Marvel’s cinematic universe has had its share of soundtracks that were less memorable than they should have been. These characters are here to stay, and they deserve music that is beautiful and instantly recognizable. I’m not talking about the perfectly selected needle drops we heard in Guardians of the Galaxy — I’m talkin’ unique musical themes that we’ll be humming for years to come. Here are the five scores in the MCU that I think could achieve that.
Captain America: The First Avenger by Alan Silvestri
Alan Silvestri is the musical mastermind behind classic scores like Back to the Future, Predator, Forrest Gump, and many more. The guy is a titan, with an uncanny ability to dream up instantly hummable themes and soaring melodies. His score for Captain America: The First Avenger is built around a solid, simple hero’s theme that fits Steve Rogers perfectly. It’s the first big melody you’ll hear on the soundtrack album — a bold, guileless, and patriotic motif. The rest of the score is suitably epic, evoking grand adventure, WWII heroism, and the sinister mysticism of Hydra and The Red Skull. Silvestri’s theme for Cap is the most frequently heard in other MCU films — it makes brief appearances in The Avengers (also scored by Silvestri), Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Iron Man 3 by Brian Tyler
The first two Iron Man films had fun and rousing scores, but didn’t give fans a proper theme for them to hum on the way out of the theater. Brian Tyler, in his first outing with the MCU accomplished just that, and then some. Tyler is one of the hottest young composers working today, and they love him at Marvel. His style is a lot more contemporary than Silvestri’s, using more guitars and electronic elements to fill out his orchestral scores. His work on Iron Man 3 is fun and filled with attitude, a perfect accompaniment for a charismatic quip machine like Tony Stark. The best use of his Iron Man theme shows up in the film’s end credits, where it’s turned into a jazzy and energetic rock jam.
Thor: The Dark World by Brian Tyler
MCU fans knew they were in for something fun when this breezy Thor sequel opened with a spiffed-up Marvel logo, complete with huge new fanfare written by Tyler himself. In looking to fit this film’s sci-fi fantasy feel, Tyler skipped the guitars and synthetic elements and went for something a bit more mythic and organic. At times, it recalls Howard Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings, with big choirs, haunting vocal solos, and thunderous drums. Tyler created even more strong themes for the MCU here, really giving Thor a musical signature that would give us a better sense of who the underdeveloped hero might be — and who he’ll become in Thor: Ragnarok.
Ant-Man by Christophe Beck
This is Beck’s first outing with the MCU, and I really hope he sticks around for Ant-Man and The Wasp, because this score is flat-out terrific. Beck’s theme for Scott Lang is sneaky and smart, but evolves into full-on heroics — mirroring Scott’s arc brilliantly. It’s got a secret-agent feel that’s perfectly tailored to the film’s hi-tech heist vibe. What’s more, Beck really nails the dramatic beats of the score, better than perhaps any other film in Phase Two. The cue “Small Sacrifice” on the soundtrack album really tugs at the heartstrings before taking us in and out of the Quantum Realm. It really allows us to feel that sense of sacrifice and danger when Scott realizes he’ll have to go molecular. It’s great stuff. Similar to Iron Man 3, my favorite iteration of the theme comes at the end, when Beck turns it into a fun surf-rock tune.
Avengers: Age of Ultron by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman
My favorite music yet to be composed for the MCU is right here, folks. Brian Tyler is back with his themes for Iron Man and Thor, and he composed a frightening new theme for Ultron that’ll give you goosebumps. His work is great (as usual), but it’s Danny Elfman’s contributions to the score that really get my blood pumping. Here, Elfman repurposes Alan Silvestri’s Avengers motif as a small part of a larger new theme that I’ve listened to countless times. Age of Ultron was a big visual evolution for the MCU, with Joss Whedon creating frames that would’ve fit into the pages of classic Avengers issues. Elfman’s music elevates the film’s visuals, really capturing that sense of iconography. Leave it to the guy who composed one of the most iconic superhero themes of all time (Batman, duh) to really bring the Avengers together musically.