Follow TV Tropes


Establishing Character Music

Go To

When working in a visual medium (film, television, or video games), a creator must use every tool at their disposal, to tell their story. And when introducing a new character, there is often little time to establish who they are and what they are like, so music is often used to quickly flesh out their personality. Someone introduced with Heavy Metal is likely to seen as angry, even violent, while someone introduced with triumphant brass will be seen as heroic and mighty. If it's Bad to the Bone, then the character's an all-out badass.

This is all doubly so when the character is playing the music themselves.

This is a sub-trope of Establishing Character Moment. Compare to Leitmotif (when a character has a particular song associated with them) or AM/FM Characterization (when the audience learns about a character by their personal choice in music).

Note: this trope only applies when music accompanies a character's introduction. However, introductory music can later be made into their Leit Motif by way of Bootstrapped Theme.


    open/close all folders 

  • In One Piece Film: Gold, Carina and Tesoro are introduced singing "Gold & Jive - Silver Ocean" in the opening.

    Films — Animated 
  • In The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Rex Dangervest is introduced saving Emmet from a Glassteroid and helping him navigate through the Stairgate to Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart my Heart", establishing him as a hardcore dude that Emmet wishes to be like.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales is introduced listening and half-singing along to Post Malone's "Sunflower", establishing him as your normal urban teenager.
  • In Turning Red, the tracks "Turning Red" and "Meilin Lee" serve as this for Mei establishing her dual nature as both a free spirit outside of her home and a dutiful daughter within it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Charlie's Angels (2000): The Angels are shown in flashback to a different song - Natalie to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!, Alex to The Flying Lizards cover of "Money (That's What I Want)" and Dylan to "I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan Jett.
  • 10 Things I Hate About You establishes Kat quite well by having her pull up next to a bunch of peppy popular girls in a '60s beat-up Dodge Dart, glaring, to the tune of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation".
  • The first time we see Marty McFly in Back to the Future, he walks into Doc Brown's laboratory, plugs in his guitar, and begins shredding. This quickly establishes him as a laid back, average teenager.
  • Star Wars:
    • A New Hope:
      • Darth Vader is first seen on the Tantive IV accompanied by an ominous trumpet chord which, combined with his black, skull-like mask and helmet, marks him as the villain. Later when we first see Luke the main theme is heard briefly, marking him as The Hero.
      • When Luke Skywalker first appears on-screen (his deleted intro scene notwithstanding), a soft rendition of the Star Wars theme plays, since he's The Hero.
    • Return of the Jedi: The first time we see the Emperor in person we hear first a bombastic Imperial March as his forces are assembled in a grand spectacle as Vader kneels before his master, then as Palpatine descends his shuttle's ramp a low men's chorus takes over with a tune of quiet malice.
    • The Force Awakens: When Rey is first introduced we have about two minutes without dialogue of her just going through her routine while her theme plays, a light feminine piece, but with an inner strength that gets more pronounced as it goes on.
  • Inglourious Basterds: Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz is introduced with an electric guitar riff to cement his badassery.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Judge Doom is introduced accompanied by an ominous bell tone and a menacing bassoon and bass violin.
  • In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is introduced to a moog synthesiser version of Funeral Sentences and Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.
  • In The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock is introduced making his way to home to the strains of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence".
  • James Bond:
    • In Dr. No, 007's theme music goes hand-in-hand with his introduction and his catchphrase.
    • In Moonraker, Hugo Drax is introduced playing Frédéric Chopin's Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major (op. 28), "Raindrop") on the piano.
    • In Die Another Day, Gustav Graves is introduced parachuting out of a plane to receive his knighthood at Buckingham Palace to The Clash's "London Calling".
  • In Hard Boiled, both main characters in introduced with jazz. Tequila plays a light song with a band on his clarinet, while Alan is introduced with a funkier song blaring as he drives a sports car.
  • In Hot Fuzz, Sgt. Nicholas Angel is introduced via a montage set to "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam Ant.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Iron Man, Tony Stark's first scene is set to Back in Black by AC/DC.
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Peter Quill is introduced listening to "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone on his walkman, merrily dancing away and kicking lizards about.
  • In Jackie Brown, Jackie is introduced to "Across 100th Street" by Bobby Womack. The song also plays the film out.
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels:
    • Big Chris is introduced to James Brown's "The Payback", establishing him as a badass.
    • The dealers are introduced to "Police and Thieves" by Junior Marvin, the joke being that they grow weed and listen to reggae.
  • In The Matrix, we're introduced to Neo asleep at his computer listening to "Dissolved Girl" by Massive Attack when Trinity contacts him.
  • Not Another Teen Movie: Every Amanda Becker's arrival scenes are always accompanied by the opening of "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon.
  • Once Upon a Time in the West:
    • Subverted with Harmonica's theme - he plays it during his first scene at the train station.
    • Frank's theme plays in full during his introduction, the electric guitar building up to a sweeping orchestra.
    • When Cheyenne appears in the trading post, his theme is quite sinister, giving the impression that he's the villain. When the true nature of his character is revealed, his theme is more laid-back throught.
  • Pulp Fiction:
    • We're introduced to Vincent and Jules on their way to Brett's place engaging in chit-chat set to Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie".
    • Butch and Marsellus are introduced to "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green.
    • When Vincent goes to pick up Mia, "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield is playing in the house.
  • In Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero is memorably introduced strutting down the streets of New York to "Stayin' Alive" by The Bee Gees.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John Connor is introduced blaring Guns N' Roses on his radio as he ignores his foster parents.
  • Trainspotting memorably opens with Renton and Spud being chased down the street by security guards to Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life".
    • Renton spots Diane to Sleeper's cover of Blondie's "Atomic".

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • When you first meet META in "Episode 2: Memory" of Code 7, the background music switches to the soundtrack of the same name, which is just as cheerful and mischievous as the AI herself.
  • Fire Emblem Fates: Azura, the songstress, is introduced when the player character hears someone singing and a cutscene shows Azura singing by the lake (Seen toward the end here). The song itself, in addition to being her theme, proves to be a key plot point and has strange powers which become more apparent as time goes on.
  • Hypnospace Outlaw: The first thing you hear when you go onto Zane Lofton's page is an extremely loud nu-metal song called "Nothing Left For Me" by Fake Band Seepage, very well establishing that Zane is a teenage boy, as well as giving you an idea of his interests.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kingdom Hearts II features an unknown soldier in full armor as an Optional Boss, who murmurs about his friends before fighting. All there really is to establish his character is his theme, "Rage Awakened," which captures his sense of injustice and establishes a connection to Big Bad Xehanort by reprising one of his Leitmotifs.
    • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep features a fully cloaked Optional Boss who's theme combines nearly all of Xehanort's Leitmotifs with no other context to identify him. He reappears in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] with the same theme working for Xehanort. Turns out he's a younger Xehanort who's time traveling to unite his many incarnations, hence the reuse of all their themes.
  • Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is first introduced for real when Link encounters him after returning to Hyrule Castle and witnesses Impa and Zelda fleeing on horseback. The ominous theme that plays when they have their first confrontation (which is later played on an imposing pipe organ much later in the game) is quite expressive of his villainy.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect:
      • On Virmire right after finding the Prothean beacon there, menacing sounding music starts playing as the party goes and converses with Sovereign for the first time.
      • Prior to speaking with Vigil, one of the final remnants of the Prothean race, we hear Vigil's Theme, slow and subdued but hopeful sounding. It's also the first thing we hear when the game starts up.
    • Mass Effect 2 opens with The Illusive Man's Theme, technologically produced and intriguing-sounding but with multi-layered textures that make it tricky to hear everything in it, as he and Miranda discuss the state of the galaxy and what they need to do to achieve their goals.
  • Undertale: Each of the central characters is accompanied by music when you first meet them.
    • Flowey is first presented with a silly tune to make you believe he's only a silly character and better hide how psychotic he really is. When he takes control of the game, he gets a high-pitched Drone of Dread to show how dangerous he became.
    • When she saves you from Flowey, Toriel is accompanied by a calm, soothing melody, helping establish her motherly, caring nature.
    • Sans plays a prank on you and is accompanied by a music that is smooth and chill, establishing his fun, laid-back personality.
    • Papyrus is first seen berating his brother for being so lazy while bemoaning his own inability to catch humans. His leitmotif "Nyeh Heh Heh!" plays while he is on screen. It's an upbeat, yet outlandish melody that helps define Papyrus as an incompetent but well-meaning guy.
    • Undyne is first introduced to the player with a low, ominous theme to suit her reputation as the ruthlessly efficient captain of the Royal Guard, out to kill all humans. However, when you meet her properly, everything is dead silent as she starts giving her speech... only to immediately forget what she was going to say, causing the game to cut to an extremely bombastic song named after her shouting when she wants to fight you, showing off her intensely Hot-Blooded nature and her total inability to hide it.
    • Alphys is first introduced with a chill but awkward tune which which ends on Uncommon Time to define her as a friendly but painfully shy character.
    • Mettaton is first introduced a game show music to define his Affably Evil personality. Then, when you're stuck in a fight with him, a more sinister theme plays to show you he can conciliate a show and his job as a Killer Robot.

  • Homestuck: "The Man in the Cairo Overcoat" reveals the Greater-Scope Villain Lord English while an incredibly distorting and constantly looping to reinforce his role as the Lord of Time.

    Web Original 
  • RWBY: The trailers which introduced each member of Team RWBY made excellent use of music to help establish their characters.
    • Ruby's song "Red Like Roses" sounds like it's played by a mariachi band, portraying Ruby as a fun-loving character, but the triumphant orchestral music underneath it demonstrates her heroic nature.
    • Weiss's song "Mirror, Mirror" is a haunting orchestral piece, accompanied by Weiss' singing. This shows her inner struggle, as she tries to figure out who she is meant to be in life.
    • Blake's song "From Shadows" alternates between a somber piano piece and heavy electronic music, showing her double nature and her melancholy outlook on life.
    • Yang's song "I Burn" starts as a dance remix of the other girls' songs, before transitioning to a pounding synth beat. This demonstrates her devotion to her teammates and her Blood Knight tendencies.


Video Example(s):


The DK Rap

Arguably one of the most famous pieces of music ever made for The Fifth Generation of Console Video Games, the DK Rap establishes Donkey kong and his crew for the player.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / EstablishingCharacterMusic

Media sources: