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Best-Selling Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Best-Selling Movie Soundtracks of All Time

Both cinephiles and audiophiles know that music is integral for conjuring movie magic—as instrumental and evocative as narrative, or the actors who bring those stories to life.

After all, what would the ‘90s have been without Pulp Fiction’s woozy but electrifying soundtrack? Or the early 2000s, without The Shins-spinning Garden State? Because epic movie soundtracks don’t just transport us to the world of the films they score—they have the unique power to evoke entire eras of history. 

All of which begs the question: what movie has the best selling soundtrack of all time? 

Below, we tumble headfirst into the wonderful world of cinema to explore these iconic mix tapes that drum up nostalgia and feeling like no other genre.

Music History’s #1 Soundtrack: The Bodyguard

The soundtrack of The Bodyguard is the stand-alone answer to the question, “what is the best selling movie soundtrack of all time?”

Whitney Houston’s goosebump-inducing, achingly beautiful voice soared to new heights in The Bodyguard, cementing her status as a music legend. Since its release in 1992, the soundtrack (officially titled Whitney Houston: I Wish You Love More from the Bodyguard) has clinched several accolades:1

  • Become the #1 best-selling movie soundtrack of all time, making it into the Guinness Book of World Records
  • Sold 45 million copies around the globe—and more than 1 million copies in a single week2
  • Earned three Grammy nominations and one win for “Best Album of the Year”
  • Garnered Houston the distinguished title as the best-selling female musician in history (a standing the late songstress held until the release of Adele’s 21 in 2011)

Co-produced with Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Clive Davis, The Bodyguard showcases Houston’s unmatched vocal talents in songs that range from urban pop to country ballads. 

Moreover, “I Will Always Love You”—originally written by Dolly Parton—set a record of its own, spending 14 weeks as the #1 song on Billboard’s singles chart (provoking monsoons of tears from New Zealand to the Netherlands).

Pulp Fiction

Revolutionary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is consistently lauded for his experimental approach and auteur-level vision, but audiences are just as likely to praise him for his striking ear for music. The songs he features are often integral to his plots: they pair so perfectly with each scene that it’s almost impossible to recall Tarantino tableaus that don’t have iconic music behind them.

Case in point: Pulp Fiction. Chuck Berry was a massive icon in his own right, long before John Travolta and Uma Thurman took to the floor at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Even so, his hit song “(You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie” struck a chord with audiences and became the de facto dance song for Gen-Xers (and many millennials) in the years that followed.

The rest of Pulp’s soundtrack is just as clever and surprising. It ricochets between soul, funk, country, and rock, with a few seductive ballads thrown into the mix. The soundtrack was also credited for resurrecting the “surf-rock” genre—so much so, in fact, that the label Del-Fi issued Pulp Surfin’ a year after the film’s release. 

Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack was an immediate best-seller, and 1.6 million copies were sold within a month of the movie’s debut. The album gave us a host of fabulous songs to celebrate, including:

  • “Son of a Preacher Man,” by Dusty Springfield
  • “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” by Urge Overkill
  • “Bustin’ Surfboards,” by The Tornadoes

Captivating? Oh, yes. From the ‘90s to well beyond, this was the soundtrack to rock at any party worth its salt in jive.

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Dirty Dancing

Lionel Richie, Donna Summer, and Daryl Hall are just a few of the musical artists who, back in the 1980s, passed on recording songs for a small movie with a tiny budget starring two relatively unknown actors. 

What they couldn’t have predicted—what no one could have predicted—was that this campy and delightful movie about love, defiance and the art of dance would deliver one of the most lucrative soundtracks in show business history: Dirty Dancing.

The soundtrack to Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze’s unforgettable performances shot straight to the top slot on Billboard’s album chart, where it stayed for four months. To date, the album—a blend of ‘60s throwbacks and poppy ‘80s hits—has sold more than 11 million copies, making it one of the best selling movie soundtracks of all time.

The Lion King

Disney may not have the “cool factor” of Tarantino or the soul-wrenching voice of Whitney Houston. Still, they’re certainly no flop when it comes to providing memorable (even spectacular) movie soundtracks.

The Lion King is one such treasure. This was the soundtrack to the highest-grossing animated film of 1994, and today it’s the tenth best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.4 Renowned composer Hans Zimmer and pop idol Elton John were the masterminds behind this stirring album. Today, it’s still entrenched in our collective hearts (and, more importantly, in the DVD section of most parents’ media cabinets).

Saturday Night Fever

Make no mistake: Disco is synonymous with Saturday Night Fever

The iconic 1977 film catapulted John Travolta’s career as an actor and one of the finest dancers ever featured in cinema. Today, the album continues to inspire listeners to fly their disco fingers when they hear the first few beats of “Stayin’ Alive.”

The brains behind this album are, of course, The Bee Gees, and they’re featured in several seminal, stop-and-dance songs:

  • “More Than a Woman”
  • “Night Fever”
  • “How Deep is Your Love”

This addictive album worked audiences into, well, a fever

Second, only to The Bodyguard, it’s since sold the most copies of any movie soundtrack in history, taking home a Grammy for “Best Album of the Year” (making it the only disco album to do so). In 2013, the Library of Congress immortalized the album by including it in the National Recording Registry.5

Purple Rain

Superlatives are often used to describe Prince, a genius multi-hyphenate artist who blurred lines and revitalized genres throughout his career. Prince’s contribution to music—and cinematic—history was inventing a sound that defied categorization: a sound that was exclusively, incontrovertibly his own.

Purple Rain epitomizes his impact. The sexy, psychedelic soundtrack gifted us gems like “When Doves Cry,” “Darling Nikki,” and “Let’s Go Crazy” while sending Prince into stratospheric professional success. Today, the album is recognized as a music icon, with:6

  • 25 million album copies sold worldwide
  • Three Grammy Award coups
  • An Oscar win for Best Original Sound Score
  • Securing the #8 spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Best Albums of All Time

Purple Rain also gave Prince the honor of being the third artist ever to simultaneously hold the highest-grossing film, single, and album. The other two contenders? Elvis and The Beatles.

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump’s enduring power has as much to do with its soundtrack as Tom Hanks’ arresting Oscar-winning performance. 

The film, created by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, summoned some of the greatest musical artists on record to render one of the most pivotal eras in American history. On the soundtrack, you’ll find songs from music legends by the likes of:

  • Aretha Franklin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Elvis Presley
  • Bob Seger
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival 
  • The Beach Boys
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Doors
  • The Mamas & The Papas
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • The Doobie Brothers

With such a heavyweight cadre of musicians, it’s no wonder the rockin’, yet nostalgic album has gone platinum a whopping 12 times. “There’s only so much fortune a person needs,” Forrest once wisely said—and this album, we’d argue, is worth its weight in gold in any vinyl collection.

Titanic

The soundtrack to Titanic brought in seismic record sales. As one of the best-selling soundtracks and albums of all time, it’s sold 27 million copies worldwide and ranks as one of the most spellbinding compilations in history.

Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” may be the most recognizable track from the album, but thanks to the dexterous hands of the remarkable, award-winning composer James Horner, the rest of the soundtrack is a goldmine of moving, timelessly gorgeous numbers.7

Flashdance

Nearly 20 years have passed since Flashdance hit the silver screen, yet “Maniac” still makes crowds stand up to stomp their feet. 

The Jerry Bruckheimer film that put Jennifer Beals on the map may have received a tepid reception initially, but the film’s soundtrack became critical for its commercial success. In addition to snagging nine Grammy nominations and an Oscar for Best Original Song, the record sold out so rapidly it left the label scrambling to fulfill orders.8 

Since they’ve resolved those supply chain issues, Flashdance’s soundtrack has sold 20 million copies worldwide.

Best-Selling Movie Soundtracks: Honorable Mentions

Any top-10 list of film recommendations would be woefully incomplete—and the same principle goes for film scores and soundtracks.

A few best-selling movie soundtracks that didn’t make the top 10 include:9

  • Grease
  • Footloose
  • Top Gun
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Waiting to Exhale
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Space Jam
  • The Big Chill

  • Bring Cinematic Music History to Life with Victrola

    Inspired to experience these films and the music that made them iconic? Then it’s time to dim the lights, set the mood, and put a record on. Because when you listen to a soundtrack on vinyl, you don’t just bend an ear to the most incredible sounds in movie history—you make yourself the main character. 

    Victrola record players have been delivering superior, high-fidelity sounds since 1906—even longer than cinema itself. Experience the soul of music through a bespoke, unrivaled listening experience that takes you back to the first time you saw your favorite screen stories come to life.

    Take a tour through time and start curating your vinyl collection by browsing the Victrola stacks today.


    Sources:

    1. Chicago Tribune. The best-selling movie soundtracks of all time. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-15-best-selling-movie-soundtracks-of-all-time-20170419-photogallery.html
    2. Rolling Stone. The bodyguard: original soundtrack album. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/the-bodyguard-original-soundtrack-album-85293/
    3. Rolling Stone. The dirty dancing soundtrack: 10 things you didn’t know. https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/the-dirty-dancing-soundtrack-10-things-you-didnt-know-203885/
    4. Collider. The 10 most popular movie soundtracks of all time. https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/news/the-10-most-popular-movie-soundtracks-of-all-time-ranked-by-total-sales/ar-AAZ7PF3
    5. Time Magazine. Dark side of the moon and saturday night fever added to national recording registry. https://business.time.com/2013/03/21/dark-side-of-the-moon-saturday-night-fever-added-to-national-recording-registry/
    6. Grammy. Prince’s master purple rain: for the record. https://www.grammy.com/news/princes-masterpiece-purple-rain-record
    7. The New York Times. James horner, film composer, dies at 61; his score for the titanic was a hit, too. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/us/james-horner-whose-soaring-film-scores-included-titanic-dies-at-61.html
    8. Parade Magazine. 50 best movie soundtracks of all time, ranked. https://parade.com/1222522/jessicasager/best-movie-soundtracks
    9. Mental Floss. The 20 best selling movie soundtracks of all time.3 https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/567464/best-selling-movie-soundtracks-of-all-time

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