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Climactic Music

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Narratives have climaxes. So do their musical scores. In the case of Climactic Music, the music's climax coincides with and characterizes the narrative's.

The swelling, booming music will help add tension or triumph to the scene. It may well be a Triumphant Reprise of an earlier piece from the work, and in musicals, it may be a Show Stopper and/or a Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number. If the music is a song, with lyrics, the words may express the work's theme.

In some cases, usually in musicals, characters will actually perform the climactic music.

Contrast with Eleven O'Clock Number, pieces that may feel climactic, but that precede the climax.


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    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Each of the Saw movies plays a rendition of the series' Leitmotif, "Hello Zepp", during the climax, which usually lasts until the ending.
  • Black Swan had a soundtrack with lots of good music, mostly based on Swan Lake. But the track "Perfection," which plays during the film's closing moments, is the climactic music. An earlier track, "A Swan is Born," appears to be an instance of climactic music, but then "Perfection" crowns it.
  • Another Natalie Portman film, V for Vendetta, also ends with Tchaikovsky. That too has the closing music as the climactic music.
  • Inception's piece of climactic music would be the end of "Waiting for a Train".
  • The Lord of the Rings films each have climactic music:
  • In Branagh's Henry V, the Non Nobis starts with a male soloist voice, then builds into a chorus and ends in a triumphant instrumental. This takes the audience from the battlefield (after Henry received the casualty figures and the dead are gathered up) to the peace talks (when the French king eventually accepts Henry's conditions and offers his daughter's hand in marriage).
  • Dirty Dancing famously ends with a performance set to "Time of My Life." This serves as the film's climax, even though most plot threads have been wrapped up by that point.
  • Each of the final duel songs from the Dollars Trilogy.
  • The Last of the Mohicans: "Promontory", a reprise of "The Kiss."
  • Star Wars:
    • Duel of the Fates in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and a similar piece (Battle of the Heroes) in Revenge of the Sith.
    • There's a key shift in the music during Luke's final attack run. The battle music is very tense and dissonant right up to the moment when Luke decides to trust the Force and shuts off his targeting computer. That is the moment when the theme music shifts to a heroic, triumphant mode reprising the main title music.
  • The Last Samurai: "The Red Warrior". The music includes call-and-response kiai as the samurai ride into battle.
  • Jim Steinem/Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For a Hero" is the climactic music for Short Circuit 2.
  • 28 Days Later: "In The House, In A Heartbeat" plays during the Roaring Rampage of Revenge at the end. It's basically four notes with dramatic backing.
  • Hairspray's "You Can't Stop the Beat", which the characters perform during the climactic dance showdown.
  • Apocalypse Now has "The End" played during the killing of Kurtz.
  • "The Trial" from The Wall.
  • Avengers: Endgame has "Portals[1], which manages to illustrate the success of the plan they'd been trying all movie and also launches the biggest battle in superhero history.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • The third season finale included an instrumental version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," a tune that had mysterious plot significance. Characters had been hearing snatches of the tune during the previous few episodes, but it played in full durng the finale's climax. It returned as the climactic music of more than one episode from the final season, including the series finale.
    • In the episode "Guess What's Coming To Dinner?", the song 'Gaeta's Lament', which recurs through the episode (live-sung by Alessandro Juliani) finishes as a full orchestral version of this.
  • Many episodes of Glee have climactic music. A few examples:
    • "Don't Stop Believing" from the pilot.
    • "Bohemian Rhapsody" from the first season finale.
    • "Thriller / Heads Will Roll" from the Superbowl episode.
    • "Tik Tok" from "Blame It On The Alcohol.
    • "Loser Like Me" in "Original Song."
    • "Light up the World" from "New York."
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "The Thing Lay Still", Daniel Hart's "Laudanum and Arsenic" is the Background Music in the second-half of The Climax, and it's a dramatic track that builds tension in a scene where two pairs of vampires with their own murder plots face off against each other: Louis & Claudia vs. Lestat & Antoinette.
  • A number of Lost finales had climactic music. In the series finale, "The Hole Shabang" was the climactic music for the on-island action. The previous three finales had had climactic tracks called "The Incident", "Bobbing For Freighters" and "Looking Glass Half-Full"; all played over action, explosions and the deaths of main characters.
  • The BBC drama Our Friends in the North consisted of nine episodes, each set in a different year from 1964-1995, and each ending with a piece of music from that year playing over the credits. The final episode, 1995, was perhaps the most notable for this, ending with Don't Look Back In Anger by Oasis.
  • Many times in Person of Interest, usually at the climax of the action or right at the end of the episode.
  • Most of the songs in Scrubs played during closing, emotional scenes after the episode's main action. Occasionally, however, these scenes were the climaxes of their respective episodes. In "My Lunch," one of the top-rated episodes, The Fray's "How To Save a Life" played over the deaths of three patients, Dr. Cox's subsequent outburst and the episode's end. "My American Girl" found its climax in an Important Haircut/room thrashing montage set to Tom Petty's "American Girl."

  • Matilda has "Revolting Children", sung by the student body after Miss Trunchbull is ousted from the school.
  • Both the West End and Broadway versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have a song that coincides with the revelation that Charlie has won the titular factory and the trip in the Great Glass Elevator.
    • The West End version of the show uses "Pure Imagination", the most famous song from the 1971 film adaptation — and the only song in the score that is not an original.
    • The Broadway version substitutes the original number "The View from Here", as it moves "Pure Imagination" back to an earlier scene.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: The Cornered tracks from each game. They play as you're proving the real killer, or proving the witness as a fraud. Also, Search - Core 2001. It plays during your investigations, when something serious happens.
    • Not to mention Hotline of Fate, which plays when Maya gets kidnapped and when the bridge burns down, and Phoenix runs across it to save Maya.
  • The final mission of each Ace Combat game is accompanied by an epic song, such as AC4's Megalith/Agnus Dei.
  • Modern Warfare series:
    • "Going Loud" from the second game. It's played during a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and features many other pieces - Onwards, Opening Titles, etc - all mixed into one epic piece. Thematically it's the equivalent of Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission.
    • "Arabian Endgame" from the third game. After all the shit Makarov gave you over the previous three games, it's time to suit up in a Juggernaut suit and finish him off once and for all. The game's main theme makes a Triumphant Reprise over a strong, incessant bass line that reinforces the feeling of invincibility - just the thing when you're on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge with a belt-fed machine gun and an outright obscene damage resistance.
  • Gears of War 2: "Finale," a ramped up version of the main theme. The uplifting, epic choir cements its position as the apex of an epic soundtrack.
  • Halo:
    • Halo 3: "Finish the Fight". It's Halo 2's "The Last Spartan" and the Halo theme all mixed into one. Another candidate is "Greatest Journey", but "Finish the Fight" appears more musically accomplished.
    • Halo: Reach: Many would single out "Unreconciled". "Ashes" is another example. The emotional climax in the middle perfectly fits the grittier, more solemn tone of Reach.
    • Halo 4: "117", which plays during the Trench Run in the final level.
  • Live A Live's Megalomania: It plays multiple times when you fight a megalomaniacal person who wants to kill people or outright destroy everything.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: "Metal Gear Saga".
  • World of Warcraft has had a few, but the one that sticks furthest out is "No King Rules Forever", which plays during the final showdown with Arthas in Fall of the Lich King.
  • Wild Guns's boss music.
  • "The End Run" from Mass Effect 2, which only plays during the Big Heroic Run in the climatic Suicide Mission.
  • Blue Planet:
    • This plays during the climactic mission of Blue Planet: Age of Aquarius, Universal Truth. It is appropriately less epic and bombastic than most examples, and more grim and machine-like to emphasise the constant, overwhelming attacks your vessels are going through over the course of the mission.
    • From the sequel Blue Planet: War in Heaven, specifically the mission Delenda Est, we have this. It starts at 2:05 (and sadly there's not a vid with just the music) and lasts for most of the mission, it's a much more in line with what you'd expect from a climactic music, as the battle can determine the outcome of the war and it's a last stand for both sides, it ends up being a subversion as the heroes lose, the war is far from over, and that this wasn't even the game's final mission. Also there's this from the game's final cutscene (starts at 40:56 and like the previous example it's from a let's play), the theme has actually been a recurring Eleven O'Clock Number (and still technically is, as the story's not over) which played during the briefings the preceded both Universal Truth and Delenda Est.
  • Persona 5 has Rivers In the Desert, which is the song that plays against Masayoshi Shido who is also the climax boss, as well as several other endgame bosses, including the superbosses. The lyrics are also telling the games story about them going against corrupt adults and Shido himself, who is a political figure.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe's "Stronger Than You" sung by Garnet (Estelle) during the climactic fight scene at the end of the season finale "Jail Break"