Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack

A soundtrack trope. Basically, the application/adaptation of the musical form Theme And Variations to a soundtrack. Alternatively, this is the trope Recurring Riff, But More—enough to basically dominate the soundtrack. This is when you hear said recurring riff all over the soundtrack; many of the tracks are effectively variations on this "theme" of the work.

Happens slightly more often if the work has a catchy theme song motif that can be worked into the soundtrack.

This trope is also like a highly elaborate and very much expanded version of Variable Mix.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!'s soundtrack has many pieces with the same melody as the main theme (note, not the same as the OP), but at different tempos and with different sets of instruments.
  • Elfen Lied: Arrangements of "Lilium" (the opening credit theme) are used frequently as background music, covering scenes with wide arrays of emotions such as sadness, nostalgia, serenity, suspense, and murder.
  • Gundam:
  • Stratos 4: A number of tracks, including one labeled "Mikaze's Theme" (for the lead main character), that all share a tune. At the last episode, this is revealed to be the tune of the second ending theme (which is used for the ends of whole seasons).
  • The Voltron series used the theme motif (A C# D E) quite a bit in its soundtrack.

    Films — Animation 
  • 5 Centimeters per Second: Most of the music in the film is an arranged version of either the piano theme from the trailer, or of "One More Time, One More Chance"
  • Howl's Moving Castle features perhaps three different themes, and the vast majority of the soundtrack is based on only one of them.
  • Voices of a Distant Star: In the soundtrack notes, Tenmon remarks that he essentially created the soundtrack by writing a "Theme A" and "Theme B", and then made variations on those two themes to provide appropriate background music for every scene.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The soundtrack of The Last Airbender film was mostly made of variations of this theme
  • In Titanic (1997), most tracks that don't play during the iceberg collision or the sinking are mostly variations on either the "Southampton" Theme or the Love Theme.
  • In the German adventure movie F. P. 1 antwortet nicht (1932), composer Allan Gray (born Josef Zmigrod) makes good use of the main theme. In the course of the film you get to hear it as the song "Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne" (Aviator, greet the sun for me) sung by the hero (Hans Albers in German, Conrad Veidt in the simultaneously produced English version, Flying Platform 1 Does Not Answer, and Charles Boyer in the French), as a march, as a foxtrot, a waltz, and in various pieces of incidental music. The song became a hit again in the 1980s in a cover version by the band Extrabreit.
  • The soundtrack to Pan's Labyrinth. Fortunately, "Mercedes' Lullaby" is also a Crowning Music of Awesome.
  • Inception had its score built around orchestral variations on Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien".
  • The recurring themes of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids are "Strange Neighbors" and the main title.
  • You Never Dreamed bases its short score on "The Last Poem".
  • The Fountain's score uses several variations of "Death is the Road to Awe."
  • Paul McCartney's soundtrack to the 1966 film The Family Way largely consists of variations on the main theme. It is lovely, though, to the extent that McCartney had it played as he walked down the aisle (the second time).
  • The scores of most James Bond films will be variations of the film's own theme song, the classic James Bond 007 theme, or a combination of the two. (The film themes themselves often feature motifs from the series theme as well.) They're generally subtle, until the time comes for a Theme Music Power-Up.
  • The Galaxy Quest soundtrack was largely based on the show's theme In-Universe.
  • Once The Giver starts playing the piano, that tune dominates the score.
  • Eragon: Patrick Doyle's score hinges on one main theme. Any other melodies are really subtle and one-offs.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Wicked does this with the chord progression and parts of the melody of "No One Mourns the Wicked", particularly the Overture. This theme is actually based on a piece from the rock opera The Survival of St. Joan, in which Stephen Schwartz was musical director.

    Video Games 
  • The Final Fantasy series loves to use this:
    • Many of the tracks in Final Fantasy IV have some element of "Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV", from the melancholy "Theme of Sorrow" to "The Final Battle". Also applies to the final boss theme of The After Years.
    • A lot of the Final Fantasy X soundtrack consists of reprises to "Suteki Da Ne". There are also multiple reprises of "To Zanarkand" and "Seymour's Theme".
    • Final Fantasy XII is supposed to have one particular piece that recurs in almost every track in the game.
    • Half of Final Fantasy XIII's soundtrack is based off of one song, "The Promise."
    • Final Fantasy XIII-2 follows its predecessor with many of its tracks based on "Wishes", the main theme of this game. Multiple reprises of "Paradox", the themes of Noel, Caius and Yeul and even "Blinded By Light" from the first game are prevalent too.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • The Super Mario Bros. series and its spinoffs tend to like this a lot. Most Main themes get at least a standard overworld and an 'athletic' remix, but some games take it even further
  • In Mother 3, much of the music is based on the Pigmask Army's theme, being heard more and more often as Porky's influence spreads. Several other variations of other tracks can be heard throughout the game, too, even if the events in which they play have no relation to one another, such as the hot spring theme being a slower version of the track that plays when Wess dances to open the door in Osohe Castle, or how the theme of the Tazmily hotel (post-Time Skip) is rearranged for the cinema in New Pork City.
  • Punch-Out!! Wii takes the Punch Out! theme and culturally rearranges it for every boxer.
  • Commonly used in the Tales Series, but one of the most prominent examples is Tales of the Abyss, where the Anime Theme Song Karma is also used for at least three in-game themes.
  • Tales of Legendia in particular used many motifs in its dungeon and town music, most of which are reprised for the final boss theme.
  • Tower Of Heaven follows this trope to a T.
  • The music in Ultima Underworld II was a set of variations on a four-bar Phrygian progression theme.
  • Much of the music in Ace Attorney Investigations features Miles Edgeworth's theme, The Great Revival.
  • In The 7th Guest, most of the music pieces, including the characters' leitmotifs, are variations of "The Game".
  • Most of the music in Ikaruga is based on "Ideal", the first chapter's theme. Pretty much the only music that doesn't use this theme is "Faith"(Chapter 3).
  • Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys and Mask of the Sun. This theme was also remixed a few times in Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim.
  • Some of the Mega Man games have this, eg 5, 8, and 9.
  • Most of Twisted Metal's songs use variations of "Asphalt Assault"'s guitar riff. The title theme tune, oddly, does not.
  • Time Crisis.
  • The Halo series:
    • Halo: Combat Evolved: The classic series theme, Enough Dead Heroes, Shadows, etc.
    • Halo 2: The Last Spartan, the Arbiter's Theme, High Charity, and the Delta Halo theme
    • Halo 3: Finish The Fight, Farthest Outpost, and numerous motifs from the previous games
    • Halo: Reach: Lone Wolf, Remember Reach, Ghosts and Glass, etc.
      • Fortunately, all the aforementioned themes are already pretty kickass already, and the variations tend to be quite different. Also, there's actually a huge wealth of original, non-copied music in each Halo soundtrack.
  • The entire soundtrack of Golden Eye 1997 is, fittingly, variations on the James Bond theme song.
    • The game of The World Is Not Enough does not have the classic Bond theme, but it does use variations of the eponymous theme from the film.
    • The Golden Eye film didn't have the Bond theme either; conversely its theme tune was (mostly) absent from the game.
    • Perfect Dark and Perfect Dark Zero also do this to some degree.
  • Many of the tunes in Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain, such as Logan's Theme, Carthage Mall (Action), St Cetteo Square, Belaya Vezha (Action), Taherir Palace, etc. are variations of the main title theme. The PS1 installments also have their own recurring themes.
  • In Resident Evil 2, William Birkin/G's theme appears throughout the soundtrack, including the Street, Courtyard, Front Hall, Marshalling Yard, and Extreme Battle themes.
  • Many of the Tomb Raider games do this, e.g. the original trilogy uses many variations of the title theme (generally considered Lara's theme).
  • Most of the Medal of Honor games. The first few games mainly use variations of the title themes, the player characters' themes (e.g. Patterson's themes in the first game and ''Frontline), and the recurring Nazi theme, along with motifs such as "Locating Enemy Positions", "The U-Boat", "Panzer Attack", "Border Town", "Clipping Their Wings", "Sturmgeist", etc.
  • No More Heroes has it's main theme, a jazzy little 1:30-ish tune. Which is remixed into a rock version, a techno version, a trance version...which isn't to say the entire OST is comprised of them, but you'd better get ready to get used to it.
  • The Journeyman Project has a new-age version of its main theme during the opening cutscenes, a muzak version in the Caldoria Heights apartments, a synth-orchestral version in the TSA, and a rock version for the Ending Theme.
  • Though it has a very extensive soundtrack otherwise, almost all of the original music in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is based on the opening theme, by Nobou Uematsu.
  • The Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series, in addition to using many songs from the movies, uses variations of the series' own theme.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day remixes the Windy area theme to make the Barn Boys, Bats' Tower and Uga Buga theme.
  • Banjo-Kazooie: almost the whole soundtrack was a Variable Mix of this one song
    • Nuts & Bolts' soundtrack is based on orchestral remixes of old melodies from the first two games.
  • Donkey Kong 64 was mostly a Variable Mix of this song
  • Super Bomberman: was before the days of Variable Mix, but it still used the same song for every world.
  • NieR's soundtrack is predominated by "Ashes of Dreams", which has several variations on its own... and then shows up in "Dispossession" and "Yonah", both of which have their own variations. No complaints from the fandom, though. In addition, several other themes return in variant forms: "Song of the Ancients" gets a dramatic Dark Reprise for the boss fight with the Twins, "Kainé Salvation" returns as the lively "Kainé Escape", melancholy "Emil Sacrifice" becomes the Triumphant Reprise "Emil Karma", and "Shadowlord" shows up several times.
  • The SNES version of SimCity used variations of a main theme for each stage of your city's development.
  • The PS2 Spy Hunter games use various rock and techno remixes of the Peter Gunn theme.
  • Modern Warfare 2's soundtrack is composed of a number of tracks based on the original six-note riff heard at the end of the introduction.
  • Like other games scored by Kazumi Totaka, Wave Race 64 uses this for nearly every track.
  • Descent 3's theremin-based title theme is remixed throughout the game, although there are also a few original music tracks.
  • Each landmass in Hyperdimension Neptunia has its theme remixed once for its dungeons and again for the battles within said dungeons. The title theme has also been remixed and used in cutscenes at least a few times.
  • All the pre-battle themes in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody are remixes of the same song, which is also spliced into the title theme (which itself has been a variation on the same theme for every game in the series. The Mission Pack Sequel's title theme is also a remix of this song.
  • Most of Fallout 3's in-game musics are based on the title theme's progression. In turn these have sub-variations when wandering the wastes, visiting a town, exploring a dungeon, or engaging in battle. Fallout: New Vegas also does this, with additional variations for good and evil alignments, and the Hoover Dam battle.
  • In Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, the music that plays in each mansion is a variation of the same melody, arranged and orchestrated differently. Here's a few examples:
    • Glooomy Manor has a bass clarinet melody accompanied by piano and plucked strings.
    • Haunted Towers has a pan flute melody accompanied by low strings, marimba, and a tribal drumbeat to create a more adventurous atmosphere.
    • Old Clockworks has a harpsichord melody and pipe organ harmony to create a more classical and refined atmosphere. Clockwork Ruins, on the other hand, is an Egyptian style remix, fitting for the environment.
    • Secret Mine has the melody played on bells and a quiet electric bass harmony to create a mysterious atmosphere.
    • Numerous Ghost Themes, these two for example, are dark and suspenseful takes on the main melody.
  • The first Metal Gear Solid's music was mostly remixes of the Encounter theme.
  • In The Oregon Trail II the trail themes each have three variations, depending on whether your party is in good, fair, or poor health. More appropriately, the main theme is often played in trading posts and other minor stops.
  • The gameplay themes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game are mainly based on the "Heroes in a Half-Shell" theme from the animated series.
  • Ratchet & Clank started adopting this since 2009, with A Crack in Time, All 4 One, Full Frontal Assault and Into the Nexus following the method of introducing the theme triumphantly at the Main Menu, with reprises and variations heard throughout the rest of the game.

    Western Animation 
  • Inspector Gadget. Gadget's theme in particular is arranged in a different way in every episode, and is a Recurring Riff in most of the other tracks as well. Nearly every track on the show's soundtrack contains at least a small bit of it. The other unique songs were often rearranged as well; Penny's theme had at least four different arrangements, probably more (though only one ended up on the soundtrack).
  • The Simpsons is deservedly famous for the many variations of its main theme, sometimes in the style of those of well-known movies or TV series or rescored to be played by e. g. a Jazz quartet, rock bands or renaissance musicians.