Music and Fighting: A Match Made in Movie Heaven
From the silent comedic slapstick of Buster Keaton to the “drunken master” style of Jackie Chan, to the stylized slo-mo cool of the action in John Woo’s films, to the bloody operas of Quentin Tarantino, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese, great fighting scenes are integral to the movies.
Fighting scenes can hit all kinds of emotional notes. They can be funny, dark, contemplative, or just plain berserk. They can be hand-to-hand or involve substantial hardware. But what great fighting scenes all have in common — even more than slick choreography, when you think about it, because some fighting scenes are in fact great for their naturalistic awkwardness — is their terrific use of music.
From Tarantino’s use of pop and Ennio Morricone, to Scorsese’s use of 60s and 70s classics, to DePalma’s use of orchestral scores amped up with synths, music is inextricable to the power of cinematic fighting scenes.
So if you want to lift your fighting scene into that pantheon, make it visceral, amp your audience up — do yourself a favor and add awesome music!
To give you a headstart, we’ve compiled some punchy tracks that are copyright-free and available for you to use. That means once you pay the license fee, they are completely yours to use as many times as you like — as many times as your hero kicks ass or throws left hooks.
Grab some headphones, have a listen, and get started on making your fight scenes stylish, memorable, and infinitely cooler.
Kinds of Cinematic Music
First, a quick note. Music in films can be of two varieties: diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic music comes from within a scene, like music that plays from a radio that’s on in the background — which is usually the case in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
Non-diegetic music is music that is added in post-production, like classic Hollywood scores. You can use these tracks in either way, building them into the fabric of your scene (as if they’re playing on TV) or adding them after and editing them to suit your visuals or vice versa.
Either way, you can use them to:
- Add rhythm and pace
- Work as an effective counterpoint to the action (for example, adding comedic music to a dark fight scene to play against it, tonally)
- Add emotional richness
And now the playlist of the best fighting background music of 2021!
1. In the Lead
This driving, energetic track has an electric guitar in the lead and a cool swell of horns and brass to support and play against it. “In the Lead” has an uplifting, Rocky-esque, amped-up mood, with a relatively fast tempo of 120 BPM that gives it a real sense of inspiration — and fun. The guitar solo is especially juicy.
“In the Lead” is a versatile track that could work underneath a crime-gang brawl, to build anticipation toward a big fistfight between two rival gang leaders, or in the triumphant aftermath of a fight that goes well for your protagonist.
Speaking of Rocky, here’s a rocking track composed by Chris Villepigue that recalls a certain well-known, rousing hair rock classic. It’s serious and confident, using a mix of synthesizers and strings to add inspiration and uplift to guitar rock. If you’re looking to underscore a big rousing victory for your hero, the undeniably big emotion and sheer 80s exuberance of this track might just be the way to go.
3. Hard Rockin
If you’re looking for something harder and more propulsive, “Hard Rockin” by composer Brian Karkovice may be your jam. It’s got heavy drums, chunky electric guitars, and driving electric bass. It’s edgy, aggressive, and unapologetically heavy metal. Because as you well know, fighting scenes can’t be all sweetness and light. This track could really underscore a protagonist’s need to get even with his nemesis and unleash hell — or you could use it to score his being beaten to a pulp. Either way, this track feels like fury. And if you’re working on a fight scene set in the past, “Hard Rockin” could give it a contemporary edge.
“Fractured” conjures a big, blockbuster-ish emotional landscape. It starts in an ominous, moody key before branching out to orchestral brass, tense strings, and cinematic drums. Its midsection evokes the unveiling of a much bigger foe than first anticipated – whether it’s human or machine.
If you’re looking to add scope, mystery, and power to your fighting scene, “Fractured” feels epic and intense. But it doesn’t sacrifice energy, either, and comes to an exciting, pacey conclusion.
“Infliction,” by composer Enrico Milardo, dramatically evokes science fiction. It innovatively blends percussion, strings, and orchestra with sound effect elements that suggest a planet with a vastly different language than our own. It could be used for a dystopian fight scene, action sequences that mingle with cyberpunk or hard SF, or just to make our contemporary world seem a lot cooler and more mysterious than it is. It has a real sense of techno-cool.
Action-packed, driving, and full of big drums and orchestral hits, “Hold on to Your Seat” is aptly named. If you’re working on a car chase — or indeed any sequence that involves pursuit between your fighters — this track, composed by Cinescape, feels perfectly suited. Terse and precise, it could also be used to build tension between your two fighters before all hell breaks loose.
7. They Come
“They Come,” by composer Dominik Hauser, feels cinematic, tense, and richly haunting. It expertly builds suspense with orchestral stabs and string flourishes. It feels like the best kind of old-fashioned movie music — perfect for an ambush scene or the stalking of your hero down a foggy street.
Making excellent use of orchestral strings, it’s reminiscent of composers like Danny Elfman and Bernard Herrmann. It concludes with a slightly more playful variation on its start.
You could use different parts of it to support different aspects of your fight scene, or you could just play it continuously to generate suspense and anxiety in the audience. It would work equally well under opening titles or over (say) brief scenes of mayhem, punctuated with blackouts. Full of Hitchcockian string flourishes, it’s got real classical power and makes you feel like you’re eating popcorn and watching the action unfold in a comfy old movie theater seat.
As its name implies, this fight background music track composed by Guillermo Guareschi has a powerful, fast-paced drumbeat, overlaid with an electric guitar that gives it an extra edge. It may be frenetic but it’s also controlled — and it builds to a big crescendo that could work powerfully well with the end of a fight sequence. “Frenetic” feels perfect for a big urban showdown.
It’s all drums, all the time, in “Battle to the End.” Some cool cymbals and a more electronic beat add variety to a lean, stripped-down, propulsive chunk of action background music that would lend a contemporary samurai feeling to any fight scene.
10. Street Fighter
Cool, futuristic, and techno-inspired, “Street Fighter,” by composer Stuart Burrows, is an intense and compelling piece of action movie music. It has a dual sense of mystery and edginess that makes it very different from all the other tracks on this list, and it makes use of human vocal calls. It feels visceral, like the best fighting music, and if you’re looking for a track to cut your martial arts or hand-to-hand combat scenes to, “Street Fighter” could be a perfect choice. It’s reminiscent of the music that made Run Lola Run such a cool and powerfully different kind of action movie.
11. Incan Battle
“Incan Battle” is for fans of deep, rhythmic drumming and a classic sense of cinematic power and emotion. With its deep percussive grooves and stirring orchestral overlays, it conjures up great cinematic epics like Last of the Mohicans and Apocalypto. If you’re working on a historical epic or simply want to give your fight scenes that kind of depth and feeling, Nicolas Warseck’s track is one to listen to. It’s not just one-note, and there’s some lovely, light interplay between the percussion and orchestral strings and flute. As the name implies, it conjures up a world of Incan hand weapons — but of course, even if your fight scene is contemporary, it could benefit from the emotional colors that “Incan Battle” adds. It feels large-spirited and romantic.
Fighting Scenes and Music: Knockout Round
Music is integral to the power of a fighting scene. But it can feel impossible to find a great track online without getting into a tangle of rights and payment issues. Fortunately, Stock Music has curated hundreds of great tracks by leading composers. All of their music is royalty-free, so you just need to make one payment to download the music, which you can then use forever — however many times you want.
If you’re looking for action background music available as an mp3 download, look no further. All of the music on Stock Music is searchable by genre, instrumentation, tempo, and mood, making it all the easier and more pleasurable for you to browse until you find the perfect solution for your soundtrack needs. Check it out today! You won’t be disappointed, and your fight scenes will be all the punchier for your efforts.