Revival House: Nine Great Scores From Bad Movies

One thing I’ve noticed about being a soundtrack collector is that I own many film scores from bad and/or long-forgotten movies. I was thinking about this while contributing to Popdose’s recent tribute to film composer Alan Silvestri in which I mentioned that a particularly fun score for me was Judge Dredd (1995), which most people would agree is not the most inspiring of sources. And so for the purposes of this list, it seems like a good place to start.

Judge Dredd (1995, composed by Alan Silvestri). I have to wonder what exactly Silvestri saw in this film to write such impressive music. It makes me wonder what goes on when a composer sits down to write music for what he knows is a bad film. Does the composer latch onto something, anything, about the film that works — in this case perhaps the film’s lavish production design? Or does the composer focus entirely on the things that don’t work, in an effort to bring those elements out more with the right music? Is there perhaps an extra level of pressure because the composer will need to work twice as hard to make the audience feel like they’re watching something incredibly epic? Whatever the answer, all I know is I like to play this cue a lot.
Judge Dredd – Block War

The Swarm (1978, composed by Jerry Goldsmith). While Goldsmith has scored some classic cinema such as Patton (1970) and Chinatown (1974), he’s also lent his talents to quite a few stinkers too — like this one. For Irwin Allen’s big-screen killer bee invasion flick, Goldsmith writes one of the busiest and most exciting scores of his career, while at the same time acknowledging he’s not taking things completely serious by using the notes B E E for one of the main motifs. You’ll hear that motif in this incredible cue, written for a mostly laughable scene in which the bees descend upon the small town of Marysville.
Swarm – The Bees Arrive

Lifeforce (1985, composed by Henry Mancini). I suppose one could argue that Lifeforce isn’t really a “bad” movie because it has it’s share of campy fun and takes the term “gratuitous nudity” to new levels. I watched the restored version a few years back and enjoyed it ever-so-slightly more than the mess I remember seeing in theaters. But it’s still pretty bad. At least the restored version contains more of Mancini’s score, which is definitely a better score than the movie deserves. What kind of world are we living in where Henry Mancini had gone from scoring important films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Days of Wine and Roses in the ’60s to scoring a Cannon film in the ’80s? Whatever the reason, I’m happy it happened because the end result is a score that I’ve played about a hundred times more than either of those more important works. The following cue was written for a scene in which a nude Steve Railsback impales both himself and Mathilda May (who is naked for pretty much the whole movie) with a sword. Enjoy.
Lifeforce – The Web of Destiny Suite Part III

Inchon (1981, composed by Jerry Goldsmith). Laurence Olivier stars as General Douglas MacArthur in this account of the Battle of Inchon during the Korean War. While the film has largely been forgotten, the one memorable aspect was that the production was financed by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. Legend has it that at the recording sessions, Goldsmith was paid for his services in cash from a brown paper bag. I’m not sure what more can be said, except that the composer delivered a score worthy of a much better movie.
Inchon – Main Title

The Postman (1997, composed by James Newton Howard). A post-apocalyptic setting is generally a great opportunity for a composer and here Howard writes a score that at times has understated beauty but also has some epic action music with a stirring main theme. Unfortunately Kevin Costner’s telling of the 1985 science fiction novel by David Brin (loosely adapted by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland) was not at all well-received by either critics or audiences. The film tanked, Howard’s excellent score headed quickly to the cut-out bins, and it was the other postman score that ended up winning an Oscar — Luis Bacalov’s Il Postino (1994) — but that one’s not even in my library. One of the joys of writing this article was rediscovering Howard’s score, an old friend I hadn’t heard from in a while.
Postman – The Restored United States

Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992, composed by Cliff Eidelman). Alexander and Ilya Salkind produced this attempt of telling the events that lead to Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage. It was a box-office flop that was generally slammed by critics and the troubled production would prove so frustrating that it would be the last film produced by the father and son Salkind team (who are also responsible for the next film on this list). But despite the film’s shortcomings, composer Cliff Eidelman, who received his big break by landing the scoring assignment for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), delivers a sweeping, passionate, epic score.
Christoper Columbus – A Hero’s Welcome (Epilogue)

Supergirl (1984, composed by Jerry Goldsmith). It’s pretty obvious that as a film composer, Goldsmith pretty much never phoned it in — some of my favorite scores of his come from mediocre films. In this example, a tractor somehow comes to life and starts wreaking havoc. I have no memory of how or why this happens and wasn’t about to re-watch any of the movie for this article, but I think it was something to do with Faye Dunaway using magic powers from an amulet. It’s a stupid scene, yet Goldsmith writes a ferocious action cue, which makes me think that writing this kind of busy orchestral music must have simply been fun for him, regardless of the inspiration. Or lack thereof.
Supergirl – The Monster Tractor

Krull (1983, composed by James Horner). Long before he won his Oscar for Titanic (1997), Horner wrote what I consider to be the most exciting adventure score of his career for a very bad fantasy film that (poorly) attempts to combine swords with some kind of laser weapons. When a composer is just starting out, getting a gig like this — a fantasy film with a music budget big enough for a large orchestra and chorus — is a pretty big deal. No matter how bad the film is, it’s an opportunity to show people what you can do. But you’re sure not going to get any Oscar nominations. The music cue here is written for a scene in which our heroes ride Fire Mares, horses that are so fast they leave a fire trail behind them on the ground. It’s one of the few scenes in the movie that kind of works — until the horses inexplicably take flight and the fire trail somehow follows them into the air. Whatever, dudes.
Krull – Ride Of The Firemares

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985, composed by Jerry Goldsmith). At the risk of having this list be a tad Goldsmith-heavy, I’ll leave you with an amazing action cue from this Disney flop about a family of brontosaurs discovered in Africa. It’s an interesting premise marred by bad everything — except, of course, the music. It’s hard to believe this was produced by Roger Spottiswoode, the director of Under Fire (1983, which was also scored by Goldsmith). The composer’s usual shifting time signatures are at work here, punctuated by an awesome moment where the orchestra drops out completely and the percussion takes over for a couple of measures.
Baby – The Rescue

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  • http://twitter.com/Thumbamugre Javier Roquebert

    What about “The Village”??

  • Daddy

    Conan the Destroyer

  • http://www.genreaddict.com Genre Addict

    Great list! I love all of these scores, but you just reminded me that I haven’t heard Lifeforce in years. Time to dust it off and play it again! Awesome!

  • Flash-t

    Good list but wasn’t the last 20 minutes of Krulls score basically taken from Wrath of Khan? Also, Lifeforce was a massively budgeted film for it’s time, it just happend to be a misfire that took no money ; )

  • Burntusa

    um, Krull is a classic, calling it a bad movie misses the point entirely.

  • Brotherofbond

    the music of “The Last Airbender” comes to mind

  • Omar

    Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Omar

    Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Frogger

    I go with King Arthur, personally.

  • Frogger

    I go with King Arthur, personally.

  • psi

    How about one on ten great movies nearly ruined by unlistenable scores? I nominate Ladyhawke.

  • psi

    How about one on ten great movies nearly ruined by unlistenable scores? I nominate Ladyhawke.

  • AliasJJG

    James Horner’s Battle beyond the stars fits this bill

  • Me

    I’d add the Star Wars prequels to the list. The movies are crap, but John Williams’ scores are fantastic.

    As for the Good Movies With Bad Scores list, I nominate “Highlander”.

  • Me

    I’d add the Star Wars prequels to the list. The movies are crap, but John Williams’ scores are fantastic.

    As for the Good Movies With Bad Scores list, I nominate “Highlander”.

  • LennyNero

    Deep Blue Sea is my first choice

  • J MacDonald

    Ennio Morricone’s unbelievable score for the B-movie “Navajo Jo” was pretty high contrast.

  • J MacDonald

    Ennio Morricone’s unbelievable score for the B-movie “Navajo Jo” was pretty high contrast.

  • Amarestat

    Well done article!

  • Kbobravo

    The Knowing, terrible film, very haunting/beautiful score

  • Njr010

    How about Ennio Morricone’s score for Exorcist 2 The Heretic. It’s phenomenal!

  • Zipper32837

    I would also add James Horner’s great score for Disney’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

  • Youfightlikeacow22

    Agreed. “Flow Like Water” is amazing.

  • Youfightlikeacow22

    While The Village is far from perfect, it is by no means a bad movie. It’s a pretty little film with great moments and fantastic acting ruined by horrible marketing and some weird horror elements. By I do agree, the score is perfect.

  • Chris

    “The Village” is by ALL means a bad movie. Spectacularly misguided and, when we see the big picture, almost entirely nonsensical and idiotic.

  • Colwyn

    You are so Right about the classic nature of Krull. People who rip on that movie don’t understand that it’s meant to be a little cheesy, because it plays with the old fashioned Swashbuckling concept. I mean, the dude swings at the bad guys from a Chandelier at one point…Classic Errol Flynn. And how can people gush over movies like Avatar and rip on Krull. Avatar is just about as ridiculous as Krull, but much less fun. I’ll take Slayers over Navi anyday.

  • Vanjealous

    I’m surprised that the score for Christopher Columbus is here, but not Vangelis’ brilliant score for 1492. I mean, the Blade Runner score is a beloved thing to movie fans, and the score for 1492 is one of the only other major Vangelis scores out there. It’s one of my favorite things to listen to on my Ipod. I’m sure that Eidelman’s score is good, but the score for 1492 is one of the best. Plus, nobody really liked the movie that much, so it kinda fits with this article.

  • Colwyn

    James Horner rips himself off constantly. The theme music for the score of Avatar is basically the same theme that Horner composed for Glory with the last note of music changed. It’s like, as long as he changes one note, he can reuse his scores. Luckily his music is pretty good, so I don’t mind so much.

  • Colwyn

    James Horner rips himself off constantly. The theme music for the score of Avatar is basically the same theme that Horner composed for Glory with the last note of music changed. It’s like, as long as he changes one note, he can reuse his scores. Luckily his music is pretty good, so I don’t mind so much.

  • Octagonproplex

    Because 1492 is a really good movie.

  • Guest

    Javier Navarrete’s score for horrid The Warrior’s Way was rather impressive.

    Alan Silvestri’s score for The Mexican.

  • Rchandle

    I know when I went to see 1492 in the theater there were people protesting out in front of the movie saying it was evil for Glorifying Columbus. I almost felt uncomfortable going to see it. There were also like five people in the theater, so it was not a packed house. I don’t think the movie is bad, nor do I think it glorifies Columbus, but despite what you and I may think, the movie is considered to be a bad movie by the mainstream. It got 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I cannot even rent it on DVD, because most video stores don’t have it. So let’s just say, it’s not Bad, but saying it’s really good is not popular opinion. You can pretty much find one person who liked any movie, including League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now, Krull…that’s a Really good movie.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    As someone who really likes film music, Horner bugs me seriously. His re-purposing is incredibly lazy. It’s like a director temps the movie with old Horner cues, and unbeknown to him, he actually has to write new music to match the feel, not leave the temp and say, “Well, good enough.”

  • Guest

    No. The Village is by all means NOT a bad movie. Like the person above you said, it suffered from bad marketing. It’s not a horror film, it’s a love story. And a damn good one.

  • Guest

    No. The Village is by all means NOT a bad movie. Like the person above you said, it suffered from bad marketing. It’s not a horror film, it’s a love story. And a damn good one.

  • Guest

    No. The Village is by all means NOT a bad movie. Like the person above you said, it suffered from bad marketing. It’s not a horror film, it’s a love story. And a damn good one.

  • Rchandle

    The Village is one of the few M. Night Schamalamado movies I can actually stand. When I first saw it I didn’t like it at all, but that is because I was expecting a monster movie. Over time, however, it has grown on me. Once you know not to expect monsters, it is much less offensive. And I think that it has the best characters and performances of any of his movies. Adrien Brody’s death scene is surprisingly touching, and quite artistic looking. But there will always be more Haters for this movie than Lovers, and that is no surprise with Schamalamadingdong’s movies.

  • Josh

    The Last Starfighter.
    Done.

  • Chasewf

    Charlie Sheen’s “Terminal Velocity’ had some nice music

  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    Such a rich topic, Jeff…and, let’s face it, there are thousands of contenders, as composers often have to do their best given the weak raw material, today and in the “golden age.”

    So often a score outclasses the movie. Reviewing the late John Barry’s resume one sees (or hears) so much rich music squandered on RAISE THE TITANIC or THE SPECIALIST or THE SCARLET LETTER or MURDER BY PHONE, for God’s sake. I wonder if in some way these assignments attracted him, knowing that he could shoot the works without much interference from the front office.

    Mancini’s LIFEFORCE fanfare was used by IMAX as greeting music at its theaters. It may still be. Love the movie anyway.

    1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE was available on Netflix Instant Streaming but hasn’t made it to DVD in the US or Blu-ray. Whatever one thinks of the movie–I fast-forwarded through it on Netflix, having sat through all of it in 1992–it’s a fine score.

  • Mr Eko

    DRAGON HEART. A mediocre movie with a powerful soundtrack.

  • Mr Eko

    DRAGON HEART. A mediocre movie with a powerful soundtrack.

  • Guest

    Also James Newton Howard’s score to the abomination known as Lady In The Water was nonetheless magnificent.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WMPKB2SBRQNIL44FIQWPERPBLI Hal Renfield

    Giorgo Moroder’s ‘Cat People’ score (which also featured David Bowie) was quite a bit better than the movie itself, largely memorable for Nastassia Kinski’s nude scenes and Ed Begley Jr. getting his arm ripped off.

    Not actually a score, but the soundtrack from the otherwise forgettable ‘Times Square’ got played about a thousand times at our house.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WMPKB2SBRQNIL44FIQWPERPBLI Hal Renfield

    Giorgo Moroder’s ‘Cat People’ score (which also featured David Bowie) was quite a bit better than the movie itself, largely memorable for Nastassia Kinski’s nude scenes and Ed Begley Jr. getting his arm ripped off.

    Not actually a score, but the soundtrack from the otherwise forgettable ‘Times Square’ got played about a thousand times at our house.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WMPKB2SBRQNIL44FIQWPERPBLI Hal Renfield

    Giorgo Moroder’s ‘Cat People’ score (which also featured David Bowie) was quite a bit better than the movie itself, largely memorable for Nastassia Kinski’s nude scenes and Ed Begley Jr. getting his arm ripped off.

    Not actually a score, but the soundtrack from the otherwise forgettable ‘Times Square’ got played about a thousand times at our house.

  • Rchandle

    Although I wouldn’t call Adventures of Baron Munchausen a terrible movie, it was considered bad by many, and a failure at the box office. It didn’t help Gilliam’s career much. Having said that, Michael Kamen’s score for that movie is brilliant fun with an orchestra. It’s a really over the top score, and full of comedic moments. I always wanted to own the soundtrack, but it has never existed. Plus, Michael Kamen has now passed away. Any way you look at it, it is one of the most boisterous scores ever…and I secretly like the movie too.

  • JEDI

    That KRULL tune is AWESOME!!! Should be up there with John Williams stuff.

  • JEDI

    While Beastmaster is not a bad film, (one of my favorites) Some have called it quite bad, but either way, its Score is fantastic. Also the score to the 80s Star Wars/wannabe STARCHASER,Legend of Orin, also has a damn sweet Score.

    As for your Judge Dredd write up, maybe Silvestri looked at the excellent comics it was based on, rather than the silly “I am the law” movie?

  • FREEZE

    Batman Forever had a great Score too, (though Batman & Robin was a lot worse, that used the same score. Need I say more how that movie turned out? ;-)