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Play the Album, Burn the Film: 20 Great Soundtracks From Bad Movies

From disco fevers to drive-in-movie homages, we sift through those musically blessed movies that were better heard than seen

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Fox Seachlight/courtesy Everett Collection; 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Universal/Getty Images

If one were to judge a movie based purely on its soundtrack, then Purple Rain — Prince's breakthrough film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary  — would possibly trump Citizen Kane on just about every "best movie" list there is. "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Darling Nikki," "I Would Die 4 U," "The Beautiful Ones," the title track: these songs are all on one album, people! Unfortunately for the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, great music can't hide, say, some less-than-stellar acting, shaky direction, and/or a shoddily written script. No offense, Prince fans, but even the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka can't cure everything. 

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But Purple Rain is hardly the first "bad" movie to boast a killer soundtrack, nor will it be the last. In honor of the Purple One's film hitting the big 3-0, we're counting down 20 other bad movies with great soundtracks. Open your ears, cover your eyes, and read on. By Jennifer Wood

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‘200 Cigarettes’ (1999)

Following in the footsteps of Adam Sandler's The Wedding Singer (1998), this ensemble indie capitalized on Eighties nostalgia by cramming every rising star of the moment (Dave Chappelle, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, Paul Rudd, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, and both Afflecks — Ben and Casey) and decking them out with decade-appropriate hairstyles and costumes. Which could have been fun, had the filmmakers not forgotten that a coherent, or even mildly entertaining, script is also an essential movie element. Whatever money they saved in development costs found its way to the soundtrack, filled with a mix of period hits like Blondie's "In the Flesh," The Cars' "Just What I Needed," The Ramones' "I Don't Care," Joe Jackson's "It's Different for Girls," and Roxy Music's "More Than This."

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‘The Beach’ (2000)

Danny Boyle's adaptation of Alex Garland's novel, which sees a fresh-off-the-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio on a quest to find a legendary island of lost souls, was met with criticism at every turn — most notably by the Thai government and environmental groups, which sued the production for bulldozing the beaches of Ko Phi Phi Lee. All of it is really for naught, as the film only managed to earn back about 75 percent of its $50 million budget. Its only lasting legacy is the soundtrack, which features a mix of rock, electronica, and Britpop from more than a dozen artists, including Moby ("Porcelain"), Blur ("On Your Own"), and New Order ("Brutal").

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‘The Million Dollar Hotel’ (2000)

It's a rare day when one finds him or herself in agreement with Mel Gibson. But Mel's assessment of this Wim Wenders tale —based on a concept by Bono — as "boring as a dog's ass" is rather astute. That the soundtrack was the first and only moment of "genius" the film's star mentioned in a later retraction about that statement is also right on; executive produced by Bono, the moody U2 contributions and three versions of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" are the only reason to not mute the film. If the movie was meant as a way to right the wrong that was yet another bad movie/great soundtrack entry on which Wenders and Bono collaborated — in the form of 1991's Until the End of the World — it may be time they try again.

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‘I Am Sam’ (2001)

Sean Penn's lack of success in securing the rights to original tunes from the Beatles may have been the only place where he actually succeeded in the making of sodden melodrama, in which he plays a mentally challenged adult fighting for custody of his young daughter (Dakota Fanning). The daughter's name: Lucy Diamond. (Get it?!?) This seeming failure opened the door, however, for a flood of impressive Beatles covers, including Eddie Vedder's "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," Nick Cave's "Let It Be," Stereophonic's "Don't Let Me Down," and Rufus Wainwright's "Across the Universe."

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‘Garden State’ (2004)

Calling Zach Braff's directorial debut an outright "bad movie" may be a bit harsh. But its reliance on the Braff's love of the Shins as a critical plot point makes it difficult for the film to stand on its own, and the writer/director/star's weak rehashing of The Graduate's twentysomething angst isn't doing itself any favors by throwing in a Paul Simon tune ("The Only Living Boy in New York"). Which means that if one were to separate the music (including tunes from Coldplay, Iron & Wine and Nick Drake) from the movie, you'd only be left with a series of unconnected dots. Oh, and one Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack.

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‘Elizabethtown’ (2005)

Music has always been a major plot point in the work of journalist-turned-moviemaker Cameron Crowe; it would be impossible to imagine Say Anything… without Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" or a "Tiny Dancer"-less Almost Famous. And while his 2005 road movie has its own fair share of musical moments— including Orlando Bloom's "remembering dad" montage, set to Elton John's "My Father's Gun" — the movie part of this movie soundtrack could have easily been shelved. Which would leave audiences with nothing but a well-curated two-piece collection of rock and alt-country tunes from heavy hitters like Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket (who also appear in the movie as a fictional band named Ruckus), and Nancy Wilson, a.k.a. the then-Mrs. Cameron Crowe.

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‘Marie Antoinette’ (2006)

Sofia Coppola went the postpunk-pomo route with the two-disc New Wave soundtrack to her energetic, if frustratingly shallow and superficial, biopic on the life of Marie Antoinette (played by Kirsten Dunst) in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Sure, watching the Queen work her magic to New Order's "Ceremony," Bow Wow Wow's "Aphrodisiac," Gang of Four's "Natural's Not In It" or the Strokes' "What Ever Happened" may be anachronistic, but it makes the 127-minute running time vastly easier to digest.

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‘Grindhouse’ (2007)

Quentin Tarantino has largely avoided the many pitfalls that accompany the typical filmmaker's rise from obscurity to the Hollywood A-list. But he let his ego get the best of him when he and his buddy/frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez decided to put two movies in one for this ode to exploitation cinema. Rodriguez composed the bulk of his own soundtrack (including the John Carpenter-inspired score) while Tarantino, true to form, relied on vintage tracks like Smith's "Baby It's You" and The Coasters' "Down in Mexico" for his half, titled Death Proof. What this D.O.A. homage to drive-in car-chase movies and slasher flicks lacks in quality, it makes up for in choice Sixties and Seventies jukebox cuts.

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The ‘Twilight’ Movies (2008-2012)

A funny thing happened as this megapopular franchise moved along over the years: The movies got worse as the soundtracks got better. Which isn't to say that the franchise's music didn't start out strong; music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas spent years cultivating a signature sound style for the supernatural tween series, which helped to launch the careers of several musical newcomers. Maybe that's simply because the budgets grew, too, which allowed Patsavas to enlist the likes of better known artists as the series unfolded. The franchise's second film, New Moon, may be the best example of that, with a fatter wallet allowing for contributions from Thom Yorke ("Hearing Damage"), the Killers ("A White Demon Love Song"), Muse ("I Belong To You"), and Bon Iver ("Roslyn").

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‘Tron: Legacy’ (2010)

Entrusted with fashioning a long-awaited sequel to the original 1982 video-game-cinema landmark/cult classic, director Joseph Kosinski called upon EDM pioneers and Seventies-disco revivalists Daft Punk to help bring the cyber-updated Tron 2.0 into the new millennium. It worked: The mysterious French duo took a more orchestral road to creating the film's soundtrack, utilizing a 100-piece orchestra for many of the album's 22 tracks, and creating one of this lackluster movie's only bright spots. With any luck, its lasting legacy will be its man-machine, future-funk score.

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