The Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably the most successful film franchise of all time, yet the company has one glaring issue. Although Marvel’s 18 films since the original Iron Man have grossed more than $14.8 billion, they have failed to develop a musical identity.
The theme music from other high grossing films like Star Wars and Harry Potter are completely inseparable from the franchises themselves. They’re used in trailers, television, video games and any other way they can in order to get into the heads of consumers.
The film scores in Marvel movies tend to be more forgettable rather than iconic, illustrating a fear of risk-taking that ultimately harms the final product. Most of the time what is heard in a Marvel movie is completely expected. For example, if a scene is supposed to be funny, the music shows this.
The same goes for scenes that are sad or happy. This causes the music to fade into the background like elevator music or the hum of a refrigerator in a kitchen.
Another issue with Marvel’s music is its lack of thematic continuity. Themes for different characters or objects, called leitmotifs, are not stay consistent from one film to the next.
One illustration of this is Iron Man’s theme song. It seems that the MCU doesn’t even know what the character’s thematic music is, as Robert Downey Jr.’s character has different themes across all three of his solo movies.
The theme that Marvel has gotten right, however, is that of the Avengers. The leitmotif for their main group of heroes is grand and sweeping, calling to mind thoughts of heroism and bravery that should be associated with these characters.
Despite its quality, this theme is not ingrained into the minds of viewers the same way themes from Harry Potter or Star Wars are because Marvel just doesn’t use it enough.
The trailer for the first Avengers movie did not feature Alan Silvestri’s Avengers leitmotif, but instead included the song “We’re in This Together” by Nine Inch Nails. This trend continues with the trailer for the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron. The trailer featured a slowed down version of “I’ve Got No Strings” from Disney’s Pinocchio, making it feel like a horror movie trailer rather than a superhero one. This marketing has prevented the Avengers theme from permeating pop culture like those from other ultra-successful franchises in Hollywood.
It seems Marvel is working to solve this problem. Black Panther had a memorable soundtrack that combined traditional African music with American hip-hop, leading to an effective and memorable film score.
Furthermore, the inclusion of the Avengers leitmotif in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War signals a desire for more thematic continuity in their music. Hopefully, this means Marvel is beginning to change how it thinks about its music.
Marvel has already made more money than any other franchise in history, so all it has remaining is to fight for its legacy. Without a musical identity, the franchise lacks the ability to leave a lasting impression on our culture through music.