The best villain songs in cinema history are ballads of malevolence, which leave you both swept up and horrified. Symphonic themes, meanwhile, are the perfect way to announce and sustain a villain’s presence, as if their very being overpowers the film’s sound. Who can’t hum the horn-blaring rhythm of “The Imperial March,” John Williams’ theme for Darth Vader?
Villain songs don’t even need to have words to tell a story about a character. Take Hans Zimmer’s theme for Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The instrumental track opens with a soft music box, before abruptly rising in power to downright operatic levels, reflecting the tragedy of Jones’ story. For a lyrical villain theme, it’s hard to beat Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s “Hellfire,” sung by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Used in concert with nightmarish visuals, Frollo’s lust for Romani girl Esmerelda burns his soul, but he vows to not leave himself denied.
Not to imply Western cinema has the market cornered here. Some of my favorite anime villain themes are Susumu Hirasawa’s “Behelit,” the ethereal theme of Griffith from “Berserk,” and “Girei” (or “Courtesy”), the theme for “Naruto” villain Pain, in which composer Yasuharu Takanashi mixes an organ and choir hymn together to accompany a god puppeteering six mortal bodies.
Alas, we probably won’t be hearing “9mm” in the film itself; we’ll have to settle for YouTube edits and TikTok fancams dedicated to Kang. However, I do believe more superhero movies could use hip-hop-flavored scores. “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” and the “Black Panther” films are proof of how well that music fits with propulsive and action-focused storytelling.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” releases in theaters on February 17, 2023.