From Can’t Hardly Wait to Waiting to Exhale.
Ranking '90s movie soundtracks is like deciding between outfits in the morning without Cher's magic closet – almost impossible. Luckily, I have some strong opinions, not just on what should be included on a list of the best, but also where those albums should rank.
My number one choice, Singles, the soundtrack to the 1992 film starring Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott, the city of Seattle, and the band Pearl Jam, might prove controversial in a tight race, but I stand by it – even if Paul Westerberg later hated the main song, "Waiting For Somebody." It's just so catchy! Uh-huh-huh!
Even if you don't agree with my ranking, enjoy this trip down cinema song memory lane – especially the Goofy Movie. You know you loved the Goofy Movie.
33. Free Willy
Michael Jackson has the most famous song from this soundtrack, “Will You Be There.” The rest of the music in the heartwarming whale tale is done mainly by composer Basil Poledouris.
32. Dangerous Minds
The music video for the movie’s most famous song, Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” features the film’s star Michelle Pfeiffer sitting across the table from the rapper. The soundtrack was so good it topped the Billboard 200 in 1995 when it was released.
31. Dazed and Confused
“Slow Ride” by Foghat, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper, and “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways feature on this groovy soundtrack that also includes Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, and KISS. Of course a movie about high school in the '70s has a great soundtrack.
30. Prince of Egypt
Mariah Carey teams up with soundtrack queen Whitney Houston to bring us a gorgeous, unforgettable song called “When You Believe.” The entire soundtrack to this cartoon version of the story of Passover is beautifully crafted and supremely moving. Once, on a long road trip, a friend and I sang the whole thing from memory. Thank Hashem no one else was around.
29. Forrest Gump
This is an excellent mix of songs from the era the film covers – from the 1950s and “Hound Dog” to the 1970s and “Fortunate Son.” The movie came out in the '90s but the soundtrack is a wonderful classic rock mix tape.
28. Spice World
As an avid fan of the Spice Girls, this movie was my Hard Day’s Night. A British band runs around the city causing all sorts of shenanigans on their way to a gig – but this time, with girl power!
27. Cool Runnings
If you’re looking for a dope collection of reggae and dance hall songs, the Cool Runnings soundtrack is a good place to start. Just don’t forget your lucky egg, mon.
26. Jurassic Park
This counts as more of a musical score than a soundtrack, but composer John Williams may have his finest work with the music of Jurassic Park.
25. Cruel Intentions
This soundtrack reads like a mix cassette I would have made in fifth grade. In fact, I’ve definitely put “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim on one for some undeserving boy. Plus, who can forget the most romantic use of the Counting Crow’s “Colorblind?”
This soundtrack has Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds! It has Birdbrain! It has Moby! It has a cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” which is so, so appropriate but also, wrong. Do fear the reaper.
23. The Craft
There’s no better goth than a '90s girl goth, and no better movie to capture that beautiful agony than The Craft. The music doesn’t hurt either.
22. American Pie
This movie came out at the tail end of the '90s and so includes all the hits, like a mainstream '90s “Best Of” mix: Third Eye Blind, Blink 182, Sugar Ray, etc.
After the top 20, it becomes easier to rank these in order, as it’s clear which are the best representatives of the time and also of the movie the soundtrack is attached to. For instance, the big band sound in 1996’s Swingers is perfect for a movie about running away to Vegas.
20. My Best Friend’s Wedding
I’ve loved this soundtrack since I was an elementary school weirdo trying to convince my friends to watch this movie at my birthday party. My mom got so sick of me singing “Say A Little Prayer For You,” I’m surprised she didn’t throw the CD out the car window. Plus Ani Difranco, who I’d come to love in high school, is also on the soundtrack singing the deeply unexpected “Wishin’ and Hopin’.”
19. Now and Then
The soundtrack to this movie about four friends growing up and growing apart is adorable and features sugar-sweet classics by The Archies, Jackson 5, The Monkees, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder.
18. Office Space
The iconic scene of our slacker heroes destroying defective office technology with baseball bats wouldn’t be what it is without the sweet sounds of Geto Boy’s “Still.” The Mike Judge film also includes “Down For Whatever” by Ice Cube and excellent use of “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta.”
17. Batman Forever
Four words: “Kiss From A Rose.” This movie might be campy but the soundtrack is seriously good: Nick Cave, Mazzy Star, PJ Harvey, the Flaming Lips. And of course, the one and only Seal.
16. The Lion King
Hans Zimmer strikes again. These songs – “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?,” “Hakuna Matata,”– all of them are classics. Elton John contributes three of those, and they’re just gorgeous.
15. 10 Things I Hate About You
Perhaps best known for a musical scene where Heath Ledger belts “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” to Julia Stiles, the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack also has great songs by Semisonic, Letters To Cleo, Sister Hazel, and The Cardigans.
14. The Commitments
Based on the novel by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments film cast real, raw musicians to play the parts of the pioneers of American R&B – including 16-year-old lead singer Andrew Strong. The soundtrack is beloved for this very reason.
13. Romeo + Juliet
This soundtrack brought the Cardigan’s “Lovefool” into the collective consciousness and sums up the doomed love of the movie, and all our lives.
12. Pulp Fiction
Who doesn’t love belting the opening lines of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon?” In typical Quentin Tarantino fashion, the music for Pulp Fiction is delightfully quirky and surf-rock themed. The movie’s title theme “Misirlou” by Dick Dale & His Del Tones is so perfect for the film, but also super fun to listen to on its own.
Trainspotting wasn’t only known for the most terrifying scene involving a demon baby ever, but also for having a wicked great soundtrack. The music spans that era of British music including Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, New Order, Blur, the late great Lou Reed, Pulp, and Damon Albarn.
Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo did most of the music for this beloved Wes Anderson film, but the soundtrack also includes The Kinks, Cat Stevens, The Who, John Lennon, and The Faces. I personally love Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby.”
9. Empire Records
The setting being a record shop, it would be ironic if the music for this film wasn’t superb, but it also perfectly captures a segment of '90s youth. The Empire Records soundtrack features the Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, and Better Than Ezra, but people buying the album might be shocked to find out that some of the movies most famous songs were left off. There’s no Dire Strait’s “Romeo and Juliet” or “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Flying Lizards, which are both feature prominently in “Empire Records.” Weird.
8. Waiting To Exhale
Obviously a movie starring Whitney Houston is gonna have great music, but the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack goes above and beyond. Whitney starts us off with two songs, but she’s excellently followed by Toni Braxton (for whom I have an R&B songstress boner), Mary J, TLC, Brandy, Chaka Khan, Faith Evans, and Patti LaBelle. Queens. All of them.
7. Can’t Hardly Wait
Even if it didn’t have my favorite Blink 182 song on it, this soundtrack was a shoo-in for the top 10. With Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth (not “All Star!”), Busta, The Replacements, and Matthew Sweet, Can’t Hardly Wait’s soundtrack always rightfully tops '90s fave lists. Well, I guess this is growing up.
6. Buena Vista Social Club
This is just a good album, but all of the music is performed by the titular band, stars of the beloved documentary about the Havana venue, so it’s also a soundtrack. The best song on the album is called “Chan Chan” (above) and it perfectly paints a warm, summer night.
5. Space Jam
Nostalgia factors in to this Michael Jordan-Looney Tunes collab making the top five, because just hearing any of the songs from this soundtrack brings a smile to the face of a '90s kid. Come on and slam, and welcome to the jam!
4. Reality Bites
This is a lot of people’s number one '90s soundtrack choice and I love it too, but maybe love and nostalgia for the movie colors their judgment. Ethan Hawke sings on it too.
Of course everyone remembers the music of the Alicia Silverstone classic Clueless for “I Wanna Be A Supermodel” but there are also a ton of great songs on the soundtrack by David Bowie, Salt N Pepa, Radiohead, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and the Cranberries. It’s also where I first heard No Doubt’s “Just A Girl,” which is a dope feminist track.
2. True Romance
This beautiful piece of art by soundtrack extraordinaire Hans Zimmer is so cool, so cool, so cool. The film, one of Quentin Tarantino’s first screenplays, is a violent tale of undying devotion and the soundtrack is perfectly mood-setting.
Paul Westerberg of The Replacements helms this soundtrack from 1992’s Singles – a movie starring Kyra Sedgwick as a lost and confused twentysomething in Seattle. The band Pearl Jam appears in the film as Matt Dillon’s band – which might be the most '90s thing ever committed to paper – and they also contribute two songs. The soundtrack also features Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Alice In Chains.