The 20 Best Movie Soundtracks of The 1990s

7. Buena Vista Social Club (1999) 

Buena Vista Social Club

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Wim Wenders’ documentary film Buena Vista Social Club changed the lives of the group of veteran and almost forgotten Cuban musicians and singers that made up the film’s subjects. But there’s also no doubt that the multi-million selling CD soundtrack (which has sold over 12 million copies so far, as of 2015) practically made world music stars out of Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and Ruben Gonzalez.

Opening with Compay Segundo’s bouncy and irresistible Chan Chan, with Omara Portuondo’s delicious rendering of Veinto Anos a particular highlight, the album never lets up throughout its 14 tracks, always commanding the listener’s attention with the beauty of its melodies and performances.

An absolutely essential, seminal even, introduction to the rest of the world of the seductive magic of the ‘son de Cuba’, this is an album that has the ability to win over anyone willing to give it a listen, even if that someone is not a fan of world music. (Soundtrack Playlist)


6. Rushmore (1998) 


Bottle Rocket may have contained hints of the Wes Anderson style, but it’s his second film Rushmore that beautifully crystallizes and showcases every single essential element that made the art of Wes Anderson so unique and special to his increasing number of fans out there. That beautiful blend of deadpan comedy, melancholy and even occasional bits of slapstick confidently announces itself here in telling its story about the coming of age of wannabe overachiever Max Fischer.

And just like Rushmore the film, Rushmore the soundtrack also confidently announces the whole aesthetic that would make up the Wes Anderson movie soundtrack, strong enough to even inspire a double-CD tribute album to the soundtrack of his films. That whole aesthetic is here though, from Mark Mothersbaugh’s magical original score to the British Invasion energy of The Who,

The Kinks and The Creation to the melancholic strumming of Cat Stevens and the exotic French pop of Yves Montand, the template for the glories of his later soundtracks like the ones to The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox can all be found here. (Soundtrack Playlist)


5. Backbeat (1994) 

BACKBEAT, Ian Hart, Gary Bakewell, Stephen Dorff, Chris O'Neill, Scot Williams, 1994, (c)Gramercy Pictures

Another brilliant idea, another brilliant soundtrack. Because the movie concentrates on the relationship between ‘Fifth Beatle’ Stuart Sutcliffe and his German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr, it is of course set during The Beatles’ formative years in Hamburg, in which they played, set after set and night after night, a setlist of classic 1950s rock n roll, and what better idea there is than to have a supergroup consisting of Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum, Mike Mills from R.E.M, Don Fleming from Gumball, Dave Grohl from Nirvana and Greg Dulli, the singer of The Afghan Whigs to perform those classic songs?

And that’s exactly what you’ll get in this pounding and rollicking soundtrack in which classics like “Please Mr. Postman”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Slow Down” were given an energetically swift kick in the butt by the soundtrack house band, each song punchier and arguably possessing even more of a rebellious rock n roll attitude than even the originals can manage.

And let’s not even talk about the Backbeat band’s unforgettable performance at the 1994 MTV Movie Awards, which culminated in the awe-inspiring sight of them smashing their instruments onstage. (Soundtrack Playlist)


4. Gummo (1997)


Due to Harmony Korine’s association with Larry Clark’s Kids as the film’s writer, initially there was a toss-up between putting either the CD soundtrack to his directing debut Gummo or Kids. But Gummo wins that battle hands down due to the fact that there’s unlikely to be another CD soundtrack (released on a major label to boot!) as ballsy and unapologetic as this.

Covering quite a wide spectrum of the more extreme ends of the underground metal spectrum, the CD has seminal black metal acts like Absu, Burzum and Bathory, powerviolence legends Spazz, stoner metal heavyweights Sleep and Eyehategod and plenty more unholy delights to assault your aural senses.

Perfectly complementing the film’s confrontational and provocative attitude, this is a double act of bravery that’s unlikely to happen again (especially considering the fact that both the film and the CD soundtrack have major corporate affiliations) in the near future. (Soundtrack Playlist)


3. Trainspotting (1996)


A very rare triple whammy smash hit, in which Irvine Welsh’s hit cult novel became a hit film by Danny Boyle, which also produced a hit CD soundtrack, to the extent that a second CD soundtrack (called Trainspotting #2) was released afterwards because of its massive success, the Trainspotting soundtrack basically turned Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” from an underground cult object into a 90s pop culture phenomenon.

When you add to that a line-up of leading bands from the 90s Britpop movement like Blur, Primal Scream, Pulp and Elastica alongside big names from the electronic scene like Leftfield and Underworld, which are then topped with legends like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, New Order and Brian Eno, you know you have an instant classic on your hands.

It may now be one of those 90s CDs that you can find in the bottom of every single bargain bin in every single record store in the world, but put it on now and you’ll probably marvel at how fresh it still sounds, perfectly reflecting the film’s boundless energy, electric pace and often striking visual set pieces. (Soundtrack Playlist)


2. Judgment Night (1993)

Judgment Night

In terms of musical breakthrough, this soundtrack to Stephen Hopkins’ passable thriller Judgment Night is without a doubt one of the most important albums of the 1990s.

Run DMC may have sampled Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in 1986, resulting in an unexpected but ultimately brilliant collaboration, but the pairing of some of the 1990s’ greatest rock acts (across all sides of the musical spectrum from thrash metal to power pop to indie rock to New York hardcore and beyond) with some the 1990s’ most seminal hip hop acts on this soundtrack is quite simply unprecedented.

That the whole thing is such an unqualified musical success is even more remarkable, as every single rock and hip hop pairing here, from Helmet & House Of Pain to Slayer & Ice-T to Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill to Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul and beyond manages to produce a song that contains elements that make both acts special. One of the rare albums where you won’t feel like pressing the skip button and wouldn’t mind having the whole thing on repeat, this one’s definitely for the ages. (Soundtrack Playlist)


1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

pulp fiction

There’s no getting around it. No matter how many of your non-cinephile friends think that Pulp Fiction is the greatest, most original, most edgy film of all time, you’ll never be able to deny what a great film it was and still is. It is a cultural monster. It not only launched Quentin Tarantino’s career, but it also launched the careers of thousands of other wannabe Tarantinos out there. The same thing can be said about its seminal soundtrack.

Yes, you can blame it for countless other Tarantino/Pulp Fiction wannabe soundtracks, but there’s no denying that the real thing is the real deal. Just like how the Trainspotting soundtrack turned Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” from a cult object into a pop culture phenomenon, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack singlehandedly turned Dick Dale’s rendition of “Misirlou” into a pop culture monster, to the extent that even Gerard Pires’ French film Taxi used the same track to energize its opening credits.

It even started the thankfully short-lived trend of putting in snippets of dialogue into soundtrack CDs, not to mention kickstarting a wholly unexpected revival of surf music to serve as music cues on everything from TV advertisements to films, TV shows and beyond. And for all these reasons, it undoubtedly deserves its number one spot here. (Soundtrack Playlist)

Author Bio: Aidil Rusli is a film geek who’s also the singer-songwriter of Malaysian power pop band Couple (, and whose geekiness compels him to endlessly write about films in as many avenues and publications as he possibly can.