Why Do All Hollywood Film Scores Sound the Same?

You’ve probably noticed that over the last fifteen years or so, movie music basically sounds the same. Crap like Suicide Squad samples the same old pop songs that you’ve been hearing for decades; most Marvel movies, tentpole franchises, and awards-season fare seems to use the same bland orchestra scores. It all basically sucks, and with the exception of a few outliers (like Ennio Morricone’s score for The Hateful Eight), none of it is memorable.

Part of the reason for this is that its become common in editing workflows to use temp music, which just means editing a movie along to scores from other (usually similar) movies. So before a composer has even seen a frame of footage, they’re already under the gun by a director to “make something sound like THAT,” which means that the movie is being forced into a box where its soul looks and feels like another movie, that has probably ALSO gone through this process.

[side bar: Morricone wrote the theme for The Hateful Eight with no context other than having read the screenplay]

One of the reasons I think Stranger Things connected so quickly with audiences was that its score – however derivative – had an actual artistic stamp on it. There was a purpose to each sound, meant to bolster and increase the mood of each individual image. Guardians of the Galaxy had a similar effect using pop songs (the opposite of Suicide Squad): because director James Gunn wrote the screenplay while listening to the songs that ultimately made the film. But even Guardians has a clunky original score.

Video essayist Every Frame a Painting wanted to investigate how this came to be on a systemic level, and has produced another fantastic deconstruction of movie theory. Check it out below:

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Max is a senior editor and producer of Gear Gods and member of the collective Party Smasher Inc. He studies jazz composition and improvisation in New York City.