Step Outside Your Musical Box: Motion Picture Soundtracks

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Those iconic words will forever be written in the hearts of millions. They are immediately recognizable, as is the soundtrack that follows.

Soundtracks are the hallmarks of our theater experiences. Star Wars wasn’t my first moviegoing outing; it was The Black Stallion in 1978. When I hear the music of Carmine Coppola, I see the Black galloping down the beach with Alec on his back. I also clearly remember seeing Indiana Jones with my friend Gretchen, and screaming when the skeletons jumped out at Marion Ravenwood (played by Karen Allen) in the Egyptian temple.

What was your first film experience? Do you remember the music?

Composers are the creative force behind the music, weaving the scenes of the film together with the strands of music. I find it mind-numbing to think how a composer can come up with a snippet of a tune and create so many different variations of that piece that appear all throughout the film.

Hans Zimmer is one of the most prolific mainstream blockbuster composers. His first major hit was Rain Man in 1988, followed by Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Days of Thunder (1990), Thelma & Louise (1991), A League of Their Own (1992), Toys (1992), The Lion King (1994), Gladiator (2000), Pearl Harbor (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), Batman Begins (2005), The Da Vinci Code (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Kung Fu Panda (2008), Angels & Demons (2009), Sherlock Holmes (2009), and Inception (2010), with more recent blockbusters of Interstellar (2014), Chappie (2015), Batman v. Superman (2016), and Inferno (2016).

Other composers are Jack Trammell, Danny Cocke, James Dooley, James Newton Howard, Clint Mansell, and Clinton Shorter.

Even mainstream acts have been involved in creating music for films: ELO (Xanadu), Daft Punk (Tron: Legacy), M83 (Oblivion). Some might even surprise you: Mark Knopfler (The Princess Bride), Queen (Flash Gordon), The Chemical Brothers (Hanna), Isaac Hays (Shaft), and Peter Gabriel (The Last Temptation of Christ).

What makes soundtracks so special? To me, it’s a leg to the stool of a film. Without the soundtrack to support the characters, it falls flat.

Now that I’ve put this thought in your mind, I hope the next time you watch a film, the music will be something you pay attention to a little more closely. In that way, you will remember the soundtrack along with the story.

Not all soundtracks are good for an indoor cycling class. It’s more the action movies with a tense and dramatic vibe that get your legs moving. Then, of course, there are the soundtracks that employ well-known rock or pop songs that slide perfectly into your rides, movies such as Forrest Gump with its 60s rock and roll, both versions of Top Gun (make sure to check out our Top Gun profile here), and of course, Guardians of the Galaxy and its homage to the hits of the 70s.

I lean toward the big-budget movie scores, but you can also find some gems in lesser-known films. Below, I’ve provided a few examples of powerful songs from soundtracks and how you can use them in your class. Below that, ICA members can find our bucket playlist of movie soundtracks with over 250 songs. As you probably can imagine, this playlist could easily contain several thousand tracks —our goal is to get you thinking with some iconic as well as lesser-known scores. 

Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version), The Black Angels, Assassin’s Creed, 3:39, 111 bpm
This song sets the opening scene of Assassin’s Creed starring Michael Fassbender. It has a slow, droning sound in the background which you can use to help focus on the task at hand as you make your way up a slow, steep climb.

The Winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (original soundtrack), Henry Jackman, 6:28, 115 bpm.
I use this track for a time trial. The opening two minutes are like a jet warming up; as my class is gearing up mentally for a time trial, the first two minutes allow me to lead them through the imagery of preparing themselves in the start house. Then we set off at 2:20, roll down the ramp, and twenty seconds later, we go into a corner and then stand and surge out of the saddle at 2:48 to regain our momentum before sitting back down. Listen to the song, you’ll know exactly what I mean! La máquina!

The Causeway, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (original soundtrack), 2:50, 122 bpm.
I couple the previous song with “The Causeway,” also from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a good example of how the composer, Henry Jackman, took the base melody of the song and used it in another part of the film. Use this for a slow climb.

Boom, P.O.D., Here Come The Boom, 3:05, 91 bpm
This song is from the movie Here Comes The Boom, starring Kevin James. Hilarious movie, awesome song! Use it for a hard-driving, high-cadence interval.

Sabotage, Beastie Boys, Star Trek: Beyond, 3:04, 168 bpm
This track was used twice in the Star Trek reboot, and the music video is a parody of every cop show ever made! Another good track for a hard-driving interval.

Army of Me, Bjork, Sucker Punch, 3:55, 86 bpm
I use this for a fast-paced climb. The film fits in the dystopian genre and the imagery is awesome with great fight scenes. (Here is the longer version featuring scenes in the film.)

Extreme Ways, Moby , The Bourne Trilogy/Bourne Legacy, 4:52, 104 bpm
Use this for a steady-state effort at 104 rpm or as the second song in a profile as an extended warm-up. The chorus is a good place for a surge to 104 rpm to wake up the legs, slowing down 10–15 rpm in between.

The Feeling Begins, Peter Gabriel, The Last Temptation of Christ,  4:00,114 bpm
This song has a reflective but uplifting melody and the drums make it special for a standing climb.

The Feeling Begins – Peter Gabriel from Nephillia Vertigo on Vimeo.

Container Park, The Chemical Brothers, Hanna, 3:46, 128 bpm
This track from the action thriller, Hanna starring Saoirse Ronan, has a steady climbing beat after a 45-second sinister-sounding buildup. It’s got a freaky feel that would also fit well in a Halloween playlist.

Death is the Road to Awe, Clint Mansell, The Fountain, 8:26, 111 bpm
This track from the film The Fountain is one that I return to again and again, especially for my Tour de France profiles. “Death is the Road to Awe” has a haunting melody and is nearly 8.5 minutes long. I have used it in the final ascent of Alpe d’Huez, the iconic climb in the French Alpes with 21 switchbacks frequently used in the Tour. At 111 bpm, I find this song to be particularly great for a heavy climb with switchbacks (though the beat is indistinct for part of the song—perfect to allow your riders to climb at whatever cadence they prefer). I lead my class through the climb’s finishing hairpin turns until the 5-minute mark, letting them know they are nearing the 1 km banner. The mountain is nearly done and it’s time to kick into a higher gear and stand into the final switchback before the straightaway to the summit; the tempo of the song picks up gradually from 111 to 116 bpm beginning at 5:45; the song then takes a break at 6:21. At this point, I have my class sit back down before focusing on the final surge, while still maintaining their intensity near threshold. The energy of the song starts to build again. We are five hundred meters out. Three hundred meters. Then at 7:37, it’s time to stand and fight for the win—give it everything you’ve got and leave your rivals behind! Every time I hear those 30 seconds I get chills, and I think you will as well.  

ICA members can find our bucket playlist of movie soundtracks with over 250 songs below. Are we missing your favorite soundtrack? Let us know in the comments.



  1. John Powell! I use music from lots of the movies he has scored but weirdly my classes most love pieces from How to Train Your Dragon. Also Trent Reznor. His scores aren’t big and bombastic. I like them because of that. The score to The Social Network is remarkably anxiety-inducing. I use it to accompany climbing profiles. The music represents the self-doubt that can crop up and the riders are challenged to rise above those feelings.

    1. Author

      Awesome, Christine. Thanks for replying!

  2. A couple from the movie John Wick. A good one is Story of Wick by Tyler’s bates & Joel Richard. (Nice hills song with slow build)

    1. Author

      Tyler Bates! He’s another great composer who not only did John Wick (1 and 2), he also did the music for Guardians of the Galaxy (1 and 2) and 300 and the aforementioned Sucker Punch.

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