The end credits signal the end of a film; the green light for audiences to leave the theatre or press eject on their DVD player… except for those of us obsessed with music who have to sit through the whole thing. It has always been regarded as a highlight of a film’s soundtrack. And yet, times, they are-a changing.
The golden age of cinema had very effective end credits that reprised one or two main themes of the score, and yet they were remarkably short: usually between one and two minutes long. This was not laziness on the part of the composer: a film’s end credits were simply that short back then, usually limited to a few cue cards listing the main cast (the full credits having been shown in the film's opening).
Then came the 70s and the 80s: end titles at the peak of their glory. Full credits were taken out of the opening of films and stuck at the end. Credits rolled on and on, with music to match. Adventure scores like Star Wars set the tone for extended original compositions that ran a full spectrum of major themes of the score in a grandiose suite.
And yet one genre was becoming more and more resistant to the majestic trend: hip urban comedies were reliant on pre-existing popular songs to the point of fitting them over their end credits. Eventually, even non-comedy films got on board with the practice. Sometimes a compromise was reached: a miniature end score was composed, with the rest of the credits taken up by songs (such as in 1989’s Batman).
Then the 90s hit and fully-realized end credits became even rarer. Due to schedule and budget restrictions closing ever-tighter around filmmakers, end title compositions were commissioned less and less. Instead, a suite of themes and highlights was edited together from existing tracks of the score. This was done out of necessity in 1990 for The Hunt for Red October and the trend sadly caught on.
Despite the changing times, fans usually agree that an original song composed to fit the mood of the film is more than enough compensation for the loss of end credits of yore.