The fact that all these trailers share the same sound isn’t accidental: Film editors and neuroscientists both know that a heavy bass has the power to elicit a powerful emotion.
Researchers explain in a 2014 paper titled “The Music of Power” that music has the ability to evoke a “sense of power and produce power-related cognition and behavior.” Music with more bass increases the study participant’s sense of power. Our brains interpret heavy bass as sounding — and feeling — powerful.
Researchers found that when people listen to “high-power music” like Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” they are more likely to volunteer to go first in a debate than those who did not. Accordingly, people who have naturally bass-heavy voices are viewed as powerful, as is the case of James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader, for example. Applied in an action sequence, a heavy bass makes sense. It drives the listener to anticipate a powerful moment.
Heavy bass also resonates through the body because of its extremely low pitch. Low notes make the body feel waves of alternating pressure, which is why people who are deaf enjoy loud music with a heavy bass, since they can literally feel the music in their bodies.
Filmmakers attempting to create an intense moment sometimes also use something called infrasound, or extreme bass waves, in a scene. It’s known to induce feelings of adrenaline in the form of panic and anxiety — exactly what movie execs are hoping will make people come out in throngs for a film and make it a coveted summer blockbuster.