Seven Terrible Science Fiction Movies with Great Soundtracks

Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 2:03PM
Convention News
Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 2:03PM
Seven Terrible Science Fiction Movies with Great Soundtracks
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Universal / New Line Cinema
In 1977, Star Wars changed the landscape for sci-fi movies in countless ways, one of which was the sweeping orchestral score by John Williams that was previously uncommon in the genre. Needless to say, tons of lesser sci-fi films soon began to copy that ambitious soundtrack. 

At Escape Velocity 2017 in Washington DC, steampunk writer Tee Morris (who wrote the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series) and cyberpunk writer Nick Kelly held a panel they've hosted many times about great sci-fi music throughout movie history. But more recently, they've begun holding a similar panel called "Slightly Off Key: Great Soundtracks in Terrible Sci-Fi Films," to give some love to the forgotten, inexplicably great music from some famously terrible films. Here's some of their "favorites":

1. The Black Hole - 1979

Disney's The Black Hole was among the first sci-fi films to try and copy that Star Wars sound. The movie fell flat despite an expensive budget - at the time, it was Disney's most expensive film at $20 million - in part because it was shot without an ending in mind, added at the last minute by a separate production team.

But composer John Barry captured that sound well, as was expected of the veteran composer who made the original James Bond theme in Dr. No. And you can hear some similar sounding moments to James Bond's heavy action music in The Black Hole, even if you don't go check it out in person.

2. Battle Beyond the Stars - 1980

If you're familiar with Roger Corman, it should be enough to say "this is the Roger Corman version of Star Wars." If you're not, Corman is the king of B-movies, who's made countless low-budget flicks over the decades (he's 91 now). Anyways, this is his low-budget attempt at a galaxy far, far away, and composer James Horner did great with the budget he was working with.

Like most people who worked with Corman, it was a stepping stone for bigger work, as Horner went on to do Apollo 13, The Wrath of Khan, Titanic, and Avatar. And also a few other clunkers like Krull.

3. Flash Gordon - 1980

You've hopefully heard this at some point, because it's by Queen and Freddie Mercury shouting "Flash!" never gets old. Queen wasn't the first choice for Flash Gordon's soundtrack, but director Mike Hodges is lucky they enjoyed the movie footage given to them, because unlike some people in the movie, they understood how ridiculous and over the top the entire thing was, and made a hit song to match it.

4. Maximum Overdrive - 1986

Considering the countless, countless movies that have been made from Stephen King's stories, everything from It to Shawshank Redemption to Firestarter to The Dark Tower, it may surprise you to learn that King only directed one adaptation himself. It was Maximum Overdrive in 1986, based on his short story "Trucks," where machines came to life and began attacking humans. And it was so terrible that King left directing duties to other filmmakers from that point on.

But King did convince rock band AC/DC to record an entire album for that movie, Who Made Who, and while it's not their best work, it's still got that AC/DC sound to it.

5. Lost in Space - 1998

The lighthearted 1960s show Lost in Space featured a very upbeat, simple opening theme to showcase the adventures of the Robinson family out in space. The 1990s remake, a tragically unsuccessful attempt to turn Matt LeBlanc into an action star (that's Joey from Friends, mind you), was terrible enough that talent like Gary Oldman and Heather Graham couldn't save it. "Danger, Will Robinson" indeed.

But the soundtrack by Apollo 440 was hard electronica that wouldn't sound out of place in The Matrix - there's a good chance the producers even asked for a song similar to Matrix's shootout scene, "Spybreak!" by The Propellerheads. It sounds really cool, if not wildly out of place in something like Lost in Space.

6. Æon Flux - 2005

While Æon Flux did do one good deed by introducing Charlize Theron as an action star, who's now known for much better films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, it's only other saving grace was the soundtrack by Graeme Revell. Revell also did music for a wide range of films, from hits like The Crow, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Sin City to unfortunate video game movies like Street Fighter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

So Revell hasn't done too bad for himself, but Theron's had a slightly better career overall.

7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - 2016

The DC Extended Universe's Batman v Superman may have swept up the Razzie Awards last year, but they did have Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL composing an epic soundtrack. Zimmer needs no introduction, having done The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and many more, while Junkie XL is known for Theron's Mad Max: Fury Road guitars. Naturally, we included their best song in the film, the Wonder Woman intro called "Is She With You?"

Sadly, this was one of Zimmer's final superheroes movies, as he quit the genre entirely after he saw the finished product. But Junkie XL will be returning to compose Justice League alongside Danny Elfman, so regardless of how that movie does, it should at least sound good.

And if you ever notice Morris or Kelly hosting their "Slightly Off Key" panel at a convention, make sure to stop by, as they go much more in-depth into how these great soundtracks found their way into movies like these ones.
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