Scores are a key part of any big cinematic adventure, and cinematic adventures don’t get too much bigger than Marvel films, with the notable exception of Star Wars. That said, Marvel films aren’t exactly lauded for their excellent scores and standout themes. The MCU doesn’t have anything quite on part with Williams’s Main Title, Princess Leia Theme or the Imperial March.
In light of the news that Michael Giacchino (Up, Inside Out, Ratatouille, Jurassic World) will be taking on the score for Doctor Strange, let’s take a look at Marvel’s scores and rank them based on the strength of their central themes
1. The Captain America Theme
Probably the most recognizable theme among the Avengers, Cap’s theme comes from The First Avenger score, composed by Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future). It’s classic, heroic and fits the WWII-era aesthetic of the film with a simple horn theme carried into the strings.
Unlike some of the other scores in the Marvel lineup, Silvestri brings back Cap’s theme often with variations in speed and instrumentation. It shows up in the Main Titles, bold and brassy in Triumphant Return and in bits and pieces throughout the score. It’s definitely one of the most cohesive works and Cap’s theme is the most memorable.
Henry Jackman took over the scoring Cap for The Winter Soldier and Civil War, but he has brought the original Silvestri Cap theme back in different form, like on the track “The Smithsonian” from The Winter Soldier score.
2. The Avengers Theme
Also composed by Alan Silvestri, The Avengers score brings together distinctive themes throughout, helping us separate a number of characters who’ve suddenly come together. The Avengers are also given their own theme, which we hear come up throughout the movie and, several years later, in Age of Ultron. It’s exciting, simple and memorable, even though the most recognizable and repeatable strain is fairly short.
In the score for Age of Ultron, Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman updated the theme a bit, as heard in “New Avengers.” It takes on some of Elfman’s signature style: a little more movement with the big, bold, brassy parts tempered by some softer string additions. In fact, if you were a fan of Elfman’s score for the Maguire Spider-Man films, you’ll likely recognize that stile in the Age of Ultron score straightaway.
3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a theme of its own and though it’s not quite as recognizable as the ones belong to Cap or the Avengers, it’s still bold and memorable. Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) composed the score for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and because we don’t often see great television scores, this one stands out. The score’s best feature is the variety that exists within it — there are brassy heroic numbers alongside mellow acoustic pieces.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
The score for Guardians certainly wasn’t the sonic focal point of the film. That role was secured by the incredibly popular soundtrack packed full of 70’s jams from “O-o-h Child” to “Hooked on a Feeling.” Even so, there are great installments on the score, particularly tracks like “Groot Cocoon” and “A Nova Upgrade” and there’s Guardians theme that surfaces throughout. It’s a great score, even if it frequently took a back seat to nearly forgotten 70’s hits.
Thor’s music is a little bit harder to pin down. Patrick Doyle composed the score for the first film, and while it was a fine tonal fit, it lacked a standout track. “Sons of Odin” is stately and regal, “Thor Kills the Destroyer” is triumphant and deeply listenable, but the score lacks cohesion in a larger context. It isn’t until The Dark World score that we feel like Thor gets a theme that sticks with us.
This is ultimately how Doyle’s work on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire felt, too. There were some really great tracks, but it didn’t have the cohesive theme audiences love to ground the film’s music throughout. That said, Doyle’s work on Cinderella was inspired, even though the film wasn’t terribly well-received. It had a beautiful central theme and wove brilliantly around the old tune “Lavender’s Blue.” If Thor had benefited from the same treatment, it certainly could’ve been one of the best scores in the MCU.
The score for Thor: The Dark World (composed by Brian Tyler) gives us a little more cohesion with a distinct theme from “Thor, Son of Odin” that shows up a a few times. We also get a brief thematic joining of forces in “An Unlikely Alliance” as Cap’s theme crops up.
6. Iron Man
Though all of the Iron Man scores were composed by Brian Tyler, we don’t have a theme for Iron Man that’s quite on par with Cap’s. There are some standout tracks, not the least of which is “I Am Iron Man” (not the theme tune) The lack of a cinematic theme isn’t necessarily surprising, though — Iron Man was the first big success of the MCU. Composing a theme that would come up four, five or six films down the line likely wasn’t high on the list of priorities. Plus, Tony Stark’s always been a little more “Shoot to Thrill” than big heroic scores anyway.