The Best Movie Soundtracks Of The ’90s

From the tunes in 10 Things I Hate About You to the tracks in Waiting to Exhale, look back on the movie music that defined a decade.

Do a search for ’Best Soundtracks of the ’90s’, and you’ll find a multitude of mainstream movies, like Pretty Woman and Dumb and Dumber with albums that don’t reflect the music that dominated the decade. Sure, Titanic and Clueless are classic 90s movies, but so are Friday, Boyz N the Hood and House Party. And all three of those last three movies had iconic hip-hop soundtracks.

Hip-hop and R&B dominated the ’90s. From Boys II Men’s “End of the Road” riding the top spot in the summer of ’92 to Mariah Carey and Jay Z’s “Heartbreaker” closing out 1999, Top 40 became synonymous with these two genres. So, how can these lists of soundtracks not include the music that really defined the time? You’re in luck. Here are—in alphabetical order—a compilation of soundtracks of the 90s that truly represent the decade in its cultural entirety.

  • 1 Above the Rim (1994)
    Death Row/Interscope Records
    At the height of the G-Funk era, Above the Rim dropped its classic soundtrack, featuring its biggest hit, Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate.” The winner of Best Soundtrack at the 1995 Source Awards peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 and became certified double-platinum.

  • 2 Batman Forever (1995)
    No one can forget Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” Thanks to the Val Kilmer-starrer, the quintessential power ballad of the decade shot up to number one on the Billboard 100 and took home three Grammys (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year). Other hits include U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” and “Where Are You Now?” by Brandy, who was then America’s Sweetheart.

  • 3 Boomerang (1992)
    Many critics will argue Boomerang’s soundtrack is actually better than the movie, and that’s hard to deny. The track listing boasted such hits as Babyface’s “Give You My Heart” and Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road,” which helped shoot the album up to number one on Billboard’s R&B Albums chart and number four on the Billboard 200. It eventually hit triple-platinum. It’s all the more impressive if you consider the following: the film sits at an abysmal 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

  • 4 The Bodyguard (1992)
    Forget limiting this gem to soundtracks, The Bodyguard is the 15th best-selling album of all time. Executive produced by Whitney Houston and Clive Davis, the multiplatinum pop-gospel disc gave us the definitive version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and became the second soundtrack to win the Grammy for Album of the Year. To date, it’s sold over 45 million copies.

  • 5 Boyz N the Hood (1991)
    Qwest/Warner Bros.
    Not only is this coming-of-age drama a snapshot of the times (which was recognized with a Best Director and Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod for John Singleton), but so is its music. The soundtrack boasts a couple of unforgettable classics, from Tevin Campbell’s “Just Ask Me To” and Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Me and You.”

  • 6 Bulworth (1998)
    Interscope Records
    Warren Beatty plus hip-hop is all you really need to know, but we’ll indulge you anyway. While the controversial political comedy is known as the film in which Beatty tackles racism and class systems and performs gangsta rap, its greatest legacy has to be “Ghetto Superstar” by Pras and ODB, featuring Mya. The soundtrack also includes tracks by Eve, Method Man, Public Enemy, Mack 10 and Ice Cube, and RZA–basically anyone who was anyone in the ‘90s.

  • 7 Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
    Simply put, the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack is a compilation of what was trendy back then. From Third Eye Blind’s “Graduate” and Blink 182’s “Dammit” to Missy Elliot’s “Hit Em wit da Hee,” the track listing could’ve easily doubled as a suburban party playlist.

  • 8 Clueless (1995)
    Clueless was the pinnacle of cool in the mid ‘90s, and its soundtrack followed suit. Just like the movie told you what to wear and how to act in high school, its soundtrack told you what to listen to. The Beastie Boys’ “Mullet Head,” Coolio’s “Rollin With My Homies,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Where’d You Go?,” and Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” were just some of songs that made anyone feel part of the popular clique back in the day.

  • 9 The Crow (1994)
    The Cure. Nine in Nails. Joy Division. Rage Against the Machine. Stone Temple Pilots. The Crow soundtrack is a ‘90s doom rock bible. The artists featured were fitting, considering the original 1989 comic book the film was based inspired by alternative rock. In fact, in one of the book’s pages, creator James O’Barr reprinted all the lyrics to The Cure’s “The Hanging Garden.”

  • 10 Cruel Intentions (1999)
    Virgin Records
    The sexiest teen movie needed an equally sexy soundtrack, and that it got with tracks like Placebo’s “Every You and Every Me” and Counting Crows’ “Colorblind.” The album is stocked with quintessential ’90s acts like Marcy Playground, Blur, and Fatboy Slim, but it was The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” that plays in your head whenever you think of the film.

  • 11 Empire Records (1995)
    A&M Records
    If you’re going to make a movie about a record store–with a who’s who of the ‘90s young Hollywood, no less–you best believe you need a fire soundtrack. Luckily, it delivers with a roster of bands that hardly escaped the decade: Better Than Ezra, Gin Blossoms, The Martinis, The Cranberries, The Coyote Shivers, and more.

  • 12 Friday (1995)
    Priority Records
    The album’s greatness can be summed up in one sentence: Dr. Dre reunites with Ice Cube. For the film, Dre dropped the hit, “Keep Their Head Ringing,” which peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped make the soundtrack go multiplatinum. 2 Live Crew and Cypress Hill also made clutch appearances, while the album introduced Bootsy Collins, Rick James, and The Isley Brothers to a new generation.

  • 13 Good Will Hunting (1997)
    Capitol Records
    Here’s all you need to know about the soundtrack: Elliott Smith. The late indie folk singer rose to prominence in the ‘90s and quickly became the voice of the misunderstood, the sensitive, and the lonely people of the decade. Smith’s song, “Miss Misery,” was even nominated for Best Original Song at the 70th Academy Awards.

  • 14 Graffiti Bridge (1990)
    Paisley Park Records
    Sure, the soundtrack is a compilation of updated versions of Prince’s pre-existing songs. But no one would dare complain. Most people don’t even think about the album’s film counterpart (considered the unofficial sequel to Purple Rain), because it doesn’t hold a candle to the greatness of the soundtrack.

  • 15 Hackers (1995)
    Edel America Records
    What would a cult classic about teen hackers in the early days of the Internet be without an equally electrifying soundtrack? Its album boasts a myriad electronica hits from The Prodigy, Stereo MCs, Underworld, and Orbital–basically all bands you would’ve heard at underground warehouse parties.

  • 16 House Party (1990)
    If the ‘90s itself had a soundtrack, it would undoubtedly be a blend of hip-hop and R&B, just like the album to House Party. The soundtrack simply gave a taste of what was to come in the next 10 years, with tracks from Kid ‘n Play, LL Cool J, and Full Force.

  • 17 Judgment Night (1993)
    Epic Records
    Judgment Night’s soundtrack goes HARD. The unprecedented album was composed entirely of rap and rock/metal collaborations. Here’s just a taste: Ice-T and Slayer’s “Disorder,” Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill’s “I Love You Mary Jane,” and Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien’s “Missing Link.” From Rolling Stone to Entertainment Weekly, no one could stop commenting on the greatness of the groundbreaking album.

  • 18 The Lion King (1994)
    Walt Disney Records
    Leaving out The Lion King would be sacrilegious. Blessed with new tracks by Elton John, whose “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and searing scores by Hans Zimmer, the album has the ability to evoke the same emotions millions of moviegoers felt just watching the film. The album’s 10x platinum status cemented its legacy.

  • 19 Love Jones (1997)
    The Love Jones soundtrack is a true R&B fan’s dream. There’s Xscape’s “In the Rain,” there’s Maxwell’s “Sumthin, Sumthin,” and there’s Groove Theory’s “Never Enough.” Not to mention, it houses two singles by short-lived duo Refugee Camp All-Stars, which consisted of John Forte and Pras. Their track featuring Lauryn Hill, “The Sweetest Thing,” is a must-listen.

  • 20 Men in Black (1997)
    Men in Black is chock full of mainstream heavyweights then on constant radio rotation: Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, The Roots, De La Soul, Ginuwine, Snoop Dogg, and Will Smith himself. Not only is its artist roster and theme song impressive, but it also features a track (“Dah Dee Dah”) by a then-unknown Alicia Keys.

  • 21 Natural Born Killers (1994)
    Interscope Records
    Before he turned The Social Network soundtrack into gold (and won an Oscar for it), Nine in Nails’ Trent Reznor compiled the tunes to Oliver Stone’s cult classic. Truly, Reznor’s got reliable radar for timeless and of-the-moment acts, as he peppered the album with everyone from Patti Smith and Leonard Cohen to Dr. Dre and Juliette Lewis.

  • 22 New Jack City (1991)
    Warner Bros. Records
    Let’s just count the ‘90s hits packed in this quintessential new jack swing-era album. One, “I’m Dreaming” by Christopher Williams. Two, “For the Love of Money/Living for the City” by Troop, Levert, and Queen Latifah. Three, “Facts of Life” by Danny Madden. Four, “I’m Still Waiting” by Johnny Gill Five, “New Jack Hustler” by Ice T. Add Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up,” and over half of the album made the Billboard charts.

  • 23 New Jersey Drive (1995)
    Tommy Boy Entertainment LLC
    Produced by some of the decade’s hottest tastemakers— Erick Sermon, Easy Mo Bee and Marley Marl—the album has that kind of blast-in-your-car-with-your-friends feel that made it essential. What’s more, it boosted the profile of the girl group Total, with the runaway hit “Can’t You See.”

  • 24 The Nutty Professor (1996)
    Def Jam Recordings
    More than just a classic comedy, The Nutty Professor also spawned a chart-topping soundtrack that included a line-up of hip-hop and R&B artists so distinctly ‘90s you couldn’t mistake the compilation for another decade. Its roster includes Monica, Foxy Brown, Az Yet, and Montel Jordan, as well as singles from Jay Z and LL Cool J.

  • 25 Pulp Fiction (1994)
    MCA Records
    Quentin Tarantino shook the independent film world with his film Pulp Fiction, and he made sure to score each unforgettable scene (with help from his friends Boyd Rice, Chuck Kelley, and Laura Lovelace) with a track equally as unexpected. Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”—each classic song is now forever tied to an iconic film moment.

  • 26 Reality Bites (1994)
    RCA Records
    What Girls and Broad City are doing for today’s twentysomethings, Reality Bites did for Generation X. It captured the spirit and frustrations of young, middle-class city rats of the time. That’s why its soundtrack needed to be just as timely. In addition to tracks from The Posies, Dinosaur Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, the album produced a chart-topper with the infectious “Stay” by Lisa Loeb.

  • 27 Romeo + Juliet (1996)
    Capitol Records
    What else can be said about this masterpiece? The experience listening it to alone is a fever dream. Des’ree’s “Kissing You” is baby-making music at its finest, “Lovefool” by The Cardigans cements it in the decade, and the label even released Volume 2, a compilation of the film’s unforgettable scores. On it, you’ll find Quindon Tarver’s cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and mix of trip-hop and electronic cuts that will transport you to the past.

  • 28 Run Lola Run (1998)
    Bertelsmann Music Group
    The soundtrack to the film is basically another film in and of itself, and a perfect portrait of ‘90s techno and drum ‘n’ bass. Director Tom Twyker collaborated with composers Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil to assemble an album that mirrored the three acts of the story. Actress Franka Potente’s voice can even be heard littered through various tracks, giving it a more mysterious, narrative feel. Like the film, it’ll evoke a surreal acid-trip-like experience that’ll leave you breathless.

  • 29 Rush Hour (1998)
    Rush Associated Labels
    Let’s put it this way: this soundtrack might as well be renamed Now That’s What I Call Music: ‘90s Block Party Edition. The Def Jam-distributed album featured tracks from everyone from Ja Rule and Jon B to Charli Baltimore and Wu-Tang Clan. However, standout singles like Jay Z’s “Can I Get A” and Dru Hill’s “How Deep Is Your Love” will hit you with nostalgia.

  • 30 Scream 2 (1997)
    Capitol Records
    Forget the original soundtrack, this one did what the first one couldn’t: chart. It spent weeks on the Billboard 200 thanks to its timely and eclectic mix of hits from Nick Cave, D’Angelo, and Master P. Just like the Scream franchise, the albums are one of the decade’s definitive cult classics.

  • 31 Set It Off (1996)
    East West Records
    Everything about Set It Off is badass. C’mon, it’s about four women—played by Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise—who rob a bank. Thus, an equally powerful soundtrack was essential. Eastwest Records delivered, compiling an album that includes then-new hits from the most talented female artists on rotation: En Vogue, Queen Latifah, Brandy, and more.

  • 32 Singles (1992)
    Epic Soundtrax
    Grunge owes a lot to Singles. The film, a rom-com about twentysomethings getting by during the grunge era in Seattle, showed the public what the movement looked like. Additionally, it become one of the first platinum soundtracks of the decade, thanks to tracks from Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Chris Cornell.

  • 33 Space Jam (1996)
    Atlantic Records
    This one’s a party, like Jock Jams meets Kidz Bop. R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” tracks from Diane Warren, and of course the Quad City DJ’s “Space Jam” make this soundtrack so cheesy its addictive. Listening to it evokes the feeling of flipping through your middle school yearbook—it’s mildly embarrassing but immensely fun to walk down memory lane.

  • 34 Spice World (1997)
    Virgin Records
    1990s music history can’t exist without the Spice Girls. Thus, it’s only right that the soundtrack for their campy cult classic Spice World is just a compilation of the greatest music of the time: theirs.

  • 35 Sunset Park (1996)
    East West Records
    The soundtrack to Sunset Park is an encyclopedia of the decade’s hip-hop and R&B. It peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart all thanks to this insane crew of featured artists: Aaliyah, Mobb Deep, 2 Pac, Ghostface Killah, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Groove Theory, and more.

  • 36 That Thing You Do! (1995)
    Epic Soundtrax
    Tom Hanks’ movie about one-hit-wonder The Wonders actually birthed a soundtrack that didn’t meet the same fate as the fictitious band. Rather, it introduced a generation so hung up on electronica, hip-hop, and power-ballad pop to light, funky ‘60s rock. Bonus ’90s Cred: the infectious theme was actually written and performed by Fountains Of Wayne bassist, Adam Schlesinger!

  • 37 Titanic (1997)
    Sony Classical Records
    One of the biggest movies of all time produced one of the biggest singles of all time—Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” But what makes them even more of a mind-blowing phenomenon is that the movie and the song are truly, utterly inseparable.

  • 38 Trainspotting (1996)
    Capitol Records
    The first Trainspotting soundtrack was so immensely popular that the following year, Capitol released a second one, including songs that simply served as inspiration for the movie. But one look at the back cover, and it’s clear to see why it was such a hit during its time. Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Primal Scream, Blur, and Joy Division–that’s just a taste of the impressive britpop and electronica on this album.

  • 39 Waiting to Exhale (1995)
    Arista Records
    Not only did the film star Whitney Houston, but Babyface became attached as producer and composer. Those two heavyweights only encouraged more heavyweights to hop on board: Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Faith Evans, SWV, and Toni Braxton. Chart-topping singles include “Exhale” by Houston and “Not Gon’ Cry” by Blige, the former of which won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Song.

  • 40 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
    Hollywood Records
    There’s only one decade in which ska ever thrived, and that’s the ‘90s. From Letters To Cleo (who also made a cameo in the film) to Save Ferris, 10 Things I Hate About You captured the peak of the happy-go-lucky genre.

Now that you’re back in the ’90s film groove, check out VH1’s brand new original movie, The Breaks. Chronicling the rise of hip hop in the early ’90s, the film boasts a KILLER soundtrack featuring classics from De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy and more! Watch the full movie here.

Tara Aquino is an entertainment writer based out of L.A. She likes people, places, and things.