I don’t think any fellow die-hard cinema fan would argue that music plays a tremendous part in successful movies. Today I’m taking time to focus on the music in movies, particularly popular theme music. To clarify, these aren’t popular songs featuring great lyrics and great voices. I’m talking specifically about theme music that everyone knows. Music that immediately registers with anyone who knows movies and enjoys them. Now with so many examples of great themes I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But no one can deny that these five movie themes are absolutely phenomenal.
#5 – “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
Ok seriously, what person reading this can’t hum the Indiana Jones theme to themselves right now? Indy is a truly iconic movie character. I mean who doesn’t love him? The toughness, the humor, and the wild adventures certainly contribute to the character’s popularity. But then there is that equally iconic theme music from the legendary John Williams. It’s rousing, exciting, heroic, and recognizable. But it’s also always used at the exact right moment in the film. It makes so many of the scenes all the more thrilling and it is music that everyone knows the moment they hear it played!
#4 – “Chariots of Fire”
Hugh Hudson’s 1981 inspirational drama is a movie I have been meaning to revisit for a while now. It was a huge Oscar success receiving seven nominations and winning four including Best Picture. One of those Academy Awards was for the brilliant music score from Vangelis. Within that score lies some of the most beautiful and magnetic theme music ever put to film. I remember after first seeing it and how it added so much to the picture. It was a shining example of how music can strengthen any film. There’s so much about the movie which I have forgotten, but one thing I remember with great admiration is the amazing theme music.
#3 – “Halloween”
The 1978 film “Halloween” is a genuine horror classic for a number of reasons. It was a tense and uneasy movie that launched an entire sub-genre of horror. And then there is that unforgettable theme music. Part of the reason that “Halloween” was so effective was its basic but incredibly moody theme music which consisted of a fairly simple piano melody written and played by director John Carpenter himself. There is nothing difficult or complex about it yet it is so fitting with the films atmosphere. In fact, it could be said it’s a key component to the movie’s scary vibe. It’s so good and incredibly easy to recognize.
#2 – “Star Wars”
As a Star Wars fan very few things get me going like the musical transition from the 20th Century Fox logo to the Lucas logo to the scrolling intro in the Star Wars openings. When (once again) John Williams’ blast of horns simultaneously appears with the Star Wars title I want to burst out in applause. And talk about theme music that everyone knows. Whether you’re a full-fledged Star Wars geek like me or not, the Star Wars theme music has etched itself in movie history. Williams created an assortment of brilliant music for the film’s score some of which have earned their own individual praise. But it’s the theme music that resounds and instantly identifies this science fiction classic.
#1 – “Jaws”
Without a doubt one of the greatest movie themes of all time came from the Steven Spielberg classic “Jaws”. The 1975 thriller features a creepy, moody tune that is so effective it terrorized audiences during its initial release. It’s the perfect tension-building device that amps up the intensity every time it’s used. In fact John Williams’ simple music is used more to announce the shark’s presence than anything we see visually. It’s importance in the film can’t be overstated. This score introduced Williams’ brilliance to the world and it has become some of the greatest and most suspenseful theme music ever made.
So there are my selections. Surely you’ve heard of each, right? Which ones did I miss? Please take time and share your picks in the comment section below.
Yep, these all make my list 🙂
Awesome. 5 for 5! 😉
Those are all good picks Keith. After all these years the Star Wars theme still does it for me every time I hear it, as does Indiana Jones. Three I love that you didn’t mention are Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme, Bill Conti’s Rocky theme tune and John Williams’ score for Superman. They are all classics!
Thanks man. And I don’t think anyone could argue with the three picks you added. I mean who doesn’t know the Bond theme whether or not you love the franchise?
Awesome selections. I might have tossed in Jurassic Park. That music is incredibly iconic (at least that part where they’re entering the park for the first time). John Williams strikes again!!!!
Do you notice a trend with Williams and memorable theme music? It’s really quite amazing!
YES on Indiana Jones! In fact, it’s still fresh in my mind as I just did a Spielberg top 10 for a blogathon 😉
Gotta love Indy. The character, the theme music. I loved him growing up and I still love him today!
John Williams has a crush eh? Nothing to argue against, there are just so many other themes that need some love. Maurice Jarre “Lawrence of Arabia”, Bernard Herrmann “Psycho”, Ennui Morricone “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”, Jerry Goldsmith “Planet of the Apes”. Let’s spread the love a bit.
I agree with most of those. But for me personally these are that five that instantly come to mind. Morricone was really hard to leave out. But again these five profoundly stood out to me when putting this together and Williams happened to be prominently present.
Great list. Can’t go wrong with any of those. Some others I’d consider, though: Superman (1978), Psycho, Beverly Hills Cop.
I had forgot about Beverly Hills Cop. Yep, I can hum that one right now. Didn’t Harold Faltermeyer do that theme music? Axel F I believe.
Yes he did.
On great theme tunes can I add ‘On Days Like These,’ the Quincey Jones opener to The Italian Job? The song, the car, the Alpine scenery summed up the mood of the film and the ’60s setting.
The Tim Burton Batman films had a classy theme, probably not as memorable as those listed above, but I’d place the film within seconds of hearing that theme tune.
Of I loved the Burton Batman theme. I think Danny Elfman did it. It was fantastic and I remember buying the cassette for it when it was released. Great mention.
Haha, all of these are definitely familiar tunes. Halloween’s theme always creeps me out still! And who can’t think of Star Wars when the theme starts? Actually, at my wedding, I had the theme from Lord of the Rings (played by a piano and violin), and someone mistakenly thought it was the Star Wars theme! I couldn’t believe it, haha.
I was just walking in Barnes and Noble the other day, and I heard the original Batman theme and remembered it. That’s another that I think is difficult to forget!
We had the variation of the theme for The Last of the Mohicans in our wedding. I would have loved to put it on here. It’s so beautiful. But it’s one that I don’t know if everyone knows when they hear it.
Aww, that’s really cool! I’m glad someone else chose a film theme as a song at their wedding. Some film scores have the most beautiful theme songs!
Williams’ Superman theme is pretty iconic. Some worthy picks here, though!
That Superman theme is a REALLY good one. I can hear it in my head right now!
Great choices, I would say the Godfather theme is instantly recognisable.
That’s a good pick. It definitely is recognizable.
Excellent list! Anything John Williams would make my list. Add in there Jurassic Park and Beverly Hills Cop.
I know it’s not much of a theme, but i think the Inception BWOAM needs an honourable mention 😉
Williams is really special, isn’t it. Sooo much great music. A master. And YES!!! I love the BWOAM!!!!!
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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Psycho (wailing violins)
The Magnificent Seven
The Great Escape
Really good mentions. GBU is a personal favorite of mine. It’s so recognizable even for more casual fans of the film. Even they know it when they hear it.