Is There Such a Thing as A Successful Movie Soundtrack in the 21st Century?

Quick – what’s the best selling movie soundtrack of all time? Give up? Skim your eyes down to the next line.

Here we are, at that next line. Now where is that answer I promised you? The Number 1 selling movie sound track is…The Bodyguard. This was a 1993 film starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, who also sung that track And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII Will Always Love You. In the days of today, iTunes would render the soundtrack pretty much useless, as 99 cents would get people the one track they want to hear.

Other best selling movie soundtracks include #2 Saturday Night Fever,#3 Purple Rain, #4 Dirty Dancing, #5 Titanic, #6 The Lion King, #7 Footloose, #8 Top Gun, #9 Grease, and #10 Waiting to Exhale. None of these movies soundtracks are any good from the 21st century. The best selling one on the all time list is #11 O Brother Where Art Thou, which did come out this century, albeit in 2000.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “during the past four years, sales across the category are down 40 percent, with eight of 2010’s top 50 soundtracks belonging to Glee.” There have been some eyebrow raising soundtracks the past few years. The Twilight series, despite critically being utter crap novels and movies, managed to rope in Muse and Thom Yorke, amongst others, to perform remixes and new tracks. Some people even theorize that Twilight author Stephanie Meyers’ noted love for Muse while writing the books might have propelled their popularity in North America.

“Perhaps there’s no better contemporary example of this than the Twilight series, which has sold 3.3 million copies over three albums. Tortella credits author Stephenie Meyer’s emphasis on music for driving sales and shaping the soundtrack, which had artists clamoring to be included. “It was a phenomenon,” says Tortella. “There was the book itself but also the fact that the author was a music fan and dedicated books to her favorite bands — [Warner acts] Muse and Jack’s Mannequin among them. Also, there was a lot of contemporary music in the picture. Plus, [film-music veteran] Alex Patsavas was the music supervisor on the project. It was like the triple whammy.”

“A massive movie-music success is counted in the tens of thousands, not millions, and the difference between selling 4,000 units, as Fast Five did its first week out (the movie eventually grossed more than $600 million worldwide; the soundtrack moved 34,000 units), and 200,000, as Juno did upon hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 three weeks after opening (the soundtrack went on to sell more than 1 million copies and spawned an iTunes-only B-sides collection), comes down to often-elusive qualities.”

So what is the secret? A strong lineup of artists, often from the same label or studio? A really strong first single, ala Whitney Houston or perhaps Celine Dion (Titanic)? A devoted fan base of the original material? A musical themed movie or material? Or has iTunes and the internet in general forever ruined the great selling soundtrack days?

I leave with you the one good thing about Twilight: Thom Yorke’s Hearing Damage.

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3 Responses

  1. chai says:


  2. Jason says:

    what about the “I am Sam” soundtrack full of beatles covers? that was from late 2001/early 2002

  3. pez says:

    Not commercially successful, but good nonetheless: Soundtracks for Coppola flicks “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette”