What would a good movie be without a good soundtrack? Usually a mediocre movie, is the (boringly predictable) answer. The difference a few soaring violins can make to any given scene is not to be underestimated (see the much-loved ‘Ride in the Sky’ scene in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, or any one of the 135 minutes of Love Actually). An effectively composed movie soundtrack can lighten or darken the mood of the viewer, add suspense, create fear and inspire deeply heartfelt feelings in even the most emotionally-hardened of movie watchers, however unwilling they may be to admit it.
The deliberate omission of a soundtrack in a movie is frankly a risky move: powerfully emotive as music is, its absence can very easily leave a film with something of an emotional void. It can, on occasion, work out well — the recent set of Paranormal Activity films, for example, seem to lose nothing of their terror in their lack of musical accompaniment. In fact, it makes the franchise stand out as eerily silent in a sea of cheesy, frenzied-screaming-strings-accompanied horror films. More often than not, however, the notion of a music-free movie jars in the same way as watching a sitcom with its laugh track removed — it seems to be missing some integral part of its makeup. In short, it’s all just a bit uncomfortable.
Given the general cultural predisposition to musical accompaniment in films, it is no surprise that movie soundtracks sell in as large amounts as they do. There can be no doubt that, as a rule, films with exceptional soundtracks tend to do exceptionally well, which is not mere coincidence. Often, film soundtracks are so well-loved in and of themselves that they sell pretty much on their own merit. This list counts down the top ten most popular movie soundtracks of all time, based on sales trends (whether or not their respective films are as popular, or indeed as good, is debatable).
10. Flashdance and Space Jam soundtracks: 6 million copies
Rather incongruously tied in tenth place are the soundtracks to the incredibly Eighties film Flashdance, and the sports-sci-fi-animation-comedy amalgamation Space Jam. Both soundtracks have sold in the region of six million copies each, with choice songs featured on each respective album including Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling”, and “That’s the Way (I Like It)”, as performed by The Spin Doctors featuring Biz Markie. The volume of sales of both albums indicate the existence of a surprising amount of people with a penchant for imagining themselves as big-haired aspiring dancers and/or Michael Jordan living in a world of animation (particularly troubling in the case of those who may have bought both albums).
9. Waiting to Exhale soundtrack: 7 million copies
At number nine is the soundtrack to 1995 appropriately-named Waiting to Exhale. With so many belters that the singers would be hard pressed to find a good time for breathing out, the soundtrack to Waiting to Exhale covers a wide range of emotions in its songs. Containing ballads of heartbreak such as “It Hurts Like Hell” and “How Could You Call Her Baby?”, the misery of which are mercifully offset by more positive songs like “My Love, Sweet Love” and “I’m Gonna Make You My Wife”, the movie’s soundtrack has got you covered, whatever your emotional state.
8. O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Grease soundtracks: 8 million copies
Number eight sees another interestingly-matched tie. The soundtracks of both millennium movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the musical-of-all-musicals Grease have sold approximately eight million copies apiece. Some annoyingly catchy songs from O Brother, Where Art Thou? include “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “You Are My Sunshine”. Grease, notorious for having a soundtrack almost impossible not to sing along to, contains endearingly melancholy puppy love-filled melodies such as “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy”, which contrast its poppier numbers, including “Greased Lightning” and “You’re The One That I Want”.
7. Footloose and Top Gun soundtracks: 9 million copies
Yet another musical-versus-non-musical tie comes in at number seven, with the soundtracks for Footloose and Top Gun having sold in the region of nine million copies each. The Footloose soundtrack might have been expected to sell well to fans of the classic Eighties musical genre, with its era-appropriate soft-rock vibe extending to “Holding Out For A Hero” and its title track “Footloose”. The Top Gun soundtrack, in an oddly similar vein, includes Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and “Heaven In Your Eyes” by Loverboy. Clearly, the producers of Top Gun had an astounding level of foresight to see that such a soundtrack would appeal to many of its targeted viewers.
6. The Lion King soundtrack: 10 million copies
The sixth-best selling movie soundtrack of all time is that of the heart-wrenching Disney movie The Lion King. Quite possibly the saddest movie ever made (cruelly marketed at children), its soundtrack is happily at odds with the more depressing moments of the film. Examples of its cheery tunes include “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” and “Hakuna Matata”, clearly a malicious ploy on the part of Disney to lure the viewer into a false sense of security before shattering their heart into roughly a million pieces.
4. Dirty Dancing and Titanic soundtracks: 11 million copies
Surprise, surprise — another tie: the soundtracks to classic movies Dirty Dancing and Titanic have both sold in excess of eleven million copies each. Big hits from Dirty Dancing include “Be My Baby”, “Hungry Eyes” and, of course, “The Time Of My Life”. The rather eclectic soundtrack for Titanic covers everything from Irish trad: “An Irish Party In Third Class”, to hymns: “Nearer My God To Thee”, along with the song of the film from the woman who can reasonably safely take a large amount of the credit for the soundtrack’s popularity — Celine Dion, with “My Heart Will Go On”.
4. Forrest Gump soundtrack: 12 million copies
The soundtrack to Forrest Gump is in at number four. Having sold twelve million plus copies to date, the soundtrack contains a medley of songs spanning several decades, roughly nineteen-sixties to -eighties. The film’s songs encompass famous tropes of the music of each era, with dreamy, hazy tracks like “California Dreamin'” and”Aquarius”, and folk songs such as “Blowin’ In The Wind” summing up the sixties. Seventies-wise, “Get Down Tonight” provides the funk, while “Against The Wind” supplies eighties wistful soft-rock. It is a soundtrack so varied in its time span that there is, in all likelihood, something that will appeal to everyone, which should go some way towards explaining its popularity.
3. Purple Rain soundtrack: 13 million copies
The Eighties rock musical Purple Rain comes in at number three, with more than thirteen million copies of its Prince-heavy soundtrack having been sold to date. Full of feel-good pop, the track list includes “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Baby I’m a Star” and, naturally enough, the slower-paced “Purple Rain”. Other artists do feature on the soundtrack — Morris Day performs “Jungle Love” and Dez Dickerson “Modernaire”, for example; however, it seems likely that the prominent Prince presence has played a large part in its prolific sales figures.
2. Saturday Night Fever soundtrack: 15 million copies
At number two, having sold in excess of a staggering fifteen million copies, is the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Possibly the most boppy soundtrack of all time (to use the technical term), it showcases pretty much incessant funk and inspires a disturbingly strong compulsion to tap your feet. Mainly made up of Bee Gees tracks, including “You Should Be Dancing” and “Staying Alive”, the track list also includes a smorgasbord of discos: “Disco Inferno”, “Dr. Disco”, and “Disco Duck”, along with the comparatively constrained “More Than a Woman” and “If I Can’t Have You”. That the soundtrack should sell so well indicates, happily, a widespread predisposition in the world towards impromptu disco dancing.
1. The Bodyguard soundtrack: 17 million copies
The number one best-selling movie soundtrack of all time is that of The Bodyguard. To date having sold more than seventeen million copies, the soundtrack contains numerous power ballads, including “I’m Every Woman” and “I Have Nothing”. Its most famous track is the heart-wrenching “I Will Always Love You”, originally sung by Dolly Parton but popularized enormously by Whitney Houston‘s version, which is heavy on both ornamentation and emotion. You’d be hard pressed to find a person who, if given the lead in of a warbled “AND I-I-I-I…” will not follow up with “…WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU”, which is in no small part thanks to Houston.