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 theme 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. 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 in different parts of the film.

Hans Zimmer is probably the most prolific mainstream blockbuster composer, with his first major hit being Rain Man in 1988. This was 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 see a film, the music will be something you remember along with the story.

Not all soundtracks can be used in an indoor cycling class. It’s more the action movies that get the tense vibe to get your legs moving. I lean toward the big-budget movie scores, and I’ve given a few examples and how you can use them in your class.


“Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version),” The Black Angels, Assassin’s Creed (111 bpm).

This song is from the soundtrack of Assassin’s Creed starring Michael Fassbender, and it sets the opening scene. Coming in at just under 5 minutes, it has a slow, droning sound which I’ve used on a climb.

Do you have any favorite soundtracks? Let me 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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