Before both industries went in different directions post–file sharing, mainstream movies and music hit a synergistic peak in the ’90s as the movie soundtrack became a dominant pop culture form. These days, soundtracks are mostly irrelevant and unnecessary, as streaming playlists have displaced the commercial compilation.
The ’90s in particular were defined by great films with great soundtracks (Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction, Clueless, etc). But sometimes individual music videos were better than the source movies themselves. There were no shortage of these in the late 20th century. In many cases, they would just use footage from the film but, in some cases, they’d have the actors perform some bit with the musicians.
The format is goofy as hell because it operates as an ad for the film, the soundtrack and the artist and is some sort of extended trailer. Here are some of the ones that are better than the films themselves.
10. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody”
From Dr. Dolittle
Dr. Dolittle came out a year after The Nutty Professor, aka the beginning of the end of Eddie Murphy. But this Timbaland-Aaliyah collaboration probably is one of the most beloved pairings of a generation. I think music writers and artists would agree Aaliyah is pretty unimpeachable, generally thought of as a one-in-a-generation talent and yet still somehow underrated. And if you ever wondered what happened to the baby whose cooing was sampled into this banger, well, music journalism has got you covered. These are the stories that matter.
9. Aaliyah, “Try Again”
From Romeo Must Die
Romeo Must Die is a better film than Dr. Doolittle. But Aaliyah and Timbaland outshine another feature film here with “Try Again.” This one features only a very small amount of the movie crossover stuff, but it's actually a good video. I promise this is the last Aaliyah soundtrack song, but it won't be the last ’90s Romeo reboot.
8. Seal, “Kiss From a Rose”
From Batman Forever
Seal was one of the sexiest men alive according to magazine editors in the mid-’90s. And this over-the-top romance novel song and video was one of the few decent parts of this kitschy train wreck of a film.
7. Will Smith, “Wild Wild West”
From Wild Wild West
It appears as though the full version of this has been scrubbed off streaming sites (probably for the best). What would you rather do: Listen to this song or watch the movie? I think that's all that needs to be said. Don't actually watch this if you have any positive feelings about Will Smith that you would like to hang onto.
6. Puff Daddy feat. Jimmy Page, “Come with Me”
No one remembers what happened in this turgid stinker of a Godzilla reboot, including the people who made it. It's the cinematic equivalent of Surge soda. But something about getting Jimmy Page — notoriously just a terrible person — and pre-Diddy Puff Daddy together for this Bad Boyification of Zeppelin's “Kashmir” is still preferable to watching the expensive turd of a blockbuster that the film ended up being, despite Godzilla fans’ relatively high tolerance for bullshit.
5. The Cardigans, “Lovefool”
From Romeo + Juliet
Here's probably the hottest take on this list: Baz Lurhmann couldn't direct his way out of a wet bag filled with small underwater Leos. The Cardigans are good. I think we can all basically agree with that. But we have to be honest: Romeo + Juliet, more than the rest, is worthless without its music. And this is the best song from the film's soundtrack. The Cardigans, as it turns out, have aged quite well.
4. Coolio feat. LV, “Gangsta’s Paradise”
From Dangerous Minds
It cannot be overstated how huge this record and music video were at the time (like the next one on this list as well). “Gangsta's Paradise” featured bozo rapper Coolio doing a dramatic turn to match the edgy themes of the film, which is basically a mildly entertaining rehash of the Stand and Deliver template. The video and song also got the Weird Al treatment. Even though Coolio's career has taken a bizarre turn — for instance, he's starred in a culinary web series called Cookin’ With Coolio — he was once the king of the mainstream world, and this video was that moment.
3. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”
From The Bodyguard
Try naming one scene in The Bodyguard. This absolute monster of a single dominated the charts for what felt like years at the time. It was inescapable. The Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston film it was supporting ended up riding the soundtrack's success, led by this cover of the Dolly Parton classic “I Will Always Love You.” The film ended up grossing close to a half billion dollars in box office revenue in the early ’90s. But the film itself was essentially scrubbed from the cultural memory by the end of the decade (at least until it was revived as a stage musical in 2012). Also there's a pretty fascinating documentary on Houston that was recently released.
2. Warren G ft. Nate Dogg, “Regulate”
From Above the Rim
“Regulate” was the perfect vehicle for Nate and Warren to showcase their skills and, thus, break out from the shadows of their predecessors. One of the samples is from Michael McDonald's “I Keep Forgettin’” — and that will not be the last time you see Mr. McDonald on this list.
1. Michael McDonald, “Sweet Freedom”
From Running Scared
Oh, here he is again. Look, I have nothing against Gregory Hines and Running Scared isn't even that bad; it's just totally forgettable. This video, despite its inclusion of Billy “Blackface” Crystal, is still a treat and by far the best part about this disposable dollar-bin leftover.