Music drives films of any kind to the next level. An actor with a sub-par performance can be elevated (to a point) with correctly utilized music to back him up. A scene with zero tension can be ratcheted up a thousand times with just a few strings and distant wind chimes. Just as important as when to put music in a film is when not to put music in a film, a technique that was popular with Alfred Hitchcock and is becoming popular again today. For this article, the definition of a “war film” is going to be kind of loose, as the music is the main subject of discussion.

War movies generally fall under two categories, but like any broad, sweeping artistic category, they realistically probably fall somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

First is the style of music composition that is loud and serves to drive the action forward; it can push the emotion and intensity beyond what could be felt had the director chosen silence instead — there are things in a war you just can’t replicate on film, so music can help bridge that gap. This is the “Tears of the Sun” type music that was more popular in older movies, some of which are the greats — who can forget “Platoon” and its climactic ending with death of Sgt. Elias? The music can be sad, but it can also be strong like in Hans Zimmer’s “Gladiator” or Junkie XL’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” My favorite, and I would argue one of the greatest film scores put in a movie, was the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, masterfully composed by Howard Shore.