Every movie superhero needs a heroic music theme to underline their personality, their motivations, their unique existence.
A forgettable theme/score can often mean some disappointingly anti-climactic superhero movie moments but a great one can cement a character in our minds forever as a true badass with one kickass, unforgettable piece of music attached to them.
Let us, therefore, take a look at our Top 30 Superhero Themes to celebrate the release of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Taking over from James Horner who scored The Amazing Spider-Man, Hans Zimmer gave Spidey a low-key yet decidedly heroic theme more in the vein of the old Superman theme with its confident trumpets leading an otherwise airy and light theme tune. Not too memorable, granted, but correct for the character.
Speaking of Superman, how about this theme for the 1984 film Supergirl? The movie, which was undeniably flawed, may not have lived on as much more than just a cult curiosity but the filmmakers were definitely going for more than that. The theme, which comes courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith, is appropriately grand, catchy, classy and heroic. Underrated.
The iconic cloaked horseman received one catchy theme back when the Walt Disney series from 1957 were on the air. The Chordettes even had a hit with the song (written by Norman Foster and George Bruns) which happily drills the name “Zorro” into your head by repeating it about a thousand times. And it turns out that was a good idea since we never forgot it. Mighty Mouse is included in the same breath as Zorro since both themes have a similar iconic, old-timey quality to them and say the name of their hero loads. The Sandpipers’ theme was so good, comedy legend Andy Kaufman made a whole bit out of it.
The new Netflix-produced Daredevil series did many things right, one of them was its moody theme song. Composed by John Paesano, the softly sinister yet hopeful Fringe-style theme, which plays over the cool blood-soaked opening titles sequence, captures the hero’s conflicted nature and the bleakness of Hell’s Kitchen perfectly.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman
As corny as this 90’s Superman TV series was looking back (and even watching it then, if I’m honest), it did a good job getting us hyped up with its opening theme which was just as upbeat and catchy as it needed to be. Composer Jay Gruska may not have surpassed John Williams‘ classic theme with this one but he nailed the spirit of the show and its superhero nonetheless.
Honourable mention goes to Remy Zero‘s teen-friendly Smallville theme.
Yes The Mask is a superhero! How dare you suggest otherwise. The 1994 Jim Carrey film’s theme may not have been much of a hero hymn but whenever that jazzy “Hey! Pachuco!” song (from Royal Crown Revue) or parts of its melody or beat would pop up, you knew this was The Mask’s true theme. The cartoon series’ theme merged that type of tune with some goofy lyrics which also did the trick.
It doesn’t get much more 70’s than this particular theme song which not only boldly chose disco as Wonder Woman‘s choice music genre but included some pretty humorous lyrics such as: “In your satin tights/Fighting for your rights.”. It’s ever-so-slightly patronising and misguided but it’s also hard to not fall in love with Charles Fox‘s kitsch-sterpiece straight away.
Sam Raimi’s scientist-turned-fireball-turned-anti-hero Darkman got his own movie back in the early 90’s (along with a few sequels after that) and although it didn’t have the biggest budget, it was a surprise hit and Danny Elfman‘s moody score probably had a little something to do with it, setting the right tone from the get-go.
Ghost Rider may not be a great movie but even the most die hard “haters” will admit that the scene in which Sam Elliott and Nicolas Cage ride their respective fiery vehicles (a motorbike and a horse) side-by-side in the wild west is pretty darn awesome. This is mostly thanks to what ends up being the anti-hero’s theme: “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” by Stan Jones. A little on the nose, true, but effective nonetheless.
Though Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was arguably not all that amazing of a show, Ron Wasserman certainly went all-out with his “Go Go Power Rangers” theme song which remains the best thing about Power Rangers to this day. Well, that and the rubbish-looking monsters and big robots.
The Incredible Hulk
The intro for the 70’s series The Incredible Hulk was pretty good, with a narrator reiterating for the millionth time who and what The Hulk is but it was the outro music which lived on as the tortured hero’s main theme. Joe Harnell‘s “The Lonely Man Theme” wasn’t the bombastic, tough theme you’d expect a larger-than-life character like Hulk to have. Instead, this melodramatic tear-jerker was more focused on the solitary existence forced upon poor old David Banner (Bill Bixby).
Honourable mention goes to Danny Elfman’s Vertigo-style theme from Ang Lee’s Hulk.
Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme being a tough act to follow, to say the least, chances were that whoever was to tackle the new Bat-theme in Batman Forever was doomed to failure. And yet Elliot Goldenthal stepped up to the plate and delivered a much more colourful but still very respectable and memorable theme which would reappear in the lesser sequel Batman & Robin and stand out as probably the best thing about an otherwise lacklustre movie.
Howard The Duck
An unlikely superhero, granted, Howard The Duck may be a duck first and foremost but he was also Earth’s saviour that one time so if that doesn’t make him worthy of this list, I don’t know what could. Disappointingly dull movie but the pop song created by Thomas Dolby for the film’s fake band Cherry Bomb is simply 80’s-licious. Irresistible.
Dragon Ball Z
Another 80’s delight was the first Japanese theme song for classic anime series Dragon Ball Z. Sung by Hironobu Kageyama, “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” was epic, catchy as hell and just tons and tons of fun. It sure got every kid super hyped-up for the show every time, something that none of the theme songs after that nailed quite as well.
The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger: Part II, a film which still proudly holds a 0% rating on RottenTomatoes, gave us many things: more Toxic Avenger, a heartfelt movie unlike any other and a kickass theme song sung by Scott Casey which kindly explained every single thing that happened in the first movie with a glorious glam rock beat. It’s Troma-tastic, what more can I say?
Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze
As if Toxic Avenger 2 wasn’t obscure enough, here’s the theme song from forgotten 1975 comic book movie Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, a tongue-in-cheek, old-fashioned adventure starring Ron Ely as the titular hero. The tone of the film was light, bordering on spoof so the theme song was predictably goofy but in a good way. Have no fear! The Man Of Bronze is here!
Though the best version of John Ottman‘s X-Men theme can be found in last year’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past, it’s Bryan Singer’s 2000 movie which first introduced us to it and any X-film without it after that felt incomplete. Even though the X-Men animated series’ theme was superior, this was still a cool, exciting theme worthy of Marvel’s mutant team.
The Green Hornet/The Lone Ranger
The Bruce Lee-starring Green Hornet series got its theme somewhat accidentally after “Flight Of The Bumblebee” was used as an interlude during the radio series. The track was rearranged by Billy May and it became the theme song we all know and love. I’ve tied The Lone Ranger theme (the “William Tell Overture”) to Green Hornet seeing as they’re both unmistakable timeless classics which both recently enjoyed (well… not quite) revivals on the big screen.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
What do you mean, the turtles aren’t superheroes? They’re heroes in a half shell, it’s right there in the song! If you grew up in the late 80’s, then this one is probably engrained in your brain as one of the most memorably catchy cartoon themes ever. It was put together by Two And A Half Men creator Chuck Lorre, of all people, and Dennis C. Brown. Here’s hoping the next big screen Ninja Turtles movie remembers this one.
Here’s another double-whammy for ya. Say what you will about the 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starring movie version of Judge Dredd but it at least got a decent theme song courtesy of composer Alan Silvestri: tough, decisive, heroic, this was a cool musical introduction to the humourless judge we all know and love. RoboCop‘s theme was just as tough but more futuristic and somehow even grander. Basil Poledouris was behind that particular unforgettable mini-masterpiece.
When Spidey first popped up on the big screen, it was to the sound of this eclectic tune courtesy of maestro Danny Elfman who captured every aspect of Spider-Man‘s character musically with a fantastic theme which kind of goes all over the place and isn’t that easy at all to hum from start to finish but which works completely. Hearing it instantly creates a picture of the Marvel web-slinger jumping from building to building in your mind. A complex, fulfilling theme worthy of the early 2000’s favourite superhero.
The Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer may have been below-par as a film but one hopes that composer John Ottman was well payed for the surprisingly brilliant score he turned in. His Silver Surfer theme is often overlooked but it truly is a gem worth seeking out as it perfectly captures the tragic, poetic nature of the troubled silver hero. Clearly Ottman wanted to score a full-on Silver Surfer movie instead of the Fantastic Four rubbish the studios ended up making.
A movie as big as The Avengers needed a big theme. After all, this was a movie packed with superheroes from Iron Man to Thor and The Hulk! Against all odds, Alan Silvestri delivered exactly what the movie needed: an epic anthem that’s an ode to team-work. Grand, filled to the brim with heroism and positivity, this is a theme that inspires straight away. Funnily enough, Danny Elfman would then take over composing duties for the sequel. Keeping the theme intact, of course.
The Dark Knight
Again, putting together a Batman theme more iconic than Elfman’s was no easy feat and yet Hans Zimmer, with the help of James Newton Howard, gave Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy one heck of a theme. Its beat mimicking a swarm of bats, it’s literally impossible not to geek out for the Bat whenever the tune kicks in. The build-up to it in Batman Begins was nearly unbearable but it paid off in the film’s second half, the version of the theme in The Dark Knight was meaner and even more intense while the Dark Knight Rises one was darker and heavier but equally haunting and hypnotic.
Danny Elfman had one job with The Flash TV series from 1990: make the superhero sound as awesome as Batman. Not an extremely easy task but somehow he pulled it off. This mini-symphony is appropriately fast-paced and stands out as the best thing about that show even if it was, as a whole, pretty fun. Those series may be dated by today’s standards but its theme is just as awesome. Short and sweet.
Spider-Man: The Cartoon Series
I’m talking, of course, about the iconic Spidey theme from the old 60’s Spider-Man Cartoon Series. It’s a classic and boasts lyrics that are still a joy to this day which is why the song appears in most of the Spider-Man movies in one form or another. It was put together by Paul Francis Webster (I swear that’s actually his name) and Bob Harris and it remains one of the grooviest, most singable superhero themes out there.
Honourable mention goes to the 90’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series theme which is certainly way more modern and is led by a robot voice and some pretty rad electric guitar solos. It makes the show’s cool opening sequence very entertaining indeed.
Batman: The TV Series
Since we’re talking 1960’s, let’s talk about the Neil Hefti Batman TV Series theme from back in the day. It’s simple, its only lyrics are “Batman!” and “Dadadadadadadadada!”, it’s like 40 seconds long and it is vintage superhero theme gold. It’s impossible to picture Adam West and Burt Ward running in cartoon form to any other theme and even if another, more modern theme jumps to mind when thinking Batman, this one is always there. Somewhere. Bringing some much needed “Zaps!” and “Pows!” to your subconscious. Holy classic Bat-theme, Batman!
X-Men: The Animated Series
If you were an X-Men fan growing up and you were watching this cartoon series for the first time, chances are your head exploded from how action-packed and explosive its minute-long opening sequence was. The theme song, by Ron Wasserman, was led by a heavy drum beat, violins and a devilishly simple and catchy synth electric guitar melody. Add to that slickly animated visuals introducing each main character and their superpowers in a heartbeat and you’ve got yourself one sweet, sweet minute indeed.
Man Of Steel may have been missing some vibrant colours but the use of John Williams’ iconic score alone could have made us overlook that. Say what you will about Superman Returns, at least its opening sequence was a glorious throwback to the good old days when Christopher Reeve would fly out into space and smile at us from up there before taking a sharp left turn. Williams’ theme is the ultimate hero theme: it’s fun, romantic, melodramatic and makes you visualise all of Superman’s victories and adventures without the need for actual visuals. You’ll definitely believe a man can fly once you play this masterful tune.
Big surprise, right? When it comes to “getting” a character, a superhero, besides John Williams with Superman, no-one has really managed to outdo Danny Elfman and his 1989 Batman theme. The march, which builds up slowly but surely after a mysterious, dark few seconds which suggests perhaps a villain’s theme, soon kicks in with a strong heroic melody which then quiets down to tackle Batman’s tormented, tragic past and inner demons with a romantic edge before pumping up once more for the big finale. It’s just a perfect piece of music which tells you all you need to know about Batman without having to sit through a whole hour of exposition with Bruce Wayne climbing mountains and picking blue flowers or whatever happened in that movie. The theme was also used in Batman Returns but was extended to fit a longer opening titles sequence.
Honourable mention goes to Danny Elfman’s arrangement for Batman: The Animated Series which also used the same theme but with slight, well-paced variations.
Which are YOUR favourite superhero movie themes?
Feel free to let us know in the comments!