Danny Elfman first started writing music in the late 1970s as part of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, a raunchy and surrealist performance troupe founded by his brother, Richard Elfman. Richard ended up directing “Forbidden Zone” (which Danny scored) and other exciting, weird cult movies, while Danny took over the Oingo Boingo name and transformed it into one of SoCal’s better New Wave bands. In 1985, Elfman scored his second movie, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” for director Tim Burton. This started a lucrative working relationship, and Elfman returned to score the bulk of Burton’s films.
1989’s “Batman” was the eleventh (!) film Danny Elfman scored, and his music took a lot of cues from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite.” It was an intense and more sinister score from the bold, open-faced heroic of John Williams’ “Superman” themes, perhaps the most famous superhero score ever penned. Because “Batman” was such a massive financial success, many studios immediately began to reach for a similar musical sound, and Elfman would eventually be hired to score movies like “Dick Tracy,” “Darkman,” as well as the theme song to “Batman: The Animated Series” and the 1994 “The Flash” TV series. Perhaps frustratingly, Elfman’s “The Flash” theme is not used in the new “The Flash” movie. Most superhero movies since “Batman” owe Elfman a debt.
Elfman’s music involves a lot of choral work, tinkling chimes, and minor keys. His sound became a default for anything with a Goth look. Broody kids of the 1990s can likely hum several of his scores by heart; “Beetlejuice,” “To Die For,” “Tales from the Crypt,” and “The Frighteners” are part of this ’90s teen’s DNA. Even his more sentimental scores, like his work for “Black Beauty,” bore the Elfman sound.