Narratives have climaxes. So do their musical scores. In the case of Climactic Music, the music's climax coincides with and characterizes the narrative's.
The swelling, booming music will help add tension or triumph to the scene. It may well be a Triumphant Reprise of an earlier piece from the work, and in musicals, it may be a Show Stopper and/or a Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number. If the music is a song, with lyrics, the words may express the work's theme.
In some cases, usually in musicals, characters will actually perform the climactic music.
Contrast with The Eleven O'Clock Number, pieces that may feel climactic but that precede the climax.
Film - Live Action
- Each of the Saw movies ended with a rendition of the series's theme, "Hello Zepp." The variations formed each installment's climactic music.
- Black Swan had a soundtrack with lots of good music, mostly based on Swan Lake. But the track "Perfection," which plays during the film's closing moments, is the climactic music. An earlier track, "A Swan is Born," appears to be an instance of climactic music, but then "Perfection" crowns it.
- Another Natalie Portman film, V for Vendetta, also ends with Tchaikovsky. That too has the closing music as the climactic music.
- Inceptions crowning music would be the end of "Waiting for a Train."
- The Lord of the Rings films each have climactic music:
- In The Fellowship of the Ring, it's "Amon Hen," which plays during the battle that kills Boromir.
- The Two Towers offers "Isengard Unleashed" over the destruction of Isengard.
- In Return of the King, Frodo claims the Ring and fights Gollum to "The End of All Things."
- In Branaugh's Henry V, the Non Nobis starts with a male soloist voice, then builds into a chorus and ends in a triumphant instrumental. This takes the audience from the battlefield (after Henry received the casualty figures and the dead are gathered up) to the peace talks (when the French king eventually accepts Henry's conditions and offers his daughter's hand in marriage).
- Dirty Dancing famously ends with a performance set to "Time of My Life." This serves as the film's climax, even though most plot threads have been wrapped up by that point.
- Each of the final duel songs from the Dollars Trilogy
- The Last of the Mohicans: "Promontory", a reprise of "The Kiss."
- Star Wars:
- The Last Samurai: "The Red Warrior". The music includes call-and-response kiai as the samurai ride into battle.
- Jim Steinem/Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For a Hero" is the climactic music for Short Circuit 2.
- 28 Days Later: "In The House, In A Heartbeat" plays during the Roaring Rampage of Revenge at the end. It's basically four notes with dramatic backing.
Film - Animated
- "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" from Cats Don't Dance
Live Action TV
- Many episodes of Glee have climactic music. A few examples:
- "Don't Stop Believing" from the pilot.
- "Bohemian Rhapsody" from the first season finale.
- "Thriller / Heads Will Roll" from the Superbowl episode.
- "Tik Tok" from "Blame It On The Alcohol.
- "Loser Like Me" in "Original Song."
- "Light up the World" from "New York."
- A number of Lost finales had climactic music. In the series finale, "The Hole Shabang" was the climactic music for the on-island action. The previous three finales had had climactic tracks called "The Incident", "Bobbing For Freighters" and "Looking Glass Half-Full"; all played over action, explosions and the deaths of main characters.
- Most of the songs in Scrubs played during closing, emotional scenes after the episode's main action. Occasionally, however, these scenes were the climaxes of their respective episodes. In "My Lunch," one of the top-rated episodes, The Fray's "How To Save a Life" played over the deaths of three patients, Dr. Cox's subsequent outburst and the episode's end. "My American Girl" found its climax in an Important Haircut/room thrashing montage set to Tom Petty's "American Girl."
- Battlestar Galactica's third season finale included an instrumental version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," a tune that had mysterious plot significance. Characters had been hearing snatches of the tune during the previous few episodes, but it played in full durng the finale's climax. It returned as the climactic music of more than one episode from the final season, including the series finale.
- Hairspray's "You Can't Stop the Beat", which the characters perform during the climactic dance showdown.
- Modern Warfare 2: "Going Loud". It's played during a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and features many other pieces - Onwards, Opening Titles, etc - all mixed into one epic piece. Thematically it's the equivalent of Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission.
- Gears Of War 2: "Finale," a ramped up version of the main theme. The uplifting, epic choir cements its position as the apex of an epic soundtrack.
- Halo: "Finish the Fight". It's played during all awesome moments. Plus it's The Last Spartan and Halo Theme all mixed into one. Another candidate is "Greatest Journey", but "Finish the Fight" appears more musically accomplished.
- Halo: Reach: Many would single out "Unreconcialed". "Ashes" is another example. The emotional climax in the middle perfectly fits the grittier, more solemn tone of Reach.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: "Metal Gear Saga".
- World of Warcraft has had a few, but the one that sticks furthest out is "No King Rules Forever", which plays during the final showdown with Arthas in Fall of the Lich King.
- Wild Guns's boss music.
- "The End Run" from Mass Effect 2, which only plays during the Big Heroic Run in the climatic Suicide Mission.