Top Ten Movie Theme Music

symphony1Okay, so you’ve got a franchise, but do you have a catchy theme song or piece? The music is part of getting people to enjoy and remember your movie, whether it’s classical or a catchy pop tune.  I think the best songs have a rhythmic pace and a simple theme you can hum to yourself.  Do these movies fit the bill?

10.  Rocky (1976) – This one sneaks in here with a good theme that’s catchy.  It’s a piece that feels like it fits with the movie.  It’s a battle march, almost like the song embodies the everyman getting ready to fight.  There’s a little spectacle to it as well like it’s from Spartacus or something, so I think it works great with Rocky.  It’s opened all of the Rocky movies.

9.  Ghostbusters – The original Ghostbusters song from Ray Parker Jr is one of the most memorable movie songs ever.  It’s maybe a little cliché and silly, but it still works to fit the light comedy of the film.  Elmer Bernstein wrote the score, but it’s really the Ray Parker Jr song that makes the music memorable. 

8.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1967) – I’ve heard this opening theme on the radio and television commercials, even today.  It’s timeless.  This is another piece that fits the movie and makes you think of the West, as well as the sneaky outlaws who permeate this Clint Eastwood movie.  It was written by Ennio Morricone, who also worked on other Sergio Leone movies.  This is probably his best known work, but The Mission in 1986 is more emotional and moving.  If you haven’t heard either one of these pieces, what are you waiting for?

7.  Mission Impossible – This theme music is probably the most well-known piece from television, except for maybe the Adam West Batman theme song.  But a lot of people haven’t heard that one, to be honest.  They have heard the Mission Impossible theme, because Tom Cruise used it to rake in the money for twenty sequels.  Like the other movies on this list, it feels like it fits the movie.  It’s a spy theme, with a crisp beat.

6.  The Pink Panther – Henry Mancini wrote a melodic piece, not just a throwaway piece with four notes.  It works.  The Pink Panther theme has a good rhythm and a jazzy feel.  Unlike Mission Impossible, it feels smooth and sneaky, despite both being featured in spy movies.  This one has fallen out of sight because nobody makes Pink Panther movies anymore, but it still deserves credit.

5.  Batman (1989) – This score is not just theme music, kinda like The Pink Panther music written by Henry Mancini, but this music is by far more important.  It had to redefine Batman as a character, and it fits.  The score is gothic and heavy, but it’s still catchy and dramatic because of the main theme.  Not even The Dark Knight music is as memorable as Danny Elfman’s main theme for Batman in 1989.  The TV Batman theme may be a little more catchy, but this one breaks that stereotype and becomes a template for future comic book movies.

4.  Superman (1978) – John Williams is the man.  If Danny Elfman defined Batman with his score, then John Williams defined Superman with only an opening theme.  The rest of the score is pure gold.  All of it works.  The uplifting horns and the singing violins set a good mood, prompting us to march along with our favorite superhero.  

3.  Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Another John Williams score, the Indiana Jones music feels like it could be in one of those serials from the early days of cinema.  It’s another march, like the Superman theme, and I really can’t pick one over the other, but the Superman theme does feel a little dated today.  Still, the Superman theme ringing in when Superman catches the helicopter and saves Lois could be the best moment for the Superman theme ever.  The Indiana Jones theme does the same thing toward the end of the movie and might be carrying us through longer portions of the action, when we could be bored without it.  

2.  James Bond – The James Bond theme is one of the most well-known pieces of music ever written.  It’s a close one, but either Thunderball or Goldfinger has the best early version of the Bond theme, but it was given an orchestral backing when Roger Moore arrived on the scene, so I like that version too.  The Daniel Craig movies unfortunately lack the theme in large quantities, except for Spectre, which signaled a return to form.

  1.  Star Wars (1977) – This probably not the best music ever written, but it’s the most memorable and catchy.  Again, it’s written by John Williams.  How good is this guy?  The main theme feels adventurous and heroic, which fits the movie.  The strong brass is the key to making it work for the first Star Wars movie, a small detail lost in later films.  The overall score has little pieces of memorable music for each character, but it’s the main theme that shines as the highlight of the score.  Some say that the Star Wars theme was stolen from the 1884 opera Manon Lescaut, but I don’t hear it.  It has maybe a similarity to the Luke theme, but I don’t think anyone will ever take credit away from John Williams, the master of the musical score.


Honorable Mention: FLASH GORDON (1980) – A catchy tune from Queen! This one is a classic!  It’s almost a march like Superman, but it has a rock vibe to make it unique.  The music was good long before the movie was moved to cult classic status.  It’s catchy and fun.