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Top 10 Sci-Fi / Fantasy TV Theme Songs

The most memorable series theme songs in sci-fi / fantasy

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A blog post I wrote about the music in Chuck got me thinking about the importance of music in TV sci-fi and fantasy, and the opening theme we hear every week has a big role in how much we love a show and look forward to watching it.

For this list I'm focusing only on theme songs -- music with words that are sung. My next list in this series will focus on spoken-word introductions, and the third (and toughest) list will rank instrumental themes.

Am I missing anything? There's a place for your own suggestions at the bottom of this page (or click here). But remember, this time around I'm only looking for songs!

1. "The Ballad of Serenity" ('Firefly')

Soundtrack for 'Firefly.'
Varese Sarabande
  • Written by: Firefly series creator Joss Whedon
  • Performed by: Blues artist Sonny Rhodes
  • Watch video

This is one of those theme songs that can give you little chills every time it comes up, because the emotions that underlie the show are expressed so powerfully and so simply. The first verse ("Take my love, take my land/Take me where I cannot stand/I don't care, I'm still free/You can't take the sky from me") lays the motivations of the resistance bare in a handful of words, while crystallizing the sci-fi + western concept that provides the show's foundation. But it was the second verse ("Burn the land and boil the sea/You can't take the sky from me") that hit me hardest. Evocative credits made the whole package unforgettable.

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2. "Believe It or Not" ('The Greatest American Hero')

Greatest American Hero
Elektra Entertainment Group
  • Written by: Mike Post (music) and Stephen Geyer (lyrics)
  • Performed by: Joey Scarbury
  • Watch video

One of the few songs on this list that became a hit, "Believe It or Not (Theme from The Greatest American Hero)" rose all the way to #2 (for two weeks) on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1981, just after the show's midseason debut. This in turn helped drive interest in the show's second season. In interviews for the DVD, star Michael Paré talked about hearing the song and realizing he was part of something big. Scarbury couldn't capitalize on its success, but "Believe It or Not" -- while very 80s -- remains one of the quintessential expressions of the wonder ("Look at what's happened to me/I can't believe it myself") at an unexpected fate.

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3. "Save Me" ('Smallville')

Smallville: The Talon Mix
Elektra Entertaiment (US)
  • Written by: Cedric Lemoyne, Gregory Slay, Shelby Tate, Jeffrey Cain
  • Performed by: Remy Zero
  • Watch video

"Save Me" already existed on Alabama alt-rock band Remy Zero's third major album, Golden Hum, when it was tapped for Smallville. The band itself had all kinds of troubles, despite being product-placed in the first-season finale (cast member Sam Jones III actually shouts "Remy Zero!" from the floor, obviously embarrassed at the producers' lack of subtlety), and broke up in 2003 (as noted by Allison Mack in a subsequent commentary track), but the theme itself, with its powerful rock undertow and soaring, plaintive lyrics ("Somebody save me/I don't care how you do it") remains in place, an urgent call to action for a conflicted young hero.

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4. "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" ('Chuck')

Comfort Eagle
Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment

This one is a bit of a stretch, because while this is indeed a real song, from Cake's fourth album Comfort Eagle, only an instrumental version (with accompanying na-nas) is used for the theme to the NBC series Chuck. But it's such an awesome song, describing the singer's ideal woman in engrossing and accelerating detail, I couldn't neglect it. It wasn't a big hit -- only reaching 124 on the Billboard charts -- but it's got a little more currency thanks to Chuck, and represents the show's commitment to a really kickin' soundtrack.

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5. "Here with Me" ('Roswell')

Dido "No Angel"
Arista Records
  • Written by: Dido Armstrong, Pascal Gabriel, Paul Statham
  • Performed by: Dido
  • Watch video

It sounds very late-late-90s, and contributed to smirking descriptions of the show as "Roswell's Creek." But "Here with Me" creates a mood with its opening chords that suddenly kicks in with strong, upbeat rock that then, after it's done its work, drifts back into the signature drifting chords, while the lyrics underline the passion that Max and Liz feel for each other. British singer-songwriter Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong (a.k.a. Dido) originally wrote the song for her 1999 album No Angel, talking about her own love for boyfriend; it was picked up straight away for the Roswell theme. It was also used in the film Love Actually.

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6. "Theme from Wonder Woman" ('The New Adventures of Wonder Woman')

Wonder Woman Season 1 DVD
Warner Home Video
  • Written by: Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel
  • Performed by: New World Symphony
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Charles Fox is best known for composing hit songs ("Killing Me Softly With His Song," "I Got A Name") but he also worked extensively in TV and film. The WW opening trumpets grab you by the shoulders and haul you bodily into the song, which is full of driving bass, girl-group backup singers ("Get us out from under/Wonder Woman!"), and hilariously camp lyrics ("In your satin tights/Fighting for your rights/And the old red, white, and blue!"). Since the show itself was also hilariously camp, the theme was a perfect match. As the show continuously reinvented itself the theme was retooled several times, but the choral call to Wonder Woman remained.

7. "Bad Things" ('True Blood')

Jace Everett -  "Bad Things"
Epic/Sony BMG Music Entertainment
  • Written by: Jace Everett
  • Performed by: Jace Everett
  • Watch video

While I enjoyed the first season of the Southern-fried vampire romp True Blood, especially Anna Paquin's lead role as mind-reading waitress Sookie, I wasn't a big fan of the home-movie-style opening credits. They seemed bent on overemphasizing the hackneyed aspects of bayou life that stand out most to outsiders: kids in KKK hoods, rusted-out cars, etc. But the theme song, "Bad Things" by Hoosier country artist Jace Everett (off his self-titled first album), grew on me. It's a good match for the material: the show, among other things, is about the connection between passion and violence, and "Bad Things," with its deep bass line and growly chorus, likewise works both ways.

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8. "One of Us" ('Joan of Arcadia')

Joan Osborne - "Relish"
Island Def Jam Music Group
  • Written by: Eric Bazilian
  • Performed by: Joan Osborne
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A #4 Billboard hit in 1996, Joan Osborne's earnest song about God being among us -- "Just a slob like one of us/Just a stranger on the bus/Trying to make his way home" -- stirred up a lot of reaction: some liked the idea of God with us in person, others were annoyed that God was being called a slob, and still others thought it was just a really lame song. But Barbara Hall not only picked it up for her new project about a teenage girl whom God talks to as various ordinary people, she tailored the show to the lyrics: Joan first sees the God character she talks to later as a stranger on the bus. And that's not a cover: Osborne herself rerecorded a portion of song for the theme.

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9. "Batman Theme" ('Batman')

Nelson Riddle Batman Soundtrack
20th Century Fox Records
  • Written by: Neal Hefti
  • Performed by: Nelson Riddle
  • Watch video

When it comes to memorable theme songs, sci-fi or not, the original 1960's Batman is right up there, but it's of a piece with the breezy iconography of the show as a whole. It's as much the lead-in trumpet-trill and spinning lights, and the brass blares accompanying the cartoon punches and their POW! and SOCK! word balloons, that make the theme memorable, along with the equally brassy female chorus inanely shouting "Batman!" over and over. It's such an institution that it's been covered by everybody from The Who to Snoop Dogg, but only the original Neal Hefti version is the genuine article. "Na-na na-na Na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na/BATMAN!" Try getting it out of your head now.

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10. "Where My Heart Will Take Me" ('Star Trek: Enterprise')

Star Trek Enterprise soundtrack
Decca Music Group
  • Written by: Diane Warren
  • Performed by: Russell Watson
  • Watch video

Okay, I said "memorable," and it's true that people remember hearing this song when Enterprise premiered and thinking, "Are you kidding me?" Though fans scoffed at the use of a Diane Warren song sung by a Rod Stewart wannabe (the original, "Faith of the Heart," was indeed sung by Stewart; Warren reworked it for Enterprise) as a Trek theme, show creators Brannon Braga and Rick Berman deserved credit for abandoning the soulless orchestral themes that had failed to inspire fans of the previous two franchise offerings, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. And love it or hate it, it does highlight the leap of faith of Earth's first space mission. It's no "Ballad of Serenity," though.

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