Regardless of their depth of film study, anyone who’s ever been to the movies will know that sound and music have a tremendous impact on the story being told through the medium of film. Whether it’s the Imperial March from Star Wars or the rock overtures heard in the trailer for Thor: Love And Thunder, The soundtrack can have a huge on-screen presence.
Whether they are musicals, dramas, or sci-fi epics, there are several films in the industry that rely heavily on their music and soundtracks to progress the plot. In many cases, there are movies that have music physically affect the course of events and even reach the characters in some form or fashion. Needless to say, it’s more than just a way to get a musical tie-in.
Perhaps the most literal example of the soundtrack being a character would have to be Walt Disney’s Fantasia, Originally dubbed “The Concert Feature,” Walt Disney and his team of artists animated various sequences inspired by what they heard when they listened to famous pieces of classical music. Thus iconic segments like “Night on Bald Mountain” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” were born.
At the intermission of the film, the soundtrack itself makes a literal on-screen appearance and receives an introduction from Deems Taylor as well as a demonstration of its “Fantasound” abilities. A comedic and artistic representation of the film’s audible attributes, the film simply wouldn’t exist without it.
On a much smaller scale is John Carpenter’s Halloween, as it uses one repetitive piece of music to represent its masked antagonist. Next to the screaming strings of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, it’s perhaps one of the most recognizable pieces of music in horror history.
What earns the film and its corresponding theme a mention is that the score comes to symbolize Michael Myers, being that it almost only plays whenever he’s on the screen. After a while, it begins to have a Pavlovian effect on the audience as murder is sure to follow a few bars of staccato synth notes.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
While it certainly wasn’t the first rock opera, it was arguably one of the most influential in the genre. Based on the stage production and concept album by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar was a musical that shaped a generation of fans, as well as what a musical movie could be like.
Everything from the lyrics to the composition of the score has a role to play in this reimagining of the Passion of Christ. From his arrival in Galilee to his inevitable crucifixion, the story of Jesus Christ is told completely in song with no use of traditionally spoken dialogue. The soundtrack is as much of a storyteller as the actors putting on their passion play.
O’ Brother Where Art Thou (2000)
In the simplest of terms, O’ Brother Where Art Thou is as close to a musical as a film can get without literally being considered one. The songs sung by the cast in the film don’t rely on large-scale musical numbers, but rather serve to steer the plot. The biggest example is the three escaped convicts, Everett, Pete, and Delmar avoiding law enforcement under the guise of the Soggy Bottom Boys.
Most of the songs on the soundtrack aren’t background music but actually performed by characters in the story. They might be the vexing sirens, the little Wharvey Gals, or a gathering of chanting Klansmen, but their vocal talents aren’t just notable, they’re a necessity.
Rocket Man (2019)
A biopic about the life and career of Sir Elton John would be incomplete without his famous contributions to the pop-rock genre. While it might come off as a jukebox musical at first, the fact that the musician’s life and career revolved around his songs and albums essentially demands that they be able to tell his story. Of course, a showman of his caliber had to pull out all the stops in this sort of production.
The blend of musical and biopic was practically made for Elton John, and the soundtrack definitely reflects that. All the songs that reflect the emotion or situation present in the plot all come from his and Bennie Taupin’s discography, and it’s woven together in a musical tapestry that’s worthy of any glam-rock opera.
Across The Universe (2007)
On the subject of rock, there are few bands more successful or iconic than the Beatles. Apart from their own films, Across the Universe is perhaps the quintessential Beatles musical, as the songs not only paint a vivid and psychedelic picture of the ’60s, but”carry that weight” of the emotional story told by the film’s cast.
The film concerns the lives of a group of musicians and artists set during the counter-culture movement. Although many of their songs are given different genres such as gospel, punk-rock, and even ragtime, there is simply no better soundtrack of the decade as a whole than the immortal works of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Out of all the characters in the MCU, the Guardians of the Galaxy have the best soundtrack. The eclectic mixtape of ’70s rock anthems from the likes of David Bowie, Joan Jett, and Redbone features an aptly named “Awesome Mix” of tunes that clearly defined Marvel’s rag-tag group of space outlaws.
From Star-Lord’s dance breaks with “Come and Get Your Love,” and Groot’s grooving to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” the music not only establishes the tone, characters, and atmosphere of the film, it helps define its world’s identity . Even their appearance in the Infinity War movies was punctuated by Quill’s taste in music.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the textbook definition of a stylistic movie. Since it’s a movie inspired by video games and punk rock, of course the music would play an essential role in the film’s structural and creative makeup. With an evil ex with a Bollywood musical number, and a literal battle of the bands that plays out like a final boss battle, the soundtrack doesn’t just represent a scene or a character, it affects the world of the film as well.
Music can soothe the savage beast, but it can also lay an entire audience prone on the floor. As Sex Bob-Omb tears through the Katayanagi twins and Scott absolutely slays Gideon for the heart of Ramona Flowers, there’s a shredding guitar overdrive to power every battle.
Baby Driver (2017)
Similar to the way music defines characters like Star-Lord of the Guardians, so too does the soundtrack of Baby Driver define its titular protagonist. Since the storyline concerns a getaway driver suffering from tinnitus who uses music to cope with his condition, the soundtrack goes from background tracks to a force that shapes the world.
Like a choreographed dance number, the music sculpts the action. Every chase, every fight, and every bullet shot in the sequences is done in time with whatever song is playing in Baby’s ears. The result is a truly memorable action movie with a musical accompaniment to match.
Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
As seen with Fantasia, when music works in tandem with animation, it can be a marriage made in heaven. Into the Spider-Verse not only utilizes its stylish, comic-book-inspired visuals and animation but also its soundtrack to fuel its characters and its action.
Miles Morales uses his hip-hop music taste to tap into his spidery powers, resulting in some rhythmic acrobatics and funky fresh fight scenes. It definitely breathes a new flavor of life into a classic cast of superheroes. No matter what corner of the Multiverse they hail from, Spider-Man certainly knows how to swing it.
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