Indie/Alternative Music in Blockbuster Films

The “Yes Man” soundtrack heavily featured Eels (via

Recently, theaters (and not just the artsy theaters) have offered experiences similar to those gained from chilling in a store’s alternative music section for two hours. This phenomenon is not new, but the status of independent and alternative artists in big-name films has shifted. Now, songs from such artists are highlighted as climactic-moment songs or as songs in movie trailers instead of being relegated to background music for on-screen moments of contemplation.

Before I continue, I offer a disclaimer: I have no education or background that makes me particularly qualified to discuss independent or alternative music. Read this post as one would read the comments section of a YouTube video (approach it with vague interest and hints of cynicism). To eliminate semantically driven debate over “indie” and “alternative,” I will use the labels given to these artists by third parties such as iTunes and

The growing phenomenon of alternative music in blockbuster films first gained my attention when I rented Yes Man (2008) on pay-per-view. The film’s soundtrack heavily features the brilliant music of the Eels. (The only other group on the soundtrack is Munchausen By Proxy, a fictional band featuring Zooey Deschanel and Von Iva.) Eels contributed a total of nine songs to the movie, including “Sound of Fear” and “Flyswatter.” And Yes Man isn’t the only movie to use the Eels’ music: the group also has soundtrack credits on movies such as Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek 2 (2004). Other artists such as Eddie Vedder and Belle and Sebastian have benefited from the popularity of blockbusters as well. Eddie Vedder provided the music for Into the Wild (2007), and Belle and Sebastian’s music appeared in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). The O.C. has used or featured music from Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap, Beck, and Modest Mouse. And Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Grizzly Bear, Muse, OK Go, and St. Vincent, among others, all have tracks on the New Moon (2009) soundtrack. And, recently, Florence and the Machine was featured on Glee (a wonderful episode).

New Moon via

So what does this mean? Nothing, really, except that indie-loving movies such as Juno (2007), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and (500) Days of Summer (2009) no longer have a monopoly on the use of independent and alternative music. Now, moviegoers are just as likely to hear their favorite independent artist in a film featuring Robin Williams as they would in a film starring Michael Cera. And, given how much Cera’s particular brand of teen angst is starting to annoy me, I consider this a welcome change.

Now, for those of you who are still skeptical about your favorite independent or alternative artist ending up in a blockbuster, consider this trailer of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) featuring “Oh My God” by Ida Maria. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, you must admit that Ida Maria’s song fits this preview beautifully.

Review: Newsies (1992)

Newsies via

Have you ever wondered what it’d be like if Batman and the President of the United States from Independence Day sang a song together?

Or, have you ever wondered what it’d be like if the cast of High School Musical found themselves in the late 19th century with nothing more than a pack of newspapers, some cigarettes, and hearts of gold?

Or, have you ever wondered how news traveled before the Internet?

Newsies, a film starring Bill Pullman and a young Christian Bale (among others) and directed by the guy who brought you all three High School Musical films, will tickle your inspiration and dazzle your dance shoes. When the cost of selling newspapers goes up, a ragtag group of newsboys go on strike. And, in a display of true patriotism, they voice their social concerns in the form of song and dance.

But their jazz hands quickly turn to brass knuckles when the authorities and Joseph Pulitzer come after them. In some fight scenes reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin movies, the newsies struggle for their independence (day).

Though there are a number of storylines running throughout the movie (a love plot, a bromance plot, a New Mexico plot, and a teen rebellion plot), and though any of those storylines could have led the audience to the victorious finale, I choose to believe that the newsies were led to victory by only two things: dancing and Gov. Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, had Gov. Roosevelt showed up earlier, the newsboys wouldn’t have had to practice parkour all around New York, and Crutchy wouldn’t have had a run-in with the fuzz.

But, Roosevelt didn’t. And the newsies did.

It all worked out in the end though. The guy gets the girl, the newsies get a better price for the papers, and the citizens of New York finally get to know what the heck is going on in the world.