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Now found in more places than the music store.

"Steve's dead now. From here on in, Steve's death will be represented by the oboe."

A leitmotif (pronounced "Light-motif") is a recurring piece of music (or at least melody) that represents a character, action, or theme. This is a well-established technique used in almost every medium that involves music and story. The leitmotif technique was codified by opera composer Richard Wagner in the second half of the 19th Century. In his later operas, not only would every character have their own musical theme, but so did many objects, places, and even abstract ideas.

Leitmotifs are often named simply "<character>'s Theme" or "<noun> Motif."note  They often make up the bulk of movie and anime soundtracks, and a fair chunk of video game soundtracks as well.

This is different from an Image Song in that Image Songs exist only outside of the scope of the show that produced them. Compare with "I Am" Song.

If a character with a distinctive-sounding Leitmotif is in a production or episode with No Fourth Wall (or at least some Medium Awareness), one of their fellows may lampshade how loud and annoying their theme music is. (To which the character will almost always reply, "What theme music?") Can become a Theme Song Reveal for audiences if (or after) they recognize the theme. The character might also have their leitmotif as their own ringtone, for a subtler joke; see also Left the Background Music On.

Note that if a character's leitmotif starts playing during an action scene, it's probably a Theme Music Power-Up and a wise Mook would start running.

Can become a Recurring Riff when used throughout a long-running series. Bootstrapped Leitmotif is such a variation, where a song that wasn't originally intended as a leitmotif later becomes one.

One especially common leitmotif in video games is the Battle Theme Music, associated with monster battles in general. (Since RPGs Equal Combat, especially when Level Grinding Random Encounters.) If a specific character's Battle Theme Music is actually a remix of their Leitmotif, it may be a Boss Remix.

See also Mood Motif, Standard Snippet. Super-Trope to Love Theme. Compare Arc Words, which is more or less the literary equivalent. Also compare AM/FM Characterization, when it's the character's music tastes that define them.


  • Jake from State Farm: The "Like a good neighbor..." tagline is punctuated by a jaunty five-note melody. Lampshaded in "Dunk" and "Storytime" where Chris Paul hears the notes and instantly assumes he's in a comercial.

    Animation (Asia) 
  • Noonbory and the Super 7:
    • The "heroic" theme, which is the second most used leitmotif behind the theme song, is typically associated with Noonbory.
    • Lunabory has a gentle theme with little twinkle sounds.
    • Jetybory has a winds-heavy piece with zoom noises.
    • Pongdybory has a weirdly mysterious theme with what sounds like an ocarina.
    • Cozybory has a suspensful theme with a synthesizer.
    • Totobory has a theme comprised primarly of descending clarinet glissandos
    • Dozegury is associated with a horn.
    • Rosygury is associated with the harpsicord.
  • Simple Samosa: In the episode "Tutti Frutti", Tutti Frutti the anthropomorphic ice cream has a short, cheerful ditty which plays throughout the episode, with lyrics based on a well-known rhyme. The full set of lyrics below only appears at the beginning of the episode, otherwise, only the "I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah!" part shows up.
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah
    Come on and have a scoop
    Any flavor, any fruit
    Nothing can be cooler than me
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah

    Animation (Eastern Europe) 
  • Masha and the Bear has several, the most notable being "Masha's Song", a lively polka highlighting the energetic and rambunctious nature of the character, and "Bear's Song", with beatboxing highlighting the Bear's playful and goofy nature.

    Audio Plays 
  • The Sandman (2020): "The Song of Orpheus" is the melody for all of Orpheus's songs, such as the one he sings on his wedding day and the one he sings during "Thermidor". It also appears as part of the score at some points.

    Comic Books 

  • Williams Electronics' Taxi plays a brief tune associated with each passenger that gets picked up, such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".

  • In The Goon Show almost every appearance of Major Bloodnok is heralded by a specially-composednote  fanfare. One one occasion, this is played with slightly by beginning the tune in grand, operatic style, before reverting to a fanfare at the end.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Each villain in Sentinels of the Multiverse gets one in the digital version as of the Rook City expansion that plays when looking at their entries in the Multiverse or after losing to them. The environments also have their own particular music that plays in the Multiverse menu and during combat.
    • And now, as of this writing, 21 of the 36 heroes have Leitmotifs composed by the same guy who did the music for the game (with a little outside help).


Rio Leitmotifs Part 1

As the YouTuber Minewitcher2 points out in his review of the movie Rio, the film has several leitmotifs that are used for certain scenes such as a leitmotif that is used for Blu which is also the tune for the song Real In Rio.

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Main / Leitmotif

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