himself with Harry Osborne’s theme. If only the movie had delved into Harry’s descent into madness as well as “Harry’s suite” did musically. And if only Hans Zimmer could get a chance to score a decent Marvel movie.
The Last Airbender
If there’s one composer who kept showing up on this playlist- and who undoubtedly has been given the short end of the stick when it comes to movie quality- it’s James Newton Howard.
Like Zimmer, Howard has done some incredible work on some incredible movies, including the themes for the Fantastic Beasts series (you might think I would have included Crimes of Grindelwald on this list, but I absolutely love that movie) and working with Zimmer on Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
And, like Zimmer, even when the movie isn’t up to snuff, his music always is. In no movie is that clearer than The Last Airbender, which by all accounts should be stricken from the Earth, if it weren’t for Howard’s music. In fact, “Flow Like Water” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard from Howard, and it’s a damn shame that it is forever tied to this travesty of cinema.
Also like Zimmer, this isn’t the only time Howard will appear on this playlist; he’s done a plethora of M. Night Shamaylan movies, and we know how those tend to turn out- you’ll find tracks from both Lady in the Water and The Village here, too. I’ve also included pieces of his score from Peter Pan, which I enjoy, but totally recognize is a middling adaptation at best (but still better than Pan, which you’ll also find on the playlist, score by John Powell).
I have to admit it: Speed Racer is one of my all-time favorite movies. But I understand that I’m in a minority here, so even if you have no inclination to see the movie ever in your life (you should), you at least need to hear Michael Giacchino’s electric score for the flick.
As fast-paced as Speed himself, these songs convey a level of emotion that might otherwise be absent from the cartoony movie. “Reboot” in particular has me on the edge of my seat every time I listen to it.
Giacchino has done some of modern cinema’s most iconic music, and is possibly my favorite composer working today. Starting all the way back with The Incredibles, he has captured magic again and again, with his scores for Spider-Man Homecoming, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Doctor Strange.
But he’s also done some brilliant work for movies that didn’t return the favor, like John Carter (another favorite of mine that no one else seemed to like), Jupiter Ascending, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He’s no stranger to this playlist, but that’s only a good thing, as even if the movie sucks, he doesn’t.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Song on the playlist: “Star Trek: the Motion Picture- The Enterprise” by Jerry Goldsmith
Star Trek movies have been greatly hit or miss; in fact, before J.J. Abrams stepped in in 2009, it was widely regarded that the odd-numbered movies in the franchise sucked while the even-numbered ones were winners.
That holds true most of all for the inaugural Trek film, aptly titled The Motion Picture. And while that movie is plodding and a chore to sit through (especially if you own the “Special Longer Version”), one good thing came out of it (you know, besides the glory shots of the Enterprise that would be recycled for films to come): Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic theme.
That theme would go on to be used for five of the franchise’s movies, as well as The Next Generation, where that theme has probably become the most iconic (and possibly the most recognizable theme in the franchise).
Goldsmith is also included on this list with another of his Trek scores, the end credits sequence for Star Trek: Insurrection.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Yes, even the great John Williams is not immune to composing a score for a bad movie, although it seems to happen fewer and father between.
While none of the prequel films live up to the original Star Wars trilogy, I picked Attack of the Clones as it feels like the worst of the three (if you doubt me, just remember this line, “I hate sand”) and has some of the most underrated pieces of music in the series.
The love theme for Anakin and Padme- while not “Luke and Leia” or “Han Solo and the Princess” from the original trilogy- is an epic piece of music, as is the assassin chase sequence from the start of the movie (a song that was unabashedly copied for the Quidditch scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; seriously, go watch the scene, I’ll wait).
Coming at a time when Williams didn’t seem to be at his best stride to me (his score for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets also came out that year, and wasn’t quite as good as his other installments in that franchise), it was overshadowed by his return to form with Revenge of the Sith’s score (as well as Azkaban’s). But it is still damn good music, and still damn better than the film it is attached to.
Williams only appears once more on this list, with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but frankly he could have phoned in that soundtrack and it would still be way better than the rest of the movie.
There are plenty of other movies included on this playlist, from many different composers. And the goal here is simple: showcase some good music that would otherwise have drowned with the movies they were made for.
But I’m not done; there are more movies out there that aren’t as good as the music that was written for them, and I’m still hunting them down.
This playlist is collaborative, so feel free to add your own choices to the mix, or leave a comment here and let me know which bad movies had amazing soundtracks.
Note: I’m only including musical scores on this list, so songs sung by artists aren’t being considered, even if they were written for the movie.