The 'Heroic' subdominant in minor-key film themes of the 2010s

Benjamin Graf & Xiao Yun, University of North Texas

In the music of several blockbuster films over the last decade, heroic protagonist themes feature a motion to the major subdominant in a minor-key context (i.e. i-IV). Qualifying Robert Hatten's (2014) dual division of heroic modes (victorious hero in major and tragic hero in minor), this paper explores a different scenario in which major subdominants are used in minor-key themes in association with "heroism, hope, and the light side" (Lehman 2018). Drawing examples primarily from the Star Wars series and the Marvel cinematic universe, the analyses discuss music in both epic fighting scenes and subtle, intimate moments of narrative significance, thereby demonstrating how the color of the major subdominant in minor-key contexts enriches the tonal environment and dramma per musica in recent films.