Listening to Movies: Five Great Films to Experience Musically with Your Family

Belinda Takahashi, Ph.D.
April 11, 2014

Music and the silver screen go hand in hand. They are linked together to create a complete, fully textured and emotional experience.  A musical soundtrack is essential in establishing the mood and film's personality, foreshadowing events to come, creating tension and excitement, enhancing the film's characters' identities, and eliciting profound emotions. 

Even without dialogue being spoken, music has the ability to make you feel deeply, truly bringing a film to life.  Most of the time we are unaware that we're feeling anxious, agitated, scared, exhilarated, or victorious by the presence of music as it inconspicuously weaves itself into the fabric of the film.

If you don't believe me, try watching a movie sans sound. Han Solo's descent into the carbonite encasement in The Empire Strikes Back would not be as dramatic, Nemo's father's desperate love and need to protect Nemo would not have been as tender, and the playful innocence of Bambi's youth would not have been as heartwarming. Even the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, was amazed at the significance of music in his Star Wars films. He credits composer John Williams as one of the biggest reasons for the success of the series. "He's the secret to the whole thing. I do nothing. I just make visuals for him to put his music to."

So, the next time you break out the popcorn and have family movie night, try to tune into and experience the film's musical backdrop. You may notice some interesting and popular techniques that are employed by film composers to convey specific feelings to the viewer such as exciting brass fanfares when someone has just won a battle or sweeping string melodies when there's something poignant, to pulsating rhythmic passages when there is a chase and eerie string tremolos when the tension of a story is beginning to peak. Then if you find you are enjoying the music of the film, get the CD and listen to it as its own entity. Images from the movie may come flooding in to your thoughts or perhaps you'll be transported somewhere totally different. 

My children love listening to the movie soundtracks of their favorite films. They'll listen to them over and over again (as do I, happily). I think they may love these movies so much because of the music itself! My four-year-old son hums his own theme music while daydreaming about some exciting swashbuckling scene, while my daughter, who is eight, will beg me to buy the cello music to a favorite film so she can learn how to play its musical themes.

Music in a film can be truly powerful. Keying into and noticing this often overlooked yet vital aspect can enhance your overall viewing experience ultimately making it richer and more rewarding.

Five Film Clips That I Personally Love:

1. How to Train your Dragon (2010), Composer: John Powell


This music (which is magnificent when played by itself on a CD) demonstrates the growing trust and the beginnings of a touching forbidden friendship between a boy and a dangerous dragon.  

2.  Pocahontas (1995), Composer: Alan Menken



A very stirring and dramatic instrumental finale when Pocahontas runs to John Smith to say good-bye for the last time.


3.  Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977), Composer: John Williams



This is Luke's theme (his leitmotif that is used throughout the trilogy).  The music truly expresses his inner conflict and longing to leave his home and pursue his dreams.


4. Up (2009), Composer: Michael Giacchino



A pantomime like scene with no words - just images and music.  The tenderness and innocence of this music with the story is unbelievably touching...sniff sniff.


5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Composer: John Williams



John Williams' music brilliantly captures the magical world of wizardry in what he said was his attempt "to capture a child's sense of wonder in the world."

Originally published in 2011.

An Emmy award-winning and internationally recognized composer, Belinda has been immersed in music since her childhood.  Starting as a concert pianist, she turned to music composition at age 10.  She received her bachelor's degree at Oberlin Conservatory and later went on to the Eastman School of Music, where she was awarded the sole spot for a full graduate fellowship and received her M.M. and Ph.D. in Music Composition.  As a university professor, she has taught Music Composition, Music Theory and Orchestration at various universities including the Eastman School of Music, Rochester University, Drake University and Montclair State University.  Belinda is a recognized authority and sought after speaker on children and music.  She is currently ranked as the #1 "Mompreneur" by and has been interviewed for her business and creative acumen in publications such as Time Magazine, Venture Beat, Forbes, Fast Company, among many others.  She is a seasoned media producer having managed over 100 people and co-creating the Juno Baby and Juno Jr. brands. The Juno Company represents the culmination of her lifelong devotion to music, experiences as a mother and love of children.


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