The 9 Best Teen Movie Soundtracks Ever
Clueless! Cruel Intentions! Empire Records! And more!
When people talk about the best movie soundtracks of all time, the same picks come up again and again: Pulp Fiction. Lost In Translation. Trainspotting.
And duh, right? Tarantino curating a mix of retro surf music, soul and Dusty Springfield is great. Scarlett Johansson wandering through Kyoto to a score from Air is great. Renton stealing a buttload of money from his friends while ‘Born Slippy’ plays is great.
But there’s something just that little bit more satisfying about the music in movies made for those in the most full on, emotionally-charged, exciting period of their lives: teens! Movies full of high school angst, prom happy endings, makeover montages, bets-that-turn-into-true-love, wayward erections and the quest to lose one’s virginity seem to have a habit of being soundtracked by the Best Songs Ever.
So in honour of the silver screen’s greatest genre, we’ve gone to work picking out nine of the best teen movie soundtracks ever. Here they are.
#9 Twilight: New Moon
While the first Twilight soundtrack was dominated by Muse and Paramore (2008: not music’s finest year), the tracklist for New Moon is a very different story.
By the time the second Twilight movie rolled around, so huge was the pulling power of the franchise that they were able to convince everyone from Thom Yorke to Bon Iver, Editors and Grizzly Bear to contribute original songs to the OST, with Death Cab For Cutie providing the hero track in ‘Meet Me On The Equinox’ only a couple years after the peak of their relevance.
No wonder this was the work of Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor responsible for the The O.C. and Gossip Girl soundtracks, and the lady with Hollywood’s most enviable job.
Best Moment: When Lykke Li’s piano ballad ‘Possibility’ gets centre stage for a full two minutes while Bella mopes about her boyfriend leaving town.
#8 Empire Records
Empire Records isn’t just a movie about music, it’s a movie about what it means to love music.
To love it so much you want to lose your virginity to an ageing, slightly-orange popstar in a purple satin shirt. To love it so much you’ll steal $9000 from your boss in a misguided attempt to keep it out of the hands of corporate overloads. To love it so much you start shooting up the place you’re trying to get a job at. (Fucking Warren.)
It’s also the movie at least partly responsible for a generation of teens romanticising record stores, and the one that will remind you what a jam ‘Till I Hear It From You’ by the Gin Blossoms is.
Rex Manning’s ‘Say No More Mon Amour’. The heartwarming and little-bit-cheesy rooftop dance scene to The The’s ‘This Is The Day’.
#7 The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
The music in Perks of Being A Wallflower is no afterthought — rather, whole scenes are written around the power of certain songs.
At the school dance, Sam and Patrick dance vigorously to ‘Come On Eileen’, the first “good” track to be played that night. Charlie makes his friends mixtapes with ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths on it twice, before getting told off at a party for playing music that’s too “morbidly sad”. And when the trio are driving through a tunnel just as David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ comes on the radio, Sam turns up the volume and stands up in the back of her step-brother’s truck while her tulle dress blows in the wind, a fashion choice that will remind you this is all set in the early ‘90s.
So in other words, the music in Perks of Being A Wallflower is used the way actual teens use music in their lives — to make connections with, to express emotions where words fail, and to feel, as Charlie says, “infinite”.
Best Moment: ‘Heroes’, Bowie’s perfect “Tunnel Song”.
#6 American Pie
While not all parts of the American Pie experience have aged well (see: the whole plotline about broadcasting a teenage girl in sexual situations, on a webcam, without her consent), the soundtrack still holds up.
The year was 1999, Blink-182 has just released Enema of the State, and pop-punk was on the speakers at every teenage house party. So synonymous was Blink’s young-and-horny brand that they not only contributed ‘Mutt’ to the soundtrack, but also cameoed in one of the aforementioned scenes, spying on exchange student Nadia from behind a computer.
Third Eye Blind, Tonic, Sugar Ray and The Lemonheads’ ‘Mrs Robinson’ round out the list of songs that will immediately make you feel like defacing public property with doodles of dicks.
Best Moment: Kevin and Vicki hooking up to Hole’s ‘Celebrity Skin’ is dumb, funny and OTT, which basically encapsulates the American Pie mission statement.
Of the entire Jason-Biggs-trying-to-get-laid genre, Loser is the movie with the highest rate of timeless, turn of the century bangers: there’s Tal Bachman with ‘She’s So High’. The Offspring classic ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’. Everclear’s ‘So Much For The Afterglow’. Bloodhound Gang contributing ‘Bad Touch’. Fooeys with ‘Aurora’. If only the movie was as good as its soundtrack.
Best Moment: The glorious centrepiece of the Loser soundtrack was Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, the hit of the summer 2000 and a song you should still listen to at least once per week in 2017. Biggs and Mena Suvari starred in the song’s video clip, their storyline refit here from first year university to an all-American high school.
A list of the best teen movie soundtracks without Clueless on it? Ugh, as if! But it’s not just the parade of undeniable tracks — like ‘Kids In America’, No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, plus contributions from Jewel, Luscious Jackson and Salt-N-Pepa — that makes this one a cut above.
Clueless is also a highly enjoyable ’90s time capsule for the way its characters use music as a marker of identity: pretentious dickwad Elton begs to be dismissed from class because he can’t find his Cranberries CD. Resident stoner Travis Birkenstock (um, we’d wager that last name isn’t a coincidence) talks about loving Nine Inch Nails. The desperate-to-fit-in Tai tries to prove she’s cool by singing Coolio’s ‘Rollin’ With My Homies’ at a party. Cher rolls her eyes at Josh when the “cry-baby music” of Radiohead comes on the radio.
Best Moment: It’s probably un-feminist to find Tai’s makeover scene, set to the tune of ‘Supermodel’, this enjoyable. Whatever.
#3 Cruel Intentions
Cruel Intentions is no goofy comedy, which makes for a very different kind of teen movie soundtrack. To fit the film’s dark themes — kinda-incest, drugs, death — it served up trip-hop from Faithless, general moodiness from Marcy Playground, detached irreverence from Blur (‘Coffee & TV’, a classic) and Counting Crows’ super-sad ‘Colourblind’.
Music from Sneaker Pimps, Garbage and The Smiths set the devilish tone for the Cruel Intentions in trailers, but didn’t make into the actual flick. But the soundtrack’s standout inclusions bookend the movie — Placebo’s ‘Every You Every Me’ as the opening credits roll, and one particularly-inspired choice as the final scene plays out…
Best Moment: Kathryn’s well-deserved downfall, to The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, still stands as one of the most iconic uses of music in a movie ever.
#2 10 Things I Hate About You
Would the ’90s teen entertainment industry have survived without Letters To Cleo? The Craft, Jawbreaker and Buffy The Vampire Slayer all enlisted the Boston alt-rock band for their soundtracks — singer Kay Hanley was even the voice of Josie in Josie & The Pussycats, ghosting for an apparently-tuneless Rachel Leigh Cook.
But their big moment came with 10 Things I Hate About You, where four of their songs — including ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ — feature, with the band actually cameoing in the movie to perform the latter at prom.
But Letters To Cleo aren’t the only memorable part of the soundtrack: remember Air’s ‘Sexy Boy’, playing as the school is flooded with house party invites? Kat blasting Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ from her car while a group of bright-eyed teens look on, horrified? Or Patrick and Kat kissing for the first time at paintball while Semisonic’s ‘F.N.T.’ plays?
Add K-ci & Jojo’s ‘All My Life’, Joan Armatrading’s ‘The Weakness In Me’, Biggie’s ‘Hypnotize’ and our own Spiderbait’s ‘Calypso’ into the mix and you’ve got just about the most perfect teen movie soundtrack ever.
Best Moment: Heath Ledger crooning ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ at Kat Stratford used to make me so happy! Now it makes me so sad. Still good, though.
#1 Looking for Alibrandi
Ten years on, every track on the Looking For Alibrandi soundtrack is instantly recognisable: hear ‘Tintarella Di Luna’ and you’re transported immediately to Tomato Day. ‘Teenager Of The Year’ will give you flashbacks of Josie Alibrandi stretching in her chair as she does the HSC. Silverchair’s ‘Miss You Love’ will forever be the sound of two teens almost about to have sex, while a dad makes them tea in the next room.
It’s fitting that one of Australia’s most iconic films ever should come with a soundtrack made up of local heroes: Spiderbait, Jebediah, Frenzal Rhomb, Magic Dirt and The Church also dot the tracklist.
Best Moment: ‘With Or Without You’. John Barton. Oh god.
Katie Cunningham is the Editor of Music Junkee and inthemix. She is on Twitter.
P.S. We made you a playlist!