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Recycled Trailer Music

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"Listening to it now, I'm a bit surprised I got away with such nutty music for a coming attraction. Of course, those days are long gone... as all trailers now seem to be mandated by law to be beefed-up variations of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana..."
Danny Elfman, on the music written for the trailer of Mars Attacks!

When releasing a film to the public, the film's score is usually the very last thing to be completed. This means that there will be enough finished scenes to make a trailer, but no soundtrack yet. What's a studio to do?

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Slap in some music from another film, stock music, or even a pop song, that evokes the general mood they're going for, that's what.

The first film of a franchise is most likely to use this trope, whereas trailers for future films tend to reuse music from the previous ones. For example, most Star Wars trailers after A New Hope used portions of John Williams' score for that film, whereas the original trailer for A New Hope used stock music! Once the score is completed, the studio might release a new batch of trailers using the film's own music. Alternatively, if a new film is from the same creative team or production company behind a recent hit, the music might be excerpted from the hit's soundtrack, as when an instrumental version of "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast underscored TV ads for Pocahontas, for instance.

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Licensed music made entirely for trailers by groups like Two Steps from Hell and used to advertise several unrelated products is not an example of this trope as that's just stock library music. Also not part of this trope are classical compositions or songs initially released as just... well, music, take those examples to Standard Snippet and/or Stock Trailer Music.


Examples:

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  • An overused score is the main theme from Requiem for a Dream, "Lux Aeterna" which is used for "serious" movies... and certain NASCAR commercials. Most ads don't use the original recording; instead they tend to use the big orchestral arrangement which was recorded for the trailer of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
    • The Requiem for a Dream version was used in a chrurch for a video montage of World Youth Day preparation.
    • Neatly mocked in this Telus commercial, featuring some fairly epic meerkats.
    • A LOT of YouTube videos use this piece.
  • You HAVE heard this piece. And when you listen to it you will say "oh, the movie trailer song" at 1:38.
  • It's frequently used on Britain's Got Talent. It seems like a typical usage until you realize that one of the storylines in Requiem For A Dream involves someone compromising their values and ultimately sacrificing their sanity for a chance to be on television.
  • It is also used in the trailer for Cupcakes: The Movie.
  • "Nara" is the track used most often, it seems—that's the Cold Case one and it was in the trailers of Unfaithful and Vanity Fair.
  • Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" began cropping up all over the place after Kill Bill made it famous.
  • Elfman's main theme to Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School has been trailer music for plenty of boisterous comedies.
  • Hans Zimmer's piece You're So Cool from the movie True Romance, gets used in trailers quite often.
    • Which itself is almost a direct rip-off of Carl Orff's "Gassenhauer".
  • Trailers for the film adaptation of Constantine use "Pain and Retribution" from the score to The Crow.
  • The teaser to Bedtime Stories had music playing from 102 Dalmatians.
  • The "Flying" theme from Hook is another exceedingly popular children's fantasy piece. Give a listen, and you'll probably recognize it.
  • Aversion: the first trailer for The Phantom of the Opera (2004) used a churning, string-section-heavy part of the actual score (though that may have been a different recording than the one used in the film), followed by a small snippet of Gerard Butler singing "The Music of the Night". The trailers for the DVD version, oddly, still contained the score, but little to no singing (similar to the Sweeney Todd example above), except the narration still called it "Andrew Lloyd Webber's triumphant musical"!
  • One of the first teasers of Ridley Scott's Gladiator used "Anvil of Crom" from Conan the Barbarian (1982) by Basil Poledouris. What better way to set the epic tone for the then upcoming movie? The film had music by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt and Lisa Gerrard.
    • Speaking of Gladiator, "Now We Are Free" has been used in a number of trailers, most famously Man of Steel.

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  • The pre-series trailer for The Lion Guard had the entrance theme of the late WWE superstar Umaga playing during it at one point.

Alternative Title(s): The Elfman Effect

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