Musical score is a major part of the art of filmmaking. It fills out the scenes, builds tension, makes us cry, or makes our spirit soar. Without music, films would be as dull and slow as your average home movie. So this week, I thought I’d pay tribute to the men who make the movies come to life by putting together the Crown Jewels of my favorite composers. As always, this list is based solely on opinion, so I apologize if your favorites didn’t make the cut.
10. Steve Jablonsky
This man has composed some of the most powerful music I’ve heard in film. With his constant pulse and use of choirs, he keeps his score driving forward, giving every movie he writes for an epic sound. His work includes Ender’s Game and The Island, but ironically, my favorite Jablonsky score comes from one of my least favorite movies, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. As much as I was rooting for every character in that film to die, I’ll still go back and listen to that pounding, soaring, epic soundtrack over and over again.
9. Jerry Goldsmith
Sadly, Goldsmith is no longer with us, but his music lives on. Whether he was conducting an orchestra, writing for a percussion section, or using synthesizers, he always had a talent for creating a score that fit the movie perfectly, showing off his diverse talent. He composed for the Gremlins films and more than one Star Trek movie, but my favorite is The Mummy. Every song in that soundtrack makes me envision Egypt in all its glory.
8. Alan Silvestri
Silvestri knows his way around an orchestra and can turn out many different kinds of soundtracks, from calm and quiet to tense and driving. His work includes Predator, Forrest Gump, The Avengers, and Night at the Museum, but my favorite of his scores is A Christmas Carol. It blends familiar songs of Christmas with new orchestration that is by turns cheerful, mournful, frightening, and haunting.
7. Harry Gregson-Williams
This composer may not be as well known, but the few scores I know he has turned out have definitely worked their way into my memory. These include The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Kingdom of Heaven, Cowboys and Aliens, and my favorite, Prince of Persia. This last soundtrack is action-packed and ethnically spot-on, evoking epic images of the Persian Empire. Every time I listen to it, I feel as if I’m on an adventure in the Middle East.
6. Howard Shore
Universally known as the composer for The Lord of the Rings, Shore has forever made his mark upon film and nerd culture. His music is now inseparable from Middle Earth, especially the themes of the Hobbits, the Fellowship, and Isengard. He has also composed for The Silence of the Lambs, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Hugo, but I’ll always love him best for his work on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In addition to bringing back familiar themes from the original trilogy, he also gave us several brand new amazing themes and even put perfect music to two of my favorite songs from books, “Blunt the Knives” and “Misty Mountains.” Whenever I sing these songs in the future, they will be to Shore’s music.
5. Danny Elfman
Elfman is a frequent collaborator with Tim Burton, and it’s no surprise since they share a quirky, bizarre taste in art and music. The composer’s music is gothic in a modern way, straddling the line between beauty and insanity. His work includes Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland, and the Planet of the Apes remake. My personal favorite, however, is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Not only does it accompany one of my favorite films, but it also has my favorite Elfman main theme, powerful, dark, mysterious, and promising all at once. And let’s face it, those Oompa Loompa songs are just plain fun (and they use the original lyrics by Roald Dahl, which makes the book lover in me very happy indeed).
4. Henry Jackman
This composer is fairly new to the game, but he’s already made his mark on the world of movie music. His diversity and frequent mixture of electronic sounds with orchestra are just some of his trademarks that make him so great. Jackman’s work includes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Winnie the Pooh, but my favorite soundtrack has to be X-Men: First Class. This score was the iconic music the X-Men had been missing in the previous four movies. In one theme, Jackman captures both the majestic grandeur and the youthful coolness of the mutants using sweeping strings, graceful horns, and rocking electric guitars. Besides, nothing has made me want Magneto’s powers more than his theme in this film.
3. John Powell
Powell is another diverse composer, capable of turning out driving, rhythmic soundtracks, quirky songs, and beautiful scores depending on what the movie requires. His work includes the Bourne trilogy, Hancock, Happy Feet, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the Kung Fu Panda films, which he scored with the aid of the next composer on this list. My favorite Powell score, however, is How to Train Your Dragon. The sweeping soundtrack with a Celtic feel makes me feel as though I’m flying on the back of my very own dragon. If you’re looking for a dose of epic for your day, you can’t go wrong with this soundtrack.
2. Hans Zimmer
Yet another composer who puts power into every song he composes, Zimmer’s edge over Jablonsky is that he knows how to be subtle as well. True, sometimes it sounds as though he’s writing the same theme over and over, but when the song is this good, I’m not about to complain. His work includes The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and the Sherlock Holmes movies. At the moment, though, my favorite Zimmer score is Man of Steel. His music in this film is nearly as grand in scope as the galaxy, and his theme for Superman makes my spirit soar like the Kryptonian himself.
1. John Williams
As the song says, “John Williams is the man!” I honestly cannot think of a more iconic or influential composer. He is responsible for many of the most recognizable themes of the modern film era, including Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, and E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Picking a favorite from his work would be nearly impossible, but if I had to, it would be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Nearly every song in the soundtrack is absolutely perfect, and it gives us the epic “Slave Children’s Crusade,” the only secondary theme on par with “Raiders March” in epicness.
So what do you think? Do you agree with my list? Who are some of your favorite composers? Let me know in the comments below, and see if you can’t track down some of these soundtracks to listen to while you go about your business today. I guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed.