The next time anyone idly opines that Hollywood has run out of ideas, don’t be so quick to back them up. Fifty-nine of the top 100 grossing films this year were completely original, and not part of any franchise.
However, it’s an easy mental trap to fall into because the 10 biggest films of the year were all franchise movies. In fact, there’s only one film among the top 10 that isn’t a sequel, and that’s Matt Reeves’ The Batman. It’s merely a reboot.
But beyond the long-standing trend for sequels, what can we learn about the sound of the year’s top films using our music tagging AI?
1. Classic Rock and Metal were big in sync
Top Gun: Maverick, the highest-grossing film of 2022, didn’t just bring beach sports back onto the silver screen. It also returned to its musical roots, harnessing classic rock to invoke US patriotism and serve up some unironic moustachioed masculinity.
Here, we see the sync tracks leaning heavily into Classic Rock and Rock territory. But, while Classic Rock peppered the film’s soundtrack, interestingly, it was OneRepublic’s Indie Pop track ‘I Ain't Worried’ that was the commercial breakout. (Sorry, Kenny Loggins, you’ve done your dash.) This renewed interest in throwback Rock is something we’ve seen elsewhere in 2022, with Metallica in Stranger Things and even more recently with The Cramps being featured in Netflix’s Wednesday.
This use of Rock is in contrast to the film’s score, which primarily serves to add modern blockbuster drama to the high-speed aircraft action scenes. Interestingly, the genre breakdown for the score looks a lot like the genre mix we tend to see for Hans Zimmer. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that Zimmer had a hand in the new score, even if it was helmed by the 1985 original’s composer Harold Faltermeyer.
If Classic Rock embodies straight-down-the-line patriotism in Top Gun: Maverick, 80s Hair Metal embodies over-the-top machismo with a streak of the absurd. That’s why Guns N’ Roses and Dio were perfect sync choices for Taika Waititi’s riotously daft Thor movie.
2. Composer Michael Giacchino set the tone for scores
2022 was a banner year for Giacchino, with three of this year’s seven top-grossing films being scored by the American composer. In recent years, Giacchino has risen the ranks to film-scoring A-List, gaining 56 awards along the way. Giacchino’s background is relatively unusual. He started out soundtracking games such as Medal of Honour, and even composed for the Jurassic Park games in the late 90s, which would be some dramatic foreshadowing.
His musical range and orchestral-meets-electronic scores have struck exactly the right mood for huge franchise movies, including Jurassic Park: Dominion, The Batman and Thor: Love and Thunder.
How similar are his three biggest scores this year, though?
In genre, it’s no surprise to see that Electronic, Classical and Ambient come out on top. These are modern blockbusters, for which there’s an expected sound. Interestingly, we can see that Classical is more prominent in Jurassic World: Dominion – more in keeping with the sweeping classical roots of John Williams’ original Jurassic Park score.
We can see the similarity in moods within Giacchino’s scores with Jurassic World: Dominion and Thor: Love And Thunder sharing the same top three: Inspiring, Mysterious and Dark.
The Batman, by contrast, has Mysterious moods out in front, which is fitting for the crime noir style of the movie. We also see much higher percentages of Dark and Scary mood tags, which is reflective of the film’s darker aesthetic, compared even to other Batman movies.
Finally, we can see how similar his scores are in terms of energy.
These three scores all have a very similar distribution of energies. This data points to these three Giacchino scores being more brooding than the other movies we analysed.
For contrast, here are the other four scores in our dataset:
Scores by Harold Faltermeyer (Top Gun), Danny Elfman (Doctor Strange), Heitor Pereira (Minions) and Ludwig Göranssen (Black Panther), all had very different energy distributions.
Danny Elfman’s score for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had the highest energy, but that could be because it didn’t have any sync music to bring the average energy up. It’s also a frenetic action-horror movie, for which this energy distribution makes perfect sense.
3. Minions syncs are TikTok-ready
For Minions: The Rise of Gru and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we see a lot of medium energy tracks in the score. Intriguingly, that energy distribution is mirrored for sync tracks, and it tells us a couple of things.
These soundtracks are also suited for use outside of film, specifically TikTok.
Take the Minions: Rise of Gru soundtrack, for example. It has 23 sync tracks, which is the most of any film in the top seven. With it being a kids' film, Illumination/Universal also appears to have had the good sense to distribute Minions imagery, and coordinate uploads among those artists featured to maximise discoverability on YouTube.
When we dig into the data on the Minions sync tracks, the dominant moods are Soulful and Playful, along with Funk and Soul genres more closely align with TikTok trends than the other movies in the top seven.
Moreover, when you take energy and tempo into account, the syncs have all the hallmarks of those tracks that were big on TikTok this year. They have danceable tempos, mostly between 100 and 119 BPM, and both medium and high energies.
The genre make-up – as determined by our tagging AI – is, in fact, very similar to the sound of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, which partnered with Despicable Me 2, an earlier film in the Minions franchise.
4. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had the most chart-friendly syncs
Of those soundtracks we looked at, we found the sync choices on Black Panther were most in keeping with wider streaming trends in the US and UK for 2022.
Seductive, Bold and Confident are all mood tags that we see a lot among chart-topping tracks. In the US, the streaming charts are dominated by Hip Hop and Pop, and these are perfectly represented by tracks on the Wakanda Forever soundtrack, such as Stormzy’s ‘Interlude’.
It’s also interesting to note that Electronic is the top genre tag among soundtrack syncs for this movie. Electronic music has been huge in the UK and around the world this year. And with the inclusion of tracks from Nigerian artist CKay and breakthrough Mexican-American singer Blue Rojo, it demonstrates the growing awareness of global music trends from Marvel.
We look forward to seeing more international artists featured in movies as the Marvel Cinematic Universe opens out from here.
Think we missed something in the data? Or maybe you want to learn more about Musiio by SoundCloud’s music reports, AI tagging and audio reference search? Reach out on Linkedin or Twitter, shoot us a message using our contact form or email email@example.com.