Rock Music’s Place In Superhero Cinema

By on April 5, 2016


IronMan_4There’s a moment in Zack Snyder’s new superhero epic Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice when Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman have finally assembled to face off against the villain Doomsday. For a few seconds the camera simply shows them lined up for battle as some heavy guitar gets going in the background. It’s extraordinarily reminiscent of the beginning of  this scene from 300, arguably Snyder’s now-second biggest film to date. However, it’s also just the latest in a long line of examples of rock music being put to use in superhero films. The truth of the matter is, there’s actually a long-standing connection between the two.

 One of the earlier examples in the modern wave of superhero movies is actually in a little-known 2007 Marvel film called Ghost Rider, released just before Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. The film itself (which starred a delightfully crazy Nic Cage) has been largely forgotten, and the soundtrack was actually pretty light on established rock music. But most of the original music tapped into traditional hard rock sounds, and it now serves as one of the most memorable aspects of the film. So much so that BetFair, a site which provides a wide array of movie-themed slot machines and arcade games, uses that original music in a Ghost Rider game. The game is designed as a slot machine reel using licensed imagery from the Marvel movie, but it’s that familiar metal tune that really establishes the Ghost Rider atmosphere.

Inevitably, Iron Man kept the trend going when the 2008 film memorably closed out with, of course, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath. It was an incredibly fitting ending to a movie that had already embraced rock music at various points. Tony Stark told an eager crowd of reporters, “I am Iron Man,” leading into the closing credits and the song we all knew was coming. But that wasn’t the only time the Iron Man films utilized iconic rock music. In fact, Iron Man 2 went above and beyond, employing AC/DC to do the entire soundtrack! The soundtrack debuted at number four on the Billboard charts.

Marvel kept up Iron Man’s close relationship with AC/DC with a terrific sequence in 2012’s The Avengers, when Iron Man flew in to a fight to the tune of “Shoot To Kill.” This was actually a particularly unique instance of rock in superhero movies, because the music was diegetic, meaning it was actually intended to be taking place on the scene, audible to the characters. Iron Man basically blasts the tune out of his suit while swooping into battle, which is one reason the scene landed on a list of the best uses of music in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That covers most of the highlights for rock in comic movies of late, from Ghost Rider through Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. However, before the current trend of superhero films actually got going, there were plenty of additional examples of rock in comic adaptations, though it was usually a lighter brand of rock infused with alternative, punk, or pop styles. Pitchfork  pointed to a lot of examples from earlier movies like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series, Daredevil, and even the Blade trilogy. Bizarrely, the most noteworthy example from that era might just be “Hero” by Nickelback, which featured prominently in Spider-Man.

One thing, in the end, is sure: when the superhero fad in theaters is finally over, we’ll be able to compile one hell of a rock compilation from the soundtracks.

Categories: Entertainment, Featured, Film, Music
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