Movie Trailers Use the Same Music Over and Over

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ross-merrill - July 27, 2016

Everyone is talking about the trailers that came out of Comic-Con. One of the most important parts of these glimpses into future movies is the music, which sets tone and mood just as much as the visuals do -- sometimes even more so, if the effects aren't done and there's little footage to look at.

But the music for these movie trailers hardly ever comes from the actual movie itself. Not only is the film score not finished (because the movie isn't finished), but because some music can convey more emotion and information than others. So studios use music from other movies or from composers who create music just for trailers and commercials. With a hat tip to, here is the music you hear over and over again in movie trailers.

"Redrum" by Immediate Music

Immediate Music is one of those companies that creates music for trailers, teaser, and DVD features (like the the music that plays over the menus). Their piece "Redrum" has been used for lots of sci-fi films. With an emphasis on orchestra hits and a choir singing nonsense words, it's perfect for an action movie, a chase sequence, or a battle scene.

You've heard "Redrum" in trailers for The Chronicles of Riddick, The Day After Tomorrow, The Fifth Element, and two of the Mummy movies.

Aliens by James Horner

This great sci-fi score from James Horner (Apollo 13, Titanic) is frequently used for suspense films and thrillers. "Bishop's Countdown" is a particular favorite; it sounds like a race against time, with a bomb that's about to explode -- which is pretty much what happens in the film. You heard this cue and others from the film in trailers for From Dusk Til Dawn, Minority Report, Misery, and even The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

"Lux Aeterna" from Requiem for a Dream

There was a time you couldn't escape from this cue, especially when the violins kick in at the 3:22 mark. It was written for Requiem for a Dream, but studios fell in love with it. So they put it in trailers for King Arthur, Troy, Sunshine, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It's quiet enough to be emotional and dramatic but has the pulse and intensity of a montage or battle preparations. Warning: It's so repetitive you may never get it out of your head.

"O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana

"Lux Aeterna" still gets used, but "O Fortuna" has basically become a parody of itself. The chorus, written by Carl Orff in 1936, became used for every bombastic movie trailer. It starts quietly but builds to a perfect climax that's perfect for a rush of images at the end of a trailer. And because it's in Latin, it sounds important.

You've heard it in the trailers for The Book of Eli, Glory, The Professional, and even the South Park movie. It's not used much in trailers anymore, but the piece can get you so amped up that the Pittsburgh Pirates, New England Patriots, and Cleveland Cavaliers to start their games with it.

Stargate by David Arnold

One of many examples of "bad film, great score," the overture to the 1994 film evokes wonder, grandeur, and triumph. It even has a choir in its second half (what is it with movie trailers and choirs?). This cue was huge in the 90s, appearing in the trailers for Independence Day, Jumani, Waterworld, and Dragonheart.

Backdraft by Hans Zimmer

You may not remember Ron Howard's film about firefighters, which featured some pretty amazing fire effects well before CGI made them easy and safe. This track, "Burn It All," conveys a sense of danger, as if the flames are closing in around you. The cue caught on like...well, wildfire. It was chosen for the trailers for Jurassic Park and The Lost World, Minority Report, and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

"BRRRAAAM!" by Hans Zimmer

You know the sound. It's the horn blast from Inception. But like the "parasite" of an "idea" in that film, the BRAAAMM sound is in far too many self-serious sci-fi trailers. The above montage, by Gregory Porter, shows how one instrument and one note can get out of hand. In under two minutes, the video above shows the sound in Battleship, Tron Legacy, Transformers 3, and a half-dozen more films. With one exception (The Avengers), all of the films were...disappointing. Coincidence?

Is there any piece of music you hear in trailers but can't identify? A cue you love or hate? Share it in the comments.

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