Any cinephile will tell you that it takes more than a few words on a page or actors in front of a camera to make a good movie. No, to make a good movie you everything has to accentuate everything else. The lighting has to set the mood, the photography has to relay the message, the costumes have to fit the period being depicted.
Often times you can skirt around a few of these as long as everything else works together. Kevin Costner didn’t speak with a British accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and modern pop music was used in A Knight’s Tale. Neither of these took away from the story being depicted.
One bit of movie necessity that is sometimes overlooked as it slips gently into the background is the music. Music can make or break a movie. That moment of silence that suddenly crescendos with loud cymbal crashes as the villain comes bursting into the room. Some horror movies can be muted and watched with no fear at all. Ridley Scott sets a good example with this in the form of 1979’s Alien. This is considered by many one of the scariest movies ever made, but turn the sound off, and you have a different movie altogether.
What follows is a list of 5 movies whose soundtracks make the movie. Several types of movies had to be removed from consideration, such a musicals and dance movies. The list is by no means all inclusive, but is a good example of somewhere to start if you want to see how music can add to and make a movie all the more enjoyable.
First, Dazed and Confuzed. This is a movie set at the beginning of Summer, 1976, and focusses on a small group of Texas teenagers participating in various rites of passage. Every song selected for this soundtrack fits perfectly and helps to advance the story. From Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”, to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”; you can put yourself in the characters shoes and fell their emotions.
Next up, Forrest Gump. This is one where you can go from fighting in Vietnam to crying. From the moment the feather floats onto the screen to the moment if floats away, each song blends seamlessly to carry the emotion from scene to scene. Whether Bob Dylan or Creedence Clearwater Revival, each song provides a perfect segue from decade to decade.
Grosse Pointe Blank. This is a fun movie that centers around the 10th year high school reunion of a man who stood up his date on prom night, joined the army, and became a professional hitman. Doesn’t really sound like music would play a large part in this movie, but it is the subtly placed tracks such as the Guns N’ Roses version of “Live and Let Die” that is playing prior to Cusack’s character entering a store and immediately switching to a muzak version in the exact spot once he is inside, that keep the movie paced perfectly. And with a cast consisting of John Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, and Hank Azaria, you can be sure a good time is ahead.
OK, I’m going to include a dance movie in this list anyway. You cannot have a movie music montage and not look to Footloose for inspiration. Every song in this movie is placed to make the viewer feel something. From the training montage set to “Holding out for a Hero” to Ren teaching Willard how to dance to “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”; even the final credit song of Footloose has you leaving with a bounce in your step.
Finally, a movie that has to be watched to appreciate what has been done with the music; The Big Lebowski. The Coen Brothers intentionally did a lot with music in this movie, from track placement, the making up fictional bands, to having Jeff Bridge’s “the Dude” having once been a roadie for Metallica. The casual observer will appreciate the tracks that go with the “Dude’s” trippy dream sequences, but the observant viewer will notice that each song played during the movie is, at some point, played on a radio at some other time from “Tumblin Tubleweeds” fading into a muzak version as the Dude is shopping for coffee creamer and back to its original version as he exits the store.
Every movie has to have certain things that can make it or break it. From a great script, to great actors, to whether the music is subtle or intentional. What movies make your list when it comes to having music that makes it?