For many people, one of the best parts of watching any movie is the music. Of all the components that work together to make a movie great, the musical score is one of the most powerful. Any film score worth it’s mention is able to tell the story of the film alongside the movie, or on it’s own.
Great scores will move and inspire you, present a cohesive narrative, and leave you wanting more. In the superhero movie genre, this can be a difficult task. How do you fit in a meaningful narrative in the midst of all the action, espionage, and end of the world cliffhangers? How do you create a soundtrack that cultivates an emotional connection for viewers with characters that are extraordinary? Many composers have tried, and some have succeeded.
Here are five amazing superhero movie soundtracks that are worth listening to:
1. X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut
Composer: John Ottman | Year: 2015 | Tracks You Have Got to Hear: "Hope (Xavier’s Theme)"; "Time’s Up; Charles n Charles"; "Join Me; I have Faith in You – Goodbyes"; "You’re Here!"
The work that John Ottman did in X-Men: Days of Future Past is, without a doubt, one of the best contributions to the X-Men franchise. This soundtrack is surprisingly fluid and cohesive given that it combines two very different time periods: the groovy year of 1973 and the apocalyptic year 2023.
X-Men fans rejoiced when the "X-Men Theme", made famous by Ottman in X2: X-Men United, played at the movie's start. Of the six movies in the series, only three of them employ this theme, which is best sampled through listening to "Suite from X-Men 2" on the X2 soundtrack. Ottman wove this overarching theme music with new, individual character themes flawlessly. "Hope (Xavier’s Theme)" is the second most prominent theme in this film. Both beautiful and tragic in nature, the track certainly brought hope to the franchise’s music.
While the original soundtrack released for this movie was good, some great tracks were noticeably absent. Among those missing was "You’re Here!", which accompanied a very special moment in the film’s final act. The release of the movie’s extended version, The Rogue Cut, was accompanied by the release of a fuller soundtrack, giving listeners every track from the uncut film.
The end results were beyond expectation, with the album truly able to convey the story of Days of Future Past all on its own.
2. Man of Steel
Composer: Hans Zimmer | Year: 2013 | Tracks You Have Got to Hear: "Sent Here for a Reason"; "Goodbye My Son"; "If You Love These People"; "What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?"
When Man of Steel was about to be released in theaters, there was some doubt about its success. Zack Snyder’s 2013 reboot turned out to be a nice addition to the franchise, and some of that can be attributed to composer Hans Zimmer.
Almost everyone knows the "Superman Theme" made famous by John Williams. Even when the movie franchise was in the hands of Bryan Singer, the music continued to take its cue from this original theme. Hans Zimmer, then, was faced with a challenge when he decided to create a completely original score to individualize the film from its predecessors.
Zimmer succeeded in his goal, bringing to the film a tone that not only expressed the strength of Superman, but one that underscored the human side of him. Never has a soundtrack so thoroughly interpreted the personal growth and trials that Clark Kent faced in the awakening of his abilities.
Superman’s might is expressed through pounding drums in tracks like "If You Love These People". There are also pieces like "What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?", which grace us in the Man of Steel's moments of sorrow and reflection. Zimmer gives life to Krypton and Earth with his dynamic themes. The action and emotion, as told through the Man of Steel Soundtrack, would make Kal-El proud.
3. X2: X-Men United: Expanded Soundtrack
Composer: John Ottman | Year: 2014 | Tracks You Have Got to Hear: "Cerebro"; "Storm’s Perfect Storm/Missiles"; "I’m In"; "Goodbye/We’re Here to Stay"; "Suite from X-Men 2 (Film Version)"
X2: X-Men United is arguably the best film in the X-Men series, and served to bring the franchise to the next level. With John Ottman composing, the film provided a more thoughtful and poignant narrative than its predecessor, X-Men. As mentioned above, it was in this film that Ottman presented what has become recognized in the movies as the "X-Men Theme". This theme accompanied a variety of character themes in a fluid manner, setting the precedent for X-Men: Days of Future Past and, to a lesser degree, X-Men: Apocalypse.
The X2 soundtrack was a change for fans of the first film, which consisted of a more fragmented, techno-esque score. X2 utilized a classical orchestra and a chorus illustrative of the depth and growth of the characters and the series.
There are a few individualized themes and motifs in the film for Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Pyro, Mystique, and Magneto. Ottman acknowledged that Jean Grey’s theme was the most prominent, stating that he wanted to highlight her as the human cornerstone of the story. Jean Grey’s evolution and her journey down the path of becoming the Phoenix are beautifully communicated in the score.
As with Days of Future Past, an extended soundtrack was eventually released, and it is well worth a listen. Ottman raised the bar with his work on this film. Those who love these characters and their world are sure to enjoy what he has brought to the table.
Don't be fooled by the image from DOFP below. It is the X2 Suite!
4. Batman Returns
Composer: Danny Elfman | Year: 1992 | Tracks You Have Got to Hear: "Birth of a Penguin, Pt. 2"; "Selina Transforms, Pt. 2"; "The Finale Pt. 2"
Though it may seem like an odd choice and a real throwback, the score that Danny Elfman created for Batman Returns is an extraordinary musical narrative that does the Dark Knight justice. Elfman carried over the theme that he composed for Tim Burton’s 1989 hit Batman. Faced with a larger core cast battling it out in the streets of Gotham during Christmastime, Elfman did not disappoint in stepping up his game.
The themes used for Catwoman and Penguin are thrilling additions to the familiar "Batman theme". The darkness and insanity that shrouds Gotham City is lyrically depicted in poignant and almost sinister tracks like “Selina Transforms, Pt. 2”.
Elfman perfectly captures this on-point iteration of Batman in an almost operatic fashion, from its angst to its fight scenes. The orchestra utilizes strings and drums to the fullest, with a powerful and haunting choir adding to the depth of the work. This soundtrack is a thrilling ride for Batman fans.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man
Composer: James Horner | Year: 2012 | Tracks You Have Got to Hear: "Becoming Spider-Man"; "Rooftop Kiss"; "Promises - Spider-Man End Titles"
The Amazing Spider-Man score is a unique addition to the world of superhero soundtracks. With a resume that includes Titanic and Bicentennial Man, James Horner is not a composer many would have thought of to compose the music for a Spider-Man reboot. Horner is associated with the deep emotions that he puts at the center of all the work he produces, like the famous track ‘Rose’ from Titanic. This softer side, if you will, turns out to be a strong asset to the film.
There are a lot of differences between the original Spider-Man trilogy and this new edition. Chief among these was the younger, more innocent nature of Peter Parker and his alter ego. As he experiences the trials that teenagers face, from first love to changes in body chemistry, this Peter Parker/Spider-Man is lighter, funnier, and more inline with his comic book counterpart.
Horner, in response, brought an equally lighter and more emotional touch to the music. Horner employs both the piano and horns to their full strength, along with almost haunting vocals. The action sequences are intensified by Horner’s unique way of expressing chaos coherently through music.
Horner underscores the romance and pain between Peter and Gwen with exceptional pieces like "Rooftop Kiss" and "Promises". While pain, suffering, love, and growth are traits of most superhero stories, Horner’s musical commentary presented these in a way that is light-hearted and emotionally engaging.