When it comes to films, perhaps the best way to create the mood and intent of a scene is through the soundtrack. Often it helps set the tone of a scene before a moment even happens. At the beginning of a war scene in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam, we hear an armed forces radio announcer introduce a song with a cheerful message to help keep morale high in the camps (Louis Armstrong’s hit “What A Wonderful World”), and this song contrasts hugely with the visuals that accompany the scene. Barry Levinson’s surprising choice of song is a striking way of portraying and highlighting the irony of the media’s portrayal of war in relation to the unrelenting tragedy of what happened. In the second part of this article, we look at four of the most recent and greatest new film hits in cinema history.
Titanic (1997) is one of the few films to have been a huge success, both commercially and critically. The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, the only previous nomination (‘All About Eve’ in 1950), and went on to win 11, including Best Picture and Best Director, tying the record set by Ben-Hur (1959). Titanic was the first film to reach the $1 billion mark worldwide with more than $1.84 billion in initial receipts. It remained the highest-grossing film of all time until 2010, when Cameron surpassed himself with Avatar (and its current gross of 2.92 billion). Titanic, by the way, has since 1997, with numerous re-releases, grown to $2.254 billion worldwide. In addition to the success of the film, the soundtrack has also been a huge success! Although Titanic’s best-known score is undoubtedly Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, much of Titanic’s soundtrack is composed by James Horner. This makes it the best-selling orchestral score in film history, which is certainly impressive, also in terms of how many films have ever had original scores composed for them. The soundtrack topped the Billboard album charts for sixteen weeks, went 11 times platinum and was the best-selling album of 1998. Sales eventually topped 30 million copies worldwide.
A Dirty Dancing (1987), starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, tells the story of a young woman who falls in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle at a holiday resort.The film premiered at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and on 21 August in the United States, earning over $214 million worldwide and becoming the first film to sell over one million copies on VHS. The music was a major factor in the film’s huge success. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Vocal Duo or Group. The soundtrack album has sold more than 32 million copies worldwide.
The Saturday Night Fever (1977) rode the crazy popularity of the disco era perfectly timed! John Travolta was a huge star, and the Bee Gees – who had a flair for catchy tunes – were responsible for many of the album’s songs. The unusually long soundtrack, which lasts around 75 minutes, was a huge hit and its pop-cultural impact is still felt today. The album was released on 18 July 1987, sold 32 million copies worldwide and became one of the best-selling albums of all time. In the United States, it spent 18 weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and went 14 times platinum.
More Than a Bodyguard (1992) grossed more than $400 million worldwide as critics tried to pull the film down. Although Kevin Costner was at the height of his popularity at the time of the film’s release, much of the film’s success was due to singer Whitney Houston, who, in addition to performing most of the songs on the soundtrack, also played the lead role. The biggest hit of the album was Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You”, which is a Dolly Parton song. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for 14 weeks. With more than 45 million copies sold worldwide, The Bodyguard became the best-selling soundtrack album of all time, as well as the best-selling female album in music history and the best-selling album of the decade. The soundtrack eventually won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.