It's hard to imagine many great films without their signature songs: Breakfast at Tiffany's "Moon River," The Graduate's "Mrs. Robinson", The Wizard of Oz's "Over the Rainbow." But however indelible these tunes are, they don't contribute to the movies' success, according to a new study in the May Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts (Vol. 1, No. 2).
Study author Dean K. Simonton, PhD, a University of California, Davis, psychology professor, took 401 films that were nominated for awards such as the Oscars and Golden Globes, and measured their success based on three major criteria: movie awards, box office gross and critic evaluations.
Simonton found that films with award-winning scores also tended to garner best picture and screenplay awards. However, films with award-winning songs were no more likely to win other awards. That may be because scores contribute to movies by playing in the background, while a song can draw attention away from the story, he says.
"A song usually sticks out, sometimes like a sore thumb," he says.
What's more, neither songs nor scores related to critical acclaim or box-office success, Simonton found.
The results, says Simonton, suggest that all of the elements of a film must contribute to its primary goal: storytelling.
"In a way, if the composed music is too good, it attracts attention away from the drama, and then it's undermining the effectiveness of the film," he says.