Recycled Trailer Music

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from The Elfman Effect)

"Listening to it now, I'm a bit surprised I got away with such nutty music for a coming attraction. Of course, those days are long all trailers now seem to be mandated by law to be beefed-up variations of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana..."

Danny Elfman, on the music written for the trailer of Mars Attacks!

When releasing a film to the public, the film's score is usually the very last thing to be completed. This means that there will be enough finished scenes to make a trailer, but no soundtrack yet. What's a studio to do?

Slap in some music from another film, stock music, or even a pop song, that evokes the general mood they're going for, that's what.

The first film of a franchise is most likely to use this trope, whereas trailers for future films tend to reuse music from the previous ones. For example, most Star Wars trailers after A New Hope used portions of John Williams' score for that film, whereas the original trailer for A New Hope used stock music! Once the score is completed, the studio might release a new batch of trailers using the film's own music.

Licensed music made entirely for trailers by groups like Two Steps From Hell and used to advertise several unrelated products is not an example of this trope.

Examples of Recycled Trailer Music include:


  • How many times have you heard ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" in a commercial?
  • An advertisement for the Nickelodeon Cruise had the KaBlam!! theme playing...though the show itself is not featured on the cruise, and has been forgotten by Nick.


  • Terms of Endearment is probably the Trope Codifier. Any trailer using the theme is practically screaming in your ear: "Quirky character study comedy that will have poignant moments at the end!"
  • Love Story served that role for weepy romances.
  • Sweet Liberty is a relatively minor comedy from 1985, but the score has been used in a ton of comedy trailers.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard it before?
  • Nothing says "EPIC!" like the Adagio of Spartacus.
  • Erotic thriller? Expect to hear "Telescope" from Body Double.
  • Enya. And not just for films—any time any sort of visual medium wants to convey uplift/hope/sensitivity/poignancy, she's pretty much the go-to artist. How many films/trailers/TV shows/commercials have you heard these in?
  • The overuse of "O Fortuna"—particularly for huge, sprawling period epic war footage—was splendidly mocked in an advertisement for the Australian beer Carlton Draught.
    • It's a big ad! It's just so HUGE!
    • "O Fortuna" has also been used in several political ads whenever the ad's makers have wanted the audience to feel afraid of whatever it is they are showing in the ad. An ad portraying the moving of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay as releasing them into the public at large used this music, and was subsequently mocked heavily on The Rachel Maddow Show.
  • Of course, if you want it bigger than "O Fortuna", you go to the point of parody with "Thus Spake Zarathustra".
  • Randy Edelman may feel either aggrieved or blessed by this trope, depending; Edelman himself is a relatively unknown and minor film composer, but two of his movie themes, for Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (around 1:35 in) and Dragonheart ("To The Stars"), have been peddled endlessly in trailers for other movies.
    • The Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story theme was used in the trailer of Forrest Gump and even in an early Harry Potter commercial. The latter is particularly jarring due to the piece sounding nothing like the now iconic Harry Potter leitmotifs.
  • True to this trope's name, the first trailer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland contains "Up and Out" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as "Brainwash 'n Go" from Wallace and Gromit.
  • The score for the film The Rocketeer has probably been heard in trailers for other films by more moviegoers than ever saw The Rocketeer itself.
  • The trailer for the 2006 film Deja Vu used the theme from Saw. So do some trailers for Valkyrie, and The Box.
  • At least one of the trailers for Avatar did this. They were still working on the music for the movie.
  • An overused score is the main theme from Requiem for a Dream, "Lux Aeterna" which is used for "serious" movies... and certain NASCAR commercials. Most ads don't use the original recording; instead they tend to use the big orchestral arrangement which was recorded for the trailer of The Two Towers.
    • The Requiem for a Dream version was used in a chrurch for a video montage of World Youth Day preparation.
    • Neatly mocked in this Telus commercial, featuring some fairly epic meerkats.
    • A LOT of Youtube videos use this piece.
    • They do seem to be fond of using Clint Mansell--"Lux Aeterna" and the "Requiem for a Tower" remixes are the most common, but there has also been a bit of Death is the Road to Awe from The Fountain score in a trailer for Frost/Nixon.
    • You HAVE heard this piece. And when you listen to it you will say "oh, the movie trailer song" at 1:38.
    • It's frequently used on Britains Got Talent. It seems like a typical usage until you realize that one of the storylines in Requiem For A Dream involves someone compromising their values and ultimately sacrificing their sanity for a chance to be on television.
    • It is also used in the trailer for Cupcakes: The Movie.
  • E.S. Posthumus' album Unearthed has been regularly plundered for trailer music. Interestingly, Cold Case also uses music from this album as the title theme. Unsurprisingly, the duo wound up producing the theme for the Super Bowl one year.
    • It was the AFC Championship Game, and the promo was Epic.
    • Not terribly surprisingly, it's rumored that the brothers behind E.S. Posthumus are actually the experienced trailer-music composers Jeffrey and Robert Pfeifer, of Pfeifer Broz. Music. The ASCAP database briefly (and embarrassingly) credited the Pfeifers with every single track in E.S. Posthumus' output, and "outed" E.S. Posthumus as aliases.
    • "Nara" is the track used most often, it seems—that's the Cold Case one and it was in the trailers of Unfaithful and Vanity Fair.
  • A lot of trailers use music from the Stargate movie.
  • In the previews for the movie No Reservations, part of the music used consisted of the ending credits music from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Its own trailers were using music from Paramount's The Addams Family films. And some trailers for A Series of Unfortunate Events used the Edward Scissorhands theme! The first trailer for Burton's Alice in Wonderland used music from A Series of Unfortunate Events—the cycle is complete. Naturally Corpse Bride also used music from A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • The "Flying" theme from the '03Peter Pan is used in children's fantasy-adventure trailers almost as much as "What's This". That movie's trailer used "The Crystal Chamber from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which was also from James Newton Howard. It's especially odd to hear on the commercials for the Disney Theme Parks, considering Disney has its own version of Peter Pan.
  • "Bishop's Countdown" from Aliens pops up a lot in trailers involving action sequences building up to a crescendo.
  • "Aquarela do Brazil" is slowly becoming one of these songs, especially in its incarnation as the Central Services theme song from Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
    • It was used in a WALL-E ad.
      • Which oddly brought the song full-circle, as "Aquarela do Brazil" (Portuguese for "Watercolor of Brazil") debuted in an early Disney feature, "Saludos Amigos", where Donald Duck meets Brazilian parrot Jose Carioca.
      • The reason for its use in the WALL-E teaser trailer: Michael Kamen, who did the music for Gilliam's "Brazil," was originally going to score WALL-E. But then he died. And people were sad. And then Thomas Newman came to the rescue. And everyone was happy again. The end.
  • The choral bit called "O Verona" from Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet sounds a bit like Carmina Burana and gets used a lot. I remember it being used in the trailer for the original The X-Files movie, certainly.
  • Edward Scissorhands - Danny Elfman said, as part of a commentary track for the DVD, that every now and again his friends will call up and say "Edward's back!" when some trailer uses that music. It's also frequently imitated in ads for other companies - indeed, if any ad's BGM involves an slightly spooky choir, it's probably an imitation of this score.
    • Elfman's title music for Beetlejuice is also heard frequently in trailers for kid's movies.
  • "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is also in a few trailers. It genuinely was the theme music for M.
  • Some family films use the main theme from Liar Liar during their trailers.
  • The trailer for Australia (the movie, not the country!) uses "The Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good the Bad And The Ugly and the heroic leitmotif from Pirates of the Caribbean. It also used the music that plays during the St. Crispian's speech in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V.
  • "I Kissed A Girl" was in the trailer for Kissing Jessica Stein. Jill Sobule commented, "I guess I'm trailer trash."
  • "Clubbed to Death" and other songs by Rob Dougan.
  • "Take Us Out" from Rudy has been used in a few.
  • Nicely averted by The Proposition which used its own soundtrack, probably because the soundtrack was one of the film's main selling points. This is also true of Mirror Mask.
  • Most Egregious example; ads for Frank Miller's The Spirit featured Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve, Sarajevo"(a stadium-rock remix of Carol of the Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) in its TV ads.
  • The ecstatic, sweeping "Prime Minister's Love Theme" from Love Actually crops up in any number of trailers, particularly romantic comedies.
  • See if you recognize this music from anywhere.
  • The trailer for X-Men Origins: Wolverine uses the track "Come and Get Them" from ~300~. Just as the trailer for Vantage Point uses the track "To Victory" from the same soundtrack.
  • The trailer for every family film released around Christmas will feature the "Russian Dance" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. No exceptions. Unless they use Carol of the Bells instead. One exception: "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", from... The Nutcracker.
  • Another piece of music frequently used on things that are supposed to feel "epic" is "Dies Irae" from Verdi's Requiem.
  • The score to Donnie Darko, and a swathe of knockoffs thereof, seemed to be all over the place three months after it hit DVD. The spooky-but-lighthearted Middlesex Times (or is it Manipulated Living?) made it around the most.
  • The trailer for Hellboy II featured "Mein Herz Brennt" by Rammstein. The song never made it into the film, despite the fact that it was a very fitting choice and quite awesome.
  • The initial trailer for Saving Private Ryan used music from The American President.
  • The use "Journey to the Line" from The Thin Red Line makes the trailer for Pearl Harbor look so frickin' awesome and epic that it made a lot of people think it could be another Saving Private Ryan or at least a really cool movie. You know what they say....
  • The theme from Pirates of the Caribbean was used in one of the trailers for Thunderbirds.
    • As well as the TV spots for Master & Commander, no doubt trying to forge a connection with the blockbuster The Curse of the Black Pearl, which came out a few months prior.
  • The trailer for The Incredibles uses the Propellerheads' epic "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", a awesome ten-minute dance-remix-amalgamation-hybrid-thing of about five different James Bond instrumental themes.
  • James Bond movies avert this trope; the only music that a trailer for any James Bond movie needs is a variant of the classic James Bond theme. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace featured the Bond theme mixed with Ominous Latin Chanting.
  • The music from the climax of Dark City was used for one of the X Men sequels. Nearly all of the melodic motives in the Dark City score were lifted out of Igor Stravkinsky's Rite of Spring.
  • The first Watchmen trailer used "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," a more melancholy remix of "The End is the Beginning is the End" (try saying that five times fast) by The Smashing Pumpkins, which was originally from the Batman and Robin soundtrack.
  • The trailer for Toy Story featured Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys are Back in Town'. Nowhere to be found in the film, though. Its sung in the on-ice version. And no "This Will Be" (aka the eHarmony song) in Love Actually, despite being in the ads.
  • The commercials for The Santa Clause 3 contained "What's This" from A Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • The trailer for Confessions of a Shopaholic used many songs, including Rihanna's "Disturbia," which was not in the film.
  • The trailer for Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium used Danny Elfman's "Breakfast Machine" music from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
  • [1] See this, then notice what's different from the actual movie.
  • Most of the trailers for ~9~ used Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria, which stands very much in contrast with the film's own gloomy orchestral score.
  • The theatrical trailer for Cinderella Man used the Atreides March from the SYFY miniseries Children of Dune, the first song on this this sampler of the soundtrack.
  • "What I Like About You" by The Romantics gets used a lot in comedy trailers.
  • Alan Silverstri's (the man behind the music to Back to The Future) theme from Mousehunt was used in the live action Cat In The Hat film trailer and for the A Christmas Carol trailer, as well as many others.
    • And then it was actually reused (in the film itself) in Fred Claus.
  • The trailer for Creepshow 2 used the theme from Halloween.
  • The original 1987 trailer to RoboCop uses the famous main score from Terminator.
  • The theme used during the trailer of Casper was "What's This?" from Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • "Love Song" seems to be used for every romantic movie, particularly romantic comedy, regardless of how clingy the relationship is.
  • Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor Or Humanity" began cropping up all over the place after Kill Bill made it famous.
  • Elfman's main theme to Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School has been trailer music for plenty of boisterous comedies.
  • Hans Zimmer's piece You're So Cool from the movie True Romance, gets used in trailers quit often.
    • Which itself is almost a direct rip-off of Carl Orff's "Gassenhauer".
  • Trailers for the film adaptation of Constantine use "Pain and Retribution" from the score to The Crow.
  • The teaser to Bedtime Stories had music playing from 102 Dalmatians. Another used the Western theme from Back to The Future III.
  • The "Flying" theme from Hook is another exceedingly popular children's fantasy piece. Give a listen, and you'll probably recognize it.
  • Aversion: the first trailer for the 2004 version of The Phantom of the Opera used a churning, string-section-heavy part of the actual score (though that may have been a different recording than the one used in the film), followed by a small snippet of Gerard Butler singing "The Music of the Night". The trailers for the DVD version, oddly, still contained the score, but little to no singing (similar to the Sweeney Todd example above), except the narration still called it "Andrew Lloyd Webber's triumphant musical"!
  • One of the first teasers of Ridley Scott's Gladiator used "Anvil of Crom" from Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris. What better way to set the epic tone for the then upcoming movie? The film had music by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt and Lisa Gerrard.
  • Trailers use Aquarium, from Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, for a supernatural, slightly creepy vibe.
  • Early trailers for the movie Seabiscuit used Michael Giacchino's main theme for Medal of Honor on the PlayStation… You read that right: video game music in a movie trailer!
  • The trailer to the movie Miracle uses the end title from the 2000 film |Dungeons and Dragons for its climax.
  • Michael Kamen's main theme from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is used in promos for Disney DVD and Blu-ray releases. Ironic, since that film was not released by Disney or its affiliates, and in fact, Disney has its own version of Robin Hood.
  • The main theme from Sunshine is getting really popular. It's especially worth noting that the version linked to is the official soundtrack version: "Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)". However, in the film itself the piece is in a different key,[1] and that version seems to get used as often as the official one.
  • Johann Johannson's single "The Sun's Gone Dim And The Sky's Turned Black" is on its way there, creeping people out with the electronic voice overlayed with the Shaky Cam footage of a global alien invasion in the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles.
  • The trailer for The Mighty Ducks 2 used the iconic Alan Silvestri theme from Back to The Future.
  • Early trailers for the South Park movie used the song Cannonball by The Breeders, but the song isn't in the movie or on the soundtrack. The teaser trailer used Tommy The Cat by Primus, possibly to invoke thoughts of the TV show's theme song which was also written and performed by Primus.
  • If the music from the trailer for Super 8 sounds familiar, that's because it was from the movie Cocoon. It can be heard in this trailer for Cocoon: The Return.
  • An early trailer for the movie adaptation of James and the Giant Peach, directed by Henry Selick featured "What's This?" from a previous Selick movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The fact that the evil cloud pirates that appeared in the movie were recycled Jack Skellington figures just complicated things.
  • An early trailer for Aladdin used Alan Silvestri's score to Father of the Bride along "Friend Like Me". The rest of the trailers just used "Friend Like Me".
  • The trailers for Independence Day used Zimmer's "Roll Tide" fanfare from Crimson Tide.
  • The trailer for Runaway Train made excellent use of Henry Mancini's dynamic theme for Life Force.
  • Songs by The Black Keys appear in movie trailers and ads very commonly, usually to show some sort of opposition while maintaining a lighthearted tone.

Live-Action TV

Video Games

Western Animation

  • The trailer for The Wild Thornberrys movie used the theme from Dinosaur. Quite fair, really, since the music was one of the only things about Dinosaur to be particularly good.
  • True to the name, some trailers for Corpse Bride used music from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Others used In the Hall of the Mountain King.
    • The trailer also used the music from the 2004 version of The Stepford Wives.
    • But just to show that nothing is immune, trailers for Nightmare used a version of the Christmas song "Carol of the Bells" for its trailers.
  • Disney pulls out "If I Never Knew You" and the hook from "Just Around The Riverbend" (both from Pocahontas) for some of their movies, especially the Direct to Video junk.
  • The trailer for Doug's 1st Movie had background music from the live action One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Most notably is when Skeeter says, "There's something bad behind me, isn't there?", an instrumental "Cruella de Vil" is heard, and then later was the music used during Pongo and Perdita's departure to find the puppies. The VHS commercial for Sleeping Beauty had the same.
  • La Valse D'Amelie from Amelie. It's been in many ads and so-called reportages.
  • The main theme from The Great Mouse Detective is used in an advert for a 1996 VHS release of The Aristocats.
  1. specifically, a higher key, and since even the clip of Cassie's voice on the official version is a lower pitch than it is in the movie, one wonders if they didn't just take the track and digitally pitch it all down... for some reason...