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While you might not remember every note of the orchestral theme songs to most of your favorite Marvel movies, I am sure you have the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” track list from Guardians of the Galaxy memorized. The films of the MCU are just as well known for having an epic soundtrack, such as Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning Black Panther: The Album, as they are known for their epic superheroes.
The remarkable thing about the songs Marvel selects for their films is how surprisingly well they fit into the story. You would never expect to hear a song like The Kinks’ “Supersonic Rocket Ship” in a superhero movie, but when played over Bruce Banner and Rocket Raccoon’s trip to New Asgard by spacecraft in Avengers: Endgame, you could not imagine anything better.
It is how these hits elevate key moments within the MCU that redefines their iconography, reminding you of the moment that thrilled you, made you laugh, or even tugged at your heart strings when you hear it on the radio. It is impossible to narrow down the most memorable musical moments in Marvel movies to just 10, but I am going to try anyway, by ranking them in ascending order. Also, SPOILER WARNING!
10. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” By Traffic (Avengers: Endgame)
I am not sure how many people in Marvel’s target demographic recognized this 1967 folk rock classic when it played at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame, but it sparked the first of many moments of nostalgic giddiness for me during my initial viewing. The song, by the Steve Winwood-led British trio Traffic, is heard while Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) play a game of finger football aboard the Milano as it drifts aimlessly through deep space, much like the drifting hope of the unlikely pair of passengers in the aftermath of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) victory.
Normally, you would expect to hear something a little more “metal” to accompany an important Iron Man moment, but the somber lyrics of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi wrote as a tale of the sacrificial turmoil the titular artist suffers for other people’s sake, are a perfect reflection of Tony Stark’s thoughts in that moment. At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, his worst fear (being unable to save the world and his friends) has come true and now, at the beginning of the story’s second part, a playground game is his only escape from sulking in his lament as he grows weaker and his supposed final moment is drawing near.
9. “Hooked On A Feeling” By Blue Swede (Guardians Of The Galaxy)
If there is one thing that is certain about Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), it is that you DO NOT mess with his tunes. There are key moments in both of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films that make that fact evident, but the most iconic one would have to be the one that this chart-topping 1974 cover of a B.J. Thomas song brought back into the mainstream.
As the eventual Guardians of the Galaxy are first brought to the Kyln, an employee of the interstellar prison is sorting through their belongings when he comes across Quill’s Walkman, forcing the enraged music lover to cry out that the song playing from the headphones, “Hooked on a Feeling," belongs to him, only to be incapacitated by a stunning device. Luckily, Star-Lord would eventually get his revenge, and his “Awesome Mix” back when the ragtag crew make their escape. Now, anytime you hear that “Ooga-Chaka-Ooga-Ooga,” you can’t not think of Star-Lord, right?
8. “I’ve Got No Strings” By Leigh Harline And Ned Washington (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Remember when covers of popular songs slowed down to ominous effect become a common recurrence in movie trailers? Well, Disney could not seem to pass up that trend and did so quite effectively to promote Joss Whedon’s 2015 sequel to The Avengers with a darker take on “I’ve Got No Strings,” which was paid off exquisitely in the film when sung by the titular protagonist.
Ulton (voiced by James Spader) sings key lines from the song, originally written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Disney’s Pinocchio, as a means to compare himself to the famous enchanted puppet. His sentience convinces him that he is more than machine, but a “real boy,” and therefore superior to the Avengers. “I’ve Got No Strings,” which is now just as famous for Avengers: Age of Ultron as it is for the 1940 animated classic it originated from, is Ultron’s anthem of liberation, declaring himself free from the “strings” that pull him down below the authority of humanity.
7. “I Will Always Love You” By Whitney Houston (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
Referencing of a moment of tragedy for laughs mere months after it occurs is usually a highly inappropriate offense. However, the hilarious call back to the deaths of Tony Stark, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Vision (Paul Bettany) and Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) “disappearance” in Spider-Man: Far From Home, released just three months after Avengers: Endgame, was tastefully done, complete with this timeless romance song.
After the film’s pre-logo introductory scene, the second film centrally focused on Tom Holland’s Peter Parker begins with an “In memoriam” tribute to the late Avengers, which appears to have been made by high school students with Windows Movie Maker, and uses Whitney Houston’s Grammy-winning 1992 cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” to express their gratitude to their fallen heroes. It was the perfect way to open a film that makes light of what was an otherwise devastating event in the MCU timeline in a surprisingly endearing way.
6. “The Chain” By Fleetwood Mac (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2)
It is no secret that Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn loves pop hits of the 1970s and ‘80s, but is careful never to put them in his Marvel films for their catchiness. Each song that appears in both volumes of Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mix,” and the Zune that Kraglin gives him to replace his destroyed Walkman, reflects an important theme in the story, and no song from the 2017 sequel represents that like this Fleetwood Mac song.
“The Chain,” from the group’s masterful 1977 album Rumours is first heard in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when our heroes go their separate ways at a pivotal moment in their relationship (Gamora, Drax, and Quill leave with his estranged dad, Ego, while Rocket and Groot stay behind on the wrecked Milano with Nebula) and is reprised when Star-Lord must defeat his living planet father (Kurt Russel) to save his real family and the galaxy. Family is a big theme of both Guardians films, the first being about becoming one and Vol. 2 about the struggles of being one. Fortunately, the heroes have a way of keeping themselves together, much like metaphorical “chain” in the Fleetwood Mac ballad.
5. “Back In Black” By AC/DC (Iron Man)
While the de facto theme song of Robert Downey Jr.’s debut MCU appearance would most likely be 1971’s “Iron Man” (it is in the name, after all), Black Sabbath is not the first band you hear when you think of Tony Stark. That would be AC/DC, the Australian quintet whose greatest hits make up the soundtrack album of Iron Man 2 and also open Jon Favreau’s 2008 original film with their definitive track.
Tony Stark is riding through Iraq with soldiers from the United States military, in a Humvee blasting the title track of AC/DC’s 1980 comeback album Back in Black through the speakers, when they are surprisingly attacked by the weapons developer’s own missile, leading to his capture, from which he eventually escapes with the first Iron Man prototype armor. “Iron Man” may be synoymous with Stark’s alter ego, but the pivotal moment that led to his heroic evolution is synonymous with “Back in Black.” The song also made a funny reprisal in Spider-Man: Far From Home, to Peter Parker’s reply, “I love Led Zeppelin!”
4. “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” By Harry James & His Orchestra With Kitty Kallen (Avengers: Endgame)
It is rarely discussed, but Captain America, like many of the Avengers if you really think about it, is a figure of tragic heroism, thrust into a time and place unfamiliar to him with the sole purpose to protect other lives without the chance to put his own first. The way Steve Rogers alters his fate in Avengers: Endgame by way of time travel leads to the film’s greatest musical moment.
After Cap reappears from his time-traveling mission to return the Infinity Stones, having aged roughly 80 years, to pass the shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), we cut to a 1940s-era suburban household, in which young Steve Rogers is finally sharing a long-awaited dance with his beloved Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to “It’s Been A Long, Long Time.” The post-World War II hit is the perfect way to retire the Avengers’ Golden Boy from the MCU, as it perfectly accentuates the satisfying wish fulfillment of finally seeing Cap earn the life (and the dance) he always wanted.
3. “O-o-h Child” By The Five Stairsteps (Guardians Of The Galaxy)
I was preaching the stone cold truth when I said that each song from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies was thematically important. Sometimes, however, a song is played mainly for laughs. This uplifting 1970 hit single by soul group The Five Stairsteps got to be one of the few songs from “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” with a dual purpose.
After the attack on Ronan’s (Lee Pace) ship results in many casualties, including Groot (Vin Diesel), the sole functioning component of the destroyed Milano is its cassette player playing “O-o-h Child,” which provides a somber juxtaposition to the tragic display. That is until Star-Lord hilariously flips the thematic switch by using it as the score of a dance-off against Ronan: a diversion while Rocket (Bradley Cooper) prepares the Hadron Enforcer to separate the Power Stone from the villain’s staff. By the end, The Five Stairsteps’ lyrics turned out to be true: things got easier for the Guardians of the Galaxy.
2. “Immigrant Song” By Led Zeppelin (Thor: Ragnarok)
Not even Iron Man himself has a musical moment as metal as Thor does. The third solo film starring Chris Hemsworth’s godly Avenger, and directed by Oscar-winner Taika Waititi, was given the rare honor of having godly rock and roll band Led Zeppelin play his theme music, and there was no better choice than the epic single off of their third self-titled album.
“Immigrant Song” first plays at the beginning Thor: Ragnarok when the God of Thunder takes on fire giant Surtur’s (Clancy Brown) demonic army with his hammer, and later when he destroys Hela’s (Cate Blanchett) army without his hammer (just his own thunderous power). Just hearing Robert Plant’s immortal viking call in the trailer was a treat, but for it to complement two of the film’s most glorious battle sequences was a dream come true.
1. “Come And Get Your Love” By Redbone (Guardians Of The Galaxy)
When it comes to musical moments in the MCU, of course Guardians of the Galaxy takes the cake. No song deserves the honor more than the one that started it all in Star-Lord’s debut scene: “Come and Get Your Love.”
In a scene that initially draws comparisons to the suspenseful opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Peter Quill steps into the cave where he will soon come across the coveted Power Stone. But, first, he puts on his headphones, hits play on his Walkmen, and indulges in a whimsical, dancing stroll through alien territory to Redbone’s 1973 funk tune, using a lizard-like creature as a microphone at one point. This hilarious and joyfully unexpected moment was all we wanted to know what a much-needed breath of fresh air Guardians of the Galaxy would turn out to be.
Is this ranking of the best Marvel movie soundtrack songs music to your ears? If not, be sure to let us know in the comments and check back for more updates on the music and movies of the MCU here on CinemaBlend.