Soundtracks are one of the most memorable things about a work. Ofttimes, a work will have one (or many) tunes that, when you hear them, just immediately make you remember the work in question. And then there are those tracks that you associate so much with the work that the absence of it feels like Early Installment Weirdness.
This could be related to many things. For instance, a particular theme could be associated with an Iconic Sequel Character (such as the theme of Rohan from the The Lord of the Rings trilogy), it could result from a particular composer just penning something magnificent that so happened to come later in the series, or it could be because one particular track just struck a chord with audiences. Whatever the case, if you hear a song from a score and it makes you instantly think of the series as a whole, and it doesn't appear until after the first installment, you have yourself an Iconic Sequel Song.
As mentioned above, related to Iconic Sequel Character, where it's the character him/her/itself that appears late. See also Bootstrapped Theme, which is when a particular song unofficially becomes the main theme of a particular franchise, as many of those listed below are bootstrapped themes for their franchises.
Film - Animated
- "Happy" from Despicable Me 2. Pharrell Williams, the singer of "Happy" did the Title Theme Tune to the first film, but it was never as popular due to having a less universal context beyond the scope of the movie.
Film - Live-Action
- As mentioned in the main article, the motif for Rohan and the theme of Minas Tirith did not appear until The Two Towers and The Return of the King respectively.
- The hit song "Eye of the Tiger" is most commonly associated with the Rocky franchise and is rivaled only by the original instrumental theme "Gonna Fly Now" in fame, but it didn't debut until Rocky III.
- While the famous opening theme has been around since A New Hope, a number of Star Wars songs did not appear until later films, but most notable is "The Imperial March," which didn't appear until The Empire Strikes Back. The Empire's theme was a sinister, brassy triad in a minor key in A New Hope.
- "See You Again" is by far the most famous song in The Fast and the Furious series, despite it not appearing until the seventh film in the series. The reason the song became so popular is because it was written as a tribute to star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash during filming.
- The DC Extended Universe's most popular theme, "Is She With You?", debuted in the film franchise's second entry, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The song is Wonder Woman's Leitmotif, herself an Iconic Sequel Character.
- The X-Men Film Series' most popular theme is the theme of the second film.
- "The Rain of Castamere" is a recurring song on Game of Thrones that is also a fan-favorite. It does not show up until the penultimate episode of Season 2. The other famous piece of music, the best-selling instrumental "Light of the Seven" didn't show up until the finale of Season 6, quickly becoming a Bootstrapped Theme Tune used in alteration with the theme tune.
- The most popular songs from How I Met Your Mother are all absent during the inaugural season. Robin's "Let's Go to the Mall" and Marshall's favorite road jam "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" were both introduced in Season 2, while Barney's "Barney Stinson, that Guy's Awesome" and "Nothing Suits You Like A Suit" were respectively introduced in Seasons 4 and 5. Also, the titular Mother's acclaimed rendition of "La Vien Rose" was sang in the final season.
- Star Trek is often associated with the theme of the movie/Star Trek: The Next Generation despite the original theme being something else.
- AJ Lee's most popular theme is "Let's Light it Up" by Kari Kimel. It was her third entrance theme.
- Batista's fourth solo entrance theme, "I Walk Alone", is the song he is most associated with. His third solo theme, "Animal", is also fondly remembered.
- Becky Lynch's third overall entrance theme, "Celtic Invasion", is her most popular.
- Bryan Danielson is identified with two entrance themes. For his independent days, Europe's "The Final Countdown" is his most remembered theme, even though it was his third. For his WWE tenure, his fourth theme, "Flight of the Valkyries", is the most associated with him.
- Chris Jericho's most popular theme is "Break the Walls Down", which he will not use until the ninth year of his wrestling career.
- Christian's definitive theme is considered to be the Story of the Year version of "Just Close Your Eyes", his fifth theme in his overall career.
- Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" is CM Punk's most definitive theme in both his independent and WWE careers. The song was actually his fourth theme in the indies before reusing it in the WWE during his final two and a half years with the company.
- Eddie Guerrero's most popular theme is unquestionably "Lie, Cheat, Steal". He actually only used this theme from March 2004 to April 2005 after a FaceHeel Turn, and again upon turning Face in October 2005 up until his unexpected death the following month.
- Edge's definitive theme is "Metalingus" by Alter Bridge, his seventh and final theme in his overall career.
- Jeff Hardy didn't use "No More Words" until his ninth year as a wrestler.
- John Cena's third ("Basic Thuganomics") and especially fourth ("My Time is Now") entrance themes are significantly more popular than his first two themes.
- Kane's most popular theme is "Slow Chemical" by Finger Eleven, his fifth overall theme. None of his subsequent themes since have received love from fans.
- "Lovefurypassionenergy" is considered to be Lita's most definitive theme. It was actually her second theme, which she didn't even use until her third year as a wrestler.
- Mick Foley's definitive theme is "Wreck", his seventh overall theme.
- Paige's definitive theme is "Stars in the Night", which is actually her second WWE theme (third overall, as she used "Faint" by Linkin Park in the indies).
- Randy Orton's third ("Burn in my Light") and especially fourth ("Voices") entrance themes are more popular and remembered than his first two solo themes.
- Rey Mysterio Jr.'s most popular theme is "Booyaka 619", which he didn't use until 2006 (he debuted in 1989).
- While "Sexy Boy" has always been Shawn Michaels' solo theme, the second version is the most remembered.
- "I Wont Do What You Tell Me" is undoubtedly "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's most remembered theme. The song debuted in late 1998, whereas Austin's wrestling career began in 1989.
- The Rock's definitive theme is considered to be "Know Your Role", his fourth overall theme.
- The Miz's definitive theme is "I Came to Play", his second which he will not use until the seventh year of his career.
- The Undertaker's definitive theme is "Rest in Peace", his thirteenth overall
- "The Game" by Motörhead is actually Triple H's seventh theme.
- In Castlevania, the iconic Bloody Tears debuted in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
- Crash Bandicoot:
- Final Fantasy:
- The Chocobo theme doesn't appear until Final Fantasy II, later expanded in Final Fantasy III.
- The Moogles' theme doesn't appear until Final Fantasy V.
- Dancing Mad and One-Winged Angel don't appear until Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII respectively despite being the poster-children for final boss themes across the franchise.
- Kingdom Hearts has several well-known themes, such as "Sanctuary," "Darkness of the Unknown" or "Vector to the Heavens" that didn't appear until sequel games.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- "Zelda's Lullaby" has appeared in almost every Zelda title, but it first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as a tune associated with rescuing Zelda and the other kidnapped maidens. Likewise, the leitmotif for Ganon/Ganondorf isn't introduced until A Link To The Past, and then slightly expanded in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Hyrule Castle theme, Kakariko Village theme, and Fairy Fountain theme are also first heard in A Link to the Past.
- The recurring themes for Zora's Domain, Saria's Song, Epona's Song, and Goron City first appeared in Ocarina of Time.
- The most remembered theme in the Metal Gear franchise is "Encounter", which didn't appear until Metal Gear Solid, the third game in the series. The theme from the following game was this for a time, until Konami learned the hard way that Georgy Sviridov's estate didn't appreciate the overt similarities with his composition "The Winter Road".
- Super Mario Bros.:
- The recurring theme heard when rescuing Princess Peach made its debut in the original game, but Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels significantly expanded upon the theme by adding a new melodic section, which has since been included in most later games.
- Bowser's Airship Fleet didn't appear until Super Mario Bros. 3.
- Peach's Castle, Bob-Omb Battlefield, and Bowser's motif didn't appear until Super Mario 64.
- If Mega Man had a song that would be forever considered the franchise's theme, it would likely be the title screen music... from the second game.
- In Metroid, Samus Aran's theme, Ridley's theme, Kraid's theme, the Lower Brinstar theme, and the Lower Norfair/Magmoor Caverns theme didn't appear until Super Metroid. Ridley's theme also saw a harmonic portion added in Metroid Prime's Meta Ridley theme that has since been included in many of Ridley's boss themes, including in other titles such as Nintendo Land.
- The song "Philistine" is one of the most iconic in the No More Heroes series, but it doesn't appear until Desperate Struggle.
- Theme of Eastern Story, a Recurring Riff in Touhou, was not introduced until the fourth game in the series.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- "His World" is often treated as Sonic's theme song, or the theme of the entire franchise, but it originates from Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
- Shadow's theme in Sonic Adventure 2 was "Throw It All Away". His most iconic themes, "I Am... All Of Me" and "All Hail Shadow", didn't appear until Shadow the Hedgehog.
- The series is well-known for its lyrical theme songs but they didn't start becoming commonplace until 1998's Sonic Adventure.