The Struggle of Film Scores


By: Connor Lenahan

Think of your favorite movie. Not some artsy pick to impress someone, your genuine favorite movie. Think of what it sounds like. Can you hear the score? Do you remember the music that plays during the film?

That’s a question that was raised in the latest video from Every Frame a Painting. Their film essay videos are one of my favorites to share, but this one made me consider much of my experience as a film student. In the video, interviewees are asked if they can recall the themes to Star WarsHarry Potter, and James Bond. These aren’t terribly hard. But when Marvel is brought up, everyone goes blank. This raises two points.

  1. Marvel has some of the least daring film scores of all time, save its main theme for The Avengers, while still functioning for the purpose of the film.
  2. Temp music can be extremely difficult to pry yourself away from.

Let’s go back to the question I asked above. If your movie was directed by Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan you probably can actually recall some of their music, and that’s because it’s unique to the film. “Stuck In The Middle With You” and the Bwaaam sound of Inception are familiar because of their films. But Marvel doesn’t quite have the same thing.

This is two pronged. For one, as explored in the video above, the culture of blockbuster scores has become more homogenized than ever before. But additionally, there is the element of a director finding something that fits and saying “that, I want that.

Since beginning to study film and television at Boston University I have directed or produced six short films. All but two had me handle the music choices, with one being silent. One featured “Hotline Bling” by Drake at the height of its popularity, one featured John Mayer’s “Assassins” as an inside joke on the assassin plot, and the rest had me take tracks from the soundtrack for The Social Network by Trent Reznor.

I’ve long been a fan of the original score to David Fincher’s film, and I’m listening to the score again as I type this now. In both films, I could have used anything for the score, including things that could have fit the films better. But I decided that I wanted that. I wanted the feel of The Social Network.

I have a first-hand experience with how films can become sidetracked by wanting to copy each other. I personally elected to have the film’s music take from something I previously liked for convenience. This is obviously low stakes, but not without precedent for a higher budget production.

Hopefully, this is a trend that gets bucked, only because films are better when they can stand out amongst the crowd. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the largest film property on the planet, so the attempts at copying the formula make sense. But as every film professor here and across the country will tell you, it is sound – not visuals – that make or break a production. A less singular film sound will make for a more dynamic viewing experience and, hey, who knows, maybe might improve the quality of films too. One can only hope, right?