What’s your theme song?

This is the summer of Super Hero/comic inspired movies. Yay for us. But let’s face it folks, they’re not all going to be good. As a matter of fact – I’m pretty sure that some of them are bound to be bad.

The question is what makes them good, bad or just indifferent? Plot, character development, staying true to the source material – well sure. All of those things factor in – but there is one thing that gives a movie real staying power. The score and even more specifically – the theme song. There are some great ones out there, there are some mediocre and there are some doozies. Probably more of the latter – but let’s start with the good.

John Williams is apparently a musical genius, or he puts crack in his music and it goes in our ears and then we become addicted. Sure not everything that John Williams does turns to gold – but I would venture to say that a solid majority of his compositions are hummed on a daily basis.

Superman (1976)

This is HIGHLY recognizable.  Ba-ba-ba-ba -ba – ba-ba-bom – – ba-ba-ba-ba – ba – – bom-bom-bom. I was actually whistling that in the house the other day and my wife (not a comic person) asked, “isn’t that from Superman?” The song is so recognizable because it is so good.  We hear it and the music almost screams “a hero is coming – he’s going to save the day.”  I’m not a music theorist – but to me it sounds like some sort of fanfare, which is of course appropriate for the likes of Supes.

Jaws (1975)

Okay, so that shark may not be a hero, or a comic – but he’s got music – and we all know it. Na-na – – na-na – – na-na-na-na-nanana. You could play that and I’d get out of the bathtub – let alone the ocean.

Star Wars (1977)

I feel like I don’t even need to say anything. If you’re not familiar with the Star Wars theme(s) – you have clearly ended up on this site accidentally. The music in Star Wars is absolutely incredible – as is the music in Empire. Jedi has that rockin’ Ewok song, Yub Nub – but I’m pretty sure that one doesn’t hold up.  And I’m not convinced that John Williams actually composed it.  I’d actually like to believe that Jar jar came from the future and wrote it with George Lucas.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

It is arguable that the Jones theme is highly recognizable because a new movie has just been released. I would agree – but I would also argue that a whole lot of people knew that song before the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull went into advertising overdrive. I remember the comics as a kid and whistling whilst I read. It is still one of the best themes out there.

But, as amazing (or drug like) John Williams is, he’s not the only show in town. Danny Elfman is another biggie in the game. I think that Danny does a pretty nice job of making some nice tunes, unfortunately I don’t think that all of them hold up as well, or maybe the movies were just less memorable.

Batman (1989)

This is one that stands out as memorable to me. I can hear it in my head perfectly. Sadly I’m not sure how to equate the sounds in my head to words you can read. Just know that the Batman theme holds up. I’d like to believe that if you have never see the movie that you would hear it and say, “Oh yeah, that’s the Batman theme.” On a side note – if you haven’t seen the movie, please do.

The Simpsons (1989)

This show has certainly has lasted for a long time, as has the song that opens it.  It’s catchy and fun and I think it suits the show well.

Spider-Man (2002)

This is where it starts to get shaky for me.  He’s done a lot of movies, and I recognize a lot of them – but a lot aren’t comic related. When I turn to the comic movies, the songs get wishy-washy. Can you hum the Spider-Man theme? If so, you’re one out of 100 (that number is not based on any actual study).

Hulk (2003)

*sigh* I’m going to go ahead and let this one go. If you’d like to make a case for it, go nuts.

 

This year we can look forward to hearing his music in both Wanted and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I should also note that Danny Elfman did do my favorite movie, Edward Scissorhands – but that’s off topic.

Moving away from “the big two” I’d like to play a little game.  I’m going to name a movie and you see if you can guess the composer.

Fantastic Four (2005)

Scroll down for answer.

Did you guess John Ottman?  If you did, nice work. If not – I had to look him up, too. And if you don’t recall the music, fear not. I’m currently trying to listen to my free 30 seconds on iTunes. The music is certainly not bad, as a matter of fact, as a composer I’d say he sounds pretty good.  It just isn’t “special” – and a lot of that blame might fall right back to the movie.  Let’s try another.

X2 (2003)

Scroll down for answer.

Did you guess John Ottman again? Nice work. He also did Superman Returns. He’s clearly making a living, and that’s really all that matters.

Seriously, I know nothing about composing music – all I know how to do is listen to music, and occasionally I brave “medium” on Guitar Hero III. So kudos to the people that do make the music – especially the ones that do a really nice job of it.  It is a hard and somewhat thankless job. If it’s good, I think it can stand out. If it’s bad, I think it can stand out. But most of the time it seems to just be “fine,” which is okay, too.

I’m going to wrap this up with some honorable mentions in the non-comic category.

Back to the Future (1985)

The music was composed by Alan Silvestri and it is great.

Top Gun (1986)

This movie had some great music, but the theme by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens (seriously?) is top notch.

And finally…

Rad (1986)

John Farnham did most of the work on the sound track, but Real Life gave their song Send Me An Angel – and let me tell you – an angel was sent.

PS – Conor said I couldn’t write about theme music unless I talked about how awesome the theme to The Jeffersons is. I told him that this was a comic book website and that The Jeffersons have nothing to do with comic books. He told me to mention it or I’m fired. So you should all know that The Jeffersons has the best theme music ever. Also, Conor is drunk with power.

Comments

  1. When we’re talking "Spider-Man" theme song, are we talking about the Elfman score or "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can"?  Because I certainly think the latter is surely pretty popular if it’s showing up in the Simpsons Movie.

  2. Is that Aunt Becky pulling those sweet moves on her bmx?  I think they used a dude in woman’s clothing as her double, very nice.

  3. Ah, Gordon, it’s like you looked into my brain, I was just thinking this the other day. You can’t really deny that Williams is the master. He may have had an on-off last decade or so, his last really memorable score being Jurassic Park in my opinion, but that so many well-known themes came from the guy’s head surely cements his genius.

    I too think there’s a lull in memorable movie themes since 2000, which is odd since that’s when the big (comic) movies starting coming out in spades. Edward Scissorhands is my favourite score of all time, but I feel Elfman’s been off his game for a while. The Spider-Man score isn’t bad. But when I heard it I thought it was a good Elfman score, not the Spider-Man music.

    I think Ottman’s actually stepped up into the role Elfman had in the mid-90’s, just coming off mid-range budget films into the big league. The score for FF2 was better than it had a right to be for that film. I love everything about Superman Returns, and the X-Suite from X2 is fantastic and very Williams-esque. (although his best score is the disused one for Cruel Intentions that the studio threw out in favour of pop shite)

    Of course I’m biased, but I love Zimmer and Newton-Howard’s work on Batman Begins, although I can fully admit that’s because I’ve listened to it a lot. I doubt the average movie-goer would be able to hum it like the Superman theme, especially as Zimmer himself has said he’s held back from putting a theme in the film apart from the end as Batman "hadn’t earned it yet".

    So what’s my theme? Non-comic, it’s Scissorhands. Comic-wise, it doesn’t get more iconic than Williams’ Superman.

  4. Incidentally, my theme song is "Line in the Sand," by Motorhead. 🙂

    I liked Fantastic Four a lot, but I can’t remember the music at all. The only song I remember from Spider-Man is Nickelback’s "Hero" (one of their better songs). I can’t remember the X-Men music, either, but I’m certain I’d recognize it if I heard it.

    I need to get onto Limewire and download these songs, though…

     

  5. @Tork – we are talking the new movie.  The show – you are right – that is as iconic as any of the biggies.

  6. Superman is the greatest theme song of all time.

    Michael Kamen wishes he could be a third as good as John Williams.

  7. I would almost watch Superman just to hear that score.

    I always prefer a nice score to the "toss some pop songs in there" approach, but it’s been a while since one stuck in my head. X-Men 1 was close, but I couldn’t hum it to you now. 

  8. IMO, Howard Shore’s score to Lord of the Rings is up there with the greatest scores of all time. Not only are there multiple themes that are recognizable, but he excelled at capturing the feel and texture of each character, culture, monster, etc. The LOTR films are my favorite of all time, so I’m perhaps a bit biased, but he has definitely composed a lot of great music outside the LOTR trilogy (all of David Cronenberg’s films), as well.

    I would have to say that my favorite score of all time is Raiders, though, courtesy of John Williams, of course. The man is indeed a film score genius. I can listen to the desert chase scene over and over again. 

  9. I think Excalibur’s use of Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi by Carl Orff was the best "theme song" I’ve heard in a movie.  That song is the definition of "epic."

  10. The music in Excalibur is pretty awesome. Man, I always watch that movie when it’s on…

     

  11. @Josh, Michael Kamen wishED he could have been third as good. He’s dead now. 

    For Conor, Sanford and Son was a better theme than the Jeffersons. Sorry, that’s just plain fact.  

  12. He might be dead, but I still don’t like his music.

    I’m with Paradiddle on the LotR music indeed.

  13. @josh and @paradiddle Totally over 9 hours in length, The Complete Recordings is the only version of the LOTR scores to own.  Very geeky and so fucking good.

  14. Nice article Gordon. Indy and Star Wars have 2 of the best theme songs ever, with Superman ranking right behind them. LotR has some great music as well. I must have watched that one scene with the "three hunters" running as the music swells its great.

  15. Wow. Good job insulting a dead composer. In my opinion Michael Kamen was a great composer and easily better than "a third as good as John Williams".

  16. Great jod Gordon! I really like themes while Danny and John are maters of their game of the movie biz. I’ll havt to give to Michael Giacchino for TV his work on  Lost is AMAZING! it bring show to life. And while i know that he do movies i juat have’t check them out yet.

  17. I think "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings from the Bond movie of the same name is one of the best movie songs of all time.

  18. Speaking of Bond, I often have Chris Cornell’s "You Know My Name" running in my head throughout the day.  It’s either that or "I Can’t Decide" by the Scissor Sisters from last season’s finale of Doctor Who.  Or "Princes of the Universe" sometimes.

  19. Originally I was going to include Bond and LOTR – both are incredible – I took them out because Conor made me talk about the Jeffersons.

     

  20. Good article! I tend to think Elfman is a tad overrated. His Spider-Man theme is almost identical to his Batman theme. Also, all of his "fantasy" film stuff tends to run together (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, etc.).

    I think Jerry Goldsmith’s epic "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" theme (rewrked into the Next Generation theme) deserves a mention as well.

    And say what you want about the prequels, but "Duel of the Fates" from Phantom Menace and "Across the Stars" from Attack of the Clones are two of John Williams best pieces EVER (in my opinion, of course). 

  21. My top three themes in no particular order are Superman, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future.  Glad to see they all made it into the article.

    As far as non movies go, Batman The Animated Series and the Merry Melodies themes are my favorites. 

  22. Duel of the Fates WAS pretty awesome.

    I also loved the theme for the New Batman/Superman Adventures 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JQ_spwuH_o

  23. No love for "The Godfather"?    In my opinion the top non sci-fi/fantasy/etc. theme.  There are other good ones out there, but I think this article focused more in that direction.

    What about the worst (Kenny Loggins anyone)?  My vote would be the John Carpenter  "Big Trouble In Little China" theme.  I love this movie!!!, but my god the song is so bad its good.  I love the video on the DVD disc 2.  80’s gold!

    Other greats but kinda (O.K. very)cheesey not on this list.  Anything else by Harold Faltermeyer.  Fletch’s theme, Axel F, etc.  Or, Goonies (are good enough) by Cyndi Lauper. 

    Not so cheesey but I would never buy…That damn new agey soundtrack from "Blade Runner".

    Not cheesey but a classic (litterally)" Thus Spoke Zarathustra" in 2001.

     Where in the hell is "Star Trek"? 

     Great article Goron!!!

    Bring on the Kenny Loggins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bean

     

  24. Whoops sorry, That should have been Gordon not Goron.  Goron interns over at the ilawnboy.com site. 

    His post suck.  He is a pale shadow of Gordon!!!!!

    Bean

  25. Harry Gregson William’s theme for the Metal Gear Solid videogame series is my favorite theme song by far.

  26. Harry Gregson Williams’ score for the first Shrek is pretty blinding. I hate the film, but love the score. Michael Giacchino is also shaping up to be a major player. As superfriend82 said, his work on Lost is stunning, and the scores for Ratatouille and MI:III are damn good too.

    Totally forgot about ‘Duel of the Fates’ & ‘Across the Stars’. Thanks for the reminder, JPSchippe 🙂 

  27. Didn’t John Williams do the new Planet of the Apes score?  That almost negates all the good stuff he’s done.

  28. I’m suprised nobody has mentioned Howard Zimmer’s work on the Pirates of the Carribean movies.  The score was memorable and worked well with the movie.

  29. @ActualButt – Do you mean the Planet Of The Apes starring Marky Mark? If you do, that was Danny Elfman that provided the score. Like I said, I really think that guy’s been off his game for a while.

  30. First off. I was really disapointed with the Iron Man score, cuz it didn’t really exist and it stood out for me for some reason, and it was the only thing that bugged me. It was the kind of score where there was just drums and a rock’n guitar in the background, but nothing that gave me shivers.

    Second, Michael Giacchino NEEDS to do a superhero score. Even though he’s done such great ones as Incredibles, Speed Racer, and Lost, I’m pretty sure he’ll also be doing Star Trek as well. But I’d love to hear a super hero score from him. The man is a god. Just listen to the Cloverfield overture called "ROAR!". Its fucking genius. 

  31. @MPJB – Am I not allowed to dislike a composer’s work after they’re dead?  If you die, is everything suddenly good?  Cuz the X-Men score still sucked, and a third as good as John Williams is generous.

  32. No, thats totally allowed.

  33. @ josh – Disliking a composers work whether they are dead or alive is fine. I just felt the criticism came out of nowhere and was unnecessary. Personally I liked the X-Men score quite a lot. Have you not seen Band of Brothers? I thought the music in that was fantastic.

  34. i do like the Jefferson’s Theme music–my wife and I sing it at least once a month!

  35. Anytime something really good happens, I sing the Jefferson’s theme song, or the Greatest American Hero theme song. That’s always uplifting too.

  36. @Ben0Bugenig : Good call on Greatest american hero mate.

    My favourite would be Willow by James Horner (trying to do a John Williams I bet) 

     

  37. Ack, Band of Brothers!  My achilles heel.

    I still don’t like his work.  I apologize for nothing! 

  38. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Linus & Lucy (from the Charlie Brown suite).  

  39. I love film scores.  I’ve been buying them for years (I listened to no pop music in high school but owned the Danny Elfman score to "Men in Black".)  Now they pull double duty for me as a teacher, as I find they are the greatest thing to listen to while reading essays and grading papers.  I just bought the scores for "Crystal Skull" and "Iron Man" with an iTunes gift card.

     

    A few points about John Williams:  I love "Star Wars", and I believe no film or series has ever benefited more from an outstanding score than the "Star Wars" movies.  They are far greater films with the Williams score than they would be without it.  Also, I think my favorite thing about Indiana Jones IS the "Raiders March".  Also, you’re right; very few composers have Williams’ knack for capturing the essence of a character or story through music that he has.  A few more honorable mentions: The "Jurassic Park" theme and "Hedwig’s Theme" (Harry Potter) are just about perfect for their stories. 

     

    I also want to put forward a vote that the score to the film version of "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" is really quite good. (There was a comic book of that, so I’m allowed to talk about it here.  Incidentally, my theme would be "Journey of the Sorcerer" from "Hitchhiker’s"; at least that’s what it would be today.) 

     

    I also love the score to "The Truman Show", which is decidely non-comic book, which menas I’ve gone on too long, and although I could go on and on, I’m going to stop now.

     

    Oooo, no I’m not.  "The Incredibles" score.  POW!

     

    Okay, now I’m done.

  40. The Star Wars, Indiana Jones & Superman scores by Williiams are way above anything else, but I always loved Danny Elfman’s score for the 1989 Batman movie too. The opening credits of that movie, with the camera panning around the inside of the Bat-symbol used to give me chills.