A low-level thug races down an unnamed street in Gotham. He’s just made off with thousands in jewelry from a neighborhood store and is looking to cash it all in for a big payday. He ducks down a moonlit alley when a shadow falls across his path. He looks upward and there along the rooftop, he sees him—Batman, the Dark Knight.

It’s almost impossible to read a passage like that without imagining some sort of dramatic theme rising to a crescendo the moment Batman makes his appearance. But what theme? It’s a fair question. With decades of film and television history, Batman has been accompanied by the work of some of the world’s best composers. But while Batman’s mask and mission may remain largely consistent, his soundtrack has not. There are some similarities—Batman’s soundtrack often tends to be brooding and ominous—but with a variety of composers comes a variety of approaches and influences, which leads to an often distinctly different result.

With Batman Day upon us, we thought it would be fun to look at five available soundtracks, each for a very different Batman project and offering a very different sound. And if you make it to the end, we just may have a special Batman Day treat for you…

Batman: Arkham Knight
Score by Nick Arundel and David Buckley

The most recent soundtrack on our list, this is the score to the final game in Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy and it sounds like it. Maintaining the same central theme from the earlier Rocksteady games, everything on this score just sounds a little bigger than what you found in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Arundel and Buckley aren’t traditionalists, there are plenty of overtly electronic touches all throughout their score, but it doesn’t distract from the drama of the compositions. In games, the soundtrack helps to build the world, making you as the player feel in control while at the same time giving you cues as to what you should be doing. In other words, they’re designed to drive the action, making this the perfect soundtrack to get you moving. (For more on this one, be sure to read our interview with Arundel.)

Batman: The Animated Series
Score by Shirley Walker, et al.

Available on several volumes (to say nothing about the just announced Mondo vinyl box set), the soundtrack to the beloved and influential Bruce Timm animated series is a marked contrast to the Arkham games score. Walker and her cohorts favor a classic approach peppered with frequent bouts of whimsy. Brass instruments and timpani drums are frequent, giving the whole thing a rousing, go-get-‘em attitude that feels perfect for the look and feel of the show, while keeping the suspense, which could be frightening to younger views, in check. Bonus points for co-existing so perfectly with Danny Elfman’s Batman score, which the show used as its main theme.

The Dark Knight Rises
Score by Hans Zimmer

Regardless of how you feel about the movie itself, The Dark Knight Rises score is pure brilliance. Typical of Zimmer’s work, the soundtrack never fails to surprise making it the most consistently entertaining score to listen to. From the percussive chant that accompanies Bane, to the sexy, sophisticated piano that graces Bruce’s dance with Selina, to the relentless strings and synth of the stock exchange scene, the entire score is a delight and thrill. Zimmer introduced plenty of new elements to this final Christopher Nolan score, but still managed to maintain the themes introduced in the prior two Dark Knight movies, making this one feel like something both familiar and entirely new.

Batman: Arkham Origins
Score by Christopher Drake

Yes, this is the second Arkham soundtrack on our list, but it’s dramatically different than the score for Batman: Arkham Knight. Much of this is due to Arkham newcomer Drake, who gives the score a much rougher, far less defined sound to reflect Batman’s still-in-progress development. Think of this as a Batman soundtrack that’s been giving a shot of adrenaline. Everything just feels amped up considerably. However, what makes this one particularly great and one of our favorite Arkham scores is the way Drake works in holiday themes and elements, such as ringing bells, along with full-on Christmas songs, like the Joker’s sinister variation of “Carol of the Bells.”

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Mayhem of the Music Meister
Score by
Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter

Bet you weren’t expecting this one, were you? Easily the most unique soundtrack on this list, this soundtrack to one of best episodes of the Batman team-up animated series boasts the series theme song along with a Broadway-inspired score that wouldn’t feel out of place onstage at Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge. With the bombast of a big band and the indelible vocals of Neil Patrick Harris (yes!) as the Music Meister, this one’s worth the download for “Drives Us Bats” alone. You’ll want the whole thing, though be careful of “I’m the Music Meister.” It’s an earworm!

We’ve included links to where you can buy all of these soundtracks, and obviously, many of the individual songs are available through iTunes, but we promised you a special treat, and here it is. To get yourself in the right mood for Batman Day, our friends at WaterTower Music have made “All Out War” from The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack available to download for free. Enjoy and have a happy Batman Day!

Click here to download your free Batman Day song