Film and TV

From Flash Gordon to LEGO Batman, We Looked At the Best and Worst Superhero Theme Songs

Black Panther had a great Rihanna track, but not all superhero songs are so super.
Black Panther had a great Rihanna track, but not all superhero songs are so super. Han Myung Gu/Getty
Among the most shocking celebrity deaths in 2020 was that of Chadwick Boseman. The actor hid his health struggles from his fans, and his loss was felt by audiences worldwide. Boseman’s heroes were larger-than-life, and it would be impossible to discount the seismic cultural influence of the first Black Panther. The modern superhero movie addressed apartheid, historical trauma and xenophobia. Even if you’re not a Marvel fan, Black Panther is a modern classic.

Unsurprisingly, there is both enthusiasm and hesitation among fans about the impending release of the film’s sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Originally planned as Boseman’s follow-up film, it had to be reworked from the ground up by writer/director Ryan Coogler in view of his death. The film does not shy away from reality, as (spoiler) the character of T’Challa is canonically dead within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever examines how his family and friends deal with their grief as they try to protect their nation from a new threat.

Although Marvel’s recent films have been rather disappointing, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is expected to land with a seismic impact at the box office. The first film grossed over $1 billion globally and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, so the expectations are undoubtedly high. Will the Black Panther sequel be able to capture the same audience enthusiasm that Top Gun: Maverick received earlier this year? Will it be able to stand its ground when Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters at the end of December?

Fans are certainly jazzed about the next installment, thanks to a new single from the film by Rihanna. “Lift Me Up” is a rousing celebration of T’Challa’s honorable legacy. While superhero movies now get the benefit of interest from major pop stars, there was a time when superhero theme songs were nothing but cheesy fanfare.

As you favorite “Lift Me Up” on Spotify, take a look at our picks for the best and worst superhero movie theme songs of all time.

Best: “All The Stars,” Black Panther (2018)
Rihanna’s new single had a lot to live up to, as the first Black Panther closed with an Oscar-nominated single from SZA and Kendrick Lamar, who also contributed to the soundtrack. “All The Stars” features incredible vocal range thanks to SZA, but it’s Lamar’s lyrics that truly honor the history of Wakanda. While the country may be a fictitious one, it felt like a game-changing moment of cultural recognition. Worst: “Venom,” Venom (2018)
Venom felt like a movie that was plucked straight out of 2002 for a number of reasons, least of all a surprise credit song from Eminem. What, is 8 Mile now part of the multiverse? The character of Eddie Brock may have been a brooding anti-hero in the comics, but the new film franchise has turned him into a goofy Mad Hatter who can’t control the symbiote inside him. Best: “Batman Theme,” Batman (1966)
It had to be here! Although some Bat-fans may like their Dark Knight grim and serious, the 1960s Batman TV series was a great way to show a more comic side of the DC universe. The series is much smarter and self-referential than you remember; Adam West and Burt Ward were purposefully playing their emotions to extremes. Worst: “Gotham City,” Batman & Robin (1997)
If you want to see what happens when campiness goes awry, Batman & Robin is the perfect example. Although the film attempts an homage to the wacky style of the original Batman TV series, it’s placed in an ugly, grotesque version of Gotham City. The film is unwatchable for a number of reasons, but you’ll want to avoid this single by R. Kelly at all costs. Of course, you should probably just avoid anything involving R. Kelly. Best: “Spider-Man,” Spider-Man (1967)
Similar to the “Batman Theme,” the opening of the classic Spider-Man TV series is so essential to the character’s legacy that it speaks for itself. It also spawned “Spider-Pig” in The Simpsons Movie, and that’s a classic in its own right. Composer Michael Giacchino found a fun way to honor the classic theme by incorporating it into the soundtrack for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Worst: “Shell Shocked,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
We can forgive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze for having a Vanilla Ice rap, because that was the ‘90s. However, this cacophonic single from the Michael Bay-produced reboot by Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa is the least “hip” thing that you could imagine. It sounds like something that the film’s creepy CGI turtles would listen to. Best: “Immortals,” Big Hero 6 (2014)
How on Earth have we gotten five Ice Age movies, but we’re still waiting on a sequel to Big Hero 6? This fun adaptation of the Marvel comics explores the existential anxieties that young people face as they grow up. Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals” is a triumphant call to arms as this superhero squad assembles. Worst: “The Man Without Fear,” Daredevil (2003)
Before Rob Zombie started directing movies of his own, he contributed this baffling single to the disastrous first attempt to bring Daredevil to life. The entire soundtrack is filled with relics of the early 2000s, including Paloalto, Revin and Evanescence. Best: "Who's the (Bat) Man," The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Similar to the 1960s television series, The LEGO Batman Movie was able to poke fun at the Dark Knight’s history by revealing how self-obsessed he really is. That becomes clear in Batman’s hilarious rap about his own awesomeness. Worst: “Ocean to Ocean,” Aquaman (2018)
Remember when an Aquaman movie made $1 billion? Remember when Pitbull added an ocean-themed rap to the soundtrack? Why did we, as a society, allow this? Best: “Flash,” Flash Gordon (1980)
Anything is going to sound better with Queen. You don’t even need to be a sci-fi buff to love the incredible soundtrack for Flash Gordon, one of the two films for which Queen provided music.
Worst: “Heathens,” Suicide Squad (2016)

All apologies to the Twenty One Pilots fans out there, but “Heathens” is just as ugly and uninspired as the film in which it appears.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in About.com, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.

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