Music happens to be one of the most important aspects of a movie. Take Star Wars or Harry Potter, for example. The theme music is one of the most memorable aspects of both those films. If it weren’t for the soundtracks, some films wouldn’t even be watchable. The ’80s were an especially interesting time, sonically speaking. That’s when MTV rose to popularity. In the early ’80s, punk rock was still going strong. By the end of the decade, new wave and metal bands had all but replaced groups like the Ramones or Sex Pistols. That’s why we decided to make this list.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
If it weren’t for The Breakfast Club, few people would know “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Scottish band Simple Minds. This iconic John Hughes movie about five seemingly different kids stuck in detention together really helped the new wave band become better known. The soundtrack album peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200. The Breakfast Clubis considered one of the greatest high school movies ever made. Certainly, it’s one of the most famous. If it weren’t for the memorable soundtrack, however, it might not be.
Back to the Future (1985)
Do you like Huey Lewis and the News? Perhaps you should see Back to the Future. His music features throughout this amusing tale of time-traveling DeLoreans, Devo suits, rock ‘n’ roll and accidental almost-incest (“My mother has the hots for me?!” quoth Marty McFly). Huey Lewis himself makes a cameo as a square teacher who calls the main character’s band “too loud.” Of course, that’s not all. There’re also quite a few ’50s songs in the historical scenes and then-current ’80s tunes sprinkled throughout. “Mr. Sandman” is especially memorable.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
All the songs in this movie fit so perfectly. There’s the hilarious “oh yeah” music that plays during chase scene (it’s really “Oh Yeah” by Swiss electronic band Yello). The theme from Star Wars also cameos epically during the joyriding valets sequence. Even the somewhat random use of “Danke Schoen” seems so…right. Though nothing tops Ferris Bueller lip syncing to “Twist and Shout” (a Beatles version of a classic song) during a German Day parade. It’s absolutely amazing. On a more trivial note, it’s one of the few movie soundtracks with an actual Beatles-recorded song in it. Usually movies have to resort to using covers when in comes to songs by the Fab Four.
Though billed as “not a sequel, not a prequel, but an equal” to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment isn’t exactly good. Most people who’ve seen it happen to be die-hard Rocky Horror fans. It’s about a mental hospital that’s, somehow, also a game show and a soap opera. Two rather creepy siblings named Cosmo and Nation McKinley run the place. They’re assisted by a peppy, cutesy nurse named Ansalong who keeps flashing her black panties. If it weren’t for the unbearably catchy, super-singable soundtrack, few people would be willing to watch the movie more than once. Go listen to the theme song yourself. That’ll be stuck in your head for days. It’s catchier than the “Time Warp!” Other highlights include “Bitching in the Kitchen” and “In My Own Way.” Jessica Harper’s rich alto voice is incredibly beautiful.
Labyrinth is a classic coming of age story. Bratty teen Sarah is forced to grow up — and save the day — after accidentally wishing away her baby stepbrother. This camp classic looks like a lovely fairy tale crossed with a glittery, glam MTV video. There are only about five human characters; everyone else is either a Jim Henson puppet or animal. Visually, it’s an absolute masterpiece. Musically, it’s even better. David Bowie composed the entire soundtrack. On a more trivial note, a mock-religion “Areaology” (read: the worship of Bowie’s crotch) originated because of the tight pants he wore in the film.
Sid and Nancy (1986)
Sid and Nancy tells the true story of punk rocker Sid Vicious, his revolting girlfriend Nancy, and their increasingly destructive — not to mention heroin addled — romance. Of course, like far too many biopics, it gets nearly everything wrong. Teenagers are played by 30-year-olds. Accents sound “off.” Costumes aren’t historically accurate. That said, Gary Oldman did do a pretty good job as Sid; he’s the only reason most people see the film. This movie is historically atrocious, confusing, and slow… though it has a great soundtrack. From Iggy Pop to Joe Strummer to the Sex Pistols, it’s all pretty punk. Oldman himself sings a number of songs. His rendition of “My Way” happens to be especially fascinating.
Flash Gordon (1980)
As one of the earliest sci-fi movies to have a rock soundtrack, Flash Gordon sure is entertaining. It’s a very colorful remake of the old ’30s movie serial and comics series of the same name. Famed British actor Brian Blessed makes an appearance, playing some sort of operatic flying monkey. As does Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien as a strange bald man living in a forest. Queen composed the fabulous, theatrical soundtrack. It’s certainly a fun film.
You probably haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle or even heard of it — and for good reason. It’s an absolute wreck. The film tells a fictionalized account of how the Sex Pistols became famous. It implies that manager Malcolm McLaren “invented” punk rock to make “a million pounds.” That’s far from true. The band’s lead singer, John Lydon, refused to get involved. Same goes for the original bassist, the talented Glen Matlock. As a result, they only showed up in archive footage. Still, the soundtrack is amazing. It’s full of Sex Pistols’ songs and other rock classics. Also, the talentless replacement bassist Sid Vicious sings a rather amazing rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way.” That scene’s certainly worth watching.
Clue is the most successful game-turned-film. With its all-star cast of comedic actors, including Tim Curry and Madeline Khan, this movie sure is funny. Like the board game of the same name, it’s a murder mystery with multiple potential endings. It takes place in the paranoid, commie-fearing ’50s. The use of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” and “Sh-boom” makes things more authentic. Mysterious, old-fashioned harpsichord music plays over the opening credits, seting the mood for the rest of the movie.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Unlike some of the other examples listed, 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy isn’t a colorful musical or a campy classic. Instead, it’s critically acclaimed drama about a group of drugstore-robbing drug addicts based on a book by career criminal James Fogle. The soundtrack is pretty amazing and complements everything else. Sometimes it’s slow and lovely and jazzy. In the more surreal scenes, it’s unpredictable and kinda sci-fi. The strangely musical sound effects during one of the early cooking and injection scenes makes a potentially dull sequence very fascinating indeed. Occasionally, there isn’t any music at all. No matter what, the music always seems to work. There’s never an out-of-place sound. Apparently, the whole soundtrack was made on a synthesizer. The sublime, period-correct jazz and lively rock songs make the story feel more real.