The Top Ten Scores of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
With the arrival of Avengers: Infinity War, it seems appropriate to take stock of every aspect of the MCU. And since the scores for the films aren’t exactly the drawing card of the franchise, I decided to give my favorite scores some much-deserved attention:
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Henry Jackman, 2014)
Quite the opposite from the military fanfare of the original Captain America: The First Avenger score, Henry Jackman stepped in and gave ol’ Cap an edge with some industrial attitude and grinding guitars. One of the reasons why this film is so beloved is that it was able to slip into the ‘70s political thriller genre while still being true to the characters. Jackman’s score builds an unsettling atmosphere that absolutely supports the vision of the film. Jackman uses a pulsating beat that often plays an integral role in the film’s dramatic tension. Rather than forcing the emotion in a given scene, this score consistently stays on point with a precise execution that serves the film extremely well.
9. Thor (Patrick Doyle, 2011)
Of all the Phase One films in the MCU, Thor doesn’t get the respect it deserves. At its core, this is a romantic fish out of water adventure story that remains in a small town for a good portion of the running time. And it’s very funny. Patrick Doyle’s sweeping score lifts up the emotional scope of the entire film and gives the film an extra level of gravitas. While the melody isn’t exactly iconic, it’s extremely serviceable in the best possible way.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (Michael Giacchino, 2017)
It was an inspired choice to weave in the old Spider-Man theme from the TV show into the score, which was an effective act of goodwill, especially since Giacchino’s theme has to be compared to the other themes from recent Spider-Man films. But still, the score of Spider-Man: Homecoming is a delightful triumph.
7. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (Tyler Bates, 2017)
The hook of the Guardians of the Galaxy theme comes at you in fits and starts, but when it’s clicking, it’s fun and epic, just like the film. The staccato strings provide a unique feel to the overall score, giving the film a zany attitude when there isn’t a song from the soundtrack playing (which is usually the case). The underrated strength of Tyler Bates’s score is the emotional core that plays underneath the quiet moments. As opposed to the original film, which has a standard superhero blockbuster plot, Vol. 2 is a character piece that’s all over the place and the score succeeds at working as a binding agent, keeping the incredibly specific tone locked in tight.
6. The Avengers (Alan Silvestri, 2012)
I wish this were higher on the list because Alan Silvestri’s score has something great in the bones of the composition, but it’s buried underneath so many other melodies that the listener could constantly wonder, “so, is this the hook? Oh, wait, no. This is… nope. Wait, there it is!” And then when the recognizable yet elusive theme finally kicks in, it’s gone. If there was any MCU film that needed the John Williams treatment, an ultra-melodic score that left you humming out of the theatre, it was this film. But still, with all of those complaints, Silvestri’s score is still effective, elevating the emotion in the final act of this massive blockbuster.
5. Black Panther (Ludwig Goransson, 2018)
The more I listen to this score, the more I love it. What’s impressive about Ludwig Goransson’s work for this film is that it’s understandably regal with a massive orchestra, but still maintains an intimate percussive instrumentation that brings every note back to the fictional world of Wakanda.
4. Ant-Man (Christophe Beck, 2015)
This could have been a boring score that tries way too hard to sound cool and cutting edge. Instead, we are treated to a secret agent throwback from the ‘60s. Christophe Beck’s score is tightly constructed without any filler; it pops and bounces during the action sequences with a synchronicity that allows the feel to feel more carefree. And more impressively, the tonal shifts from the funny scenes to the dark moments are smooth and confident.
3. Captain America: The First Avenger (Alan Silvestri, 2011)
Silvestri is one of the greats and also one of the easiest composers to identify because of his penchant for overtly powerful melodies (usually with a enormous brass section). What makes this score so great is that it doesn’t hold any punches, its heart hangs on its patriotic sleeve. While many of the MCU scores have been considered to be more atmospheric, Silvestri’s theme is big and brash, with the strings complimenting the horn section in such a way that makes the sound majestic.
2. Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh, 2017)
Mothersbaugh nailed the almost impossible challenge of composing a theme that is both nostalgic, futuristic, and still fulfills the needs of a modern day blockbuster. When the wailing guitars kick in, the tone locks in for me -- it sounds as if Marvel Studios finally stopped giving their composers a thousand notes and just let it fly. There are moments where the score sounds like it was lifted from a Sega racing game from 1992 and that’s exactly why I love it.
1. Doctor Strange (Michael Giacchino, 2016)
For anyone who criticizes the MCU films for their so-called pedestrian scores, I would kindly ask you to listen to this stunning work that I would consider to be Michael Giacchino’s finest work to date. With a unique heart and soul that soars with a catchy and admittedly offbeat melody that feels like an homage to Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra while also somehow making its own creative mark. In short, it’s the most iconic score of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.