BATMAN TOP 5 THEME SONGS Commentary by Dan W
While this writer is primarily a Superman fan, and appreciates both the timeless John Williams’ march from Superman: The Movie, and Hans Zimmer’s percussive Man of Steel fanfare (one of the few good takes from that movie), there’s no denying that Batman has raked in the spoils when it comes to movie and TV music. Here, in definitive and unassailable order, are the top 5 Batman theme songs.
5 – BATMAN ‘66
An iconic earworm that persists nearly 60 years after it’s debut. Go ahead, sing along to that punchy brass and borderline-surf rock, you know the words. ♪ Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman! ♫ Whether you’re old enough to remember watching it in the 1960s, or you watched it after school decades later as a latchkey kid, it will never leave you, even when you want it to.
4 – BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES MAIN THEME
How could it be so low? What Batman/comic book fan hasn’t seen Batman: The Animated series and its phenomenal opening sequence. But against that striking noir backdrop, it’s mostly Danny Elfman aping his Batman ‘89 theme. Does that mean it’s bad? Of course not, but it’s hard to rank it above the less derivative entries listed below. Michael Giacchino, decades later, would do the same with his Doctor Strange and Star Trek scores. (Listen to Doctor Strange’s theme and tell me it doesn’t sound like the Star Trek score from 2009 with a harpsichord. (And to lose an afternoon, look around the web for articles and videos about temp music in film. Long story short: the financiers have no creative vision.))
3 – THE BATMAN
Hans Zimmer initially declined to compose the soundtrack to Man of Steel, citing John Williams iconic original, but eventually agreed to it. Michael Giacchino, undaunted by a similar legacy of incredible tunes, turned in a gem for 2022’s The Batman, one that is far darker, subtler and thematically appropriate for a hero who uses crippling fear and alley shadows as armor. Haunting and led by a quiet piano line, it builds into a menacing melding of strings and brass that towers over the listener like the Dark Knight himself, before retreating into a reprise of that initial piano intro.
2 – BATMAN BEGINS / THE DARK KNIGHT
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who hand out the Oscars each year, have a long history of ignoring genre movies. It is only recently that superhero and sci-fi fare has been recognized for the less technical awards. Whether that is elitist disdain or a preference for rewarding the smaller movies that don’t rake in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office is open for debate, but honestly, it matters less and less as the veneer of civility and glamour that Hollywood has peddled for so long is further peeled back, revealing the filth and the ugliness behind the illusion. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” said The Wizard, so many years ago. We should have recognized it for the warning it was. Regardless, for an industry that loves too much to fluff its own feathers and hand out awards, Zimmer and co-composer James Newton Howard should have received one for The Dark Knight. The pounding, dynamic theme at the heart of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is instantly recognizable to an entire generation of film and comic book fans, and set a new baseline for action movie scores that films have struggled to clear since.
1- BATMAN (1989)
Danny Elfman’s theme here was so great, he would borrow it from himself when composing for The Animated Series a few years later, and the swelling, gothic notes do for Batman what Williams did for Superman 11 years prior. Not to say that the diagetic music of the iconic Prince blasting through the Joker’s speakers during the movie isn’t also great (“Gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds!”) and I know everyone sat through the end credits to hear Arms of Orion, but Elfman’s bar-none best is pitch-perfect for Tim Burton’s claustrophobic comic book adventure, and set a new tone for Batman, driving out that ‘66 earworm America couldn’t shake for the 20 years prior.
(The 1989 theme also greatly enhanced the otherwise grating experience of waiting in line for Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America, but that’s a story for another day.)