Marvel Studios is arguably the most successful movie studio at the moment when it comes to a ratio of hits and misses. All of their films are commercial hits, and nearly all of them receive at least warm reviews, save for a Thor: The Dark World here or The Incredible Hulk there. They’ve now become a well-oiled machine, launching multiple mega-blockbusters each year, but there’s one key area in which Marvel Studios has been lacking for a long time: memorable film scores.
It’s not that Marvel movie scores are bad. Patrick Doyle’s score for Thor is perfectly acceptable, and Tyler Bates’ work on the Guardians of the Galaxy films definitely gets the job done. It’s just that the scores lack that extra something that creates a lasting memory. You know them when you hear them, but without a cue it’s hard to remember exactly what each Marvel score sounds like.
There have been a couple of outliers. Alan Silvestri crafted probably the most memorable theme of the MCU so far with Captain America: The First Avenger, and he put together a solid theme for The Avengers as well. But beyond that, the MCU has struggled—and not for lack of trying. They even brought Danny Elfman in at the last minute to help punch up the score for Avengers: Age of Ultron alongside composer Brian Tyler, and in my interview with Tyler he revealed that Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is a huge nerd for movie scores. There’s a desire to make something great from all involved.
Finally, though, it feels like the MCU has turned over a new leaf. The last few Marvel movies have actually featured scores that were not only memorable, but also kind of bold and ambitious. It arguably began with Michael Giacchino’s score for Doctor Strange, which offered a very different kind of flavor to the MCU toolbox.
Giacchino then returned to Marvel to compose the score for Spider-Man: Homecoming, a tall order given that Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, and James Horner had all already taken a stab at the webslinger in previous films. But just as Homecoming itself found a fresh take on Peter Parker, Giacchino also crafted a new and exciting score that mirrored the playful nature of the titular hero and—gasp—gave us a memorable theme worthy of humming in the shower.
Then Marvel Studios really ramped it up a few notches with Mark Mothersbaugh’s wild, dynamic Thor: Ragnarok score. Mothersbaugh was handpicked by director Taika Waititi, and the former Devo frontman’s sensibilities meshed perfectly with Ragnarok’s goofy style. Mothersbaugh admitted he was directly influenced by the complaints that Marvel scores all sound the same, and the result is a score that is heavily electronic yet kind of insane in nature, pulling deeply from that 80s aural landscape to glorious results.