In honor of the 93rd Academy Awards happening this Sunday, we thought we'd use a Top 10 to explore the magic of film scores and the talented people who make them.
A movie is mainly a visual experience, but without good sound, it's just a bunch of flashing pictures. Film music helps elevate the tone and emotions of a movie. It lets us know when we should be scared, excited, or heartbroken while watching our favorite characters onscreen.
Sometimes a film score is so good it makes up the identity of the film itself. Who can forget the iconic flute solos that adorn the love themes in Titanic or the shrieking strings in Psycho? It takes the work of a gifted composer to make a film score that's not only suitable, but also memorable.
Who are some of these gifted film composers throughout history? That's what this list will explore. Here's Live365's picks for the Top 10 Film Composers!
10. Hildur Guðnadóttir
Hildur Guðnadóttir is one of the most exciting new composers in the film industry today. In addition to being a classically trained cellist with acclaimed solo work, the Icelandic composer is known for helping out with the scores for Sicario: Day of Soldado, Mary Magdalene, The Revenant, and Arrival. She's also won a Primetime Emmy for her original score for HBO's mini-series Chernobyl.
Of course, Guðnadóttir is most famous for her recent work on Todd Phillips' Joker. Because of it, she won the Oscar for Best Original Score in 2020. Joker's score is deep, dark, and haunting: perfect for a psychological thriller about the Clown Prince of Crime. Who can forget that chilling cello solo during Joaquin Phoenix's bathroom dance scene?
Although Hildur Guðnadóttir is last on this list due to her short body of work so far, we know she has a bright future ahead. In fact, Guðnadóttir's next composing credit will be for a new untitled David O'Russell film. Expect to hear more of her work in the years ahead!
9. Alexandre Desplat
This Oscar-winning French composer is one of the busiest names in Hollywood. At the time of this article's publication, he currently has 194 composer credits for film and TV.
Raised on French symphonists and jazz in his youth, Desplat studied piano and trumpet before choosing the flute as his main instrument. He decided to go into film composition after hearing John Williams' score for Star Wars: a New Hope.
Desplat is known for his quirky compositions for the majority of Wes Anderson's filmography. His work is also recognizable in films like The Shape of Water, The Imitation Game, The King's Speech, and the later Harry Potter movies. Most recently, his original score for Greta Gerwig's Little Women was given a Best Original Score nod by the Academy.
8. Howard Shore
Best known for his fantastical scores on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, Howard Shore is a Canadian composer with three Oscar wins to his name. He started studying music when he was 8 years old, and played as a member of bands by the time he was 13. As an adult, he studied music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He even served as a musical director for Saturday Night Live in the 70s.
Besides creating music for Middle Earth, Shore has also done the score compositions for acclaimed films like Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Fly, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, and After Hours. Most recently, he composed the music for this year's Academy-nominated film Pieces of a Woman.
7. Jerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith is responsible for some of the most memorable film music of all time. He amassed 250 credits from 1953 until his death in 2004. He was also nominated for 17 Academy Awards, but only received one for his work on 1976's The Omen.
Besides The Omen, Goldsmith created the scores for other respected movies such as Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Alien, L.A. Confidential, and Total Recall. His scores have encompassed almost every musical genre there is to cover.
6. Joe Hisaishi
Have you ever been swept away by the wonder of a Studio Ghibli film? You can thank Joe Hisaishi for that. Nicknamed "The John Williams of Japan," Hisaishi graduated Kunitachi Music College and went on to compose the scores for some of the highest grossing films in Asia, including Spirited Away and Let the Bullets Fly.
Hisaishi has won the Japanese equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Music seven times. The collaborations between him and Hayao Miyazaki have been compared to the legendary teamwork of John Williams and Steven Spielberg in the West. His scores are whimsical, emotional, and in the case of Studio Ghibli films, full of childhood wonder.
5. Max Steiner
The Father of Film Music, Max Steiner walked so the rest of the composers on our list could run. He is credited with the creation of modern film music, and made the scores for some of Hollywood's Golden Age hits, including Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and King Kong.
Steiner was a child prodigy who conducted his first operetta when he was 12 years old. He then became a full-time professional when he was 15. After working in England and then on Broadway, Steiner moved to Hollywood in 1929. He had a career that spanned 70 years, and has almost 400 music credits to his name.
Steiner has also won three Oscars for his work on The Informer, Now, Voyager, and Since You Went Away.
4. Ennio Morricone
Music for westerns would not be the same without Ennio Morricone. An Italian composer who was able to write music in a wide variety of styles, he is credited with over 400 film and TV scores and 100 classical works. He was Sergio Leone's loyal collaborator for the director's spaghetti western films.
Morricone is perhaps most famous for his main title theme for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Morricone used unconventional instruments such as the Jew's harp, amplified harmonica, mariachi trumpets, cor anglais, and the ocarina to create the score's signature sounds. The uncommon noises would eventually make their way into future western film scores.
Besides westerns, Morricone also did the scoring for films like Once Upon a Time in America, Cinema Paradiso, The Thing, and 1997's Lolita. The legendary composer recently passed away, in July 2020.
3. Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer is one of the 21st century's most well-known and popular German film composers. His scores are lauded for their intensity, sophistication, and occasional electronic sounds. Whenever Hans Zimmer is attached to do the music for a movie, you know it's going to be good.
Zimmer spent his early career in the United Kingdom, then moved to the United States. He has served as the Head of the Film Music Division at DreamWorks Studios and has collaborated with other composers through his company, Remote Control Productions. His music studio in Santa Monica, California contains a treasure trove of keyboards and computer equipment that allow him to create music demos quickly. No wonder he has over 150 credits to his name!
Hans Zimmer has crafted the scores for so many successful movies, it's impossible to list all of them here. Audience favorites of his include the scores for Inception, The Lion King, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, Dunkirk, and Blade Runner 2049.
2. Bernard Hermann
Hans Zimmer may be one of the most successful composers working today, but before him, there was Bernard Hermann. Where Max Steiner wrote the rules for film music, Hermann tore them up and created works all his own.
New York-born Hermann was a graduate of the famous Juilliard School and worked as a film composer from the 1930s to the 70s. He is best known for creating the scores to several Alfred Hitchcock movies, including Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo.
Besides Hitchcock films, Hermann also composed the scores for other great movies like Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Cape Fear, Fahrenheit 451, and Taxi Driver.
Where his predecessors were more concerned with grandiose melodic sweeps, Hermann focused on infusing his film scores with more rhythm, tone, and instrumental experimentation. If you ever get scared that a knife-wielding killer will pop up behind you in the shower, thank Bernard Hermann.
1. John Williams
No surprise here. John Williams is such a staple of classic Hollywood film composing, it's impossible for him not to take our #1 spot.
The film music of John Williams represents some of the most familiar ever written. He's created the signature tunes to most of your favorite childhood movies, including all the Star Wars films, Home Alone, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Hook, ET, and the Harry Potter movies. We can promise you that if you go to a John Williams concert, you will cry from all the nostalgia.
Besides composing adventurous music for the most popular movies of all time, John Williams has done more mature scores, too. He handled the heartbreaking music for Schindler's List and created the scores for Lincoln, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Catch Me If You Can. He's also the most Oscar-nominated person alive today. He’s just behind the most Oscar-nominated person of all time: Walt Disney, who received 59 nominations.
- Nicholas Britell (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk)
- James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar)
- Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse Bride, Batman)
- Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's)
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