The Music Man

9 Favorite Film Music Marches

When it comes to writing marches, you’d think every composer would throw up their hands in defeat following in the footsteps of John Philip Sousa. Yet film has provided the opportunity for many a composer to lockstep in musical harmony. As usual with these lists, I needed to set some ground rules for myself. Once again I’m forced to keep it to one march per composer or the entire list would have been made up Elmer Bernstein and John Williams (not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld). Even with those restrictions, this is a mighty hummable group of film music marches that is sure to make you twirl your baton. (Interpret that as you will.)

Victory At Sea Soundtrack
The Great Escape soundtrack
Silent Movie Soundtrack

9. VICTORY AT SEA (1952)

It’s not film music, but television, and not a film composer, but a Broadway legend. One of Richard Rodgers‘s rare forays into purely instrumental music was a big hit when this documentary series of naval warfare during World War II aired on NBC. Rodgers contributed short piano compositions of 1-2 minutes in length and Robert Russell Bennett, who orchestrated most of Rodgers’s stage shows, transformed these themes into a proper score, though he only received credit for arranging and conducting. The “Guadalcanal March” is pure Rodgers in its catchy, memorable simplicity, yet its orchestral flair is all Bennett.


It’s hard for me to take Elmer Bernstein‘s classic march seriously after seeing the classic Simpsons “Streetcar Named Marge” episode from 1992 in which Maggie tries to rescue her pacifier at the Ayn Rand School for Tots (brilliant name, by the way). Still, Bernstein’s music, whether taken straight or as parody, still works brilliantly—in context of the film and on its own.

7. SILENT MOVIE (1976)

This march simply makes me happy, which is more than I can say for the movie. Mel Brooks’s attempt to make a silent comedy has its occasional funny bits, but the greatest joy comes from John Morris’s music. Few scores put a smile on my face like this one and that sudden modulation at the final statement of the melody (at 2:19) never fails to lift my spirits.

El Cid Soundtrack
The Greatest Show on Earth Soundtrack
Captain From Castile soundtrack

6. EL CID (1961)

This film is one of those lumbering Samuel Bronston epics, with Charlton Heston as the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar—”El Cid”—who fought the North African Almoravides in the 11th century and contributed to the unification of Spain. Beautiful to look at but interminably slow, the film is best experienced in terms of Miklós Rózsa‘s colorful music, one of his many masterpieces.


This Cecil B. DeMille piece of cinematic hokum (and inexplicable Best Picture winner) is still a lot of fun, thanks to Gloria Grahame and a host of campy performances. But it is Victor Young‘s march that bookends the film (in a Betty Hutton vocal version during the finale) and gives the film its rousing oom-pah-pah heart and a sense of childlike innocence.


Tyrone Power is a young Castillian aristocrat who runs afoul of the Inquisition and joins Cortez’s (Cesar Romero) adventures in the New World discovering Aztec treasures.Alfred Newman‘s colorful score combines the robust energy of its Spanish and Mexican locales. Newman gave his justifiably famous “Conquest” march for the Conquistadors to the USC Trojan Band in 1950, where it has since become their battle cry during football games as well as a staple in pops concerts over the years.

The Caine Mutiny soundtrack
Patton soundtrack
1941 Soundtrack


This adaptation of Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel stars Humphrey Bogart at his battiest best as the mentally unhinged Captain Queeg. Giving the film the proper military musical milieu is Max Steiner‘s rousing march, which anchors this Oscar-nominated score in a dramatic tale of intrigue and court-martial.

2. PATTON (1970)

Has any march in the history of film music been so essential to the psychological probing of a character as Jerry Goldsmith’s PATTON? I’d argue that not even John Williams’s “The Imperial March” gets to the soul Darth Vader (or what’s left of it). Those echoing trumpets, memorable piccolo melody, and ponderous lower brass by turns give George C. Scott’s controversial General bravery, humanity and gravitas. Forty-two years later, the theme is timeless.

1. 1941 (1979)

Oh, the many John Williams marches I could have chosen—”The Imperial March,” “The Raiders March,” and on and on… No one will ever be able to convince me that 1941 is anything more than a colossal waste of celluloid. Even worse, it’s one of the unfunniest movies ever made. But Williams, as usual, rises far above the material. Here, he has created one of the most infectious, joyous pieces of music in his career. Those other Williams marches may be far more dramatic. But for sheer musical oomph, nothing beats this crisp martial display. We played this incessantly my final year in high school (and rather badly, I might add). And those descending sixteenth notes at 2:21 (a clever answer to the ascending low strings sixteenths a few seconds earlier) are the one and only time in my life I’ve ever wanted to play trombone.

What are your favorite film music marches?

  1. Interesting selection of marches you have here, Jim.
    My 9 favorite film music marches, however, is somewhat different, shall we say.

    9. Victory At Sea (Richard Rodgers) – And yes, that was a very pleasant surprise.
    8. Captain America (Alan Silvestri)
    7. The Great Escape (Elmer Bernstein)
    6. Midway March (John Williams)
    5. The Raiders Of The Lost Ark March (John Williams)
    4. Patton (Jerry Goldsmith)
    3. The March From 1941 (John Williams)
    2. The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) (John Williams)
    1. Superman (John Williams)

    Sorry. It’s just that John Williams is my favorite composer of all time, that is so difficult to rule out his marches.

    1. All good candidates, Luis. And don’t mind the rules I set for myself. I certainly don’t expect others to follow them. :)

  2. You picked all the really good ones, but my personal favorite movie march of all time is Les Baxter’s rousing one from GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, thunderously conducted as the end title track on the soundtrack album by Muir Mathieson. A real guilty pleasure of mine ever since I first heard it as a kid.

    A few others that come to mind:
    Paul Anka’s terrific march tune from THE LONGEST DAY.
    Henry Mancini wrote a good one for WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?.
    Max Steiner’s rousing A DISTANT TRUMPET theme.
    Ennio Morricone’s sinister main title march for THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS.
    Maurice Jarre’s goose-stepper from IS PARIS BURNING?

  3. For those curious about “Victory at Sea,” please know that Rodgers hardly wrote (much less put into orchestral dress) the whole of the “Guadalancal March.” He wrote the melody line for the first two strains, a countermelody to the first, and some chord symbols–that’s it. Everything else is entirely Bennett’s (as is *every* other march in the entirety of the VAS series). If you wanna see what the Rodgers manuscript looks like for GM, here it is at the Library of Congress:

  4. I think you left out a major one: Tiomkin’s Procession from Land of the Pharaohs.

  5. A great list…as a starting point (tooo hard to limit to just nine). I would add:

    1) March from Midway-Williams
    2) March from Superman-Williams
    3) March from Raiders-Williams
    4) Imperial March (Star Wars)-Williams

    and there are many others. While I believe that John Williams is one of the “greats,” and my additions are all compositions by him, I am not biased…these are the pieces that just come to mind.

  6. To which I would add:

    1) The Great Waldo Pepper [Mancini]
    2) MacArthur [Goldsmith]
    3) Ben-Hur’s various marches [Rozsa]

  7. Jim, cool list. Like you I paid my dues in marching bands(Snare, Tenor, and bass drums)
    Some of my favorites not on your list are all by Henry Mancini: The Swing March from “What Do Did You Do In The War Daddy”?( I begged my high school band director to get us a chart, no luck) March Of The Cue Balls, the Great Race March and The Great Waldow Pepper March. BTW Hank did a Concert Orchestra arrangement of all but the Waldo Pepper on his RCA LP Mancini Concert. Still have the Lp.

  8. Great choices; personally I’m another big John Williams fan so most of his would go in the list. I second those suggesting Waldo Pepper. Nobody’s mentioned Elmer Bernstein’s “Stripes”?
    Might be sticking my neck out a bit to say “Police Academy”… :-P

  9. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned John Addison’s march from A Bridge Too Far or The Dambusters March by Eric Coates.

    A couple more gems that shouldn’t be overlooked are:
    The March from Monuments Men (Alexandre Desplat)
    The King’s March from The Man Who Would Be King (Maurice Jarre)

    I know this list focuses on original music composed for films, but I can’t help but give a shout-out to Leonard Rosenman’s brilliant arrangement of The Hohenfriedberger March in Barry Lyndon. (The film also includes classics like the March From Idomeneo, British Grenadiers and Lillibullero.)

    While it may be more a Salvation Army-style hymn than a true march, Tom Wait’s Take Care of All My Children from Streetwise is a moving piece of music.

    Finally a trio of more whimsical marches:
    The Viva Max March (Hugo Montenegro)
    The Game’s Afoot (March) from They Might Be Giants (John Barry)
    The Wallace & Gromit Theme (Julian Nott)

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