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Lots of times you hear people humming or mumbling music that you recognize, but for the life of you you cannot remember the name of the song or the band / composer, then it hits you…I must have heard it in a movie or on TV!

Some of these songs extend to a level beyond that; you still would not know the name of the song or the composer, yet you can immediately relate it to a movie or a TV show.

There are seriously hundreds of these, I chose to only list the top 15 recognizable ever based on experience with people from different ages and generations.

You will find them listed in chronological order depending on the year they became recognizable and famous, this also helps me avoid quarrels :) keeping in mind that logically speaking if a theme was a success and we still know it, it means that the oldest ones are the most recognizable ones simply because they have been out there longer ;)

Needless to mention, all these pieces are converted to lowest possible quality due to copyrights and bandwidth restraints!


Bridge over river Kwai by by Kenneth Alford (1957) | Movie

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You definitely know this one but not so sure about the source :) What’s great is that your father does too, and your grandfather for that matter! And his father as well if he’s still alive. All I can say is: A masterpiece. This has been featured in numerous sports events and radio commercials and jingles, and undergone many reproductions.


The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein (1960)| Movie & TV Commercial

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Man I can’t believe this goes back to 1960. We all know the movie (and the crappy Arabic version Adel Imam did), what helped this piece become more famous is that Marlboro decided to adopt this theme to all its commercials. That music officially represents the red brand today. The newer generations who are not familiar with the song call it as the “Marlboro” song.


James Bond Main Theme by Monty Norman (1962) | Movie

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It all started in 1962, this piece was composed and performed and people could not stop loving it ever since. Then came 21 movies for James Bond and the 22nd is in production, any clues? this can seriously be the most recognizable movie theme ever. I have given credit to Monty Norman and not John Barry since he wrote the very first version, Barry has taken all the credit ever since because he continued to do the soundtracks for the movie series, still, the court had given credit to its rightful owner eventually.


Mission Impossible by Lalo Schifrin (1966) | TV Show

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This theme is a global phenomenon, especially with the return of mission impossible through Tom Cruise movies. And speaking of Mr Cruise, I would like to thank him for destroying everything I ever loved about MI, and extend my thanks to the lousy bands who performed the soundtracks for completely trashing what was a kick ass theme. Thank god people would still go back to the original!


The good the bad and the ugly by Ennio Morricone (1966) | Movie

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Oh come on, who would not whistle this tune whenever pretending to hold a gun? :)

This has become “the west” national anthem rather than just a movie theme.


Pink Panther by Henry Mancini (1969) | TV Show

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I can safely say anyone can recognize this theme from the very first two notes! It has won lots of awards which some of them are actually recent. Kudos for Mancini who by the way composes lots of other breathtaking music.


The Godfather by Nino Rota (1972) | Movie

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A magnificent piece in every version I heard, this has become the Mafia theme in general and a representation of wealth and power. Too bad the soundtrack was disqualified from the Oscars because Nino Rota recycled some parts he delivered to another Italian movie in the 50’s!


Jaws by John Williams (1975) | Movie

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I would not say you would know this when you hear the first two notes…because the whole piece is two notes! The most famous two notes in history! Thank you Mr Williams. Even sharks are sick of this one, it seriously became directly associated to the poor creatures. If you ever encounter a shark in the sea, the music will automatically start playing in your head.


Star Wars by John Williams (1977) | Movie

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The pride of Lucasfilms and Mr Williams, again! They are to blame for why we grew up imagining listening to this piece in an X fighter radio player while shooting down some aliens and space emperors.


Superman by John Williams (1978) | Movie

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I think this one owes its success to the movie, and yet, you can easily mistake it for Star Wars. I mean…man…being a musician, I can tell you, it is the almost the exact same structure and progression ! Come on John…being commercial is good, but being too commercial is not! But thanks for proving that originality has nothing to do with popularity.


Indiana Jones by John Williams (1981) | Movie

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Ta ra ra raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ta ra raaaaaaa! This piece hasn’t only become the mascot of Indy, but also of any adventure in any possible genre or category of media. Williams… again.


Inspector Gadget by Haim Saban & Shuki Levy (1983) | TV Show

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Although a cartoon series and an old one, everyone seems to know this cool track! Even the older generation. Did you know that it was originally composed in French?


Beverly Hills Cop by Harold Faltermeyer (1984) | Movie

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Well, the soundtrack has won an official award for best original music written for motion picture. The main theme title which is “Axel F” by Faltermeyer is so damn popular that it has been covered and remixed more than a hundred times!


Pulp Fiction by Dick Dale & The Del Tones (1994) | Movie

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Mr Tarantino, despite being known for super creativity and  originality decided back then not to compose any music for this title. Instead he collected a number of hits to assemble the soundtrack. The main theme is a song titled “Misirlou” which dates back to 1963. The funny thing is that it sold much more after the movie rather than when it was first released. You will be surprised when you see it performed in 1963 by a band of youngsters, it must have been a revolution back then, Youtube it.


Pirates of the Caribbean by Hans Zimmer (2003) | Movie

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Although a very recent piece, many people believe that this one is going to stick for a long time. The massive success of the trilogy and its music is something that has not been witnessed for so long – since the 90’s! There are cults who live and breathe this movie and worship Captain Jack Sparrow.


That is all I have! I hope the selection satisfies most of the people. This topic is very subjective I know, yet it has some science to it since it tackles something that should be “measurable”; recognition and popularity. If you think I missed any, just ask yourself, if you asked someone to hum that specific theme for you from memory, would they be able to?

I wanted to feature some video games music as well, like the main themes from Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry (who people mistake for Benny Hill Show theme), yet these are very specific to a certain generation of certain interests :)




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9 Comments to “Most Recognizable Themes from Movies & TV Shows”

  1. Firass Says:

    wonderful subject bro :) brings back old memories when we children and watched these movies :) and the choice is excellent, i don’t think you missed any of the most important ones , at least for me :)

  2. Governor Says:

    Cheers Firass :)

    Well the closest ones that could have made it to the list were:
    - Ghostbusters
    - Conquest of Paradise

    Unfortunately they did not…

  3. S.T. Says:

    This is a really wonderul topic!! All of the songs have huge place in our memories, at least for the people around my age. Indiana Jones theme song and the “the good , the bad , and the ugly ” one are my favs. Maybe you might know the song of the cartoon named “clementine”. Its song still makes me shiver when I hear it.

  4. Governor Says:

    Oh my darling..
    Oh my darling….
    Oh my darling Clementine!!

    That one? :D

  5. Dinesh Says:

    you forgot BATMAN!

    nanananannanananananaaa BATMAN

    Happy new year man!

  6. Governor Says:

    I actually love that theme, but the guys fucked it totally man…especially in the last movie, it became orchestrated and lost the main “na na naa na naa na naa na” theme, you can still hear it in the cartoons.

    That is why it is not there, they changed it, it is not recognizable anymore as it was.

    I dont understand poeple sometimes, you have a great brand, why change successful elements in it?

    Cheers.

  7. Z Says:

    Don’t forget The X-Files now.
    That six note theme has become the staple of sci-fi.

  8. Alexis Pandaan Says:

    Anyway, why didn’t Rossini’s William Tell Overture got included in this list? It was used in the Lone Ranger series.

  9. Feena-c Says:

    Great selection. I recognized(knew by heart) all but one of these. But I wish it were 16 songs, Star Trek the original series’ theme needs to be on this list to make it complete!

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