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The most successful soundtracks (Part 1)

In 2021, Disney made a big splash with Elcanto’s upbeat and vibrant soundtrack, while brilliantly telling the story of a Colombian family with magical powers. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the film’s most popular song, reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 2022, making it only the second song from an animated Disney film to achieve this feat. The other was Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” back in 1993. The music certainly has a huge influence on the overall mood of the film, and it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the soundtrack is the “soul” of the film, revealing all the components of the narrative, even if the dialogue and plot are not so obvious. Here are the most successful film scores to date.

Disney’s most successful film score, already mentioned, is The Lion King (1994), with several iconic Elton John songs and wonderful pieces by Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack was recorded in three different countries: the US, the UK, and South Africa, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and Best Soundtrack in 1995. With more than 7 million copies sold, it became the best-selling animated film soundtrack album in the United States, with 4,934,000 copies sold in 1994 alone.

Probably like many other dance films, Flashdance (1983) would not have survived if it had to rely on story, dialogue, or acting alone. It is, to put it mildly, a simple story about a hapless young woman trying to make it big as a dancer, with some weak dialogue and not exactly strong acting. But for some reason we still love the 80s. With Giorgio Moroder’s iconic original score and some superbly chosen pop hits, Flashdance’s score was a huge hit and its cult following is still present today. Irene Cara’s title track, “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” was a huge hit before its release, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and selling 20 million copies by 2011.

Purple Rain (1984), Prince’s sixth studio album, was released on 25 June 1984 by Warner Bros. Records as the soundtrack album for the film of the same name. Purple Rain was musically more complex than Prince’s previous albums, with an emphasis on full orchestral performances and multiple layers of guitars, keyboards, and electronic synthesiser effects, drum machines, and other instruments. Purple Rain became Prince’s first album to reach number one on the Billboard 200. The album spent exactly 24 consecutive weeks at the top of the chart. “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Purple Rain” was number two and “I Would Die 4 U” was number eight. In May 1996, the album was certified 13 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, making it Prince’s most successful album, selling 25 million copies in total. Prince also smashed the Grammys, winning awards for Best Vocal Duo or Ensemble Rock Performance and Best Score for a Visual Media Film, and winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Purple Rain is regularly ranked as one of the best albums of all time, with Rolling Stone ranking it number eight on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The soundtrack for Grease (1978) was released on 14 April 1978, two months before the film was released. The most successful songs on the soundtrack were written specifically for the film. These included the Billboard chart-topping hit “Grease”, “You’re the One That I Want”, and the Oscar-nominated “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The album proved even more successful in the UK, where two other hits, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights”, also reached number one, and the album remained at the top of the UK charts for 13 consecutive weeks. The album has sold 30 million copies worldwide over the years.