Classical music forms the soundscape of many films -- think Strauss in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the blue diva in “The Fifth Element,” or the lush chords of Disney’s “Fantasia.” It offers gravitas, elevation and deep stirrings of our collective memory. Classical music may be the fallback of lazy directors, or it may provide the essential color and texture that lends to a film’s beauty and resonance.
The recent discussions about "Prometheus'" use of classical music, and summer movie season in general, got us thinking about some of our favorite classical music moments in blockbuster films. From "The Fifth Element" to "X-Men 2," peep the slideshow below to see our favorites and be sure to let us know what we missed in the comments. And what do you think -- does the music here complement, or contrast, the scenes nicely, or is it the easy way out?
To listen to the music from the slideshow in full, spin our Spotify playlist below.
The Fifth Element
This 1997 sci-fi favorite has one of the greatest opera/classical music moments on screen of all time. In the associated clip, the alien diva Plavalaguna (voiced by the Albanian soprano Inva Mula and played in the film by French actress Mainwenn Le Besco) sings an aria from the <a href="http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?id=55" target="_hplink">opera "Lucia di Lammermoor."</a> It's a beautiful scene and the alien diva's strange but striking appearance heightens the opera even more.
In what is arguably one of the greatest war films of all time, Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" plays as the squadron of attack helicopters (projecting "Ride of Valkyries" from their speakers) begin their assault on a Vietnamese village. "Apocalypse Now" isn't the only film to use the epic opera. In D.W. Giffith's controversial 1915 film, "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0004972/" target="_hplink">The Birth of a Nation</a>," the opera is used during a climactic scene in the third act.
"Black Swan" is fairly obvious because of its parallel to the opera and ballet, "Swan Lake." In the clip provided, Portman dances to Tchaikovsky's well-known "Swan Lake" as she begins to transform into the black swan.
Silence Of The Lambs
In this terrifying clip, J.S. Bach's "Goldberg Variations" plays as Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) breaks out of his jail cell. The music provides the perfect juxtaposition between the horrific and gruesome actions taking place on the screen and the antiquated and calming harpsichord score. Wonder if Bach would have approved of that one.
2001: A Space Odyssey
This epic and tremendously famous opening uses Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," a tone poem that was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra."
This clip features the first movement (allegro moderato in B minor) of the Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" by <a href="http://www.classicalarchives.com/composer/3308.html" target="_hplink">Franz Schubert</a>. The piece was started in 1822 but was never completed.
28 Days Later
Although we couldn't find a clip from Danny Boyle's zombie apocalypse film, the song is "Ave Maria" performed by Dame Janet Baker and Philip Ledger. The piece consists of a melody by the French composer Charles Gounod which is superimposed over Bach's "Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846 from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier."
The King's Speech
The clip features Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op.92" composed in 1811 (the seventh of Beethoven's nine symphonies). In this scene, King George VI, played by Colin Firth, prepares for his first wartime speech.
OK, while not exactly a blockbuster, we couldn't resist including Lars von Trier's 2009 psychological horror film. "Antichrist" opens with verses from Handel's aria, "Lascia ch'io piangia," which translates to "Leave me to cry." If you've seen the film, you'll understand why it's a fitting choice, and if you haven't, take our word for it. Von Trier also features classical music prominently in his latest film, "Melancholia," this time with an assist from <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKlKbrxMcE0" target="_hplink">Wagner's "ring" cycle operas</a>. <b>Warning: video contains explicit scenes.</b>
The famous Nightcrawler White House scene that opens "X-Men 2" is also epically set to Mozart's requiem, "Die Irae." We weren't able to find any clips from the film that <i>weren't</i> unfortunately sped up like this one is, but you can check out the song in full in the playlist below.