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Mar 10, 2010

100 FILM SCORES I LOVE

List mania continues.

While the Olympics rage on in Vancouver (ok so I'm posting this well after the Olympics, but started compiling it during - so that comment made sense...then), it feels like a good time to focus on more important things like movies and everything else associated with them. So as a follow up to the 100 FILMS I LOVE post from a few weeks ago, here is my 100 FILM SCORES I LOVE.



Max Steiner

As with the film list, this wasn't even remotely easy. The films were categorized by decade so it only seemed fitting that again instead of doing a 1-100 ranking, I listed them by composer to steer clear of declaring titles as better than others.


This should not be confused as a favorite "soundtracks" list. While almost all (if not all) of these scores have soundtrack albums, I consider these selections as great not only as listening on their own, but most importantly the impact and placement they have in their respective films.



Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann


There have been a lot of bland scores (during the 90s especially) that lack any sort of melody or subtext, and completely go overboard to try and force the audience into feeling a certain way. However, I feel that these selections stand apart and improve upon already great movies – and in some cases almost make bad or mediocre movies better than they should be, something that Jerry Goldsmith accomplished a lot during his illustrious career.



John Williams

Being a member of the STAR WARS generation, it should be no surprise to see which composers come out on top (although the one that most lists would probably have the most titles from comes in second – you can probably figure out who that is), but also it was STAR WARS that once was the top soundtrack album sold when first released, and I am guessing that with all the new variations – collector's editions, special editions, box sets, expanded editions, etc. – that it remains so to this day. Oddly enough though, the original STAR WARS did NOT make this list, although one of the sequels is included.


Lately record labels like INTRADA, LA LA LAND and VARESE SARABANDE have gone to great lengths to ensure that most film music – not to mention expanded and full score albums - make it into the hands of collectors. Even if it means just a limited run of 3000 or whatever, there is a market for this music and score aficionados (a club of which I am a member) are hungry for more – particularly those albums for older or more obscure titles and where the pop song tracks may have squeezed out the score entirely. How annoying it is to buy a soundtrack that contains 99% forgettable (or soon to be forgettable) songs while there is a single, lonely score track that usually occupies the final spot. Thankfully the aforementioned labels have not only gone out of their way to make these scores available, but also have ensured that there are as many cues as possible and in the correct order. In some cases like with INTRADA'S recent 2 Disc BACK TO THE FUTURE release, there have been unused or alternate cues added, giving an idea of the score that could have been.


I have been fortunate to get my hands on some rejected scores for my collection. Many times a composer will work on a project, even get so far as to the scoring stage, but are fired with his or her score being completely replaced for the final film. 1 that is of particular note that I have is Randy Newman's rejected effort for AIR FORCE ONE (the film was eventually scored by Jerry Goldsmith). This happens much more than you would think, and sadly - with the exception of Alex North's score for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - they go unreleased for obvious legal reasons.


Thanks to so many big names in film scoring in the modern age, a lot of classic film composers sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Whereas Bernard Herrmann (VERTIGO, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) is well known thanks to his expansive work with director Alfred Hitchcock – not to mention he also scored Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE – others such as Miklos Rozsa (BEN-HUR), who worked well into the 1980s, David Raskin, whose iconic LAURA score (which btw did not make this list) is often cited as one of the best ever, Franz Waxman (SUNSET BOULEVARD), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) or Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND) deserve just as much, if not more, attention. Thanks to the way the early studio system worked, these composers often scored double the amount of movies that modern composers will end up working on during a career.



Jerry Goldsmith



With the likes of maestros Jerry Goldsmith (ALIEN, PATTON) and (most recently) Maurice Jarre (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) passing away, there are a lot of new very prolific composers now working in Hollywood. Names to watch are Michael Giaachino (who as of Sunday is now an Academy Award winner for UP) and Alexandre Desplat (BIRTH, THE QUEEN) just to name a couple. There is still some great work being done, and it's being made available to the public more than ever.

Ok so on with the list…


Klaus Badelt (1)


Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)





John Barry (2)


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)


Dances With Wolves (1990)


John Barry has had a very long and great career in Hollywood. He is particularly known for his work on the JAMES BOND series, scoring 10 out of the 22 features. While I also have a strong place in my heart for GOLDFINGER, it's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE that is singled out. Its main title theme being one of the few instrumentals of the series - which in other entries has employed pop stars like Tom Jones, Tina Turner and Sheryl Crow - is so good I often will play it on repeat.


Of note, Barry won and Academy Award for his work on DANCES WITH WOLVES. JOURNEY TO FORT SEDGWICK and FAREWELL AND END TITLES are 2 very beautiful tracks.




Elmer Bernstein (3)


The Great Escape (1963)


The Grifters (1990)


Far From Heaven (2002)



Terence Blanchard (1)


The 25th Hour (2002)


Terence Blanchard is another one of those composers who is most directly linked to a director, in this case, Spike Lee. With dark and melancholy jazz scores, Blanchard really adds a complex layer of foreboding to all of his work which I think is exemplified in THE 25TH HOUR.




Bruce Broughton (1)


Silverado (1985)



Carter Burwell (1)


Rob Roy (1995)



John Carpenter (1)


Halloween (1978)


I have to single out John Carpenter who not only directs his films, but also scores most of them as well. His iconic HALLOWEEN score offers one of the most chilling and memorable themes in any horror movie next to Bernard Herrmann's PSYCHO.




Bill Conti (1)


The Right Stuff (1983)



Alexandre Desplat (1)


Birth (2004)



Patrick Doyle (1)


Dead Again (1991)



Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens (1)


Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)


Randy Edelman (1)


Last of the Mohicans (1992)



Danny Elfman (2)


Batman (1989)


Edward Scissorhands (1990)


Danny Elfman's most prolific work has been with director Tim Burton. Both the scores I chose from his credits are Burton films. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS in particular is such an instrumental part of that film (no pun intended) that I can't think of the movie without humming the score. ICE DANCE is one of the best cues Elfman has ever done.


Duke Ellington (1)


Anatomy of a Murder (1959)


George Fenton (1)


Memphis Belle (1990)


Michael Giacchino (2)


The Incredibles (2004)


Up (2009)


As I mentioned in the introduction, Michael Giaachino is on the rise. After composing great scores for Pixar like the 2 mentioned as well as RATATOUILLE (and as I also mentioned, he just won an Oscar for UP), this summer he also was responsible for the fantastic STAR TREK score and LAND OF THE LOST.


Giaachino's score for THE INCREDIBLES takes a cue from one of the other scores on this list, John Barry's OO7 score ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. I say that not only because the style and tone are so similar as a homage, but also the filmmakers used the theme from OHMSS in the original INCREDIBLES teaser trailer, which leads me to believe it may have also been a temp score, and knowing how meticulous the Pixar people are, was probably exactly what they requested. With THE INCREDIBLES Michael Giaachino succeeded in not only emulating the sound, but making it very much his own as well.


Philip Glass (1)


Powaqqatsi (1988)


Listen to the track entitled ANTHEM or SERRA PELADA and you'll hear why this score makes the cut.



Jerry Goldsmith (12)


Planet of the Apes (1968)


Chinatown (1974)


The Omen (1976)


Alien (1979)


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Poltergeist (1982)


Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)


Basic Instinct (1992)


Rudy (1993)


The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)


L.A. Confidential (1997)


The Mummy (1999)


What can I say, I love Jerry and he tops my list with the most picks. I could have even expanded this list considerably. Jerry Goldsmith had one of the longest and most exciting careers of any film music composer in Hollywood. As I mentioned in the introduction, he could improve even the worst movie with his work.


CHINATOWN, BASIC INSTINCT and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL all capture a distinct film noir mood while RUDY inspires (Goldsmith also composed the score for David Anspaugh's other uplifting sports film, HOOSIERS).


Jerry also was a huge part of the STAR TREK film franchise, scoring 5 (THE MOTION PICTURE, V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, FIRST CONTACT, INSURRECTION and NEMESIS) out of the first 10 films. The MAIN TITLE from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE later became the main theme for TV's STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Tracks that deserve singling out are THE ENTERPRISE and KLINGON BATTLE.


Ron Goodwin (1)


Where Eagles Dare (1968)


Harry Gregson-Williams (1)


Chicken Run (2000)


This may strike some as a weird addition, but this score is truly amazing. Full of life and unique in so many ways, it really sets the tone for this fun animated feature.



Bernard Herrmann (6)


The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)


Vertigo (1958)


Psycho (1960)


Cape Fear (1962)


Taxi Driver (1976)


North By Northwest (1959)


It seems that directors generally stick with certain composers (Danny Elfman/Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg/John Williams, Robert Zemeckis/Alan Silvestri, etc.), and no pairing is more famous than that of Bernard Herrmann with the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.


All of these scores are iconic, but PSYCHO has made it into the pop culture consciousness like no other. The sharp strains that denote the shower scene are known by everyone - probably even by people who haven't seen PSYCHO.


Consider JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS on the invisible runner-up list as well.



James Horner (6)


Cocoon (1985)


Aliens (1986)


Glory (1989)


Legends of the Fall (1994)


Braveheart (1995)


The New World (2005)


James Horner sometimes gets a bad rap, but he has an amazing list of credits. He has been called out for repeating himself a lot of his work, but let's face it, what artist in Hollywood doesn't repeat themselves? One only has to listen to the majesty that is LEGENDS OF THE FALL or GLORY (both for director Edward Zwick) to really capture the emotional impact that permeates all of James Horner's work.


I did not include his Academy Award winning score from James Cameron's TITANIC, but consider it on the invisible runner-up list. This even with the fact that it was James Horner that convinced James Cameron to use his song MY HEART WILL GO ON for the end credits. That's right, we have James Horner to blame for having to listen to Celine Dion.


James Newton Howard (3)


Wyatt Earp (1994)


Dinosaur (2000)


Signs (2002)


James Newton Howard has been doing some of his best work lately for director M. Night Shyamalan. SIGNS makes the cut.



Mark Isham (1)


A River Runs Through It (1992)



Maurice Jarre (4)


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


Doctor Zhivago (1965)


The Professionals (1966)


Dead Poet's Society (1989)



Trevor Jones (1)


The Dark Crystal (1982)



Michael Kamen (1)


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)




Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1)


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)


The inclusion of this score is almost a given. Korngold really nailed the swashbuckling adventure tone, and continued to do so in his scores for other Errol Flynn films like THE SEA HAWK and THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX.




Ennio Morricone (5)


The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)


Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)


The Mission (1986)


The Untouchables (1987)


Bugsy (1991)


What kind of film music list would this be without multiple Morricone?


Morricone is best known for his spaghetti western music, in particular "The Man With No Name Trilogy" - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, as well as Sergio Leone's other cinematic masterpiece ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.


However, it is the score for THE MISSION that really soars. A masterful and haunting work that will stick with you, especially tracks like ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN which is one of the most beautiful film score cues ever written. How it failed to win an Oscar, I will never know.




Alfred Newman (1)


How The West Was Won (1962)


Alfred Newman really began the Newman legacy in Hollywood, followed by nephew Randy and son Thomas (both represented below) as well as son David (who is not). The scoring stage at 20th Century Fox studios is named after him – not to mention that the 20th Century Fox logo music was written by him. Alfred Newman, before John Williams surpassed him, was the most Academy Award nominated film composer in history with 43 nominations and he won 9 Oscars total.


The Newman family could easily be considered the first family of film music.



Randy Newman (2)


The Natural (1984)


Avalon (1990)


To appreciate the score for THE NATURAL, just close your eyes and listen to the track THE FINAL GAME. Pure magic.


Thomas Newman (4)


Little Women (1994)


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)


American Beauty (1999)


The Good German (2006)


Of note from the Thomas Newman selections is THE GOOD GERMAN, which like the film, is a homage to the Warner Bros. films of the 1940s, and the scores of Max Steiner - in particular, CASABLANCA. The score succeeds where the film itself does not.



Alex North (2)


A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


Cleopatra (1963)


CLEOPATRA may have been a financial bust for 20th Century Fox in 1963 (even before it was released), but the score is great (and I happen to also have an odd appreciation for the movie as well). Give the track CLEOPATRA ENTERS ROME a listen sometime.



Basil Poledouris (2)


Quigley Down Under (1990)


For Love of the Game (1999)


These are selections that may have people scratching their heads. Basil Poledouris had a great career, and his most well known works are John Milius' CONAN: THE BARBARIAN and RED DAWN. So why have I got 2 scores listed for movies that aren't really that memorable? QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is so unique, it just instantly stands out right from the opening credits sequence and the same could be said of FOR LOVE OF THE GAME. These are scores that aren't exactly run-of-the-mill, but totally work if not excel.


Rachel Portman (1)


The Cider House Rules (1999)


I've become a great admirer of Rachel Portman's work. Moving and emotional, her scores (and CIDER HOUSE RULES is the best example) really take the viewer/listener into the narrative – with or without the movie.


John Powell (1)


The Bourne Supremacy (2004)





Miklos Rozsa (2)


Ben-Hur (1959)


King of Kings (1961)


Miklos Rozsa really exemplified the term epic in these Biblically epic scores. As far as I'm concerned, Nicholas Ray's KING OF KINGS is an under-rated masterpiece (both film and music).


Craig Safan (1)


The Last Starfighter (1984)


Ryuichi Sakamoto & David Byrne (1)


The Last Emperor (1987)


Howard Shore (2)


Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001)


The Aviator (2004)


Alan Silvestri (1)


Forrest Gump (1994)



Max Steiner (2)


King Kong (1933)


Gone With the Wind (1939)


Dimitri Tiomkin (2)


The Alamo (1960)


36 Hours (1965)



Franz Waxman (3)


Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


A Place in the Sun (1951)


Sunset Boulevard (1950)


BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a movie that ends up on a lot of "best of" lists (including mine) and the same can be said of Franz Waxman's score. However it is his score for A PLACE IN THE SUN that I have to single out. It really captures the longing, dream-like-romance and then finally tragedy of George Steven's masterpiece.




John Williams (7)


Jaws (1975)


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)


Superman: The Movie (1978)


The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)


Nixon (1995)


John Williams has become the most iconic score master of our time. Most of his music rockets into the pop culture stratosphere the minute it is introduced. He is also one of the few composers who will come up with completely new and original scores for sequels. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK to me is a much better score than STAR WARS (thanks to the IMPERIAL MARCH), and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM takes that franchise in a whole new and much darker direction. The track SLAVE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE is easily one of his best works.


There should be no surprise either to see JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND or SUPERMAN making this list. While his frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg was changing the way we watch movies for forever, John Williams was doing the same for film scores.


William's Academy Award winning score for E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL almost made the cut. Consider it another off-list runner-up. Also, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.



Hans Zimmer (2)


Thin Red Line (1998)


Gladiator (2000)


If you haven't listened to the score for THIN RED LINE yet, you are missing out. One of the most complex and melancholy scores ever written, especially coming from an individual like Hans Zimmer who is best known for bombastic blockbuster works. A great score for a great film.