Editorial: The Soundtracks From Action Films

A ranking by Manly Movie included Collateral as one of its own 25 best action movie soundtracks, and with good reason. While I hesitate to categorize this as a full-fledged action movie, it’s certainly got its high-octane sequences, and to be fair Tom Cruise wields a gun pretty much from beginning to end. As for the sound, Collateral packs an extraordinary variety, from original compositions that manage to excite you and put you on the edge of your seat without getting over the top, to surprising inclusions like “Hands Of Time” by Groove Armada and the brilliantly utilized “Shadow On The Sun” by Audioslave.

Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider may go down as one of the most forgotten films related to the Marvel comics, but give its soundtrack another listen and you may be surprised how well you remember some of the themes. Actually, nearly a decade after this film’s release, its main musical theme is still in use as part of its game on the Gala Bingo platform. And even there, it’s effective. A pretty big portion of this soundtrack is essentially toned-down metal, and if it elevates an otherwise ordinary casino game to a more exciting experience, it worked wonders for the film. Really, this is a goofy film (and a self-aware one, to its credit), but the action within is credible largely thanks to the music.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Hans Zimmer is always an impactful composer, and one who’s “built for volume” as an article at Complex phrased it when discussing this soundtrack. And he certainly lived up to the reputation in The Dark Knight, demanding the audience’s attention with the opening “Why So Serious” track and really never letting up throughout the film. Not many modern cinema composers have the ability to capture the flow of a movie the way Zimmer does, and in The Dark Knight he’s firing on all cylinders. This score has you spooked one moment, soaring the next, and fully engaged throughout.

Casino Royale (2006)

The James Bond franchise is known for its memorable musical themes. Each film famously has an original theme song, typically done by a popular artist. From Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” in 1973 to Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” (which incidentally won a Golden Globe this year for Best Original Song), a lot of them have been very popular. Meanwhile, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize traditional Bond themes, whether from watching films and hearing them rehashed and redesigned, or from playing the iconic GoldenEye 64 game. Casino Royale pretty much had the best of it all. It had one of the very best original themes in my opinion (“You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell) as well as spectacular, inventive integration of traditional Bond audio. This one was really a work of art.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

This movie was flat-out ridiculous, and frankly it’s a wonder it didn’t signal the end of the Fast & Furious franchise (which according to Deadline now isn’t even close to wrapping up). But if you relax and take it as pure entertainment, it’s a pretty fun action flick. More importantly for this conversation, it’s a great example of what happens when a soundtrack is designed completely shamelessly with nothing but entertainment in mind. Headlined by Ludacris’s “Act A Fool,” the soundtrack is full of fast-paced rap, Miami shoutouts, and pretty much anything else that might help to establish the over-the-top street racing culture.
Are there any films you’d add to the list?

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