There is no question about it: a film’s musical score is an integral aspect to the film itself. A great soundtrack will improve any movie’s scene and add an emotional layer to it. The best soundtracks, however, create playback value outside of the film. This is what Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL, Steven Price, and Rupert Gregson-Williams have achieved with their music during the first phase of the DCEU. With the recent announcement of Zimmer scoring Wonder Woman 1984, the DCEU – or World of DC as they are now calling it – might be getting back on track. Although in my humble opinion, the phase one films themselves are underrated, no other aspect about them are as underrated as the soundtracks.
Let’s look at the very first film in this DC Universe: Man of Steel. Hans Zimmer was recruited to compose the soundtrack to a new generation’s Superman film by fellow The Dark Knight collaborators Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. After an initial conversation with director Zack Snyder, the goal was to create something completely original and fresh, yet memorable and heroic. Zimmer went one step further and crafted something iconic. Zimmer’s score is still considered by many to be the best superhero soundtrack of all-time. Whether or not that is actually true, the mere fact that it is among the conversation speaks volumes for it. The ambient, alienistic feel to the score, along with the powerful drums and touching piano moments, make for a unique and encompassing sound overall.
The follow-up film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is an underrated soundtrack that does not get mentioned enough. Terrified by the idea of composing another Batman theme while trying not to disrespect the iconic Batman theme from the Nolan films, Zimmer decided to collaborate with the talented, up-and-coming understudy Junkie XL on the score’s entirety.
This pairing not only took on a dark, new Batman theme for a completely fresh take on Batman, they created the famously iconic electric cello theme for Wonder Woman, the meticulously maniacal theme for Lex Luthor, and maintained the popular theme for Superman from the previous film – not to mention situational, atmospheric sound tailor-made for the story itself. That might be the one aspect which places Zimmer in a film composing class of his own. No other film composer has such rich, blended sound between two completely distinct styles of film composing.
DC’s villainous team-up movie, Suicide Squad, took the DCEU into a new direction by placing their villains into the role of protagonists. The score for the film was composed by Steven Price, best known for his Academy Award-winning soundtrack for Gravity. Although the film leaves much to be desired, it somehow managed to win an Academy Award and is probably better known for its integrated soundtrack of hit songs and dark melodies within the musical score.
Next comes the film with the most iconic theme in recent memory: Wonder Woman. While Zimmer and Junkie XL originally brought the theme to life, Rupert Gregson-Williams took on composing duties for the Amazonian solo film and did not disappoint. While the entirety of his soundtrack might not compete toe-to-toe with that of the previous DC films, there are some tracks that are absolutely phenomenal. The most adored one is titled “No Man’s Land” and takes place during a dark and emotional moment in the movie. Rarely does a movie scene give me goosebumps like this one. The combination of a visual of Wonder Woman making her way across an impenetrable war zone and the layers of emotion elicited through the Army-esque track makes for a masterful and moving scene.
As for Justice League, I’ll say this: the less said about Danny Elfman’s score, the better. I do not consider it a phase one film only because of how much the movie changed during production and it feels disassociated with the other preceding films.
As for the future of DC film scores, a big reason why Rupert Gregson-Williams is not composing Wonder Woman 1984 could be due to scheduling conflicts since he is scoring Aquaman, due out later this year. Whatever the case may be, the best composer in Hollywood is returning to score his iconic Wonder Woman theme, except this time he will get to expand upon it even more.
As exciting as it is to look ahead to the future of DC movies, such as Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman 1984, let us not forget just how incredible the first phase of film scores were for the DCEU. The films themselves might not be universally praised, sadly, but sometimes lost in the mist of criticism are the good qualities. In this case, I would venture out on a limb to say very few other movie universes can match the quality film scores of the DCEU.
Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL, Steven Price, and Rupert Gregson-Williams have done a remarkable job crafting music that will live on in the ears, minds, and hearts of DC fans for decades to come – just like how John Williams and Danny Elfman did so with Superman: The Movie and Batman, but even more. We, as fans of DC Comics, are extremely lucky to have such incredible composers crafting amazing music for the characters and films that we enjoy so much.