Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

The Ten Most Memorable Movie Themes

10. The Godfather

The haunting sounds of the Godfather theme was an instant masterpiece. Its unique melody is instantly recognizable and always associated with the great American classic. The music equals the excellence of the film-making itself.

9. Rocky

The Rocky theme is the ultimate anthem of determination and perseverance. How can you listen to this song and not feel like jogging up a flight of steps and raise your arms in triumph when you reach the top? It is the theme of the underdog, music for overcoming the odds.

8. Beverly Hills Cop

Ah, the 80s. That wonderful decade where music was populated by synthesizers and the theater screens were dominated by police action films. And what movie tune was catchier than Beverly Hills Cop? Once it gets into your head its both infectious and exciting.

7. The Pink Panther

The theme song for this Niven/Sellers classic comedy is so catchy and recognizable, it easily earns a place on this list. It’s slow, jazzy style gives a sense of playful mystery, which matches the movie perfectly. I dare you to try to listen to this tune without snapping your fingers and tapping or toes, or without actually feeling like the pink cartoon cat from the opening credits himself.

6. Dr. No

Need I say more about the James Bond theme song? After 20+ movies, ts easy for a theme song to become so embedded in the auditory centers of movie goers. Sure each Bond film has their own theme song, usually by some guest artist. But remnants of the original theme is always present. And once you hear it, you know that the most famous spy in the world is nearby.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

One of the most heroic themes in the movies, the Indiana Jones theme is one of John Williams’s many rousing instrumental pieces. Every time I hear it I feel like swinging from a rope over a gorge, or as if there is a giant boulder behind me. This theme seems to capture adventure in its very notes and is instantly recognizable as the anthem for one of cinema’s greatest action heroes.

4. Psycho

Sometimes simplicity is the key. In this case, a few high pitched notes are all that’s needed to make a spine-chilling theme that would be hard for anyone to forget. This haunting, terrifying theme is featured most prominently in Psycho’s infamous shower scene and one could easy make the argument that this is so infamous because of the music itself.

3. Star Wars

Stars Wars is one of the most popular movies in the world, if not the most popular. Therefore its hard for its theme song not to be one of the most recognizable of movie themes. The Star Wars score was quite a big deal back in 1977 as it brought the sweeping scope of a full bodied orchestra back into the cinema soundscape. Just as Star Wars brought the enormity of storytelling back to the big screen, John Williams brought the enormity of great rousing music back as well.

2. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Choosing the top two themes on this list was a tough decision, since they are both so ingrained in popular culture by this time. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has a theme which is pretty much the default tune which comes to mind whenever a western movie is mentioned. It seems to represent the entire genre and is the ultimate “showdown” music. It is far and away one of the most recognizable tunes in movie history.

1. Jaws

As I have said before, simplicity is the key. The extremely well-known Jaws theme song is characterized by only a couple of notes, yet no other soundtrack is quite as haunting or as ominous. Its hard not to get your heart pumping the moment you hear it.
The reason I chose Jaws over Good, Bad & Ugly is that although both are instantly recognizable, the majority of the public would be able to tie the Jaws theme to its movie more so than they would with Good, Bad, Ugly. Ask almost anyone to hum the Jaws theme for you, and they will be able to in an instant. It is the most recognizable and most memorable movie theme of all time.

16 Responses to “The Ten Most Memorable Movie Themes”

  1. I agree about violins in Psycho. They’re instantly recognizable and synonymous with fear. I love the entire score for that movie. You begin to bite your nails before the opening credits end.

  2. The old Hollywood was an artful one, hence the classic theme songs. Nowadays, it’s a cash grab. Great list… and site.

  3. Great list! However, I think The Godfather Theme is a bit too low.. like, 9 spaces too low.

  4. Have you ever seen the 1952 Charlie Chaplin film, Limelight? If not, I definitely recommend looking up the score (or, better yet, renting the film–it’s fantastic). The score isn’t as recognizable as these, but it is one of the most beautiful, moving pieces of music I’ve ever heard. And composed by Chaplin himself!

  5. I like the theme song for E.T. Yet it is so difficult to pick a list of top ten theme songs with hundreds of thousands of movies in the entire world.

  6. It is hard to pick the top ten. That’s why i designated the list as ten most memorable, which is easier to determine. That’s why Luke’s Limelight isn’t there and why Godfather isn’t #1 like Rachel wanted. Because Jaws is simply much more recognizable.
    E.T. was close to making the list mind you.

  7. what about jurassic park?

  8. Because of the way movie themes work, why not think of composers instead of individual movies? That way you end up with an inverse, although endless list. Henry Mancini (Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Pink Panther, The Great Race, Victor Victoria, Charade…); John Williams (Jurassic Park-my personal favorite, Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Jaws, ET, Harry Potter…); Ennio Morricone (ALL the spaghetti westerns). Even though my list misses a few miracles (Godfather, Psycho, James Bond) it suggests some of the musical miracle is part of people who are a special quantity. I include composers, actors, and screenwriters in the idea that it’s the magic combination that makes the memorable music. Departing from the essay and being a child of the ’80s, why has nobody mentioned Ghostbusters?

    • Composers would be an interesting list, but its not what I was going for here. I wanted to look at individual scores themselves.
      As for Ghostbusters, I was staying away from lyrical themes like that one.
      Thanks for your comments!

  9. surprised no Pirates of the Carribean its almost like u hear the song then ur like argh Pirates

  10. Gone With the Wind should be Number 1.

  11. I know I’m dating myself, but how about theme from “The Magnificent Seven”?

  12. terminator thems should be in the list my opinion.

  13. Superman.

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