Best Original Film Scores Ever

soundtrackmontage articleNot even bad movies can ruin an otherwise brilliant original score. With film scores, the composer’s imagination (in the context of the film, or course) is the limit, and has the potential to be so much better than the script itself. If John Williams composed the music to Basic Instinct 2, he’d likely be nominated for an Oscar (okay, maybe not, but you get my point).

Now, in alphabetical order, here are the best scores out there, some extremely obvious, and others in films that can’t hold a candle to their themes. I’m leaving out cartoons and musicals because, to me, those belong on a different list, one devoted solely to films meant for, or are famous for, only their music. Also, purposely lacking on this list are scores to much older films, because I sincerely believe that the most memorable and recognized scores today came out only in the last 40 years, mainly due to the advent of the blockbuster film which virtually requires accompanying blockbuster music. I’m sure the theme from Gone with the Wind is good, how couldn’t it be? But I’d say we’ll be whistling the theme to Star Wars for decades longer as those who actually saw Wind die out.

addams 75x75The Addams Family – Marc Shaiman
Starting with a snoozer, huh? Sure, the 1991 film was silly, but Shaiman’s theme is everything from over-the-top romantic to creepy and sneaky, just like the family. Each track on this album is good, and Shaiman rarely succumbs to composing filler for blah scenes. It’s also got the extended version of Mamushka, sang wonderfully by the late Raúl Juliá who played Gomez. The Addams Family on Amazon

americanbeauty 75x75American Beauty – Thomas Newman
With unconventional sounds and instruments, this score doesn’t seem to follow any traditional method of film composing, and it’s a hit. Just a warning – people buy this looking for the song that played as Angela undressed, but it’s not on here. That’s Annie Lennox singing a Neil Young song called “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” which is available on her album Medusa, and not even the soundtrack (not score) album for this Academy Award-winning film. American Beauty on Amazon

angels 75x75Angels & Demons – Hans Zimmer
This album starts off with one of the most in-your-face, exciting tracks Zimmer has composed since the Battle scene in Gladiator. My problem with the Da Vinci Code soundtrack was that it was too soft and generally took too long to build to those monumental moments that Zimmer is known to swat at you, but here, it starts right away, as it should. As for the rest of the score, it’s what it’s supposed to be… lots of violins and choral chanting, some softer tunes, with hints of Da Vinci’s riffs but solid and different enough to stand on its own. Angels & Demons on Amazon

backtothefuture 75x75Back to the Future – Alan Silvestri
A brilliant score to a classic movie. The sequels, too, had great music, with change-ups in the sounds based on the era in which Marty and Doc were hangin’ in. Back to the Future on Amazon

abeautifulmind 75x75A Beautiful Mind – James Horner
Another best picture winner, Horner delivers a whirlwind of music that captures the brilliant yet troubled mind of John Nash in a kaleidoscope of music with lovely soprano backings by Welsh singer Charlotte Church. A Beautiful Mind on Amazon

bramstokerdracular 75x75Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Wojciech Kilar
Here’s another snoozer, but I think it’s the best horror soundtrack, beginning to end, out there. It’s often slow and creepy, music that builds to neck-chomping climaxes with blood flowing everywhere. Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Amazon

braveheart 75x75Braveheart – James Horner
Another best picture winner scored by Horner, Braveheart’s music is the ultimate soundtrack for British-bashing Scots. I just want to point out that Iron Maiden’s “The Clansman” is also about William Wallace and gives a heavy metal twist to this period. If only Mel Gibson put that in the film… Braveheart on Amazon | More Music From Braveheart on Amazon

crocodiledundee 75x75Crocodile Dundee – Peter Best
I can’t say that every track on this album is brilliant, considering many were made in the context of comedic incidents by the outback Aussie in New York, but the main theme and supporting themes are unique and memorable, far more serious than the movie turns out to be. Crocodile Dundee on Amazon

darkcrystal 75x75The Dark Crystal – Trevor Jones
One of my all-time favorites, Jones composes music that ultimately outlives the puppet-only film and cheesy 80s special effects. Decades after the film was released, a limited-edition CD came out for this film with the entire score on one CD and the limited, ‘best-of’ score on the other. Incidentally, I really wanted to add Labyrinth to this list, but the music in that isn’t for everyone. The Dark Crystal: 25th Anniversary on Amazon | The Dark Crystal, limited-edition two-CD set on Amazon

et 75x75E.T. – John Williams

At the time, this was the highest-grossing film ever, and the score is over-the-top wonderful, particularly the soothing Over the Moon.

While on the subject of Spielberg/Williams films, I’m leaving Jaws off of this list because the soundtrack as a whole was only okay. That classic, two-note theme is indeed good and memorable, but only fit those shark scenes. And lets be honest – upon repeat viewings of Jaws, those are the only scenes worth watching. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on Amazon

gladiator 75x75Gladiator – Hans Zimmer

Every track on this album is unique, beautiful, intense, and outright brilliant. Zimmer’s musicians were anxious to see this film as they composed this music, and the movie lived up to the score and won best picture.  My favorite track isn’t even on the Gladiator soundtrack, which is available here on Amazon. It’s on the Gladiator: More Music From The Motion Picture soundtrack, called ‘Figurines.’ Check it out:

glory 75x75Glory – James Horner
Another memorable theme backed by the Boys Choir of Harlem, Horner’s Charging Fort Wagner track is the ultimate theme to any battle. Glory on Amazon

godfather 75x75The Godfather – Nino Rota
Surely, the theme of the best movie of all time belongs on here, right? While not every track is a solid winner, the main and supporting themes are fun to whistle. The Godfather on Amazon

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Nino Rota’s score was removed from the list of 1973 Academy Award nominees when it was discovered that he had used the theme in Eduardo De Filippo’s 1958 comedy Fortunella. Although in the earlier film the theme was played in a brisk, staccato and comedic style, the melody was the same as the love theme from The Godfather, and for that reason was deemed ineligible for an Oscar. Despite this, The Godfather Part II won a 1974 Oscar for best original score, although it featured the same love theme that made the 1972 score ineligible.)

harrypotter 75x75Harry Potter – John Williams and others
I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with every track to every Potter film’s score, but familiar enough to know that Williams and composers such as Patrick Doyle, William Ross and Nicholas Hooper didn’t disappoint when delivering the themes to these films which will live in children’s memories for decades to come. Harry Potter soundtracks on Amazon

homealone 75x75Home Alone – John Williams
The score to this film is yet another example of how great John Williams actually is. The music didn’t need to be good enough to make this list, but yet it was. Ultimately, it’s a silly film that became a huge hit, and it memorably captures the wackiness, loneliness, and spirit of Christmas that will forever be associated with Macaulay Culkin. Home Alone on Amazon

hook 75x75Hook – John Williams
I wasn’t at all a fan of this Steven Spielberg-directed film but Williams didn’t phone in the music (available here on Amazon). Some of my favorite tunes on here aren’t even part of huge moments, particularly Captain Hook’s theme. It starts at about 1:20 of this track:

hulk 75x75The Hulk – Danny Elfman
I couldn’t possibly make this list without a mention of Danny Elfman. His comic-book-to-life sounds, often tracked over Tim Burton/Johnny Depp flicks, are always great but seem to always lack that one element that puts it over the top into the greatest soundtracks ever category (which is why I believe he has yet to win an Oscar and rarely gets nominated despite the number of films he’s scored). These include scores such as Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Dick Tracy, Beetlejuice, Spider-man, and many others. But when I heard the Hulk theme (which wasn’t even a good movie), I found my favorite. The Hulk on Amazon

indianajones 75x75Indiana Jones – John Williams
Williams scored all four Indiana Jones films, but due to so many overlapping themes on each score it’s hard to put one on this list but not the others. However, my personal preference is for The Temple of Doom, which contains my favorite track the Slave Children’s Parade. Indiana Jones on Amazon

interviewwiththevampire 75x75Interview With the Vampire – Elliot Goldenthal
I rarely go a day without hearing a track from this film on my Ipod, another vampire score that sounds as if it’s being played by mad violinists. I even enjoy the last track on the album, which is a Guns N Roses version of the Rolling Stones’ Symphony for the Devil. Interview With The Vampire on Amazon

jurassicpark 75x75Jurassic Park – John Williams
Okay, maybe I’m just a huge fan of John Williams, but if I can remember the score by heart, it likely means it’s good enough to be on here (BTW, despite owning Saving Private Ryan and several other Williams scores, not all of them make the cut). Jurassic Park on Amazon

lastofthemohicans 75x75The Last of the Mohicans – Trevor Jones
Every time I hear the track The Kiss I wanna grab the nearest chick, ugly or not, and make out with her. Oh, and unlike the soundtrack, which is in my top five favorites ever, I think this movie sucked. The Last Of The Mohicans on Amazon. And if you can get it, buy the Mohicans Special Edition.

lordoftherings 75x75The Lord of the Rings – Howard Shore
Explain this to me… Shore won the Best Original Score Oscar for Part I and Part III, but not Part II. But you know what? The Two Towers was my favorite of the three, and a symphony is even playing it to the film on stage. So what gives? Regardless, Shore scored hours of brilliant music in these films and the best way to hear it is to buy the extended edition versions, which cost a lot of money but are an absolute must for true fans. In fact, they cost even more than the DVD movies themselves! Lord of the Rings Complete Recordings on Amazon

maryshelleysfrankenstein 75x75Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Patrick Doyle
This movie fell flat at the box office but the themes and supporting music are excellent. There aren’t too many people on the same page as me on this because they dismissed the film, but give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on Amazon

northbynorthwest 75x75North by Northwest – Bernard Herrmann
Gotta get a Alfred Hitchcock score on here, right? Or, how about three, starting with what is often thought to be Hitchcock’s best film. Five minutes into watching this I already thought this was bound to be one of my favorite movies, and by the end, it was. North By Northwest: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. For the best Hitchcock compilation, get Hitchcock: Master of Mayhem.

piratesofthecaribbean 75x75Pirates of the Caribbean – Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt
Even though Part III of this film left a lot to be desired, the scores in each are pure swashbuckling adventure, particularly Zimmer’s Wheel of Fortune in Dead Man’s Chest. Pirates of the Caribbean on Amazon

psycho 75x75Psycho – Bernard Herrmann
Shower scene. Best. Score. Ever. The rest of the film has okay music, nothing fascinating or even very memorable. But that shower scene… Psycho on Amazon

robinhood 75x75Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves – Michael Kamen
Another great score to a fun adventure movie, even if it was Kevin Costner, and it certainly helped to have Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I do (I do it for you)’ as a base. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on Amazon

schindlerslist 75x75Schindler’s List – John Williams, with Itzhak Perlman
This score had to be good and that it was. This was Williams’ fifth (and so far, final) Oscar win and I remember when he went up there, he looked as if he expected it. My favorite tracks on this aren’t actually the main themes, but Oyf’n Pripetshok / Nacht Aktion (Ronit Shapira) and Yerushalaim Shel Zahav (Hana Tzur). Schindler’s List on Amazon

shawshankredemption 75x75Shawshank Redemption – Thomas Newman
Aside from the main theme, which in and of itself wonderful, try listening to ‘Compass and Guns’ without shedding a tear. I wouldn’t even be surprised if people have committed suicide to ‘Brooks Was Here,’ one of the most moving scenes in the film. The Shawshank Redemption on Amazon

silenceofthelambs 75x75Silence of the Lambs – Howard Shore
The main theme here is good but no one can forget the shock of the police officers when they see what Lecter had done, and the overlaying track captures that intensity. The Silence Of The Lambs on Amazon

starwars 75x75Star Wars – John Williams
Now, I’ve gotta admit that not every track in every film is a winner, but many are, particularly the end theme of Episode IV, the Imperial March, and my personal favorites, the Arrival at Tatooine from Episode I, which doesn’t get good until 1:53 of the track. Star Wars on Amazon | Special Edition Soundtracks on Amazon

And who can forget ‘Duel of the Fates’?

vertigo 75x75Vertigo – Bernard Herrmann
Music to get dizzy to. Vertigo on Amazon

willow 75x75Willow – James Horner
Yet another grand-scale epic adventure movie and a James Horner score that doesn’t disappoint. Forget Wicket the Ewok and the Leprechaun, Warrick Davis will forever be associated with Willow. Willow on Amazon

Other memorable themes:
The Fugitive – James Newton Howard
The Green Mile – Thomas Newman
Superman – John Williams
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – Ennio Morricone
Alien – Jerry Goldsmith
Terminator 2: Judgement Day – Brad Fiedel
City Slickers – Marc Shaiman
Midnight Cowyboy – John Barry

Many, many more, but these all rise to the top.

Here’s another good list, though I don’t agree with all the choices:

Check this out: