Onward and upward with my Top 50 Film Scores! This week, there’s a mix of Oscar recognition (or lack thereof), but all of these have distinctive and memorable sounds that capture the heart and the imagination. Enjoy!



#15: Out of Africa (1985), Oscar winner – John Barry

How could I not include this outstanding score from such an epically tragic film? Full of profound and painful feelings, the music evokes the sweeping African savannas and the swooning romance of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It inevitably breaks my VC into tears, though she’s noted that it reminds her of Barry’s later score for Dances with Wolves (which didn’t quite make the list). Along with E.T. and Star Wars, this is a rare choice that I actually agree with AFI’s top 25 film scores.


#14: Sherlock Holmes (2009), Oscar nominee – Hans Zimmer

As my favorite incarnation of Holmes (though Cumberbatch comes darn close), Robert Downey, Jr.’s take on the famous detective deserved some marvelous mystery music. In this case, the mixture of the tinny piano with whiny violins, plus an unconventional tempo, lend the story a unique and manic energy that echoes both its humor and its action. The sequel’s music is a bit more conventional/less unique, but it’s still excellent as a continuation of the original. Don’t you just feel like you’re in Victorian England; well, maybe just Guy Ritchie’s version of it?


#13: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), no nomination – Michael Kamen

Epic, uplifting, heroic, magnificent—these are just some of the words I could use to describe Michael Kamen’s energizing score for Kevin Costner’s version of the Hood. Critics can say what they will about the film’s faults, but there’s no denying that this is great music. For a while, Disney even used the main theme for the intro montage of all of their DVDs, so even some who ignore the movie have surely heard its overture many times.


#12: The Piano (1993), no nomination – Michael Nyman

I haven’t actually seen The Piano, but my VC has (and does not recommend it). Yet beyond the Oscar-winning acting, one key part of the film refused to let go: the music. While most of the score is just good, one track in particular singlehandedly brought it to #12 on this list. “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard and ranks among my favorite pieces of music. I always feel this peaceful, floating sensation that lingers even after the melody stops. Goosebumps.


#11: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), no nomination – Joe Hisaishi

It’s not the most well-known of scores, but it should be. As John Williams is to Steven Spielberg, Joe Hisaishi is to Hayao Miyazaki. This pre-Studio-Ghibli dystopia features a score that instantly became a favorite upon my first viewing. A few parts have a weird techno vibe, but the bulk of the score is glorious and thrilling, laden with strings and choirs. The “la la la” section alone is sure to stick in your mind. In a good way.