Every year you’ll find great music in movies. Last year for example had great scores for Interstellar (note: all links connect to Spotify), The Grand Budapest Hotel and Godzilla. I’m sure most of you also enjoyed the scores of movies like Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Big Hero 6, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
But can you hum any of them? Or what about other big money-makers such as Maleficent, American Sniper, The Hobbit 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Turtles, 22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Neighbors? I’d argue that none of them had unforgettable themes to offer. Yeah, the LEGO Movie’s “Everything is awesome” (I’m not gonna link that) and Guardians of the Galaxy’s use of “Hooked on a Feeling” entered pop culture in a big way, but let’s exclude songs for a minute.
If you are older than 25 I bet I could hum (or beatbox) more than a dozen movie themes you’d be able to instantly identify. Come on, I know you know the melodies of Jaws, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Rocky, Psycho, Vertigo, Men in Black, Pirates of the Caribbean, Halloween, Burton’s Batman, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, James Bond and probably three of Star Wars (theme, Imperial March, Duel of the Fates) in your sleep. My vocal abilities do have limits, but I’m overly confident you’d also recognize the themes of Saw, Harry Potter, Rain Man and Lord of the Rings if asked on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? These are catchy and easy to remember, but seriously, all those movies are older than your children already.
In the opening I dared you to hum any of the themes of the movies of 2014. Can you at least hum any themes of the last ten years? I think that’s really difficult to do as there’s been a major lack of easily identifiable themes. The current MCU has strong works (check out the Incredible Hulk score on its own), but it too lacks. I know there are defenders of Captain America’s “Star Spangled Man”, but no. The best theme hands down is the Iron Man 3 theme, but that one simply came way too late. If it had been the recurring leitmotif from the first movie on, it’d qualify, but not that late. And the rest? I think that Hans Zimmer’s and James Newton Howard’s scores for the Batman trilogy and Man of Steel are simply outstanding pieces of work (if you’re into grim brooding that is). I truly love them, but aside from certain repeated elements of “Molossus” throughout the series, you got no real theme there. It’s more like a storm of sounds, same as in Interstellar and Inception. The Social Network, the Transformers series, Tron: Legacy and Sherlock Holmes all had truly great soundtracks, possibly on par with Predator, Alien, Conan the Barbarian, Starship Troopers, Aliens, The Rock, The Matrix and Gladiator, but they’re “just” great at best, not unforgettable and too difficult to hum.
Do we even need easily identifiable themes? Theoretically, no. Who even hums aside from six-year-old girls anyways? A movie doesn’t need to have a classic theme to be considered one of the greats. Die Hard doesn’t have one, and A Good Day to Die Hard wouldn’t be a better movie if it suddenly had one. It’s just that a simple melody attached to a movie adds another level of identification and connection. It strengthens your memories and deepens the way the movie is ingrained into pop culture. Which is good, as any good movie should be remembered as much and last as long as possible. Go to any beach and begin to hum the Jaws melody when surrounded by adult swimmers. People WILL react to it, and that’s a 40-year-old movie. Hum the Indiana Jones music in an elevator and someone will smile. Hum the Fast 5 theme and… nothing will happen, even if that other person is Jordana Brewster.
Then why aren’t hummable melodies happening anymore? Most of the composers that did all that amazing stuff in the 70s, 80s and 90s are still around and working. Have they lost it? I doubt it. I’m sure the nearly mummified John Williams will have another masterpiece theme ready for the upcoming VII. I think it’s a studio decision aimed at consumer’s theatre experience and hardware. Ever since surround systems are a thing both in theatres and at consumers homes, musical simplicity seems to have gone out of the window. Great speaker systems make it possible to differentiate between dozens of different tracks, therefore the consensus seems to be to always use all of them. Audio spectacle needs to be complex, loud and with lots of bass, they think. But does it? Maybe. Maybe that’s necessary to sell a movie nowadays (even though most trailer tracks are actually bought from external sources and not used in the movie itself, like this one). Why not compose a catchy melody first, then add all that noise and bass? You can even add your beloved Inception broooom if you want to. To sum it all up, I’d simply love to see a comeback for catchy, simple themes and I’m really sure I’m not the only one.
I chose not to delve into movie songs, as everything seems fine over there. Top Gun, Breakfast Club, The Bodyguard, Philadelphia, 8 Mile, Moby’s Bourne theme, Madagascar and Titanic managed to get remembered by their famous songs, and so did Skyfall, The LEGO movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, Slumdog Millionaire, Once, Dreamgirls and Men in Black 3. People do remember “Jai Ho” and Pitbull’s “Back in Time”, right? Right?
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