The 5 Most Brutal Uses Of Classical Music In Movies

With The Raid 2 out now, let’s look at other movies that employed some orchestral violence.

The Raid 2: Berandal kicks its way into theaters this weekend, and if the above glimpse is anything to go by, we’re in for some serious action. The trailer for the movie is intriguing not just for its hyper-savage beatings, however, but also for its choice of music. Rather than the usual heavy rock or hip-hop soundtrack or – as in more recent years – reliance on a series of increasingly loud BWAAAAAMS, it uses Karol Teutsch’s “La Grande Sarabande Pour Cordes Et Basse,” a rather stately and elegant piece of classical music, which stands out brilliantly against the flying fists, cars, and bodies. This got us thinking about our other favorite instances of beautiful melodies used alongside devastating onscreen carnage – here are our top five.

X-Men 2

The Song: Mozart’s “Requiem in D minor, K. 626, II. Sequenz – Dies Irae”

The Scene: A brainwashed Nightcrawler BAMFs his way into the Oval Office, taking out every secret service goon between himself and the quivering president.

The Legacy: The X-Men franchise kicked off the age of the cinematic superhero as we know it, and the second movie in particular, with its rounded characters, gay rights metaphors, and audience-pleasing set pieces, played a huge part in comic book movies making the leap from nerd niche to (occasionally critically acclaimed) billion-dollar summer blockbusters. As the opening scene – and action-wise, the highlight – of that movie, Nightcrawler’s teleporting assassination mission set the bar for all who followed.


The Song: Beethoven’s “Symphony No.9, in D minor, op. 125”

The Scene: As Joel Edgerton’s financially embattled high school teacher trains for an MMA competition, his trainer forces him to relax and use his brain by inspiring him with some Beethoven. While the music wasn’t actually used during the fight scenes themselves, just knowing that the famous refrain was playing in the character’s head as he fought to outwit his opponent was enough.

The Legacy: Warrior may be as underrated a movie as any of the last 10 years. Audiences – perhaps understandably – didn’t expect much from a movie being billed as MMA Rocky, but the engaging script and believable performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte made this a classic that’s going to be revisited a lot, not least as a film destined to make every male-tear-jerker movie list for years to come. This may be the one man-movie that can take “Ode To Joy” away from Die Hard.

Silence Of The Lambs

The Song: Bach’s “Goldberg Variations: Aria”

The Scene: Hannibal Lecter finally shows us what he’s capable of as he escapes police custody by biting off one guard’s face and beating the other to death, then crucifying him.

The Legacy: The idea of an educated, cultured, classical music-loving serial killer – rather than just another bug-eyed madman or a maniac with mommy issues – was one that resonated with audiences as somehow much more frightening than the standard fare. This wasn’t some disfigured guy lurking in your basement, hoping to take a swing at you. This was a killer who was smarter than you, who could manipulate you into becoming the centerpiece of his deranged murder fantasies. Sure, Jason Voorhees beating you to death inside your sleeping bag isn’t the ideal way to end a night, but compared to sharing a confined space with Hannibal Lecter, it seems positively quaint. The trope of the civilized barbarian has been imitated a hundred times since, but this scene was the original and still the best.


The Song: Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”

The Scene: In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes – and one of the otherwise very faithful movie’s few departures from the book, in which Annie just lopped off her victim’s foot with an axe – writer Paul gets “hobbled” with a sledgehammer.

The Legacy: This scene is such a wince-inducing affair (thanks to the combination of the foot bending all the way over and James Caan’s blood-curdling scream of pain, which beats out even his death scene in The Godfather) that it’s easy to forget the music was even playing. But the somber, slightly ethereal tune is the perfect soundtrack to Annie’s calm, methodical demeanor as she tortures her “patient.” The end result is one of the most iconic scenes in horror history.

Apocalypse Now

The Song: Wagner’s “Die Walküre, Act III: The Ride Of The Valkyries”

The Scene: Captain Willard hitches a ride with Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore’s surf-loving airborne cavalry, and discovers that they like to soundtrack their own assaults with a little Wagner.

The Legacy: It almost seems too obvious to bother including, but how could you have this list without the most famous use of classically scored violence ever filmed? Apocalypse Now may be the most studied, most written about, and most re-edited film ever made, and this is the most famous scene of the movie (excepting possibly Robert Duvall’s legendary, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” line, which this directly precedes). The average American might never sit through all 15 hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but by God, they’ll still feel the awesome power of that music every time they watch those helicopters hove into view.