When you’re a teenager, soundtracks are the easiest way to discover new music. Often serving as a time capsule of a certain era and style, a great soundtrack combines a concept and theme that fits with the film while also collecting great songs you’ve never heard before. They are a mixtape for millions, an album diverse enough to cross over to a broader audience than any single band’s album. The greatest soundtracks of the ’90s were common experiences for kids who grew up with them — whether it was windows-down driving in your first car blasting the Clueless soundtrack, making out with the cutest girl at school while the Love Jones soundtrack pumped out of your stereo, dancing in your bedroom with a flashlight going off and on at two beats per minute while playing Trainspotting, or culling no less than three songs from the Reality Bites soundtrack for your crush’s mixtape. Remember? Maybe this Spotify mix will help.
Rankings were determined by asking a series of questions and comparing each soundtrack on the basis of the answers… Does it hold up today? How many truly great songs are on it? How many terrible songs are on it? How good and important were the biggest singles? Does it set a certain mood and maintain a concept, like a good album should? Was the soundtrack introducing new songs and artists (as opposed to just collecting current hits)? And perhaps most importantly, how much will listening to it again make you feel young?
99. The Faculty (1998)
What makes it great: Primarily comprising ’90s rockers covering ’70s hits, which somehow works because kids of every era hate authority, and that’s what most of these tunes are about.
Really the soundtrack to: Hating your parents, teachers, and all other authority figures in your life.
Most memorable song: “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Class of ‘99 (Layne Staley, Tom Morello, and Stephen Perkins). This Pink Floyd cover isn’t anything to write home about, but the group of rockers assembled was legendary enough to make it seem special.
Sleeper favorite: “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” The Offspring. The best song on the soundtrack is an original by The Offspring, and the band’s best song, period.
Low point: “School’s Out,” Soul Asylum. Doesn’t even try to sound ANY different from the original at any point.
98. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
What makes it great: A sort of hilariously diverse collection of music ranging from C+C Music Factory to Matthew Sweet to Ozzy Osborne, but like the movie itself, it’s better than you might remember.
Really the soundtrack to: Writing letters and collecting mixtape songs, for your best friend who moved away.
Most memorable song: “Little Heaven,” Toad the Wet Sprocket. Actually just a really beautiful song. Thanks, Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Sleeper favorite: “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” The Divinyls. A sweet cover of an amazing and underrated ’60s classic first recorded by The Young Rascals, and hilariously appropriate given the film’s subject matter.
Low point: “I Fought the Law,” Mary’s Danish. Just one of approximately 1,000,000,000 covers of this song, and not one that adds any special to this genre unto itself.
97. Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996)
What makes it great: Essentially a comedy album, but it’s Beavis and Butt-head comedy so it’s kinda wonderful.
Really the soundtrack to: Lying in the hospital with a broken leg you got from doing something really dumb.
Most memorable song: “Love Rollercoaster,” Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s fun if you were there at the time.
Sleeper favorite: “I Wanna Riot,” Stubborn All Stars with Rancid. Surprisingly enjoyable ska/punk that will be stuck in your head for hours.
Low point: “Lesbian Seagull,” Engelbert Humperdinck. I mean, it’s actually pretty funny, but once you’ve heard it once…
96. Baby-Sitter’s Club (1995)
What makes it great: Perfectly innocent and magical, will transform you into a 12-year-old girl instantly. I call “not Mallory!”
Really the soundtrack to: Making friendship bracelets!
Most memorable song: “Step Back”, Letters to Cleo. Letters to Cleo, perhaps the greatest soundtrack band of the 1990s.
Sleeper favorite: “Don’t Leave,” Ben Lee. Ben Lee was the cutest kid rocker even before he wooed Claire Danes with a birthday serenade, and this song holds up better than any other track on this adorable soundtrack.
Low point: “Daddy’s Girl,” Lisa Harlow Stark. It was your least favorite song on this soundtrack then, and it does not age any better.
95. A Thin Line Between Love & Hate (1996)
What makes it great: Although it isn’t the BEST of the mid-’90s hip-hop/R&B soundtrack boom, the highlights on this album are sexy as hell.
Really the soundtrack to: Breaking up with someone and then making out right after.
Most memorable song: “A Thin Line Between Love & Hate,” H-Town. Although it’s a cover, and hurt by some pretty weird production choices, this is still the obvious centerpiece of this soundtrack.
Sleeper favorite: “Freak Tonight,” R. Kelly. Damn, it’s hard to wear pants while listening to this song.
Low point: “Playa Fo Real,” Dru Down. Somehow fairly offensive, weird as hell, AND boring, all at the same time.
94. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
What makes it great: This music fits the boy stars of the film so perfectly that they might have actually jumped out of the screen and made this mix themselves.
Really the soundtrack to: Hiding from your mom in your basement, smokin’ weed.
Most memorable song: “God Gave Rock N Roll to You II,” Kiss. Truly sweet in the context of Bill and Ted, and fairly nonsensical without them.
Sleeper favorite: “Tommy the Cat,” Primus. Truly the perfect example of what an inexplicably delightful band Primus was.
Low point: “The Perfect Crime,” Faith No More. Just has that sound of “not quite good enough for our album, so we gave it to this soundtrack.”
93. Election (1999)
What makes it great: Full of charming indie-rock sing-along jams.
Really the soundtrack to: Deciding you want to move to Austin, Texas, when you grow up.
Most memorable song: “This Road I’m Traveling,” Mojave 5. Gorgeous song.
Sleeper favorite: “Born to Be With You,” The Damnations TX. Sadly difficult to find on the internet but so sweet and great!
Low point: “Only God Knows,” Martin’s Dam. Literally the only thing this band ever did, but not wonder-ful enough to qualify as a “one-hit wonder” either. :(
92. The Cable Guy (1996)
What makes it great: It’s just so ’90s teenage boy that it will make you yearn for the smell of that super-hard hair gel that dudes used to make spikes.
Really the soundtrack to: Hanging out in the car outside of Denny’s.
Most memorable song: “Somebody to Love,” Jim Carrey. Oddly delightful.
Sleeper favorite: “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand,” Primitive Radio Gods. Makes a strong, poignant case for “best one-hit wonder of the ’90s.”
Low point: “End of the World Is Coming,” David Hilder. LOL, imagine a person who really loves this song.
91. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
What makes it great: Fittingly (for both the movie and for teenage moodiness generally) dark and grumpy and sexy all at the same time.
Really the soundtrack to: Your first hangover.
Most memorable song: “Clumsy,” Our Lady Peace. In that same wonderful category along with “Freshman” and “Brick” of popular mid-’90s alt-rock songs that were about some mysterious death event no one quite understood.
Sleeper favorite: “Hush,” Kula Shaker. Weirdly sexy for such a fast-paced rock song.
Low point: “2 Wicky,” Hooverphonic. Poor man’s Portishead; the name even seems like a rip-off!
90. Godzilla (1998)
What makes it great: This soundtrack was a HUGE hit, and the highlights really deliver.
Really the soundtrack to: Reading someone else’s diary.
Most memorable song: “Heroes,” The Wallflowers. Although maybe this cover wasn’t totally necessary, Jakob Dylan’s voice made it beautiful.
Sleeper favorite: “Air,” Ben Folds Five. Heartbreaking, beautiful song that seems like it could have been a huge hit but wasn’t.
Low point: “Running Knees,” Days Of The New. Standard late ’90s too late for the real grunge scene grunge. Not buying it.
89. Traveller (1997)
What makes it great: Although it is perhaps one of the more obscure picks on this list, this soundtrack included really great alt-country/folk artists doing charming covers of old classics. It’s a winning combination.
Really the soundtrack to: Pickup truck road trip.
Most memorable song: “King of the Road,” Randy Travis. Randy has one of the top five most pleasing voices of all time, so he could sing the phone book and I’d be happy.
Sleeper favorite: “I Love You a Thousand Ways,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Any Southern gal’s vision of what love might look like someday.
Low point: “Don’t Rob Another Man’s Castle,” Royal Wade Kimes. It was never really a great song to begin with, and this song doesn’t add anything special to it either.
88. Woo (1998)
What makes it great: A mostly girl-centric collection of groovy, atmospheric R&B and rap tracks, about 1,000 times better than this actual film.
Really the soundtrack to: Playing the game, know what I mean?
Most memorable song: “Money,” Charli Baltimore. A swaggering, proud, sassy rap track from a lady — Charli was way ahead of the Nicki and Iggy era.
Sleeper favorite: “Nobody Does It Better,” Warren G and Nate Dogg. Funky, romantic groove that just floats around and induces instant nostalgia.
Low point: “Let It Be,” Allure and 50 Cent. Aww, 50’s verse on this song is so boring and bad. :(
87. Clerks (1994)
What makes it great: Truly personifies the laid-back slacker character that the movie is populated with.
Really the soundtrack to: Sleeping in on your first day at a new job.
Most memorable song: “Got Me Wrong,” Alice in Chains. It’s nice when the most memorable song on the soundtrack is also played at a memorable moment in the movie, like when Randal first appears in Clerks and this song wafts around.
Sleeper favorite: “Shooting Star,” Golden Smog. Super charming Bad Company cover.
Low point: “Big Problems,” Corrosian of Conformity. Nothing to hear here, just move along.
86. Spawn (1997)
What makes it great: Your favorite ’90s hard rock acts + the coolest electronic artists. The concept sometimes outdoes the actual tracks, but the high points are treasures that could never have existed outside of 1997.
Really the soundtrack to: Picking out a blacklight at Spencer’s Gifts.
Most memorable song: “Can’t You Trip Like I Do,” Filter/The Crystal Method. The most successful track is the first one, featuring everybody’s favorite duo, The Crystal Method.
Sleeper favorite: “Tiny Rubberband,” Butthole Surfers/Moby. Compared to the rock and buzz of the rest of this album, this song is downright cute. I’m into it.
Low point: “For Whom the Bell Tolls (The Irony of It All),” Metallica/DJ Spooky. Not either act’s finest moment and let’s just leave it at that.
85. Scream 2 (1997)
What makes it great: It’s always thrilling when a sequel is better than the original, and this is definitely the case with the Scream 2 soundtrack.
Really the soundtrack to: Decorating your locker.
Most memorable song: “Red Right Hand,” Nick Cave. The coolest song you had ever heard in your life, the first time you heard this soundtrack.
Sleeper favorite: “She’s Always in My Hair,” D’Angelo. D’Angelo doing Prince… I’ll take it! All of it!
Low point: “Right Place, Wrong Time,” Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Um, it’s just unfunny spoken word screamed over a boring guitar riff?
84. Point Break (1991)
What makes it great: So ’80s that it’s really hard to even compare it to ’90s soundtracks, thank you 1991.
Really the soundtrack to: Bro-ing out with your best bro.
Most memorable song: “Nobody Rides For Free,” Ratt. Oh my god listening to this song will make you feel fucking awesome for 4 minutes and 43 seconds and then you won’t want to listen to it again for another 10 years.
Sleeper favorite: “I Want You,” Concrete Blonde. Just another Concrete Blonde song doing the hard work of making you weep with rock ‘n’ roll.
Low point: “7 And 7 Is,” Liquid Jesus. So forgettable that I almost forgot to list it here.
83. Money Talks (1997)
What makes it great: It’s an underrated hip-hop soundtrack that was never a huge hit, which makes listening to these songs again like listening to them for the first time.
Really the soundtrack to: Ridin’ dirty.
Most memorable song: “Feel So Good,” Mase. You may know this song but not that it appeared on this soundtrack before it came out on a Mase album. It’s still a jam.
Sleeper favorite: “A Dream,” Mary J. Blige. Mary J. basically kills it on every song she does, but this one is super great and underrated.
Low point: “Things Just Ain’t the Same - Remix,” Deborah Cox. The kind of generic R&B track you’re accustomed to hearing at the mall food court and completely tuning out.
82. Thelma & Louise (1991)
What makes it great: Desert music.
Really the soundtrack to: Getting lost.
Most memorable song: “Part of Me, Part of You,” Glenn Frey. The humble but perfect de facto theme song of this great ride-or-die adventure.
Sleeper favorite: “Little Honey,” Kelly Willis. This Austin folkster’s cover of X’s “Little Honey” is perfect because her voice is one of the prettiest in the South.
Low point: “Kick the Stones,” Chris Whitley. Inoffensive but unoriginal nu-blues/country jam song.
81. Philadelphia (1993)
What makes it great: Appropriately solemn, emotional, and reliably tear-generating, which is just what you need sometimes.
Really the soundtrack to: Did I mention the tears?
Most memorable song: “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen. A classic! So good that it hurts the rest of this pretty good but not exactly “Streets of Philadelphia” soundtrack, know what I mean?
Sleeper favorite: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” Indigo Girls. Very pretty cover of the Rod Stewart classic. Also, tears.
Low point: “Ibo Lele,” Ram. It’s fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.
80. Mallrats (1995)
What makes it great: Although it’s not that consistent, the fact that this soundtrack had NEW songs from Bush, Silverchair, Weezer, Belly, Sponge, and Wax made it an incredibly exciting release for every boy with long hair on planet Earth in 1995.
Really the soundtrack to: Shoplifting.
Most memorable song: “Susanne,” Weezer. New Weezer song automatically made this soundtrack essential.
Sleeper favorite: “Broken,” Belly. The single most underrated ’90s band, plus the line “the curve of her ass is unparalleled.”
Low point: All of the random Mallrats clips scattered throughout the soundtrack, which is a cute idea until every teenage boy in the world thought it was cool to put those dialogue clips on all of their mixtapes.
79. Encino Man (1992)
What makes it great: Young and easy and fun and uncomplicated and silly and lovely.
Really the soundtrack to: Skateboarding to school.
Most memorable song: “Luxury Cruiser,” T-ride. Hypnotically odd nu-metal party jam.
Sleeper favorite: “Why’d You Want Me,” Jesus and Mary Chain. Pretty little ditty that somehow perfectly sums up young adulthood.
Low point: “Feed the Monkey,” Infectious Groove. GROOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSSSS.
78. 8 Seconds (1994)
What makes it great: A nice primer on new country for adults circa 1994.
Really the soundtrack to: Pulling your Wranglers on with a coat hanger.
Most memorable song: “If I Had Only Known,” Reba McEntire. Guaranteed to bring the waterworks to any country girl who ever loved a kicker.
Sleeper favorite: “Pull Your Hat Down Tight,” Pam Tillis. Yaaassss Pam, tell those country man boys what’s up.
Low point: “Burnin’ Up the Road,” John Anderson. I blame John Anderson for bro-country.
77. Street Fighter (1994)
What makes it great: It’s uneven, but the best tracks are the best hip-hop you’d never heard of in 1994 — The Pharcyde! Nas! Public Enemy! So legit.
Really the soundtrack to: Getting a bloody nose from a stranger.
Most memorable song: “Street Fighter,” Ice Cube. God I love it when movie soundtrcks have songs written directly for and about the film.
Sleeper favorite: “One on One,” Nas. Back when Nas was one of the best in the game. Sigh.
Low point: “Straight to My Feet,” Deion Sanders and MC Hammer. LOLOLOL this was a hit in the U.K. because they don’t understand hip-hop at all.
76. Drive Me Crazy (1999)
What makes it great: Listening to it will summon your high school crush like some kind of séance.
Really the soundtrack to: CRUSHING SO HARD.
Most memorable song: “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” Britney Spears. Top five Britney songs, IMO.
Sleeper favorite: “Is This Really Happening to Me?,” Phantom Planet. Awwwww, Phantom Planet, cutest band ever.
Low point: “One for Sorrow,” Steps. A club song that’s not quite catchy enough to actually dance to is the saddest thing in the world.
75. Twister (1996)
What makes it great: Weirdly a mix of stuff that you were into (Goo Goo Dolls, Soul Asylum, Belly) and stuff your parents liked (Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham, Mark Knopfler, Alison Krauss), making it the perfect, PERFECT road-trip compromise album.
Really the soundtrack to: Suddenly realizing your parents are human (see above).
Most memorable song: “No One Needs to Know,” Shania Twain. One of those rare country songs that is a legitimate crossover that even Yankees can enjoy.
Sleeper favorite: “Talula,” Tori Amos. One of Tori’s best, remixed so well for this album that she ended up replacing the previous version of the song on later pressings of Boys for Pele for this slightly dancier (??) one.
Low point: “Virtual Reality,” Rusted Root. This song just seems like it’s trying too hard.
74. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (1999)
What makes it great: It’s pretty hard to make a joke musical actually be funny, but this one is.
Really the soundtrack to: The rare but moving “teenage boy sing-along.”
Most memorable song: “Blame Canada.
Sleeper favorite: “I Swear It (I Can Change),” Violent Femmes. The end of the soundtrack contained popular bands covering the songs from the movie — this one could pass for a real single if you don’t pay super-close attention/
Low point: “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” Don’t kill me — it’s hilarious in the context of the movie, but if you’ve ever had to live with a hardcore South Park fan perhaps you know that this can quickly become unbearable.
73. Small Soldiers (1998)
What makes it great: Another “this genre meets this other genre”-themed soundtrack, the Small Soldiers soundtrack combined “classic” (mostly ’80s) rock tracks with new rapping and production by hip-hop artists.
Really the soundtrack to: Staging elaborate prank fights with your next-door neighbor.
Most memorable song: “Another One Bites The Dust,” Queen with Wyclef Jean, Pras, Michel, and Free.
Sleeper favorite: “Low point: “Tom Sawyer, Rush and DJ Z-Trip. At least they had the foresight to put the worst ’80s band and the least interesting hip-hop artist together on this soundtrack.
72. Hackers (1996)
What makes it great: A time capsule of the mid-’90s techno golden age, complete with every heavy hitter of that genre.
Really the soundtrack to: Drowning out the sound of your modem connecting to AOL.
Most memorable song:” Halcyon and On and On,” Orbital. A gorgeous example of how darn PRETTY the best techno of the ’90s could be.
Sleeper favorite: “Open Up,” Leftfield. Techno beats accompanied by the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon’s unique swagger… I’m down.
Low point: “Heaven Knows,” Squeeze. This song would be okay outside of the context of this techno daydream, but as the closing note to an otherwise beepy ride, it’s a disappointment.
71. Armageddon (1998)
What makes it great: If you’ve never lost yourself singing along to this album with your fist in the air, you’ve never lived.
Really the soundtrack to: Developing a crush on Ben Affleck and/or Liv Tyler.
Most memorable song: “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” Aerosmith. SO EMOTIONAL.
Sleeper favorite: “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” Chantal Kreviazuk. A lovely cover by someone whose name is really hard to spell.
Low point: “Remember Me,” Journey with vocals by Steve Augeri. Sorry, Journey isn’t Journey without Steve Perry and also this song is AWFUL.
70. With Honors (1994)
What makes it great: A new Madonna single and a very solid collection of covers and new songs from many of the best alt-pop bands of the ’90s. What more do you want?
Really the soundtrack to: Learning to cook yourself dinner for the first time ever.
Most memorable song: “I’ll Remember,” Madonna. Madonna WROTE this song for the movie With Honors, which you may or may not actually REMEMBER (see what I did there). It was a turn away from her hormonal album Body of Evidence and was a heartbeat-beat ’70s-style pop song with beautifully cheesy lyrics, her best work in years.
Sleeper favorite: “It’s Not Unusual,” Belly. There are a lot of unnecessary covers on movie soundtracks, but this one is super great! It just makes me want to clap along.
Low point: “Tribe,” Babble. Ugh what is even the point of this song?
69. Lost Highway (1997)
What makes it great: Produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, the soundtrack features a mix of score and song, including multiple songs from Reznor himself + many more cool dudes.
Really the soundtrack to: Wearing sunglasses at night.
Most memorable song: “The Perfect Drug,” Nine Inch Nails. Somehow hopelessly romantic and incredibly intimidating/scary, which is par for the course re: NIN.
Sleeper favorite: “I’m Deranged,” David Bowie. Unforgettably haunting techno Bowie, which also featured prominently at the beginning and end of the film itself.
Low point: “I Put a Spell on You,” Marilyn Manson. Kind of a clever idea for a cover, but it gets old.
68. Gummo (1997)
What makes it great: This album works in precisely the way the movie does, pushing the limits of comfort and art until you’re uncomfortable and yet fascinated with exploring that same discomfort.
Really the soundtrack to: Purging.
Most memorable song: “Serving Time in the Middle of Nowhere,” Eyehategod. Sludgey metal meant for when your head is full of cotton and you need to listen to something equally submerged.
Sleeper favorite: “Dragonaut,” Sleep. One of the greatest stoner metal songs of all time. That’s not faint praise.
Low point: “Mom and Dad’s Pussy,” Destroy All Monsters. Pushes that neat discomfort riiiight off the line.
67. An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)
What makes it great: Although it didn’t introduce a ton of new material, this collection spans many genres to collect some of the best and most interesting songs of the era together in one place.
Really the soundtrack to: Staying up past your curfew.
Most memorable song: “Mouth (The Stingray Mix),” Bush. Terrifying and sexy, all at the same time!
Sleeper favorite: “Sick Love,” Redd Kross. A delightfully catchy “fuck you” song.
Low point: “Adrenaline,” Phunk Junkeez. Their name tells you all you need to know about this band.
66. True Romance (1993)
What makes it great: Subtle, pretty, smart songs from grown-ups, especially interesting because that the movie itself is so charmingly overwrought.
Really the soundtrack to: The development of the most ill-fated crush you ever had.
Most memorable song: “Two Hearts,” Chris Isaak. A great little love tune.
Sleeper favorite: “Graceland,” Charlie Sexton. A nice little modern blues song by Austin’s Charlie Sexton that fits the “very cool” theme of this charming album.
Low point: “I Want Your Body,” Nymphomania. Sticks out like a gross electronic thumb in a sea of humble ditties.
65. American Pie (1999)
What makes it great: Bro music, but for really great bros who turn out just fine.
Really the soundtrack to: Terrible mistakes.
Most memorable song: “Mutt,” Blink-182. This song just fits this movie SO well.
Sleeper favorite: “Good Morning Baby,” Bic Runga featuring Dan Wilson. Super cute.
Low point: “Wishen,” The Loose Nuts. Uninspired and generic ska revival song that no one remembers being on this soundtrack.
64. Threesome (1994)
What makes it great: A solidly diverse compilation that actually feels more like it’s of the late ’80s than it does the ’90s — but it contains charming pop covers and the musical equivalent of the winking emoticon, so I’m happy.
Really the soundtrack to: Falling asleep in the back of a cab.
Most memorable song: “Like a Virgin,” Teenage Fanclub. Rock covers of pop songs was a big soundtrack thing in the ’90s — this one is one of the very best examples of the genre.
Sleeper favorite: “Buttercup,” Brad. Sweet little bluesy love jam that makes me want a cigarette.
Low point: “I’ll Take You There,” General Public. This is on the opposite end of the covers spectrum.
63. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
What makes it great: Likely responsible for more silly dudes discovering great bands and music than any other album in the world.
Really the soundtrack to: Driving around with your best guy friend’s mixtape blaring.
Most memorable song: “New Age Girl,” Deadeye Dick. A song with the line “she don’t eat meat but she sure like the bone” could never be forgotten.
Sleeper favorite: “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Butthole Surfers. A wonky and weird alt-rock cover of the excellent Donovan song.
Low point: “You Sexy Thing,” Deee-Lite. I love Deee-Lite, but this cover is just so unnecessary.
62. The Craft (1996)
What makes it great: I have scientifically determined that The Craft is the single NINETIESIST ’90s soundtrack that was ever made. Containing each of at least four of the most frequently soundtracked artists of the ’90s: Letters to Cleo, Matthew Sweet, Our Lady Peace, and Juliana Hatfield.
Really the soundtrack to: Every single séance you ever had at a slumber party.
Most memorable song: “I Have the Touch,” Heather Nova. Oh man, this soundtrack is so fucking witchy, I love it.
Sleeper favorite: “Spastica,” Elastica. Everything that any gal buying The Craft soundtrack needed in a song.
Low point: “How Soon Is Now,” Love Spit Love. Terrible, unnecessary, sad cover of a beautiful Smiths band by a group no one remembers. Bummer.
61. Jawbreaker (1999)
What makes it great: It’s full of loose, poppy party jams by great bands you’d never heard of before.
Really the soundtrack to: Filling out a slam book.
Most memorable song: “Yoo Hoo,” Imperial Teen. Such a fun, slinky, bitchy pop song that fit this film like a glove.
Sleeper favorite: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine,” The Donnas. The Donnas were basically the best thing that ever happened to teenage girls in the late ’90s.
Low point: “She Bop,” Howie Beno & Cruella Deville. An overproduced, oversung “rock” cover of a pop song that was perfect the way it was before.
60. The Matrix (1999)
What makes it great: A collection of hard rock and electronic mix that every older brother in the ’90s truly treasured.
Really the soundtrack to: Learning HTML.
Most memorable song: “Rock Is Dead,” Marilyn Manson. I kinda miss MM when I listen to ragers like this.
Sleeper favorite: Du Hast, Rammstein. Kids who liked Rammstein were just so much cooler and tougher than everyone else.
Low point: “Prime Audio Soup,” Meat Beat Manifesto. Meh.
59. Nothing to Lose (1997)
What makes it great: A consistently banging and super-hip rap/R&B soundtrack — one of those cases where the music is way more memorable than the movie itself.
Really the soundtrack to: Your first parents-are-out-of-town party!
Most memorable song: “Not Tonight,” Lil’ Kim. Damn this song is nassssttyyyy in the best possible way.
Sleeper favorite: “Everlasting, Outkast. This song only appeared on this soundtrack, but it’s one of the dopest pre-Aquemini Outkast songs, period.
Low point: “Crazy Maze,” Des’ree. Let’s be real, there’s only room for one truly great Des’ree soundtrack song, and it’s not on this soundtrack.
58. Men in Black (1997)
What makes it great: Exhilarating, frill-free R&B happiness.
Really the soundtrack to: Riding your bike down a hill hands-free.
Most memorable song: “Men in Black,” Will Smith. Back when Mr. Smith was just so funnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.
Sleeper favorite: “Killing Time,” Destiny’s Child. It’s your girl B, singing the shit out of this ballad.
Low point: “Waiting for Love,” 3T. Too boring to even diss.
57. Menace II Society (1993)
What makes it great: A really hip, smooth soundtrack of hip-hop and R&B artists who didn’t mostly make it out of the ’90s, making it even more of a time capsule.
Really the soundtrack to:
Most memorable song: “Streiht Up Menace,” MC Eiht. Although I don’t really know what came of MC Eiht, this song had such a beautiful, hypnotic flow.
Sleeper favorite: “You Been Played,” Smooth. Look twice before you step to Smooth, y’all.
Low point: “Unconditional Love,” Hi-Five. So cheesy that it melts!
56. Sunset Park (1996)
What makes it great: A collection of prime mid-’90s rap that is all custom-made for blaring out of a boom box on your stoop.
Really the soundtrack to: Dunking on your best friend in a rough pickup game.
Most memorable song: “Keep On, Keepin’ On,” MC Lyte featuring Xscape. 1996: The golden era of nasty gals.
Sleeper favorite: “Motherless Child,” Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. Sooooo good. Also, fair to say that Ghostface is the most underrated rapper of the ’90s/ever?
Low point: “Hoop in Ya Face,” 69 Boyz feat. Quad City DJs. I can’t say that jock party hip-hop is my favorite subgenre.
55. Angus (1995)
What makes it great: Anthems for outcasts and weirdos. Just what you needed.
Really the soundtrack to: Arranging the posters in your room.
Most memorable song: “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,” Weezer. A love song for people who feel awkward around love songs.
Sleeper favorite: “J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva),” Green Day. A song by Mike Dirnt about a friend who passed away, this was a #YOLO anthem for a more innocent time.
Low point: “White Homes,” Tilt. On an album full of subtly emotional alt rock, this song feels too meaningless.
54. Desperado (1995)
What makes it great: A showcase for the wonderful ranchera/chicano scene and specifically for the inimitable Los Lobos.
Really the soundtrack to: Getting too high and seeing wolves.
Most memorable song: “Cancion del Mariachi,” Los Lobos. Los Lobos did most of the heavy lifting on this soundtrack, and nowhere is it as beautiful as on this gorgeous opening track.
Sleeper favorite: “Back to the House That Love Built,” Tito & Tarantula. Chicano stoner rock is a real thing and it rules.
Low point: “Quedate Aqui,” Salma Hayek. Outside the context of the film, this is a pretty weird one.
53. Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998)
What makes it great: Although the film is an biography of ’50s/’60s singer Frankie Lymon, the soundtrack is sassy modern hip-hop produced by Missy Elliott.
Really the soundtrack to: Spying on your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.
Most memorable song: “I Want You Back, Mel B with Missy Elliott. Scary Spice’s solo hit! A little shockingly, this is a really fun pop song.
Sleeper favorite: “Get on the Bus,” Destiny’s Child with Timbaland. This song makes me want to snap my fingers in someone’s face, you know?
Low point: “Without You,” Nicole. AHHHH her voice is so nasally!
52. City of Angels (1998)
What makes it great: The highs on this soundtrack are a few of the best soundtrack moments of the ’90s, especially if you enjoy weeping.
Really the soundtrack to: Lying in bed brooding over the relationship you were having that was entirely in your head.
Most memorable song: “Iris,” The Goo Goo Dolls. An easy band to tease, but this is actually a really great song (also a great karaoke jam).
Sleeper favorite: “Angel,” Sarah McLachlan. How many teenage tears were shed while deeply, almost religiously listening to this song? A lot.
Low point: “Feelin’ Love,” Paula Cole. Her voice sounds like she is about to lose it and she’s straining at her highest registers to make herself heard. Unlistenable.
51. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
What makes it great: Doesn’t even really try to be for anyone older than 16.
Really the soundtrack to: Reading your first feminist texts and seeing the entire world differently.
Most memorable song: “I Want You to Want Me,” Letters to Cleo. Perfectly sugary Cheap Trick cover by the ’90s favorite soundtrack cover band.
Sleeper favorite: “F.N.T.,” Semisonic. Proof that Semisonic did more than “Closing Time,” and it’s just adorable. “I’m surprised that you’ve never been told before that you’re lovely, and you’re perfect, and that somebody wants you.”
Low point: “Even Angels Fall,” Jessica Riddle. You probably thought this song was really deep when you were a teen, but it didn’t age well.
50. Soul Food (1997)
What makes it great: Hip-hop for moms.
Really the soundtrack to: Filling out your valentines.
Most memorable song: “A Song for Mama,” Boyz II Men. [weeping face emoji]
Sleeper favorite: “In Due Time,” Outkast with Cee Lo Green. Dirty South represent!
Low point: “Baby I,” Tenderoni. A soulful love song, minus the soul and the love.
49. Suburbia (1997)
What makes it great: One of the most consistently and genuinely hip indie-rock soundtracks of the ’90s.
Really the soundtrack to: Loitering, obviously.
Most memorable song: “Unheard Music,” Elastica and Stephen Malkmus. Just the fact that this pairing exists at all brings me endless joy. The song is pretty good, too!
Sleeper favorite: “Psychic Hearts,” Thurston Moore. There are THREE Sonic Youth songs on this soundtrack and yet somehow I like this Moore solo joint the best of all. It’s a jam!
Low point: “Berry Meditation,” U.N.K.L.E.. The ’90s were a golden era of of DJs sampling from odd audio oddities, and U.N.K.L.E. was cool, but this song just isn’t his most memorable by any stretch.
48. High School High (1996)
What makes it great: So much better than the movie that the gulf between them could house all of the United States.
Really the soundtrack to: Well…getting high.
Most memorable song: “Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance,” RZA. A pretty example of the hip-hop obsession with high-priced luxury that later dominated the ’00s and Kanye West’s life. Also, the chorus/hook is the perfect stoned sing-along.
Sleeper favorite: “I Can’t Call It,” De La Soul. <3 <3 <3 De La <3 <3 <3.
Low point: “Get Down, Jodeci. “If you like 69 and yo—” NOPE.
47. The Doom Generation (1995)
What makes it great: The perfect music for growing your own cool little hipster to.
Really the soundtrack to: Going to Buffalo Exchange and trading all your clothes for new ones.
Most memorable song: “Penetration,” Jesus and Mary Chain. This driving, impenetrable song sounds a little like some weird, lost Joy Division rarity — which is, obviously, a very good thing.
Sleeper favorite: “Groovy Is My Name,” Pizzicato Five. Was Pizzicato Five actually the COOLEST band of the ’90s? I think probably yes.
Low point: “Slut,” Medicine. Recovering from the automatic aversion to the title was a challenge this song couldn’t meet.
46. Dangerous Minds (1995)
What makes it great: Coolio, mostly. But that’s enough.
Really the soundtrack to: Sing-along parties at the playground.
Most memorable song: “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Coolio. One of those songs that you don’t even have to actually listen to because you can play it note-for-note for yourself inside your brain.
Sleeper favorite: “Don’t Go There,” 24K. Does this song make anyone else want to learn to double Dutch just so you can build an epic routine to this song?
Low point: “This Is the Life,” Wendy and Lisa. Just a little too cheesy to stand the test of time.
45. Wild Wild West (1999)
What makes it great: Let go of your guilty feelings and just allow this to be pure, ridiculous pleasure.
Really the soundtrack to: LOL, who knows, a steampunk desert fight, I guess?
Most memorable song: “Wild Wild West,” Will Smith. OMFG tiny Jaden at the beginning of this track is all of us.
Sleeper favorite: “Bailamos,” Enrique Iglesias. Is any human — man or woman, straight or gay, anything in between — able to listen to this song without wanting to drop their undies for Enrique?! I doubt it!
Low point: “Lucky Day,” Tra-Knox. No one told this song that this song is on the Wild Wild West soundtrack.
44. Tank Girl (1995)
What makes it great: Assembled by Courtney Love, this is a super-swaggery collection of mostly really fucking wonderful girl rock.
Really the soundtrack to: Bleaching your hair.
Most memorable song: “Army of Me,” Björk. If this isn’t your jam, there’s something broken with your jam-o-meter.
Sleeper favorite: “Let’s Do It,” Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett. LEGENDARYYYYYYYYYY!!!
Low point: “Bomb,” Bush. Probably a pretty good song in any context other than this fun + girl happy soundtrack.
43. Bulworth (1998)
What makes it great: A seriously legendary collection of hip-hop artists released new and super-smart material for Warren Beatty’s comedy. Weird/great.
Really the soundtrack to: Finally finishing that 1,000-page novel.
Most memorable song: “Ghetto Supastar,” Pras, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Mya. Having had time to reflect, I have to say that in the fabulous genre that is hip-hop remakes of classic pop/rock/country song hooks, this one might be the very best.
Sleeper favorite: “Bulworth,” Method Man featuring Prodigy, KRS-One, and Kam. Just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Warren Beatty got this group of artists to record a new song specifically for his political satire film. Hilarious!
Low point: “Freak Out,” Nutta Butta. This is on the other side of that whole remake-of-an-old-hook spectrum.
42. So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)
What makes it great: It’s rare to find music that’s not embarrassing but that is straightforwardly sweet, and this is that.
Really the soundtrack to: Looking through all your yearbook signatures!
Most memorable song: “Two Princes,” Spin Doctors. Love it or hate it, you’ll never, ever forget it.
Sleeper favorite: “Brother,” Toad the Wet Sprocket. This is just such a straightforwardly earnest brotherly love song, incredibly sweet.
Low point: “There She Goes,” Boo Radleys. There’s only one problem with this cover, and it is that this soundtrack also contains the PERFECT original version of the song, and we all know which one wins.
41. Go (1999)
What makes it great: Frantic, caffeinated, and enthusiastic — music for getting your ass out of bed, basically.
Really the soundtrack to: Babysitting your drugged-out friends.
Most memorable song: “Steal My Sunshine,” Len. A song that is firmly dated, but that is as charming and quirky as the day it was born for those of us who grew up with it.
Sleeper favorite: “New,” No Doubt. Such a good and underrated No Doubt single that was written specifically for this weird, great movie.
Low point: “To All the Lovely Ladies,” Goldo. Gross.
40. Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
What makes it great: Like teens’ actual taste, this soundtrack embraces a MIX of alt-rock, hip-hop, and pop-punk.
Really the soundtrack to: The co-ed slumber party that someone’s hippie parents let them have.
Most memorable song: “Dammit,” Blink 182. The single best song of the late ’90s pop-punk explosion, which is a HIGH compliment.
Sleeper favorite: “Hit Em Wit Da Hee,” Missy Elliott featuring Lil’ Kim and Mocha. It’s a jam, remixed for the soundtrack and basically an ideal, if ridiculous, party grind song.
Low point: “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” Smash Mouth. :(
39. Kids (1995)
What makes it great: From the brilliant mind of Lou Barlow, which is all that really needs to be said.
Really the soundtrack to: Your poor mom having to clean your room while you’re out with your friends because you refuse to do it and there’s been food in there for weeks.
Most memorable song: “Natural One,” Folk Implosion. One of the first times cool-guy alt rock embraced a certain catchy pop grooviness, and it rulessss.
Sleeper favorite: “Casper, the Friendly Ghost,” Daniel Johnson. One of the only songs on the album that isn’t from one of Lou Barlow’s projects, and hopefully responsible for bringing the joy of Daniel Johnson into the life of at least one greasy kid who needed him.
Low point: “Daddy Never Understood,” Deluxx Folk Implosion. An unnecessarily difficult-to-listen-to song with guitar pedals overused to a truly masturbatory degree.
38. Empire Records (1995)
What makes it great: Because watching Empire Records once a week wasn’t enough, you had the soundtrack to relive all of the movie’s best moments with.
Really the soundtrack to: Hanging outside the 24-hour diner secreting cigarettes.
Most memorable song: “Til I Hear It From You,” Gin Blossoms. Still dreaming of a boy as sweet as A.J. putting this on a mixtape for me.
Sleeper favorite: “Sugarhigh,” Coyote Shivers. Shivers also appears in the film and this song is a joyful delight — the only bummer is that Renée Zellweger’s rooftop verse from the film didn’t make it onto the soundtrack album.
Low point: “A Girl Like You,” Edwyn Collins. Maybe it’s an attempt to channel Rex Manning’s creepy vibe, but this song just sounds like some creepy old guy hitting on you outside your high school. Eww.
37. Boyz N the Hood (1991)
What makes it great: One of the first of many more great hip-hop soundtracks of the ’90s, and provides a perfect snapshot of the still-developing scene.
Really the soundtrack to: Sitting on the hood of your friend’s car and watching girls walk by.
Most memorable song: “How To Survive In South Central,” Ice Cube. Although this wasn’t the biggest single off the soundtrack at the time, it holds up better than anything else.
Sleeper favorite: “Work It Out,” Monie Love. Monie had flow.
Low point: “Too Young,” Hi-Five. Do an experiment and listen to this song and then see if five minutes later you can remember anything about it.
36. The Commitments (1991)
What makes it great: Primarily performed by the cast band, these are adorably authentic-sounding barroom covers of classic soul hits.
Really the soundtrack to: Accidentally singing along in your chair at work and then getting really embarrassed when you realize it was out loud.
Most memorable song: “Mustang Sally,” The Commitments. Grooooovy.
Sleeper favorite: “Try a Little Tenderness,” The Commitments. It doesn’t hurt that this is such a fucking amazing song in the first place.
Low point: “Bye Bye Baby, The Commitments. Do yourself a favor and listen to the angry, drunky, wonderful original instead of this vanilla cover.
35. Walking and Talking (1996)
What makes it great: Billy. Bragg. The brilliant songwriter performs most of the soundtrack, and he is a perfect genius.
Really the soundtrack to: Spending 8 hours at one coffeeshop.
Most memorable song: “Must I Paint You A Picture,” Billy Bragg. Would it sound like hyperbole if I said this is one of the best songs ever written, lyrically? “A little black cloud in a dress,” forever.
Sleeper favorite: The Fourteenth of February,” Billy Bragg. Tears.
Low point: “2am,” Catherine. The Billy Bragg songs on this soundtrack are so good that everything that isn’t them is a huge disappointment.
34. Dr. Dolittle (1998)
What makes it great: Mostly Aaliyah, although overall it’s a pretty darn solid R&B/hip-hop collection.
Really the soundtrack to: Making eyes at some fox across the room.
Most memorable song: “Are You That Somebody?,” Aaliyah. Babygirl forever.
Sleeper favorite: “Same Ol’ G,” Ginuwine. Did you know that Ginuwine had songs other than “Pony”? This one is about getting old and it kind of rules.
Low point: “Lovin’ You So,” Jody Watley. Falling asleep just writing this song’s name.
33. That Thing You Do! (1996)
What makes it great: Set in 1964, the movie tells a story about an imaginary band who has a one-hit wonder with their song “That Thing You Do!” Songs for the movie were written to imitate the biggest hits of the era, and they are delightfully retro but just cool enough to have also been beloved by 1996’s teens.
Really the soundtrack to: Your sock-hop-themed 16th birthday party.
Most memorable song: “That Thing You Do!,” The Wonders. Do you still know every word and every handclap?
Sleeper favorite: “Hold My Hand, Hold My Heart,” The Chantrellines. Adorably perfect imitation of a bubblegum girl group. So innocent!
Low point: “All My Only Dreams,” The Wonders. That lead singer who left Liv Tyler cryin’ just took himself way too seriously, and this song is proof.
32. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
What makes it great: Such a great capsule of fun music circa 1997, so subtly seamless that it feels like a mixtape from a friend.
Really the soundtrack to: Doing your hair in anticipation of a date you’ve been thinking about for weeks.
Most memorable song: “A Life Less Ordinary,” Ash. Title tracks are always fun — this was written for the film, and it’s delightful.
Sleeper favorite: “Deadweight,” Beck. A groovy, almost country (minus all the beeping) little ditty.
Low point: “Deeper River,” Dusted. Four minutes too long.
31. Boomerang (1992)
What makes it great: An amazing sampler of all new songs by the best and most important R&B and hip-hop artists in 1992, this soundtrack introduced Toni Braxton to the world — for that, we are forever grateful.
Really the soundtrack to: Moving away from your best friend and writing her 20-page letters.
Most memorable song: “End of the Road,” Boyz II Men. The best vocal group ballad of the ’90s, and one of the best karaoke choices you can make with your life.
Sleeper favorite: “Hot Sex,” A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe can’t do anything wrong.
Low point: “Feels Like Heaven,” Kenny Vaughan and The Art of Love. I just can’t take a capella this seriously, sorry.
30. Last Action Hero (1993)
What makes it great: Joyful, unapologetic music for boys.
Really the soundtrack to: Being a boy.
Most memorable song: “Angry Again,” Megadeath. If you let go of any trace of snottiness about mainstream metal, this song is a jaaaaaaam!
Sleeper favorite: “Poison My Eyes,” Anthrax. Doesn’t this just make you want to drive your car too fast?
Low point: “Last Action Hero,” Tesla. It’s fun, but too ridiculous to ever be taken seriously.
29. Girl 6 (1996)
What makes it great: Consisting entirely of the songs of Prince and his various bands, which, who’s complaining???
Really the soundtrack to: Sex outside.
Most memorable song: “Girl 6,” New Power Generation. This entire album is about sex, and it rules.
Sleeper favorite: “Don’t Talk 2 Strangers,” Prince. The sweetest and saddest song on this soundtrack,
Low point: I can’t critique Prince, ever, but a few songs on here are older Prince songs that I would hope everyone had already heard by the time this soundtrack had come out, so those are the worst by default.
28. Cruel Intentions (1999)
What makes it great: It’s a bittersweet symphony.
Really the soundtrack to: Nursing your crush on your best friend’s boyfriend.
Most memorable song: “Bittersweet Symphony,” The Verve. If you didn’t go through a phase in the ’90s when this was your favorite song, there’s something wrong with you.
Sleeper favorite: “Colorblind,” Counting Crows. Wonderful, heartbreaking, and scoring the most memorable scene in the entire film.
Low point: “Secretly,” Skunk Anansie. Unbearably bad song by an artist I have no memory of having existed.
27. The Nutty Professor (1996)
What makes it great: A whole CD of songs that make you go, “THIS IS MY JAM!”
Really the soundtrack to: Dancing in your kitchen while sweating your face off making cookies in the middle of summer.
Most memorable song: “Ain’t Nobody,” Monica featuring Treach (of Naughty by Nature). One of those songs that makes you snake your body around even if you’re sitting at your desk at work, which is super awk.
Sleeper favorite: “Ain’t No N***a,” Jay Z featuring Foxy Brown. An underrated Jay track featuring a truly fantastic hook by then-16-year-old Foxy Brown.
Low point: “Nasty Immigrants,” 12 O’Clock featuring Raekwon. Meh, it’s fine.
26. The Horse Whisperer (1998)
What makes it great: A bewitching collection of contemporary country for people with excellent taste.
Really the soundtrack to: Braiding your sister’s hair.
Most memorable song: “Still I Long for Your Kiss, Lucinda Williams. Discovering Lucinda Williams for the first time is a moment I wish I could go back and relive over and over. That drawl + those lyrics that anyone can feel in their bones = perfection.
Sleeper favorite: “Me and the Eagle,” Steve Earle. Major chills, every time.
Low point: “Cattle Call,” Dwight Yoakam. It’s not bad, it’s just the least good.
25. Reality Bites (1994)
What makes it great: The perfect companion for every single terrible and wonderful life event that makes you question whether you even know yourself anymore. When no one else is there, the Reality Bites soundtrack will be.
Really the soundtrack for: Drinking your first shitty beer, suddenly finding greasy dudes attractive.
Most memorable song: “Stay,” Lisa Loeb. This song is SO REAL.
Sleeper favorite: “All I Want Is You,” U2. NBD just one of the most heartbreaking sad love songs ever recorded.
Low point: “I’m Nuthin’,” Ethan Hawke. Especially painful when he goes, “No Republicrat, no Demican, and nothing in between.”
24. Pump Up The Volume (1990)
What makes it great: Effortless cool.
Really the soundtrack to: Your first drug experience.
Most memorable song: “Everybody Knows,” Concrete Blonde. A Leonard Cohen cover, which are often (and in this case) even better than the original song.
Sleeper favorite: “Me and the Devil Blues,” Cowboy Junkies. Another gorgeous cover, this one of Robert Johnson by the best cover band maybe ever, Cowboy Junkies.
Low point: “Stand!,” Liquid Jesus. As if the name Liquid Jesus weren’t annoying enough, this song.
23. New Jersey Drive (1995)
What makes it great: Rock solid rap tracks from start to finish + two volumes of it!
Really the soundtrack to: Gettin’ so high you start seeing things.
Most memorable song: “Can’t You See,” Total with The Notorious B.I.G. If you haven’t thought about Total in awhile, NOW IS THAT TIME. This song is such a jam!!!
Sleeper favorite: “Don’t Shut Down on a Player,” Ill Al Skratch. One of those songs that straddles that line between being beautifully dated and being totally timeless. It could only exist in the ’90s but it’s still golden.
Low point: “You Won’t Go Far,” O.C. and Organized Konfusion. Automatically suspicious of anyone who spells “c” words with a “k” for no reason.
22. Natural Born Killers (1994)
What makes it great: Capable of instantly making you feel much, much older and cooler than you actually are the moment you owned it.
Really the soundtrack to: Briefly considering knocking off a convenience store just to know what it would feel like.
Most memorable song: “Sweet Jane,” Cowboy Junkies. Is this the most beautiful cover of all time? Maybe.
Sleeper favorite: “The Future,” Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen didn’t peak in the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s — he kept (and keeps) making great work well past most people’s retirement age. This song is dirty and funky and smart and great.
Low point: “Forkboy,” Lard. Reznor’s whole concept for this soundtrack was unease, and this song does the trick a little too well.
21. Judgment NIght (1993)
What makes it great: Um, it’s heavy metal + hip-hop, TOGETHER AT LAST.
Really the soundtrack to: TPing your friend’s house in the middle of the night.
Most memorable song: “Just Another Victim,” Helmet and House of Pain. This fratty, exhausting rager works shockingly well.
Sleeper favorite: “Fallin’,” Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul. Easily the least tough song on this soundtrack, but it’s so good!
Low point: “Come and Die,” Fatal and Therapy. The two least memorable artists on this soundtrack, luckily paired off with each other instead of any of the better acts so that this track can just be ignored entirely.
20. Good Will Hunting (1997)
What makes it great: Essentially a small Elliott Smith album flanked by a few other songs, which means it’s brilliant, heartbreaking, and beautiful.
Really the soundtrack to: Pushing yourself over the edge when you just really need a good cry.
Most memorable song: “Miss Misery,” Elliott Smith. Tears.
Sleeper favorite: Say Yes, Elliott Smith. OPENLY WEEPING.
Low point: The songs that aren’t Elliott Smith.
19. Poetic Justice (1993)
What makes it great: There were a lot of great urban music soundtracks in the ’90s and it’s sometimes hard to compare them, but what makes this one so good is that it’s so perfectly TEENAGE. Young Usher! TLC! Babyface! YOUTH!
Really the soundtrack to: Mugging down with your shorty.
Most memorable song: “Call Me a Mack,” Usher Raymond. Usher’s first single, y’all! So cute!!!
Sleeper favorite: “Get It Up,” TLC. Written by Prince! One of the most fun TLC songs that exists, which is tough competition. Left Eye’s first is perfection.
Low point: “Nite & Day,” Cultural Revolution. This song sounds like a producer forgot to sync the vocal track to the backing track and accidentally placed them a few seconds apart.
18. New Jack City (1991)
What makes it great: An old-school mixtape that is more worried about having a good time than it is about being hip.
Really the soundtrack to: Breaking some rules at your high school dances.
Most memorable song: “I Wanna Sex You Up,” Color Me Badd. The dirtiest, coolest, scariest, best song you’d ever heard when you were, like, 12 years old.
Sleeper favorite: “For the Love of Money / Living for the City,” Troop/LeVert featuring Queen Latifah. A remix of The O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” and Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” with additional rapping, and somehow all of that works together and is just really wonderful.
Low point: “I’m Still Waiting,” Johnny Gill. The ballad on an album full of sweet bangers is just bound to suffer. Sorry, Johnny.
17. The Bodyguard (1992)
What makes it great: Whitney.
Really the soundtrack to: Weeping.
Most memorable song: “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston. This song is PERFECT and this soundtrack could have this song and 11 recordings of crickets and still make it onto this list.
Sleeper favorite: “I’m Every Woman,” Whitney Houston. Delightfully dated club cover.
Low point: “It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day,” S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. Why does your name have so many periods in it? Are you telling me Soul System is an acronym?!?
16. Hope Floats (1998)
What makes it great: The best country soundtrack of the ’90s.
Really the soundtrack to: Making out with some kicker.
Most memorable song: “To Make You Feel My Love,” Garth Brooks. Brooks’ rendition of this Bob Dylan love ballad is about as gorgeous and heartbreaking as music can get.
Sleeper favorite: “Paper Wings,” Gillian Welch. Welch’s voice will give you goosebumps if you let it.
Low point: “What Makes You Stay,” Deana Carter. This soundtrack is so consistent that the worst song is still pretty good, if a little immature.
15. First Love, Last Rites (1998)
What makes it great: All of the songs were written and performed by Shudder to Think with a cast of alternative rock greats singing lead vocals. The other theme is that these are sort of fake oldies in the context of the movie, so the result is an album full of new songs that feel like covers of old songs, which surprisingly works very, very, very well.
Really the soundtrack to: Suddenly realizing that you want to kiss someone you’ve known for years.
Most memorable song: “I Want Someone Badly,” Jeff Buckley. Beautiful — pour one out for Buckley right now.
Sleeper favorite: “Appalachian Lullaby,” Nina Persson and Shudder to Think. This song is so pretty and sweet, I wish I could go back in time and make it the timeless classic that it is.
Low point: “Jelly on the Table,” Matt Johnson and Shudder to Think. Unnecessarily weird for weirdness’ sake.
14. Great Expectations (1998)
What makes it great: A solidly depressing, twitterpated, hormonal, wonderful collection of alt-rock love songs.
Really the soundtrack to: Being unhealthily, obsessively infatuated.
Most memorable song: “Like a Friend,” Pulp. Going to go ahead and say it: This is the best Pulp song, and one of the best songs for having a crush that has ever been written.
Sleeper favorite: “Slave,” David Garza. Raise your hand if you played this song on repeat and imagined that someone was thinking about you while they listened to it.
Low point: “Walk This Earth Alone,” Lauren Christy. There’s already one Poe song on this soundtrack, and this isn’t it.
13. Magnolia (1999)
What makes it great: Really just a new album by brilliant songwriter Aimee Mann, and actually probably the best album she ever released.
Really the soundtrack to: Being depressed about the cavernous emotional distance between you and everyone else on planet Earth.
Most memorable song: “Save Me,” Aimee Mann. I think everyone has related to this song at some point in their lives.
Sleeper favorite: “Driving Sideways,” Aimee Mann. One of those wonderfully complex songs that can mean 1,000 different things depending on your perspective and mood at the moment.
Low point: The four songs that aren’t Aimee Mann. Who needs those after the emotional wallop that is her soundtrack to the film and probably her best album?
12. Juice (1992)
What makes it great: The edgiest and perhaps the most interesting of all of the great hip-hop soundtracks of the ’90s.
Really the soundtrack to: Trying to make it through 24 hours awake just to see if you can.
Most memorable song: “Juice,” Eric B. & Rakim. Rakim’s expertly told short story in rap form was the theme song for the movie and is an absolute classic.
Sleeper favorite: “He’s Gamin on You,” Salt-N-Pepa. Flips the script on the typical ’90s rap story about dudes “getting trim” and warns girls to avoid the game. Rad.
Low point: “What Could Be Better Bitch,” Son of Bazerk. Not the tightest rhymes, and the repetitive title line is repeated approximately 3348374838934785 throughout the song.
11. Clueless (1995)
What makes it great: So perfectly teenage, so perfectly girly, basically a slumber party in 14 songs.
Really the soundtrack to: Blasting out of the car on a beach weekend (and every weekend).
Most memorable song: “Kids in America,” The Muffs. If this song wasn’t SO good, I might fault it for trying too hard to be a Teenage Anthem, but it IS so, so good.
Sleeper favorite: “Alright,” Supergrass. Musical Prozac, basically.
Low point: “All the Young Dudes,” World Party. A boring cover that sounds too much like the original to inspire many feelings at all.
10. Above the Rim (1994)
What makes it great: The mid-’90s were packed with hip-hop compilation soundtracks, as evidenced by the list above. The most consistent of all of them was Above the Rim — from 2Pac to Tha Dogg Pound, it’s just perfect.
Really the soundtrack to: Cruisin’.
Most memorable song: “Regulate,” Nate Dogg and Warren G. Literally one of the greatest songs that ever blessed this earth.
Sleeper favorite: “Pour Out a Little Liquor,” 2Pac and Thug Life.
Low point: “Big Pimpin’,” Tha Dogg Pound. The kind of super-blatantly misogynistic rap that doesn’t quite hold up outside of the ’90s, even though it’s still catchy as hell if you tune out the words.
9. Velvet Goldmine (1998)
What makes it great: To get around Bowie’s refusal to allow his songs in this film that casts a fictional version of him as a bit of a villain, director Todd Haynes commissioned new songs from glammy bands and wrote songs for the movie’s bands, which were then performed by an all-star cast of musicians including Radiohead, Suede, Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, The Stooges, and more. The result feels like a new artifact
Really the soundtrack to: Making the guy in your friend group wear eyeliner for your own personal amusement.
Most memorable song: “Ballad of Maxwell Demon,” Shudder to Think. The “Tommy” of the ’90s.
Sleeper favorite: “The Whole Shebang,” Grant Lee Buffalo. It’s actually hard to believe that this isn’t an authentic glam-rock song. It feels like one. So fun!
Low point: “20th Century Boy,” Placebo. This cover is fine, but it’s too similar to the original to be all that memorable.
8. Love Jones (1997)
What makes it great: Not only is this the greatest R&B soundtrack of the ’90s, it might be the best R&B album of the ’90s.
Really the soundtrack to: Falling in love for the first time.
Most memorable song: “The Sweetest Thing,” Lauryn Hill and Refugee Camp All-Stars. Miss you, Lauryn.
Sleeper favorite: “Hopeless,” Dionne Farris. The pinnacle of ’90s slow jams.
Low point: There isn’t really one — this album is seamless.
7. Trainspotting (1996)
What makes it great: Introduced countless teens to the entire idea of music that should be reserved for partying and intoxication. Bless!
Really the soundtrack to: Getting messed up.
Most memorable song: “Mile End,” Pulp. Jaunty and drugged and fitting the film perfectly, which meant that it also served as the perfect soundtrack for youthful antics.
Sleeper favorite: “2:1,” Elastica. This whole soundtrack evokes taking drugs, which is perfectly appropriate, and “2:1” is a really good high that you remember the details of for a long time.
Low point: “For What You Dream Of,” Bedrock/KYO. Unlike the other songs, which evoke a high even if you’re sober, this track is really only good if you’re totally out of it.
6. Waiting to Exhale (1995)
What makes it great: Listening to this soundtrack now is like visiting an old BFF you haven’t seen in years and catching up like no time has passed at all. Familiar and comfortable and fun and warm.
Really the soundtrack to: Falling in love with your forever best friend.
Most memorable song: “Exhale - Shoop Shoop,” Whitney Houston. On a song full of tearfully emotional R&B power ballads, all written and produced by Babyface, this one is probably the MOST tearful and emotional.
Sleeper favorite: “Sittin’ Up in My Room,” Brandy. Such a delightfully sassy jam.
Low point: “Wey U,” Chanté Moore. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
5. Singles (1992)
What makes it great: Released in the summer of ‘92, this soundtrack shares responsibility with Kurt Cobain re: bringing grunge into the mainstream.
Really the soundtrack to: Back-porch bad date stories and Parliament Lights.
Most memorable song: “Would?,” Alice in Chains. One of the greatest songs of the era, period.
Sleeper favorite: “Dyslexic Heart,” Paul Westerberg. Much cuter than most of this soundtrack, but the Seattle scene owes plenty to Westerberg and this song is just so CUTE.
Low point: “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” Mother Love Bone. Mother Love Bone is SUCH a gross name for a band.
4. The Crow (1994)
What makes it great: A melancholy and tortured companion on your worst days, and a deeply dark motivator on the best days.
Really the soundtrack to: Your goth phase.
Most memorable song: “Big Empty,” Stone Temple Pilots. Look, maybe it’s true that all STP songs sound the same, but that sound is pretty great.
Sleeper favorite: “Snakedriver,” The Jesus and Mary Chain. A wonderfully dark and dense take on a classic pop theme: the kiss that changes everything.
Low point: “Slip Slid Melting,” For Love Not Lisa. On an album full of songs that your coolest friend still knows by heart, this song commits the sin of being utterly forgettable.
3. Space Jam (1996)
What makes it great: Will bring back your childhood in seconds and yet still also completely holds up as an album for grown-ups. Magic!
Really the soundtrack to: Tuning out all the obnoxious kids on your middle school bus ride, via the magic of your Walkman.
Most memorable song: “I Believe I Can Fly,” R. Kelly. This ballad probably inspired 100000000000s of tiny moments of triumph in post-Space Jam America.
Sleeper favorite: “For You I Will,” Monica. The song you hoped your dance would play so you could slow dance with the kid with the spikiest hair.
Low point: “Buggin,” Bugs Bunny/Billy West. It’s Bugs Bunny rapping.
2. Batman Forever (1995)
What makes it great: A shockingly consistent collection of true hits, just one piled up after another, and one of the greatest soundtrack > movie gaps of all time.
Really the soundtrack to: Your “I’m only wearing black” phase.
Most memorable song: “Kiss From a Rose,” Seal. Who still knows every single word?
Sleeper favorite: “Tell Me Now,” Mazzy Star. A hypnotically woozy and lo-fi song that, like all Mazzy Star songs, only makes sense in your heart.
Low point: “Smash It Up,” The Offspring. A boring cover of a pretty good song by The Damned, but either way it ruins the decidedly dark and broody mood of the rest of this album.
1. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
What makes it great: The reasons could fill a book, but essentially because of how perfectly it captures the hormonal, overdramatic, emotional, sexualized, angry, heartbroken core of teenage love.
Really the soundtrack to: Every single adolescent make-out session you either actually had or simply dreamed about.
Most memorable song: “Lovefool,” The Cardigans. Still the most bounced-up-and-down-to song in human history.
Sleeper favorite: “Talk Show Host,” Radiohead. The perfect song to lose your virginity to if you’re the coolest person on the face of planet Earth.
Low point: “Everybody’s Free (to Feel Good),” Quindon Tarver. Tarver was just a teen when he recorded this and “When Doves Cry” for the movie — his voice is beautiful, but this song stands out as a cheeseball moment on an otherwise effortlessly cool soundtrack.