The soundtrack was better

Five movies that didn't deserve their soundtracks

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

This movie is irredeemably bad. The erstwhile ‘star’ of the first movie, Linden Ashby, didn’t bother to return as Johnny Cage and, presumably out of spite, his stand-in was messily killed in the movie’s opening scene. Coldest ‘fuck you’ from a film to a can’t-be-bothered star since Will Smith’s off-screen death in Independence Day 2: More Independencer. But, truly, the promoted-then-deceased stunt double was the luckiest of us all, as he was presumably spared the rest of the movie.

The actual star of Mortal Kombat, Christopher Lambert, also didn’t return, and was recast without explanation. The man that did Highlander 2 drew the line at Mortal Kombat 2. 

Be warned:

Liu must pass three tests. The first is a trial of his self-esteem, courage, and focus. The second comes in the form of temptation, which manifests itself in the form of Jade, a mysterious warrior who attempts to seduce Liu and offers her assistance after he resists her advances. The third test is never revealed.

Do you think they filmed the third test and then decided not to include it? Or did they forget? Was it in the script? Anything is possible!

Anyway, this film bombed SO BADLY that that it not only nuked the era’s most famous video game franchise, it deep-sixed the entire idea of Mortal Kombat movies for over two decades. Hell, if it weren’t for Resident Evil quietly racking up billions, video game movies as a whole might never have recovered.

As an aside within an aside: the 2021 reboot also sucked! Why do people try to give plot to Mortal Kombat? The plot is literally mortal combat. Throw a bunch of weirdos on an island and make them fight! You do not ‘fix’ Mortal Kombat! It isn’t a tragically broken alpha billionaire who needs cuddles and a tragic backstory: it is Enter the Dragon with a $150m budget! Appreciate it for what it is! LET THEM FIGHT.

Even if the movie failed to understand the true essence of Mortal Kombattitude, the soundtrack figured it out. None of this wishy-washy quest bollocks. No namby pamby attempts at a plot. You want some music to combat mortally to? Coming right up, meatsack. Slap this shit in your Walkman, hammer the play button, and get your fatality on. Rammstein! KMFDM! George Clinton?! This is a cassette full of songs with names like ‘Brutality’ and ‘We Have Explosive’. Does your character have motivation? Fuck yeah, my backstory is MEGADEATH.

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

If there were a list of best film and best soundtrack, The Crow would probably sit firmly atop that list. I’m also willing to die on the hill that The Crow is the best superhero movie and/or comic book adaptation.

Then, there’s The Crow: City of Angels, which is not very good. (Also, TIL it was written by David S. Goyer, and suddenly everything makes so much more sense.)

An evil gang in a future LA kills Vincent Perez, who, by all accounts, is actually a pretty decent actor. He’s resurrected for bloody revenge, said revenge is taken (bloodily), and, uh, hijinks ensue. Instead of a basic ‘life and shift’ from the first movie, City of Angels tries to expand the crow-niverse and add a little more world-building and flesh out the magic system. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes The Crow so good. No one cares how the Crow crows. We should not understand how the Crow crows. The point of the Crow is not that there’s a rational, scientific reason for people to come back full of gang-slayin’ gymkata. The point is that, we, the viewer, scared by many episodes of Dateline, need to know that justice exists in the world. And that when systems fail, the karmic balance will be restored by hot goth boys.

City of Angels also makes the dubious choice to move from a vaguely-contemporaneous-but-stylised Detroit into a near-future Los Angeles. I could say more about this, but it all boils down to the choice being - in the words of my small child - so bor-ing. Cinema Detroit is not boring: see Beverly Hills Cop, Robocop, etc). It is notable because it is hyper-real, all our racist uncle’s Newsmax Facebook shares come to fruition. LA is boring. And near-future LA is even more boring because it is a fantasy of a fantasy of a fantasy, our actual anxieties thrice-removed. City of Angels was a straight-to-Cinemax ‘sequel’ to a genuine cult classic. Our teenage crushes on Brandon Lee deserved better. (We all had that crush. Don’t pretend otherwise.)

But, hey, the soundtrack was great.

Hole (covering Fleetwood Mac), Korn, Iggy Pop (who also appeared in the movie, bless him), Linda Perry, PJ Harvey, Bush… If there’s any complaint, it is that the soundtrack is arguably a bit too much. But that’s the spirit of the (OG) Crow. There’s an earnestness to the soundtrack, and its wall-to-wall hyperkinetic doombang feels. You have to set aside your cynicism - difficult, given, y’know, City of Angels, and let the aggressive pathos wash over you like an inky-black surf.

My favourite track is still White Zombie’s cover of “I’m Your Boogie Man” (see above), but Tricky’s “Tonite is a Special Nite” is way up there.

Freejack (1992)

Freejack is a bad movie about Emilio Estevez as a racing car driver. He dies almost as quickly as Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. But unlike the proverbial JC, Emilio is fly-fished out of time and reeled into the year 2009 because Anthony Hopkins wants his body. Mick Jagger is also in the movie, because that’s the sort of movie this is, just not in a good way. As much as I am the patron saint of failed cyberpunk properties, this one is beyond my ability to redeem.

Freejack is sort of based on Robert Sheckley’s Immortality Inc (1959). I’m like 50% sure that I once read a second-hand copy of a novelisation of the movie that was not actually the original novel, but then I might just be giving Sheckley the benefit of the doubt.

Unlike Freejack itself, there are actually some redeeming qualities in this soundtrack - especially if you’ve got a thing for that weird period of the 1990s where rock was transitioning from metal to grunge and hitting every branch of the emo tree on the way down.

The Scorpions and Jesus and Mary Chain Gang are obviously a thing, and Ministry’s “Thieves” is still a great, if very, uh, very track. My personal favourites are Jesus Jones’ “International Bright Young Thing” (which has, as far as I can tell, f-all to do with the actual movie) and Jane Child’s oddly haunting “Mona Lisa Smiles”. 

Is it good? Probably not. Has it aged better than the movie? Yes, indeed.

Space Jam (1996)

This one is cheating, because, as we all know, Space Jam was actually a pretty good movie.

It is very odd to think that the entire plot, down to the movie’s emotional payoff, is set around Michael Jordan’s mysterious ‘retirement’ from - and return to - basketball. Imagine Warner Brothers stepping up to help the NBA’s PR team by offering an ‘in-universe’ explanation for Jordan’s definitely-not-a-suspension. Weirdest conspiracy theory of all time? Or Bugs Bunny as the ultimate in false flags? You decide.

Coming in 2026: Space Slam! The Monstars are back - but can Bugs bat?! The Toon Squad needs help, and, fortunately, superstar Shohei Ohtani has taken a ‘meditative retreat’ from Major League Baseball…

Somehow MJ as cartoon canon isn’t the weirdest thing about the movie! I have a vintage Harley Davidson t-shirt with Lola Bunny on it, because apparently sexualising cartoon rabbits didn’t stop with Jessica and went to actual, literal rabbits?! Also, Bill Murray is in this. Why not?!

The weirdness of Space Kam permeates the soundtrack, which remains an absolute gem. Compared to the other soundtracks on this list, Spacejam is another level of demented because the songs are inextricably ‘of’ the movie, and not just in or about it. The centerpiece is, of course, the banging titular track: ‘SpaceJam’ by the Quad City DJs. It is complemented by legitimately great songs by D’Angelo, Seal, Salt-N-Pepa and the Spin Doctors. ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R. Kelly is a song that we can reluctantly admit was very good while also agreeing to never listen to again. The album is also batshit crazy: Barry White and Chris Rock croon a duet about basketball and, there is, of course, a genuine all-star lineup rapping out ‘Hit ‘em High’ (The Monstars’ Anthem). 

The only real failure on the album is the deeply disturbing ‘Buggin’’ at the end, which is exactly as bad you think it is.

Blade 2 (2002)

Things I like about Blade 2, a list by Jared:

  • Remember the vampires from Blade? Now Blade has to team up with them, to fight, uh… super-vampires! Enemy of my enemy plotlines! Pump that shit right into my veins.

  • The villain is called Jared. I love a cinematic Jared.

  • And he’s played by Luke Goss. I love Luke Goss!

  • Kris Kristofferson is back! I love Kris Kristofferson! There’s no explanation given, and I love a lack of explanation for the resurrection of major characters!

  • There’s a club scene! Club scenes are awesome.

I think that last item is the pointy-toothed crux of Blade 2: this movie just wants to be awesome. Everything is included based on some sort of arbitary evaluation of ‘awesomeness’, as based on the tastes of a teenage boy (me). There’s a tech geek (played by Norman Reedus, no less). There’s a D&D party of vampires called The Bloodpack. There’s a woman sniffing vampire goo and then exclaiming ‘it is a neurotoxin’. She’s that good at science! Everything in this movie is really stupid and and really awesome.

Blade movies are the best, as they’re centred around Wesley Snipes, who (un)deadpans it with peak seriousness for two straight hours. Everyone else is doing a drunken weekend LARP and Snipes is gunning for the Oscar in ‘Best Performance’ (with Plastic Fangs in Your Mouth).

The soundtrack maintains an unjustifiable level of philosophical commitment to the film’s erstwhile ‘team-up’ plot. All the songs are duo performances, and most even feature a genre-blending pairing of electronica and hip-hop. And it works. Fatboy Slim and Eve’s ‘Cowboy’, Paul Oakenfold and Ice Cube’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’, Massive Attack and Mos Def’s ‘I Against I’, and even the surprisingly punchy Moby/Mystikal combo of ‘Gettin’ Aggressive’… The whole thing is a time portal into a slightly alt-history millennial music scene where everything was like 15% cooler than it was in reality.

In the immortal words of YouTube commentator GregGetzRekt: ‘twenty years on and this beat still goes hard’.

What I’m reading (online):

The five types of dystopian narrative, by J.M. Berger. Berger’s a noteworthy scholar of extremism. One of the approaches he takes to understanding (and explaining) how extremism is an analysis of dystopian fiction. Obviously this is right up my street, to the point where it is parked in my living room. And it makes for very fun/grim reading.

“The Mayor of London Enters the Bullshit Cinematic Universe” - fascinating piece in WIRED, and I look forward to referring to the BCU more frequently.

Much of the recently tiresome nature of recent April Fools is a result of the flattening effect of the internet. It was funny when the BBC reported on spaghetti trees in 1957, in part because it was presented by Richard Dimbleby in the sombre and trustworthy tones that viewers would ordinarily trust. The joke was in large part that it was obviously not true. No company now commands the respect or trust that the BBC and Richard Dimbleby did; they might talk nonsense the other 364 days of the year, too. On the Internet, spaghetti is always growing on trees.

Andrew Griffin, The Independent

Ok, this feels slightly hypocritical based on my enjoyment of the above, but… this deep dive into the ‘Disney adult industrial complex’ is a study in pan-generational manufactured consumerism. ‘Disney adults’ aren’t a new phenomenon, and they aren’t an organic one. In fact, as the author points out, we’re basically all Disney adults now, if only because they own a substantial plurality of mainstream popular culture. The author sees ‘Disney adulthood’ as a self-fulfilling prophecy as this point, as Disney can “create the culture that enables us to accept its questionable business practices”. There’s no escaping their cultural monopoly, and the unique nature of that monopoly prevents us from even viewing it critically. This is hard to argue with, but I do also think - see Berger, above - it is worth thinking about why Disney. Disney’s power is undeniably self-reinforcing, but there’s also something about the soft-edged nostalgia, unchallenging values, and binary certainty in a complex world. They’re selling a vision that people want (need?!) right now: adults and children alike.

Join the conversation

or to participate.