From his inception, Batman has always been a very cinematic character. Though borne of and forever linked to the comic book medium, his early exploits drew liberally from filmic inspirations ranging from noir to German Expressionism to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, cribbing their odd camera angles and generous shadows to convey, drama, dread, and excitement on the four-color page. So it should be no surprise that more than any of his superhero peers, Batman has become an icon on both the big and small screens, one who has starred in everything from low-budget serials to summer blockbusters to stylized animated adventures.
As the masked vigilante is poised to conquer movie screens worldwide once again this week with the release of the much-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, Sound Affects would like to shine a Bat-Signal on one particularly essential component of any Batman film or TV series—the music. Be it strum und drang orchestrations or the latest pop sounds, the music that accompanies the Caped Crusader’s extra-comic exploits has always played a key role in crafting the right atmosphere, upping the stakes, and punctuating the narrative developments—not to mention the on-screen fisticuffs. Quibble all you want with the make-up of the final list (Hans Zimmer’s formless and indistinct score for the Christopher Nolan films is nowhere in sight, and Shirley Walker’s character motifs for Batman: The Animated Series would assuredly have numbers 11 and up all sewn up if this article was doubled in size). But if you are going to take anything away from this countdown, it should be confirmation that Batman, perhaps more than any modern fictional hero, has proven to be a steady source of inspiration for a wildly divergent array of great theme music for well over half a century.