Some songs are impossible to hear without thinking of the movies they’ve been in. For “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” that’s Cruel Intentions. Even though the song was first released in 1997, its legacy is largely indebted to the 1999 teen film, in which it soundtracks the final scene. Incredibly, though, that moment almost didn’t happen: Despite the fact that the last scene was written to the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” there was a period of time when the song wasn’t going to make it into the film.
That’s because it ended up costing 10 percent of the movie’s overall budget to secure, thanks to the Rolling Stones. If you weren’t paying attention to this controversy in 1997—for which you’d be forgiven—the Stones’ former manager Allen Klein filed a lawsuit against the Verve for plagiarizing the Stones. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” samples an orchestral cover of the Stones’ “The Last Time” by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, and while the Verve licensed a sample of the cover, they ended up using a larger portion than what had been licensed. Accordingly, Klein, who owned the rights to the Stones’ 1960s music, sued the Verve and ended up securing all royalties from the song and giving Mick Jagger and Keith Richards official credits on the track alongside the Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft, who wrote it. As Ashcroft is still lamenting, as recently as last year, “Someone stole god knows how many million dollars off me in 1997, and they’ve still got it.”
All of this is to say that securing the song for the film was an absolute headache. The Cruel Intentions director Roger Kumble recently opened up about it in an oral history of the film, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I wrote the ending to that song because it just aligned perfectly. And then we found out it’s the Rolling Stones.”
Eventually, the production team got the song, after paying out an insane amount of money for it. “The song cost close to a million dollars, which was probably 10 percent of the budget,” the producer Neal Moritz added. “When we thought it was going to be hopeless to get, we tried 200 other songs in its place. We could not find anything even close to it. It was well worth it.” Indeed. It’s now impossible to imagine Annette leaving behind the city in Sebastian’s car to any other song.