5 - 1
(Batman & Robin)
By 1997, the Smashing Pumpkins were kings of the mid-‘90s alternative rock heap. They would soon lose their stature, but before they did they hit another one out of the park with their first post-Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness single. Suiting a film squaring Batman off against Mr. Freeze, this pretentiously titled rocker is suitably icy and overblown, mixing heavy metal bombast with the band’s then-increasing fascination with electronic music. (Too bad the casting of an endlessly-quipping Arnold Schwarzenegger as the frosty villain undercut any semblance of danger the character posed). “The sewers belch me up / The ethers spit me out / From ethers tragic I am born again”, Billy Corgan sings, evoking the Dark Knight’s origin and purpose in florid fragments of imagery.
Between the Edge’s theme for The Batman and his and Bono’s songwriting for the troubled Spider-Man Broadway musical Turn Off the Dark, it’s safe to say the members of U2 are big superhero fans. Of all the Irish megaband’s comic book-related dalliances, it’s this contribution to the Batman Forever soundtrack that is its most, ahem, thrilling. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” was the last great gasp of U2’s deconstructionist ‘90s incarnation, a sinister sneer of a song that still found a way to incorporate a classicist arena-ready chorus. More laudably, this single was the best thing to come out of this uneven film, its gaudy glam rock damage acting as a more effective synthesis of the gothic and camp aesthetics that director Joel Schumacer strove to mesh together than the hammy neon blockbuster he put up on the cinema screen. Hell, the music video for this is better than the whole of Batman Forever.
Don’t let “Batdance” fool you: Prince’s Batman soundtrack album had its share of svelte, snappy pop tunes, among them “Partyman” (the song from the museum vandalism scene) and “Trust”, the backing to the Gotham City 200th anniversary parade Jack Nicholson’s Joker put on as a cover for his fiendish final plan. The Purple One is in comfortable territory here, crafting a funky and festive party starter for that other notorious purple-clad mad genius. I’ll be honest: if I saw a supervillain playing this song while tossing out millions of dollars onto the street, I’d trust him.
(Batman: The Animated Series)
If you watched the Fox Network’s children’s lineup in the early ‘90s, this theme is etched in your brain note-for-note. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could instantly recall every silhouette cast and every punch thrown from the title sequence this music scored, either. Having already done a phenomenal job on the orchestration for Tim Burton’s live-action blockbuster three years before, Danny Elfman took another crack at crafting a definitive Batman theme. Astonishingly, his second pass was almost as amazing as his first.
All Batman-related music (aside from the number two item on this list) pales in comparison to this, as perfect and succinct an encapsulation of a character in musical form as you can get. The distinctive main motif is there from the start, rendered in wafting, ominous tones that steadily build up to one well-timed cymbal crash. With that, the orchestral march is off at full power, charging ahead to vanquish the forces of evil in time for the opening credits to wrap up. Elfman’s superb theme is dark, forceful, melodramatic, and heroic—all essential elements of the Batman character. Only John Williams’ overture for the Christopher Reeve Superman films can match this in the annals of superheroic musical accompaniment.