There’s something wonderfully sentimental about the music of our favorite films. Songs like John Williams’ background score "Hedwig’s Theme" from the Harry Potter series or Elton John and Tim Rice’s "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King," still remain evocative, familiar and reminiscent of childhood to the ears of millennials today.
With Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s "A Star is Born" soundtrack landing at the top of the Billboard 200 chart this week and their song "Shallow" placing fifth on the Hot 100 chart, the creative and monetary significance of music to movies is reinforced. Earlier this year, "Black Panther" and "The Greatest Showman" topped the Billboard 200. The fusion of music and movies call for great emotional investment on the audience’s part, and movie producers rely on the returns on this investment.
At first, production houses never thought to market and monetize the music of their movies, as music was embedded in movies as an accessory to the bigger story. Nowadays, the norm is that the music of a movie is allowed to shine alongside the movie that it is a part of. Music’s function in storytelling has also made a comeback through remakes of classics, such as live-action versions of old Disney films like "Mary Poppins Returns" and "Beauty and the Beast."
Often, music informs movies as seen in musicals, such as "Mamma Mia!," "The Greatest Showman" and "La La Land." Musicals’ soundtracks weave together complex stories in cinema and allow audiences to more comfortably suspend their disbelief and simply enjoy films for what they are.
In terms of movies for today’s youth, modern-day coming-of-age love stories have soundtracks that feature artists whose style and aesthetic mirror that of the film’s message. 2018’s "Love, Simon" — a touching movie about a teenager discovering his sexuality and accepting his identity — had a soundtrack that featured young and relatable artists like LGBTQ+ rights advocate Troye Sivan and contemporary R&B singer Khalid. The ability of music to captivate even younger audiences can be seen in animated films, such as "Moana" and "Frozen,"as both films have created catchy, empowering anthems — "How Far I’ll Go' and "Let It Go" — for little girls all over the world.
The powerful influence of soundtracks extends into the realm of superhero films which have a large, wholeheartedly dedicated fan following today. This is evident in the success of Marvel’s "Black Panther" soundtrack, which was carefully curated by Pulitzer prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. The soundtrack, much like the film itself, was well-researched so that it could be as authentic as possible and truly representative of the heritage and traditions of the African communities the film’s story aimed to depict.
In mainstream genres such as action, music adds vivacity to films and exhilarates audiences when combined with choreographed visuals. Across the eight installments of the films, the "Fast and Furious" soundtracks include big names in pop and hip-hop like Post Malone, Quavo and G-Eazy, and consist of songs that match the active pace of the movies. In 2015’s "Furious 7," Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s "See You Again" was a tribute to the late Paul Walker and the single spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. "See You Again" resonated with fans of the "Fast and Furious" films as it commemorated Walker’s on-screen and off-screen presence in profound ways that left audiences with heavy hearts as the credits began to roll.
“Songs help express emotions that cannot necessarily be visually portrayed. They add another layer of depth in a movie and strengthen our connection to the story of a movie,” said Emma Bograds, a first-year student in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and music enthusiast. The quality of and response to a film’s soundtrack often foreshadows the quality of and the audiences’ reception of the film itself. Soundtracks serve as an alternative trailer of sorts, and they are a way for audiences to engage and empathize with plots and characters before movies come out.
Soundtracks are not just another ostentatious means to promote movies and add to their box office success for the financial benefit of production houses. They allow those in the music and film industries to expand and explore their different modes of creative expression.