Top 10 Harold Faltermeyer Film Themes

There are more people on this planet right now who are familiar with the music of Harold Faltermeyer than just about any other film composer this side of John Williams, I'd wager, yet his name is perhaps not as well-known.

After studying at Munich's prestigious Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Faltermeyer, like many German and Bavarian musicians of his generation, decided to explore electronic music. 

Circumstances led to his working with Giorgio Moroder at the famous Musicland Studios. And this is where he co-wrote a song for Donna Summer destined to net him substantial royalties for several decades and counting.

2009. (RIP, Donna Summer)
My friend and co-conspirator of epic deeds over at The Von Klum Letters used to work at the New Neon Movies in Dayton, OH. Working at a movie theater gives you an entirely different relationship with trailers and before-movie commercials, as you hear and see them  multiple times on a daily basis. Time bends, in other words. And although it was probably only two or three months that the Neon played the trailer for The Full Monty before every film, for my friend, it felt more like two or three years. I remember I could trigger a physical cringe or shudder during this time if I so much as whistled any part of "Hot Stuff" to him or sang Don't want another night on MY own... (caps on account of how Donna Summer sings it.) 

Anyway, I can't hear "Hot Stuff" to this day without chuckling about that. I used to go and hang out there when he was working, back in the days when you could just loiter places and smoke cigarettes in the lobby, so I saw that trailer a few hundred times, myself. 

From there Faltermeyer made the jump to Hollywood and began scoring films, whereupon he became an inescapable presence for anyone who had cable for (at least) the next ten years. Here are my top 10 Harold Faltermeyer tunes. (I'll just embed the YouTube videos, so hopefully these will stay up there and active for awhile.)

Tango and Cash 

That's the whole thing - the rest of the videos won't be the full soundtrack. But it's such an 80s action movie soundtrack, damn. Showcasing it in its entirety seems an appropriate way of including it here. Tango and Cash is one of those Stallone movies that should be way better than it actually is, (unlike, say, Cobra or Nighthawks) but it's cast an especially long shadow. Have you noticed that? I always ask people when the last time they saw it was. Usually the answer is something like the early 90s. 

Anyway, the soundtrack is as musically evocative of its era as bell bottoms or Mondrian mini-dresses are for their respective ones, visually.

Cop Out 

After retiring from film soundtracks to raise a family back in Munich, Faltermeyer returned to Hollywood in 2009, first with High School with Adrien Brody, and then this little gem from Kevin Smith's Cop Out. Which I've never seen, but Kevin Smith hasn't made a film I've enjoyed since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, so I'm in no rush. If this was the best part of the proceedings, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

The Running Man 

Hoo boy! This movie. What a ridiculous mess. But what can you do? The Ahhnold Era of Moviemaking was, at least at the time, irresistible. This Lordhelmchen guy, by the way, has edited together a few dozen of these soundtrack suites on YouTube - these get me through many a workday. He does commendable work.

7. (tie)
Fletch - Exotic Skates

Fletch - Diggin'

This soundtrack is 80s gold, by the way, every last track. My 13-month-old daughter agrees with me on this. (More on that, though, when we get to #4.) If I could watch a montage of my day to day, I would like it scored to either of these. (Well, anything from here on down to #1. Or by John Carpenter.) 


I know I've seen this movie, but damned if I can remember anything about it. I was happy to discover Leon Rippy's (and Bruce Boxleitner's) name in the credits, though.

Nothing too fancy with this one, just straight up synthpop. Parts of it remind me a bit of the Happy Mondays.

Thief of Hearts

Same for this one - know I saw it back in the day but couldn't tell you anything about it. Though looking at the wiki, I see both David Caruso and George Wendt in the cast, which makes George Wendt the only guy to appear in more than one film in our countdown. (The other being Fletch.) My blog header-photo will undoubtedly be tickled pink by this unexpected coincidence.

I'm shocked this won a Razzie for worst soundtrack! Okay, not really. But really, sort of. It's the sort of thing you normally hear in giallo films or anthology cable shows of the late-80s/ early-90s. But I include it here - and pretty high on the list - for its acoustic time travel qualities. If you were alive when this sort of stuff was the rule and not the curious artifact, it is a TARDIS of the highest order.

As is this next one.

Fletch - Running for Love 

The Fletch soundtrack has two versions of this - the other has vocals by Dan "I Can Dream About You" Hartman instead of the synth doing the melody. (Same saxophone solo, though, don't worry.) I adore Hartman's version, and it would definitely be my number one karaoke choice everywhere I went if that was a possibility. But it's relatively hard to find, even on the web (no YouTube link for example, though you can hear one of his other tunes on the soundtrack "Get Out of Town." Go north to Alaska / or south to Rio! )

I've always loved this instrumental version, too. And I now love it even more for the time it lulled my daughter to sleep in my arms while we were dancing to the Fletch soundtrack one afternoon. Something that will likely make me the only guy at the nursing home 2050-ish who will be bawling his eyes out when Fletch comes round for Geezer Movie Night.

Beverly Hills Cop - Axel F 

It's difficult to tell which is the Faltermeyer tune more well-known, this or "Hot Stuff," but it's definitely one or the other. I think everyone in my elementary school and junior high could play this on the piano in the music room. 

It's been remade and remixed and paid tribute to multiple times over the years, but my personal favorite nod might be the one from Family Guy. It's hard not to sing the melody like Peter Griffin does here, when I hear it now.

Fletch - Main Theme 

There are shorter versions out there, but this 7-minute version (on vinyl no less) is my personal favorite.

I don't know how many times I've seen Fletch over the years. It's one of those movies that I'm powerless before when I'm cable-flipping. Beetlejuice is another one. These are habits my wife has chided me for on more than one occasion.

And finally:

Top Gun 

Co-written by Steve Stevens, who plays the guitar on this. 

Also known as that other guy in all those old Billy Idol videos.
Sidenote: Steve Stevens' old band, Atomic Playboys, was very likely the last pop-metal I ever absorbed completely uncritically. I used to love that tape. Sometime between its release in 1989 and the release of Ratt's Detonator in 1990, I developed a "Say... this is ridiculous, isn't it?" self-consciousness. (I blame those girls I used to work with who got me into The Cure, Love and Rockets, Siouxsie and the Banshees, et al.)

Nowadays, of course, that ridiculousness is a great deal of fun. So Ivory Tower Man / Was it part of the plan? / Turn the sea into sand / with a one way ticket to the promised laa-an-nnd / ATOMIC PLAYBOYS! / WE ARE RADIATION RO-ME-O-S!


Anyway, this theme from Top Gun is as over the top as it gets. It's the 80s movie equivalent of the solo from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." When you hear it, you can't help but visualize playing the guitar atop a fifty-foot wall before hundreds of thousands of swaying concertgoers. Or waving the stars and stripes from atop Mount McKinley. 

Or starting World War III while out on patrol but being celebrated as the conquering hero upon your return instead of as Greg Stilson.


  1. p.s. Top Gun purists - I realize Maverick isn't simply "out on patrol" before shooting down the Russian MiGs, but you get my meaning, I'm sure.

  2. I don't know, for whatever reason "Running Man" is starting to grow on me. Sure it's not King's novel, but it's good enough at least for what it's trying to be.


    1. Killian!!


    2. This vlog review of the RM film has two things going for it:

      1. It lists the reasons why it deserves the status of guilty pleasure.

      2 It discusses it in relation to the Bachman book, and why now would be a good time to see a well done remake (my candidate for director would be Alfonso Curon).



    3. Killian!!!


    4. I'd greet news of a "Running Man" remake happily, whether it stuck closer to the book or not. I, too, have a soft spot for the Ahnuld movie

    5. I don't think I could truly trust anyone who didn't.

    6. Killian!!!


    7. Oh man. i could watch that all day. (I love how we have it represented twice, here! As it should be!!)

      "Don't touch that dial..." Dweezil Zappa's finest moment.

  3. I had no idea Faltermeyer wrote "Hot Stuff." I dig that song. I kind of dig disco in general, to be honest. I probably wouldn't if I'd heard the song as many times as your friend had, though.

    I've never seen "Tango & Cash," believe it or not. I've got several gaps in my '80s-action-flick knowledge, and that's one of them.

    I did not see "Cop Out," but when I heard Smith had hired Faltermeyer to score the movie, I got a kick out of that just in and of itself. I've heard nothing about the movie to make me think I should watch it, but that theme is pretty great.

    I can mentally hum the main theme from "The Running Man" without having to play it, which is more than I can say for most movie scores. It definitely fits the movie.

    "Fletch"! Haven't seen that movie in ages. Now that it's been pointed out to me that Faltermeyer was also a songwriter, it seems kind of obvious; most of these score samples -- the "Fletch" ones in particular sound very much like pop songs. Just without the lyrics. Makes you wonder how many potential smash hit pop songs Faltermeyer wasted on movie scores.

    I never saw "Kuffs" either, but if the word "Faltermeyer" was an adjective, I'd say that theme is the most Faltermeyer thing I've ever heard. It's good. Not quite good enough to make me ever want to watch the movie, though; it takes a stronger lure than that to get me past my Christian Slater hatred.

    "Thief of Hearts" won a Razzie?!? I think that's my favorite of the videos you've embedded here! I'd never even heard of the movie, but I like that music a lot.

    That sax in "Running for Love" sounds like every sax solo in the eighties. In my mind, they were all performed by that one dude. You know the one. From "The Lost Boys."

    "Axel F" -- if there is ANY child of the eighties who doesn't know that song, I'd be surprised. I mean, sure, maybe not Tanzanian children of the eighties, or Eskimo children of the eighties. But if even they knew it, it wouldn't surprise me.

    That main "Fletch" theme is just terrific. I'd kind of forgotten about it, to tell you the truth.

    There have been rumblings of a "Top Gun 2" for several years now, and if they do it without Faltermeyer -- which they almost certainly will -- then it'll be a big-time shame.

    Fucking Steve Stevens. The "THAT guy..." of eighties rock.

    "When you hear it, you can't help but visualize playing the guitar atop a fifty-foot wall before hundreds of thousands of swaying concertgoers. Or waving the stars and stripes from atop Mount McKinley." That description is awarded a 10/10 by the judges in this dojo.

    Alan Moore needs to get to work on a LXG tale featuring Maverick, Greg Stillson, and various other luminaries of '80s cinema. Jack Burton, certainly, and probably Rocky Balboa, Ahnuld from "Cammondo," Axel Foley, and . . . I'm missing the plucky girl team leader. Ah, well, I'm sure it'll come to me. (I'd LIKE to say Ripley, but clearly that would violate the timeline. Maybe Sarah Connor can have these adventures, and they can be trying to prevent the machine uprising, so that it's a prequel to T2...? Yep. Sold.)

    1. "That sax in "Running for Love" sounds like every sax solo in the eighties. In my mind, they were all performed by that one dude. You know the one. From "The Lost Boys.""

      That was a genuine LOL. Well done. (Dawn even asked what I was so amused by, from the other room. A sitcom moment!)

      I second these ideas for LXG. (And good point about a Faltermeyer-less Top Gun 2; I hadn't even considered that possibility/ probability.)

  4. One final thought (and this is directed at Bryan specifically, but is good advice for anyone generally):

    PLEASE do yourself a favor and don't ever spend any time on a film-music message-board if you plan on keeping your sanity. This is especially true if you want to -- as you should -- point to Faltermeyer as a bit of a genius. You will find peope to agree with you, but they'll only be able to do it by trash-talking John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or whoever, and then the Williams people will hit back, and THEN the Goldsmith people will hit back (first against the Faltermeyer people, but then against the Williams people), and at some point the Golden Age fogeys will wander in and decry everything post-Korngold. It's a fucking bloodbath. And this is BEFORE the Hans Zimmer nuts show up...

    All nerds are horrible, but film-music nerds may be THE worst, at least in my experience.

    1. Sound advice! I can too easily (and wearily) picture that.

    2. Looking over Faltermeyer's career, I'm amazed at how some obvious talent keeps going unrecognized. Yes, he's had his fair share of success with the Gun, Running Man, even Fire and Ice (a little known Ralph Bakshi effort), but aside from that, and a few Donna Summers albums, he doesn't seem to have been given the bigger credit he seems to deserve.

      The closest similarity I can find is Brad Feidel, who is most famous for the score to the two Terminator films, and yet he deliberately quit the industry in disgust.

      Question, did Faltermeyer ever do any work with Tangerine Dream, probably not, but I wondered if that was possible?


    3. Good question. To my knowledge, no, although I've seen him (Faltermeyer) praise their work in interviews here and there.

      I COMPLETELY forgot about Fire and Ice. Total fail on my part. If memory serves, it might not have made my top 10, above, but I should have mentioned it as a worthy effort.