Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top Ten Film Scores

Film utilizes most, if not all, art forms to create a single creation. Drawing, editing, costume design, camera work...and of course the music. Film scores have an incredible impact on the emotions and overall tone of a film, be it a specific scene or a recurring theme.

Sometimes they help evoke emotions...sometimes they merely enhance the feelings created by what is being portrayed on screen. Regardless of the effect, the score is a powerful tool used in film. Several great composers have left their mark in film history with classic themes and memorable soundtracks.

However, ten scores over the course of film's beginnings to this day have stood out for me. These talented composers played a huge role in creating the atmosphere for the films their scores are a part of. Be it a simple four note theme that sends a shiver down out spines...or a complex arrangement of many instruments to create an epic, sweeping score...C-Rav presents...

Top Ten Film Scores

10.The Pink Panther
Composer: Henry Mancini

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who at the very least has not heard this notable theme, much less heard about the film itself, The Pink Panther.

Composed by the late Henry Mancini, composer of scores for films such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, This Island Earth, and The Glenn Miller Story, Mancini received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score in 1964.

However, more importantly the score, and primarily the main theme, is recognized by nearly everyone and has entered the pop culture stream. Being used in all but two of the Pink Panther series films and finding it way into other films and television series', the Pink Panther theme has truly entered hearts and minds on millions.

With it's catchy jazz tune, one can't help but enjoy this classic and memorable theme.

9.Schindler's List
Composer: John Williams

The 1993 Academy Award winning score for Steven Spielberg's masterpiece Schindler's List was composed be celluloid maestro John Williams.

Having composed the score for all but two of Steven Spielberg's films, Williams, amazed by the film, initially deemed himself incapable of composing this score. Insisting Spielberg needed a better composer for the film, the director merely replied "I know. But they're all dead!"

There is very little to say about the soundtrack other than with its moving theme performed by legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, the horrors and the tragedy of the Holocaust are hauntingly captured well through John Williams' fantastic and heart moving score.

8. The Lion King
Composer: Hanz Zimmer

Composer Hans Zimmer (As Good As It Gets, Gladiator, The Dark Knight) brings the sense of tragedy and the emotions of an incredible journey of growth to life through his score for The Lion King.

Receiving both Academy and Golden Globe Awards for the magnificent score, Hans Zimmer's musical contribution to the films was part of the original motion picture soundtrack as opposed to featuring only the musical numbers featured in the film.

Capturing the incredible scope of the story and using traditional African instruments and singers, the location is depicted wonderfully through song. I personally hold the score on par and equally as memorable as the infamous songs included in the film.

Composer: James Horner

The highest grossing film of all time has one of the greatest scores of all time in my opinion.

Composed by James Horner, who was scored a wide range of excellent films (House of Sand and Fog, Braveheart, The Land Before Time), the score was inspired by the music of an Irish group known as Clannad. Like the film itself, the soundtrack gained enormous popularity and became the third highest selling soundtrack ever.

While only trailing the soundtrack for The Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever, Horner received the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Titanic and Best Original Song for My Heart Will Go On.

What makes the score so memorable and great, amongst many things, is the fact that there are recurring themes throughout the soundtrack that are played differently each time depending on the desired mood for the film at the time. One minute a theme is epic and grand, and then the next the same theme is musically arranged in such a manner that captures the more tragic emotions portrayed in the film.

An excellent score that one can listen to frequently, its ability to enhance both the epic scope of the unsinkable ship and tragic drama of the love story makes James Horner's score nothing short of brilliant.

6. Brokeback Mountain
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla

Composer Gustavo Santaolalla (21 grams,The Motorcycle Diaries, Babel) manages to do for Brokeback Mountain's score what was done for films such as Jaws, Signs, and Psycho. He creates a simple, few note, theme that somehow manges to be all the more powerful for it. Perfectly capturing the heartbreaking emotions the two title characters go through in this tragic love story.

While Brokeback Mountain failed to win the much deserved Best Picture award at the 78th Academy Awards, Gustavo Santaolalla did win for his work on the films score.

Without trying to repeat myself, the score is so simple and yet in it's simplicity manages to say all that needs to be said. Yet with the award recognition aside, the score, and more prominently, the main theme (titled: The Wings) has entered the consciousness of many around the world as one of the most recognized, memorable, and praised themes in film history.

5. E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial
Composer: John Williams

As far memorable themes go, there is no denying that John Williams' work on E.T certainly ranks amongst the most iconic, if not best,film scores to date.

Initially believing the hardest part of scoring the film would be creating sympathy for such an unusual creature, Williams' work on the film impressed director Steven Spielberg so much that the filmmaker decided to edit the final chase sequence to the music rather than cutting up the score to match the edited film.

Like any great film, the emotions felt by audiences are not created y the score but rather enhanced. We already feel for Elliot and E.T as they are forced to say goodbye, but the score enhances those mixed feelings of joy and sadness in ways only the magic of cinema can. Filling me with feelings of excitement, adventure, some creepiness, and overall a heartwarming sensation, the score for E.T easily earns a much deserved spot on the list.

4. Jaws
Composer: John Williams

As far as simple, but effective scores go, Jaws is easily amongst the best if not THE best.

The academy award winning score by John Williams has become as iconic as the masterpiece film itself, synonymous with suspense and approaching danger. Having been spoofed several times even in situations that don't refer the film itself, Jaws' score has passed the test of time and remains in the minds of movie lovers of all kinds. Even those who haven't seen the film have at the very least heard this classic theme.

Much like Psycho's main theme by Bernard Herrman, the theme to Jaws is both threatening and enhances the presence of an unseen terror. Reportedly, Spielberg initially believed Williams' composition of the score to be joke, but ultimately the theme was used. Spielberg has attributed much of the films success to Williams' score and the maestro himself has credited the film as a major jump start for his career.

Ranking sixth on American Film Institutes's 100 Years of Film Scores list, the brilliance of the score is how the shark itself is associated with theme by the audience because the theme is never used to distract the audience. By building up this terrifying theme as the shark approaches and then cutting the score after the shark makes a vicious attack, the sense of an eerie and almost awkward silence is created. Easily earning Jaws a spot on this list.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Composer: John Williams

There is an infamous catchphrase "If Adventure has a name, it must be: Indiana Jones".

Indiana Jones himself wouldn't be complete without the hat, the whip, the jacket, Harrison Ford, and of course the iconic "Raider's March". The march itself has come to symbolize Indiana Jones potentially more than expected and has been used across all three of the film sequels.

John Williams initially had two pieces to be potential Indy themes, however Spielberg liked both compositions so much that he asked Williams' to incorporate both tunes into what is now known as the "Raiders March".

Earning an Academy Award nomination, the score for the cinematic masterpiece Raiders of the Lost Ark also contains memorable pieces associated with the Ark of the Covenant and a love theme of almost classic proportions. But more importantly, it is memorable to audiences and gets this film lover pumped and in the mood for adventure.

2. The Dark Knight
Composers: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Last year The Dark Knight accomplished what some films can only hope to achieve. It became an enormous financial success AND earned praise from moviegoers and critics of all kinds. Combining the thrills and excitement of popcorn entertainment with excellent craftsmanship, amazing performances and clever storytelling, The Dark Knight managed to captivate me in another important area: The score.

Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, Batman Begins, King Kong) returned to collaborate on the score, and the union of two great talents proved to be highly effective.

Originally planning to compose a main theme for the Batman character, the composers decided against it and instead only used little, subtle, heroic theme that manages to perfectly capture both the heroic presence of Batman, but also the darkness and mystery surrounding the character. The Jokers theme joins the list of themes that are simple but effective. Based around two notes, the theme raises pitch the more it goes on, giving audiences the sense of a growing and approaching danger. The simplicity of the theme also creates a sense of fear and captures the almost animalistic and beast like nature of the deranged and homocidal maniac.

The lack of a Best Original Score at the Academy Awards was just one of many snubs at this years Oscars, however the score did manage to win the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. However on a more important note, it manages to brilliantly compliment the films wide range of emotions. From the epic scope of Batman soaring through the skyline of Gotham City to the tragic story of Harvey Dent's fall from grace, The Dark Knight's score personally puts a smile on my face and gives a grand sense of power and imagination.

1. Star Wars
Composer: John Williams

Taking the number one spot is the everlasting and universally recognized score the the original Star Wars.

Under the advice of good friend Steven Spielberg, director George Lucas chose John Williams to compose the films score. Hoping that the score would give audiences a sense of familiarity in this imaginative world, Lucas intended to use some his favourite compositions until Williams' convinced him an completely original score would work best for the film.

The main theme has become one the most popular, recognizable, and important contributions to film music. It not only starts the film of an amazing high, but also captures and enhances the emotions of heroism and adventure felt throughout the course of the film flawlessly. In addition to this iconic theme, other memorable themes from the score have emerged such as "Rebel Fanfare", "Force Theme", and "Princess Leia's Theme" among several others.

Earning three Grammy's and Williams' third Academy Award, the Star Wars score has become as classic and memorable as the film itself. The score has become so iconic and influential in film that even those who haven't seen even a second of footage from any of the Star Wars can more than likely recognize the tune instantly and name where it originates. That's just one the marks of a brilliant score.

Like many of the scores on this list, Star Wars' is an amazing and engaging combination of heroic, tragic, foreboding, and emotional themes. Easily one of the greatest scores in film to be composed and my personal favourite.


While there are several scores that have achieved iconic status and greatness, the preceding ten films are the ones that stand out for me. The brilliance behind their meaning, how and why they were composed in such manners, their mark on history and of course, the sheer powerful effect they all have in complimenting the films and evoking emotions in audiences is what makes these scores so great to me.

Thanks for reading everyone, and I'll see you on the next one.