Exploring: 10 Tangerine Dream Film Soundtracks

About the Authors: Sam Panico runs B&S Movies. R.D Francis writes for Medium and B&S Movies. You can visit with B&S Movies on Facebook.

Tangerine Dream, a German electronic band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese, is justifiably revered as pioneers in electronica, a musical style that incorporated conventional instruments such as electric guitars, acoustic drums and Hammond organs alongside a barrage of Minimoogs, synthesizers, Telharmoniums, and Theremins, along with drum machines and bass synthesizers.

At the height of their popularity during their “Virgin Years,” which resulted in their pre-soundtrack, U.K Top 20 albums Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975), Tangerine Dream was cited as a major influence behind ‘70s new age instrumental-music, ‘80s new wave pop, and ‘90s House/EDM “electronic dance music.” Berlin, Duran Duran, The Flying Lizards, Joy Division, M, The Normal, and Spandau Ballet, The Chemical Brothers, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and The Prodigy—even John Carpenter (Halloween and Escape from New York), Barry De Vorzon (The Warriors), and Fred Myrow (Phantasm)—all owe their debt to the tangerine dreams of Edgar Froese. And let’s not forget the Tangerine Dream influence on Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” recorded by Donna Summer—a song widely credited as “one of the most influential records ever made,” and originating electronic dance music.

Tangerine Dream experienced numerous personnel changes over the years, with Froese as the only continuous member until his January 2015 death. The best know roster of the group—responsible for most of the soundtrack work on this list—was its mid-‘70s trio featuring Froese, along with Christopher Franke and Peter Bramann. The band is currently led by its longest-serving member, who joined in the band in 2005, Thorsten Quaeschning. The band recently completed their October and November 2019 “16 Steps—Random & Revision” European tour. You can read up on the latest tour and release news at their official website.

While their catalog—and their soundtrack work—is extensive, these are B&S Movies’ favorite movies backed by Tangerine Dream.

  1. 1977: Sorcerer
  2. 1981: Thief
  3. 1983: The Keep
  4. 1983: Wavelength
  5. 1983: Risky Business
  6. 1983: Firestarter
  7. 1985: Legend
  8. 1987: Three O’Clock High
  9. 1987: Near Dark
  10. 1988: Miracle Mile

R.D’s Reviews:

Sorcerer (1977)

Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack for Sorcerer (1977) was the Krautrocker’s first Hollywood film score and ninth album overall.

While the William Friedkin-directed film the soundtrack supported gained mixed to negative reviews on the critical front with a worldwide box office of $15 million against its $22 million budget, Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack fared better: Sorcerer reached the U.S Top 200, a domestic-retail milestone for the band. In the U.K the album went to #25 on the charts and became their third highest-charting album. The critical and sales plateaus reached by the band with their soundtrack debut so impressed Hollywood, it led to the band’s fruitful career of soundtrack work.

While Friedkin disagrees with the assessment, this second adaptation of Georges Arnaud’s French novel Le Salaire de la peur (1950) carries the majority of critical opinion that Sorcerer is not so much a Friedkin reimaging of the novel than it is a straight remake of Wages of Fear (1953), the first film based on the novel. Initially conceived as a $15 million project, the film’s Dominican Republic shoot went “Heaven’s Gate,” near doubling its budget and required the resources of two studios—Universal and Paramount—to complete it.

Both of the Arnaud-inspired films are concerned with four unfortunate outcasts of varied backgrounds from around the globe running from their individual demons. They come to work together when they find mutual employment transporting cargoes of unstable, aged stocks of “nitroglycerin sweating” dynamite across a treacherous South American jungle (see Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo).

Today, while it is critically lauded as one of Freidkin’s finest, and an amicable follow up to his influential hit, The Exorcist (1973), it bombed at the box office as result of Universal and Paramount underestimating the potential of 20th Century Fox’s new science fiction-fantasy: George Lucas’s follow up to his own 1973 hit, American Graffiti: Star Wars.

Thief (1981)

The soundtrack to Thief is a shining example of Tangerine Dream’s musical prolificacy: while it takes a band like Guns and Roses 15 years to release a follow up album, Tangerine Dream—in the short span of five years between the years of 1977 to 1981—released six albums, with Thief serving as their second soundtrack album and fifteenth album overall. As with Sorcerer, the soundtrack became another U.K chart hit, reaching #43 and became their second album to lodge into the U.S Top 200, this time at #150, the first for any electronic-instrumental band.

Noted TV producer Michael Mann, of the worldwide U.S TV hit, Miami Vice, made his feature film debut as a writer, director and producer with his adaptation of John Seybold’s (the nom de plume of real-life jewel thief, Frank Hohimer) novel, The Home Invaders: Confession of a Cat Burglar. James Caan (The Godfather, the highly-influential Rollerball) stars as a businessman who owns a successful bar and car dealership by day; by night: he’s a professional safecracker. When he’s released from prison and tries to set his life straight, the mob pulls him back in . . . and he goes the “scorched earth” route as a final resolution to get his life back.

The film became a critical and box office hit for Mann and Caan; however, the same can’t be said for Mann’s next Tangerine Dream-backed film, The Keep.

The Keep (1983)

This Michael Mann-Tangerine Dream project is proof that not only movies can have troubled productions—so can their related soundtracks.

While Michael Mann’s follow up to Thief —also his second time working with Tangerine Dream—was released in 1983, the soundtrack was adrift in legal limbo for fourteen years. Tangerine Dream’s twenty-third soundtrack, it was their—mindboggling—fifty-eight album overall. Contrary to rumors, The Keep soundtrack was never released as a bootlegged, limited run on 12” vinyl. Also of note: Out of the sixteen tracks the band composed for the film, Michael Mann only used four.

As result of fan demand, Tangerine Dream issued their vanity press—the first “unofficial” release—of the soundtrack in a 150 CD limited run during a 1997 U.K tour. Richard Branson’s U.K-based Virgin Records planned to release the album to the public in 1998, but continuing legal issues with the film studio stopped the release. Tangerine Dream countered with their 300 CD limited run of the European-only tour-sold album, Millennium Booster (1999), which was The Keep—with a different album cover.

Michael Mann’s original, 210-minute cut of his adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s imaginative, H.P Lovecraftian novel (1981) regarding Nazi stormtroopers colluding with a Jewish historian to kill a vampire released from the crypt of a Transylvanian fortress is, more than likely, a masterpiece of horror. Sadly, Mann was forced to cut ninety minutes out of his three-hour thirty-minute epic and give Paramount a two-hour film (shorter film, more screenings; more screenings, more box office). Obviously losing continuity and lending to confusion in the greed-driven editing process, the film failed in test screenings. Paramount’s solution: more cuts . . . and less box office.

The end result, while visually up to the high-Mann standards, was a plot-holed riddled mess that no one went to see (as result of the scathing reviews) and not even the presence of the perpetually likable Jürgen Prochnow (Operation Ganymed) and Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings series) can save it.

If ever a film needed a TV mini-series reboot or, better yet, a DVD restoration of its original 210-minute cut, The Keep is that movie.

Wavelength (1983)

Do the members of Tangerine Dream have cots and a hot plate in the back of the recording studio? It seems they never leave. In three years they produced five more albums and punched out their fourteenth soundtrack (after The Keep).

While it’s aliens-making-contact-with-Earth plot was conceived prior to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, production snafus led to Wavelength being released in Steve Speilberg’s backwash. So, instead of the film being considered as somewhat of an innovator in the Kessel Run to create a Star Wars-inspired hit, it was cast as a CE3K rip-off that everyone remembers as being inept as Charles Band’s Laserblast, but is actually much better than its reputation implies.

Keenan Wynn, ironically, from Laserblast, costars alongside David Carradine’s (Deathsport) brother, Robert (Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds), and ex-The Runaways’ Cherie “Cherry Bomb” Currie (duBeat-e-o, Foxes). The tale concerns Bobby Sinclair, a washed up California musician who meets a sexy-ditsy psychic, Iris Longarce, who begins to “hear” the childlike voices of aliens. The wayward couple decides to liberate the aliens from their government lab imprisonment.

A box-office flop, it became a hit on HBO and video store shelves, thanks to the curiosity seekers of all things Runaways.

Three O’Clock High (1987)

The creatively-inexhaustible Tangerine Dream produces their ninth soundtrack album—after Tom Cruise’s Legend (1985)—and thirty-second album overall. Caveat: While Tangerine Dream is featured on a majority of the soundtrack, additional, last-minute music needed for some scenes was completed by Sylvester Levay and is included; also featured is the film’s theme song, “Something to Remember Me By,” by Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter Jim Walker. (You know Levay as the writer of the mid-’70s Top 40 hits “Fly, Robin Fly” and “Get Up and Boogie” for the German disco group, Silver Convention, as well as the soundtracks for Stallone’s Cobra and the U.S TV series Airwolf.)

In the ‘90s, we were subjected to over-the-head-of-most-audiences teen-comedy inversions of Jane Austen’s works (Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, From Prada to Nada) and Shakespeare (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, Get Over It). However, in the ‘80s, Hollywood was more lowbrow: studios needed to create knock-offs of Tom Cruise’s Risky Business, so they sprayed some American Graffiti on the frames of Cary Grant’s more-familiar western classic, High Noon (1952).

In this teen-driven, black comedy update directed by noted rock video director Phil Jounou in his feature film debut (his 1999 autobiographical film, Entropy, starred blu-cigs spokesman Stephen Dorff alongside U2), a gangly, high school bookworm is intimated into a showdown at three o’clock with the school’s infamous bully.

*Be sure to surf on over to my review of the Tangerine Dream-scored and Tommy Lee Jones-starring Canadian thriller This Park is Mine.

Sam’s Reviews:


Risky Business (1983)

Written and directed by Paul Brickman, this movie dominated 1983, making a young Tom Cruise — dancing in his underwear, no less — into a legit star.

Beyond the Tangerine Dream score, the movie boasts a major scene scored by Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” as well as the aforementioned Bob Segar “Old Time Rock and Roll” tighty whitey dancing number. Plus, it has “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, some Journey, Jeff Beck, Prince, Talking Heads and Muddy Waters, too.

Cruise is Joel Goodson, a high schooler dealing with the expectations of perfection and attending Princeton. The teen movie trope of the parents away for the weekend and the parties that ensue are part of it, but so is a very real narrative of what growing up means. Rebecca De Mornay shines here as Lana, again another trope of the hooker with the heart of gold, yet outdoing the expectations that you have for how her story progresses.

Between this film and The Blues Brothers, Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer sunglasses found themselves going from waning sales to being the hottest shades ever. That popularity has really never ceased.

As for Tangerine Dream, most of their score for the film comes from their album Force Majeure, including the title song from that release making up Lana’s theme. They also based another song, “No Future (Get off the Babysitter),” on a past song called “Exit.”

Firestarter (1983)

Mark Lester has been on our site plenty of times, thanks to films like Truck Stop WomenBobbie Jo and the Outlaw and Roller Boogie. He’d graduate to bigger Hollywood films like Commando and this Stephen King adaption, which places Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) and her father Andy (David Keith) against the Shop, or the government’s Department of Scientific Intelligence.

That’s because while Andy and Charlie’s mother Vicky (Heather Locklear) were in college, they earned money by getting dosed with LOT-6, a drug that gave him the ability to take over minds and her the talent of reading people’s thoughts. Their daughter can now see into the near future and start fires with a thought.

Martin Sheen and George C. Scott play the government agents trying to turn Charlie into a weapon, Art Carney and Louise Flecther play a farming couple who help our heroes and lots of people get blown up real good.

John Carpenter was the original choice to direct this, but after The Thing failed at the box office, he was replaced by Lester. This is also one of the first firsts shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, starting that town off as a major movie-making destination. It’s also where several other Stephen King adaptions were made, including Silver Bullet and Maximum Overdrive.

This would be the fifth soundtrack that Tangerine Dream would create.

Legend (1985)

This Ridley Scott movie has always stood out from his other work to me, as it’s quite literally a children’s story about the most archetypical battle between the good of Jack (Tom Cruise) and evil of the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). Much like how the original fairy tales were incredibly dark, this movie is filled with morbid imagery and a villain that may overwhelm viewers, making them love him more than the protagonist.

The death of the unicorn in this film is a moment that many 1980’s children will remember as quite possibly the end of said childhood.

The true star of this movie remains Curry, who is absolutely incredible (as always). He spent five and a half hours a day just to get into the makeup, which then needed a full hour of bathing to remove all the adhesive. One day, Curry grew impatient and claustrophobic, removing the makeup and some of his own skin. He was off the film for a week to recover.

Interestingly enough, the European and director’s cut of this film don’t use Tangerine Dream, but instead feature music by Jerry Goldsmith. There was also a Bryan Ferry song, “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” that features Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and a music video for that as well.

If you look in n Meg Mucklebones’ swamp and when the unicorn is chained up, you can even stop Pazuzu from The Exorcist.

Much like many of Scott’s early efforts like Blade Runner — and several other films on this list — this movie wasn’t considered a classic when it was released. But today? Today it certainly is.

Near Dark (1987)

You never asked me, but if you did wonder, “Hey Sam, what’s your favorite vampire movie?” Near Dark would be the answer.

Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) falls for a drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright, who was the lead in I, Madman, a movie I still need to get to for the site), who bites him on the neck after a night of romance. The next morning, his skin burns in he sun. There’s no ambiguity here — he’s now one of the undead and must join the family that Mae belongs to, led by Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen, never better), a 150-year-old Civil War veteran who may have also started the Great Chicago Fire.

There’s also Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein, Private Vasquez from Aliens) and Severen (Bill Paxton, again, never better), a psychotic madman who is probably the best character in this and a hundred other movies all added together. Then there’s Homer (Joshua John Miller, son of The Exorcist star Jason Miller and Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!‘s Susan Bernard, as well as the half-brother of another 1987 vampire movie actor, Jason Patric from The Lost Boys; he’s also Willie Challis in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch), who yearns to turn Caleb’s sister Sarah into one of the family. Tim Thomerson is also in this movie as Caleb’s dad. As always, he’s incredible.

Platinum Dunes, who remade everything at one point, discussed relensing this cowboy vampire film and I’m so pleased that it never happened. This is a movie that I return to every few years and am so pleased with how it’s held up. Actually, the movie stays pretty tight lipped about whether or not they’re even vampires, never mentioning the word and staying away from much of the traditional mythos and tropes.

Miracle Mile (1988)

Steve De Jarnatt created two apocalyptic movies that have stood the test of time, even if they’ve been somewhat forgotten: Cherry 2000 and this film. He also helped write 1983’s SCTV movie, Strange Brew, a fact which I’d always list first on my resume.

His movie Miracle Mile sat for a decade, one of the best scripts that Hollywood knew about but balked at making, as De Jarnatt refused to change the downbeat ending. It almost started with Nicholas Cage and Kurt Russell as the leads and at one point was going to be the only tale in Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Taking place in real time over a single day and night, this movie is all about Harry (Anthony Edwards, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Julie (Mare Winningham, St. Elmo’s Fire), a couple who meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and instantly fall in love. The only problem is that Harry picks up a payphone and learns from Chip — a scientist trying to call his father — that there are only seventy minutes until the world ends.

As Harry tells everyone in a diner about the phone call, one of the diners named Landa (Denise Crosby, Tasha Yar herself), calls a number of politicians in Washington on her wireless phone — a rare thing for 1988 to be honest — and learns that they’re all heading for the extreme Southern Hemisphere. She charters a jet to Antarctica — a place with limited rainfall — and offers to take most of the diner’s customers with her.

Within hours, Los Angeles has descended into chaos, with Harry even inadvertently causing several deaths. The end is a mixture of fulfilled promise and wasted potential and the end of everything. This isn’t a movie full of fun and joy, to be perfectly honest, but it is not free from hope.

Look for John Agar — star of several B films (Night Fright, Revenge of the Creature) and John Wayne movies — as well as Kurt Fuller, who played the sleazy promoter in the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred, Brian Thompson (the Night Slasher from Cobra), Robert DoQui (who played Sgt. Warren Reed in RoboCop), Sam Shepherd’s wife O-Lan Jones (who was in Edward Scissorhands), Lucille Bliss (the “Girl with the Thousand Voices” who was Smurfette and Crusader Rabbot), former felon and later screenwriter Edward Bunker (he wrote Straight Time and Runaway Train), Peter Berg (who would go on to direct Friday Night Lights) and Jenette Goldstein (who would go on to appear in Aliens and Near Dark). Fred the Cook was going to be played by Eraserhead star Jack Nance, but the actor decided that he wanted to focus on his job of being a security guard instead.

Ironically, Earl Boen plays a character named Harlan, named for writer Harlan Ellison. Boen is in just about every Terminator movie, which is ironic, as Ellison sued the creators of Terminator for stealing their idea from two of his Outer Limits scripts, Soldier and Demon With a Glass Hand.

In 2017, Tangerine Dream released the version of the score that they delivered to the director. Several of the tracks on this version are simply musical effects that they created for the film. It was the twelfth movie that they did the soundtrack for.

If the payphone from this film still exists, it’s phone number would be 323-254-9411. Feel free to give that number a call.

Tangerine Dream’s catalog:

There’s more Tangerine Dream music—not only from their soundtracks, but also from their studio albums, such as Cyclone, Exit, Force Majeure, Rubycon, and Stratosfear—to be found on their official You Tube Page provided by the Universal Music Group.

All banners by R.D Francis. Band logo courtesy of Tangerine Dream. Text by PicFont.com. Album covers courtesy of Discogs.com. Band bio by R.D Francis.

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