From the very beginning of this blog, I stated my love for both films and lists, but I’ve only compiled one list, the list. I thought it was time I expand with some others, so I compulsively compiled a compilation of my favorite film scores. A great score can add so much to a movie, increasing tension or emotion or just sheer enjoyment of the overall product. There’s no shortage of excellent scores from many talented composers. Heck, even recent movie trailers have produced some awesome music, thanks to groups like Two Steps from Hell. As a movie music enthusiast, I found culling my favorites to even fifty far from easy.
At first, I thought I would just post the full list, but for anyone who wants to actually listen to my choices, that might be daunting, since my example videos range between two and twenty minutes. Thus, to add some mystery, I’ll be breaking up the list into weekly posts of five at a time. You could settle down for some listening pleasure with the slideshows and clips (where I could find them), or do what I do and absorb them as inspiring background music, such as for writing.
I should be clear that these are my personal favorites, the scores I enjoy listening to even by themselves. There are many iconic ones that complement their respective films well but aren’t quite as enjoyable on their own (Psycho, The Godfather, Jaws, etc.). Also, I’m excluding movie musicals, since their scores often draw from the songs, so sorry to Les Miserables, Evita, and most of the Disney classics (though I was tempted to allow an exception for The Lion King). Also disqualified are scores built around previously created music, so favorites like The Right Stuff, Somewhere in Time, Babe, and 2001: A Space Odyssey are no-goes. Thus, here is part 1 of my top 50 movie scores. Let me know what you think of the choices.
#50: Batman (1989), no Oscar nomination – Danny Elfman / The Dark Knight trilogy, no nominations – Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard (just Zimmer for the third)
For my first film of my top 50, I’ve decided to cheat and combine two scores from similar films that are just too close in my appreciation. Danny Elfman’s perfect Batman music for Tim Burton’s first film of the franchise captured the allure of a dark comic book and continued to live on in the opening theme of Batman: The Animated Series. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy required a bigger, brassier score to match the higher stakes of each film. Hans Zimmer (and Howard) combined brooding violins with a breakneck beat to provide thrilling background music. Batman Begins probably has the best score of the three, IMO.
#49: Sunshine (2007), no nomination – John Murphy
To load pathos to a doomed mission to the sun, John Murphy collaborated with electronic band Underworld. The score for Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is hit-and-miss as far as aural beauty, but “Adagio in D Minor” is the standout piece. It might remind you of Hans Zimmer’s work, such as for Interstellar, but this track reaches for deep emotions and gets them every time.
#48: Hoosiers (1986), Oscar nominee – Jerry Goldsmith
To accompany Gene Hackman’s no-nonsense training of a rural Indiana basketball team, musical master Jerry Goldsmith created this winning soundtrack. At times, it basks in pastoral tranquility, but when the film hits the court, the music gains a zeal to match. I’m not partial to basketball, but the energy of the score is more than enough to get even non-fans like me excited. Go, Hickory!
#47: Gladiator (2000), Oscar nominee – Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard
While some of the music doesn’t really complement gladiatorial games and fights to the death, the score for Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic is properly epic in its own right. Being a fan of Enya, my favorite tracks feature the soothing vocals of similar artist Lisa Gerrard. “Now We Are Free” in particular carries an effective ethnic beauty, sung in some truly elegant gibberish. Slight violence warning for this video:
#46: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Oscar nominee – Jerry Goldsmith / Star Trek (2009), no nomination – Michael Giacchino
That’s right, I’m cheating again, but it’s my list. I couldn’t pick between these Trek favorites. The first Star Trek film was certainly a letdown for both fans and critics, with glacial pacing and a serious lack of story, but its score is hailed as one of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest works. Recycled as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Goldsmith’s music took full advantage of the brass and string sections to deliver space opera chills that the movie could not. Much more recently, Michael Giacchino did the same with J.J. Abrams’ bold reboot, just with much more bombast and grandeur to match the new film. Listen to both and tell me that’s not a hard choice.