Thursday, 9 October 2008


Alexandre Desplat

In cinema, and in particular Hollywood cinema, the film score or the composer has been one of the essential elements of technical cinema. The music is usually the last key creative layer added to the collaborative process of making a film and it's often the most influential. Over the years, the great composers have often stood as big as, or often bigger or more famous than the producer, director or even the film itself.

In the late 50’s, film scores started to become an art form unto itself, with the ability to break away from the film, and generate its own source of revenue in the form of the music soundtrack. Who could ever forget the commanding presence of Leonard Bernstein's horn section in "West Side Story", or Bernard Herrman's ominous and brooding opening to "Citizen Kane", or Maurice Jarre's sweeping balalaika in "Doctor Zhivago", or Herrman's piercing strings in "Psycho"?

Going through the decade here’s a little sampling of some of the great composers whose music often transcended their films:

- Max Steiner
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold
- Dimitri Tiomkin
- David Raksin

1950’s – 1960’s
- Miklos Rozsa
- Bernard Herrmann
- Alex North
- Elmer Bernstein
- Leonard Bernstein
- Alfred Newman
- Henry Mancini
- John Barry

- Ennio Morricone
- Jerry Fielding
- Maurice Jarre

- John Williams
- Bill Conti
- Vangelis
- Jerry Goldsmith
- Tangerine Dream

- Michael Kamen
- Alan Silvestri
- James Horner
- Hans Zimmer
- Philip Glass
- Danny Elfman
- Howard Shore
- James Newton Howard

Is anybody talking about influential and commanding film scores of today? When was the last time you wanted to go out and buy a movie's soundtrack?

Arguably in the 2000’s there's been a distinct shift from those ‘hummable’ scores we remember. Perhaps it’s that post 9/11 cynicism/realism which has creeped into popular cinema. 

Take the fine work of James Newton Howard on "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" - both are fantastic scores, pulsating rhythms which help control the pace of the film. But does it lift itself off the screen, like, say, James Horner's pulsating work on James Cameron's "Aliens"? or even Brad Fiedel work on the "Terminator" films?

No, but the fact is James Newton Howard is perhaps the most sought-after composer today, and arguably one of the few of the old guard of the 80's and 90's doing better work than they were back then. Remember he was Peter Jackson's next choice when Howard Shore couldn't do the work on "King Kong"? He's still M. Night Shyamalan's goto composer churning out consistently good music despite the mediocre films. His most recent work for  "The Happening" was one of his best scores he's ever done.

Maybe these prominent scores and composers are untrendy. Is there a trend toward minimalism, or are we just getting unmemorable music from the former big name composers like Danny Elfman or Howard Shore?

And what ever happened to Alan Silvestri, or James Horner? These guys would regularly create score after memorable score in the 80's and 90's. Hans Zimmer continues to get blockbuster work, but other than his work on "Pirates of he Caribbean" mostly everything he's done lately is underwhelming. Danny Elfman composes a blockbuster or two a year, but does anyone consider his "Spider-man" scores or his music for, say, "Wanted" memorable?

When was the last time a music score got you excited, or even made you go out and buy (or download) the soundtrack?

Readers, please chime in on some of the great music scores or composers we need to recognize in the last 5 years or so. And who's replaced the John Williamses, Alan Silvestris and Jerry Goldsmith's?

Here's a few non-household names to consider:

Alexandre Desplat
A French composer who has been working for years in France and only recently became a hot property in the English-speaking cinema. His scores for "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" drew some attention. Since then he's contributed eclectic scores for "Birth", "Syriana", "The Queen", "The Golden Compass" and the upcoming "Curious Case of Benjamin Button". 

Gustavo Santaolalla
This guy actually won back-to-back Oscars for "Brokeback Mountain" and "Babel". Only two other people have done that (Franz Waxman and Alan Menken) It's far from the big hummable John Williams-type scores, but always quietly affecting and deeply emotional.

Michael Giacchino
Giacchino has a rare distinction of moving back and forth successfully between television music to feature film music. He's frequently worked with Brad Bird and the Pixar guys - "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille", but he's most famous for his work with J.J. Abrams. Perhaps it's his phenomenal music for "Lost" which is getting him phonecalls from The Wachowski Brothers.

Dario Marianelli
Watch for this Italian composer to explode. He's already had two Oscar nominations for his two films for Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement"), and his next venture with him, the fall's "The Soloist", is a likely shoo-in.

Clint Mansell
Mansell's strong score for "Requiem for a Dream" seems to be the "Aliens" score of today - appearing in everything from other film's movie trailers to NFL promo ads. He still hasn't broken out into blockbuster films, but really do we want to see him sell out?

Jon Brion
Brion started working on PT Anderson's films in the 90's but in this new decade he's created idiosyncratic scores for "Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind", "I Heart Huckabees" and the upcoming "Synecdoche N.Y." His work on "Magnolia" is still one of my alltime favourite scores.

Cliff Martinez
Martinez is known for scoring Steven Soderbergh's 'serious' films. His specialty is the quiet ambient echoing sounds which don't overwhelm but certainly get under your skin and punctuate the emotion of a scene. He hasn't worked with too many big films other than his Soderbergh work. His breakout is unlikely.

The most memorable score for me, personally, over this decade is Alexandre Desplat's inspired work on"Birth".  Jonny Greenwood's "There Will Be Blood" would be number 2. Neither of those I purchased though. Anyone else have any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

No mention of Carter Burwell??

Alan Bacchus said...

Oops. You're right, Carter Burwell is still a great composer

Mark A. Fedeli said...

lets hope Greenwood does more film work. good call there. best in a long while.

how about Terance Blanchard? Until I found out that a long deceased Aaron Copland actually did "He Got Game", Blanchard was my running favorite.

and not to be nit picky, but no Nina Rota on the big list? also, by Sergio Leone did you mean Ennio Morricone?

Andrew D. Wells said...

Michael Giacchino I think has the chops of a John Williams. I was happy you mentioned him. Possibly his heavy involvement with J.J. Abrams's television projects keeps him from really breaking out in the film world. Consider the amount of music he has produced for Alias, Lost and now Fringe. Then listen to his work on The Incredibles. This guy could produce that gotta have it film score if he got out of the TV game.

hundalasiliah said...

Angelo Badalamenti, his work is instantly recognizable and always enhances the mood of whatever it is set against. I think that the Twin Peaks theme alone is one of the most memorable and perfectly evocative pieces to come along in the last 20 years and will go down as a classic.

Anonymous said...

Marianelli is The Truth, y'all. The scores for the Joe Wright movies are the best, but his work on The Brothers Grimm and V for Vendetta was very fine.

Soren said...

Glad to see the first comment is about Carter Burwell, whose omission was a major oversight. Steve Jablonsky, Hans Zimmer's protegé, is another film composer whose work I enjoy. And though most of his work can be heard on the SciFi channel instead in your local multiplex, Bear McCreary definitely deserves mention.

Herch said...

The first name that came to mind was Thomas Newman, who at times seems more interested in making sounds with his instruments instead of music, and yet the finished result is surprisingly beautiful. No other composer has the unique sound that Thomas Newman has. I first took note of him in Road to Perdition (2002), and his work on Finding Nemo (2003)and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) are also particularly memorable.

Patrick said...

I'm a big fan of Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn's fantastic score for the just-okay movie Ravenous. It's strangely catchy and innovative in its uncommon instrumentation. I think Nyman in general could be mentioned here as a contemporary composer - think Greenaway's films, The Piano, etc.

Alan Bacchus said...

I love Michael Nyman as well, but he hasn't been doing much lately.

yell130 said...

Honestly, I absolutely adore the Batman Begins and Dark Knight soundtracks. I think they're some of the best work Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard have ever done. It fits the films so beautifully. Thomas Newman has some wonderful stuff too, though listening to his scores straight through can sometimes be rather exhausting. Patrick Doyle's got some nice stuff as well . I have to say I disagree though with a few of your points. I find that the most effective film music is the kind that you *don't* come away from the film humming, but that is so a part of what makes the film a whole that you don't even notice it. I love when a film score is so subtle that you can't recall it after the film, but makes such an impression that it is instantly recognizable when heard for a second time. Some of James Newton-Howard's work with M. Night is a pretty good example of that I think. Also, I'm not a big fan of Michael Giacchino; I watch Lost and am constantly annoyed by the music, it actually distracts me from the action of the show. It's not that the big bold Danny Elfman Batman themes don't have their place, (though I'm not a fan) I just think a score doesn't have to replicate that style to be considered memorable. There's some great stuff coming out now... and certainly enough to get excited about; I ran out to get my Dark Knight soundtrack midnight the day it came out!

Johnnie said...

Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, who noteably composes the scores for the films of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, strikes me as a very good, underated composer whose work rarely seem to filter outside of Asia. His scores actually do "jump out", especially the waltz-infused score for "Howl's Moving Castle" (an otherwise mediocre movie from a director who can do better) that is as haunting as it is memorable and beautiful. When I saw the movie I kept wondering where I heard the music before and realized that I had managed to remember it from a trailer - I can't think of any other score with which it happened.

Anonymous said...

Bear McCreary. Ok, ok I know most of his score work is for TV, but it is film worthy music.

Elwin said...

Joe Hisaishi did an amazing score in 2004 for Buster Keaton's classic The General!

Very memorable!!

Anonymous said...

Randy Newman.


Anonymous said...

what about john murphy? "28 days/weeks later" and "sunshine" had some pretty memorable themes in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

well all of the classic coposers that i felt were left out - rota, badalamenti, nyman - where mentioned so i'm gonna through in a new name - yann tiersen. he did amelie and good bye lenin, both of them are great melodic scores, lately he hasn't done much just few shorts.

sam a. said...

are you fucking serious? you talk about where have all the greats gone then list them?
maybe, you can't find them not because of post-sept 11 (are you serious, why would that affect things?) but because it's happening right now, and time doesn't stop itself to say, "oh, by the way, this guy belongs on a top ten list."

Jesus Fucking Christ, I know this is the pitfall of blogging, but if there's nothing intelligent to be said is it necessary to make a problem?
Why not just list the great score men of today?

And did you even think about including Philip Glass?
Good call on Jon Brion.

Topper Harley said...

For me one of the surprisingly great scores this year was Craig Armstrongs "The Incredible Hulk".
Very classic and very melodic. So it will be interesting to watch where Armstrong is going..

Anonymous said...

To me, the best movie score ever is the one for Conan the Barbarian, by the late Basil Poledouris.
He also did a great job on Starship Troopers.

Anonymous said...

Danny Elfman's scores always keep me wanting for more, also the works of Silvestri, Williams and recently the works of Yann Tiersen, the composer of "Amelie".

Anonymous said...

Why no mention of Thomas Newman? His scores for Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Jarhead, etc. are great. I hope he finally gets an Oscar for either Wall-E or Revolutionary Road.

I also love Howard Shore. Couldn't imagine Lord of the Rings trilogy without his score. His work on The Departed was also great.

And how about David Holmes? He did a great job on Ocean's 12 and Ocean's 13.

Anonymous said...

i'm thankful you included jon brion, i always feel he is too underrated for the excellent work he produces

Anonymous said...

I do think we're starting to see less great scores. Many movies are opting for pop or hip hop style "soundtracks" in which many or all of the songs don't even show up in the film.

I thought the score to Catch me if you Can was fantastic. It seems like everything John Williams writes is tremendous.

trnql said...

Yann Tiersen anyone? The soundtracks for Amelie and Goodbye Lenin are two of the best ones I've ever heard...

Atrain said...

Great topic, Alan.

Personally I'm disappointed by the shift from theme-y movie scores to more moody, filler music. Personal taste, I guess but the number of movie scores I purchase has drastically dropped off over the years.

I'd add to the list Harry Gregson-Williams who's never short of work recently (Chronicles...,& Gone, Baby Gone), John Powell (Bourne Trilogy), and Rachel Portman (who generally makes safe, but lovely scores).

On a personal note, I think David Arnold ("African Rundown"/Casino Royale) and Hans Zimmer ("The Battle"/Gladiator) have written two of the best pieces of contemporary classical (movie) music ever.

I also love the work James Newton Howard has done for M. Night. His "Main Titles" for the movie 'Signs' is a brilliant homage to Bernard Herrmann.

Thomas said...

I agree with most criticism on temporary film scoring. One problem is that the process of studio driven productions keeps becoming more and more insecure. Scores get replaced, Composers are called in quite late and have to hurry etc.

Many scores these days are matching their movies nearly perfect as far as craftmanship is concerned. The missing element is what we might call inspiration.

Composers like Goldsmith or Morricone approached even the most mediocre stuff as if it was a divine gift. Here's where the difference is most obvious. Take 'Rambo 4' - Brian Tyler delivers a suberb score on a technical level. But compare it to Goldsmith's achievement in the series. It's just not in the same universe.

There are exceptions though and Tyler Bates is highly requested these days for a good reason. Andrew Lockington did something very promising for 'Skinwalkers', Joby Talbot wrote a sweeping romantic score for 'Penelope'.

It might be a transitory phase for film composers and we will have to wait a while for the return of scores with historic dimensions.

pristine said...

When was the last time I was actually excited about getting the soundtrack for a film? Well, that was quite recent actually.

There was Carter Burwell's work on Fur, Dario Marianelli's Atonement, Javier Navarette's Pan's Labyrinth.

Ty G said...

It's interesting that a lot of names are coming from smaller independent films & television.

Great article that seems to have turned into a list of everyone's favorite composers past & present.

I just wanted to shout out for Georges Delerue! Joe VS The Volcano is one of my favorites.

Also I'd like to say John Ottoman is becoming a favorite. I enjoyed what he did with Superman Returns
and The Usual Suspects had some great tracks.

Abdul said...

Good article, i think the best compositions in a movie are really the ones not attracting attention to themselves. The point was mentioned by someone else too on the list.

One of the best soundtracks i have heard in the recent times which hasn't been mentioned yet is Nick Cave & Warren Ellis' score for "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Amazing work.

Carter Burwell's score for In Bruges was great too.

Scott said...

The two Batman scores hardly represent James Newton Howard's top work. It's minimalist and droing. If he had done the score solo instead of being paired with Hans Zimmer, a man who can suck talent out of a room containing Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin, it probably would have been another amazing piece of work. But we got what we got.

Brian Tyler can whip up an amazing score, as can David Arnold and Marco Beltrami. Aaron Zigman and Nicholas Hooper are also quite good.

However, Patrick Doyle, one of the vets, is easily in the upper echelon of moderon filmscore composers. He and Bruce Broughton seriously need more work.

Del Col said...

Your list of "up and coming" composers is right on - Giacchino, Mansell, Marianelli - these are all great composers. However, you're missing Rachel Portman, who has put together some amazing melodies for "Chocolat" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance". The other omission is Craig Armstrong, whose work on "Love Actually" and "Moulin Rouge!" is quite strong. I'm interested in seeing what David Hirschfelder can do with Baz Luhrmann in the upcoming "Australia". And for a future pick check out Bear McCreary, who does the Phillip Glass-like score for "Battlestar Galactica" - a lot of potential there.

Dom said...

Why are so many people mentioning Thomas Newman without mentioning his beautiful score to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION?

Nemo, Lemony Snicket, Wall-E, they're all great, and so Newman, but Shawshank is the one score I find both beautiful, hopeful AND masculine.

Lili said...

Where was your mention of John Barry for the 1980s and 90s?

"Somewhere in Time," "Out of Africa," "Dances with Wolves" all have terrific soundtracks.

Pablo Javier Frizan said...

Some word about Gustavo Santaolalla. He's not a great composer. Not at all. In fact his work on every each movie it is always a compilation of previous compositions plus a few new ones. Like his work in babel. The same song in multiple variations.
Another fact, the artist he produces in Argentina, my country, I don't know why, always became a failure after Santaolalla intervention.

Steve B. said...

Obviously, today's soundtracks are driven more by how many albums they can sell, so most scores are primarily a compilation of songs. A score is tacked on which is primarily a couple themes that comprise a single track on the released album. For those movies without songs, the scores seem to follow a pattern of composing s snappy main theme along with a bunch of disjointed snippets that seem to belong to other movies. Comparing today's scores to older scores then becomes a useless exercise because the older composers followed more structure and nuance: themes composed around the film's characters, themes composed around major statements of the film, juxtaposition of different themes for conflict, etc. That is why I think we consider the older scores to have much more depth. The composers mentioned in the article and the comments are certainly very talented individuals and can rise to the occasion. I've bought soundtracks all of my life but I noticed that lately I am rather disappointed with the contemporary ones when I play them. The theme that I liked in the film cannot seem to stand on its own and it is only a single track that is interesting. What do others think?

Jesse Arnold said...

John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, and Howard Shore continue to make amazing scores. Some of their best have been in the 2000's.

Batman Begins, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong, Signs...these are all amazing scores. All on movie released in 2001 or later.

Henry Gregson-Williams is also a fantastic addition to this list. Despite what people think of "Kingdom of Heaven" or the Narnia movies, his music is rich with culture, and emotion.

I know I'm leaving a lot out, but come on, this was a lame post.

Jon Spicer said...

What about Lalo Schifrin, Basil Poledouris, Patrick Doyle ? All proven masters in my opinion ...

Sameer said...


Come on man, Wall-E was a silent movie (almost) and his score totally made the film!!!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to mention the score for 'The Machinist' by Roque Banos. The score is a direct homage to the work of Bernard Herrmann. I'm not familiar with his other work but I think this was a fairly noteworthy effort.

Anonymous said...

I really love Klaus Badelt. He actually wrote for the first Pirates movie and Hans Zimmer took over for the sequels. I am particularly in love with his score for Rescue Dawn (which I did go out and buy). I also think Johnny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood is absolutely incredible and will be very influential for film music.

Anonymous said...

@pablo javier frizan:

I feel the same way about Hans Zimmer. Sure the scores are intense and enjoyable, but am I the only one who noticed that the Pirates theme is just the Gladiator theme subdivided? Which was the Crimson Tide theme extended? Which was the theme from The Rock minus the synthesizers?

Don't get me wrong, I love the theme, especially as the big brass explosion in 'The Battle' from Gladiator. Just seems lazy is all.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Nick Cave (Proposition, Assassination of Jesse James, and the upcoming The Road), and also the dude who scored Brick. That had an amazing score.

Anonymous said...

What about Mark Isham for his work on Crash?

John Mapes said...

I wish some movies today would approach the 60's 70's Italian way of film scoring. All sound recording in post production, and some cues recorded before filming. Not all the music neccesarily matched the mood of the scene, but that made it abstract enough to be entertaining.

By The way, the "Ravenous" score is probably the most unique and close to the Italian style as you can get.

James said...

Though Thomas Newman has already been mentioned by the above posts, I'm surprised no one has mentioned "The Good German." Though the film failed to live up to certain epectations, the score is one of beauty. His style in other films like Finding Nemo and Road to Perdition can become repetitive from one film to the next, but "The Good German" became somewhat of a departure for him.

Another example of a great score from Thomas Newman would be "Angels in America" and that sweeping opening titles track.

ShamRock said...

Another +1 for Joe Hisaishi. Also, Mark Isham and Harold Budd.

But really there are no grand "themes" lke there used to be.

Mr. Placebo said...

I personally loved Elfman's scores for the first two Spider-Man films. But you do see a trend with those films in that the constant blockbuster action and intense sound effects overcrowd the music. Not to mention there's the odd film where the film score is simply old popular songs like in any Tarantino film. I was hoping that the falter of the almighty blockbuster model in recent years would help bring back memorable scores, but I suppose there's no such luck.

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of film scores... My current faves include Patrick Doyle (for all of his wonderful scores for Shakespeare films), Nicholas Hooper (for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), and Harry Gregson-Williams (for his wonderful Chronicles of Narnia scores). I have bought almost all the soundtracks I could find from all of them. I'm still a fan of John Williams (his stuff is starting to sound the same, though) and Danny Elfman. Btw, does anyone know whatever happened to Klaus Badelt??? He hasn't done much lately...

Anonymous said...

No Clint Mansell? The hell?

Anonymous said...

Thomas Newman is probably the Bernard Herrmann of this generation. And Michael Giaccino is probably the Thomas Newman of the next generation.
Both of these guys are the best going along with John Williams.

Anonymous said...

so, no mention of Wojciech Kilar or Zbigniew Preisner?

Josh said...

I get what your trying to say but I believe that Hans Zimmer is still relevant. His score for "The Last Samurai" has been used in numerous trailers and is still one of my favorite scores despite not getting any recognition. And don't forget, James Newton Howard AND Hans Zimmer did the music for "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight". And John Williams is still the best composer in my opinion, perhaps his scores aren't as humable as the "Superman", "Jaws", etc. of his old days but he still makles beautiful music (watch "Munich", "Catch Me if you Can" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" and tell me you weren't moved by the music). As far as the new breed is concerned, I'm partial to Brian Tyler...he makes well-paced music for the action movies he's a part of (the newest "Rambo" film and "Eagle Eye"). Though I will admit that most of his work is commercial I have to say that the "Rambo" soundtrack is one of my most listened to albums. All in all though nice work, I agreed with like 80% of what you wrote.

hsengiv reyi said...

true. theres nothing hummable like do not forsake me o my darling from high noon anymore. but there are good scores now and then. howard shore on LOTR was brilliant. shore's work on the departed i often feel is overlooked. the painful score in the background when caprio talks to the shrink vera farmiga the first time has most of its impact due to the score. how bout thomas newman's fine work on american beauty and road to perdition. terence blanchard on 25th hour. john williams is still consistent with the early harry potters and memoirs of a geisha. hans zimmer is amazing in black hawk down. notice how american gangster and body of lies from ridley scott lack that punch? well, theres no hans zimmer score. scott shifted to some composer called marc streitenfeld and the movies dont seem that good. gladiator and black hawk down were majorly about the score. nicholas hooper on the latest harry potter movie was good. what about the constant gardener score? clint eastwood's fine work in mystic river is often overlooked. the one theme in the background over and over again with different variations is what gives the emotional payoff especially in the "Sean, is my daughter in there" oscar-winning acting scene from Sean Penn. james horner's score in all the king's men - the main title. this is stuff i just remember. i mainly talk about scores which add to the movie rather than being standalone which is surely your point. you're right that this decade hasnt produced any instantly recognizable scores like rocky, pink panther, james bond, chariots of fire, star wars and such. but there is fine work going on. also look forward to marco beltrami and alberto iglesias. i'd love to dissect this topic a little more if you want to discuss it.


nice article, btw :)

Anonymous said...

Alejandro Amenabar is a good composer (and filmdirector). He did the music for his movies The Others and The Sea Inside and is also doing it for his soon to be released film, Agora.

Ryan said...

I don't think writing about film scores is your forte. You show a limited understanding of the subject. In the future, avoid the topic.

Anonymous said...

i have to second john murphy for the 28 series and sunshine, two of my favorite OSTs (if you combine the 28 movies because of the similarities). bear mccreary also does amazing work. if you're a fan of bsg, you should check out his blog. he writes in detail about various themes and why certain pieces of music were used for certain scenes.

darren said...

Bear McCreary has done some great things with the new "Battlestar Galactica". I'd say he's right there next to a Michael Giacchino.

Also, Yann Tiersen made a statement that he's a predecessor to Philip Glass in the "Good Bye Lenin" soundtrack.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Newman = American Beauty...

Enough said.........

Holger said...

... the answer is: they are still here, but the listening audience has changed.
After some 30 years of movies I have enjoyed, I sometimes feel like I have already seen everything, have heard everything before.
There is still a number of good movies out ther, but within the rapidly growing mainstream they are hard to find.

Some ten year ago we had a blockbuster every now and then, nowadays we have one or two blockbusters starting every week.
So in order to create a really outstanding score, a really outstanding movie is needed. The normal mainstream is still nice to watch, but not that remarkable.
Just check the reviews of Elfman, Newton, Horner ... at amazon and you will realize, that still 90% of the listernes do enjoy whatever they made in the last years - BUT - in order to make an excellent remarkable store which one remembers, it will need a movie which is that remarkable, too. And that very special movie is hard to find within all these blockbusterst today.
And well, my all time favourite score is Edward Scissorhands from Elfman and I am not certain who will ever be able to meet this score in a nowadays movie.

Kyrkos Ekaterinaris said...


Anonymous said...

How can you leave out NINO ROTA? He did all the great scores for Fellini, and the heartfelt score for Romeo and Juliet and who can forget his work on The Godfather? His music is the emotional core of the film, which would not be the same without it.

imagesar said...

Michael Giacchino: Listen to the overture at the end of cloverfield. Greatness is there. I think the film music buffs will be convinced when Star Trek comes out in May.

A name I haven't seen mentioned is a name from TV (perhaps why he's not mentioned) nevertheless he deserves it: Sean Callery. His scores for 24 are pulse-pounding beautifully arranged electronica. Then there are the tender private moments that we enjoy due to the show's format. Sean goes to piano and string and the intimacy is conveyed. The music is as stylized as the violence. Again, the TV show keeps him busy, but he will get his movie break and the film music buff world will know.

James Horner: Best there is, even if they were starting to sound alike in the mid-90's. Wish he could have done one more Trek.

Mike L said...

How about Trevor Rabin? He's done quite a bit...Flyboys, The Great Raid, Remember the Titans...and many more. He may not be Bernard Herrmann, but he's pretty damned good.

Anonymous said...

As an editor I'm always on the hunt for original music. Btw, women have broken through in writing and editing, why not composing? Yea, three or four isn't exactly breaking through.

Alfred Monarch said...

I wish Bruce Broughton still remained on the scoring scene. His work on "The Monster Squad" took that film from being a disposable 80's film to an epic clash of good and evil. I am also particularly touched by his work on "Harry & The Hendersons," and I can easily whistle the main theme to "Tombstone" from memory.

Someone needs to challenge John Williams!! Bruce, get back here!!

Ben said...

I think there has been a shift in the large, theme-revolving scores that made someone like John Williams or Danny Elfman the standard.

We live in a far more ambivalent time and the ambiance and unsettling nature of many scores now reflect that, though not always successfully.

Johnny Greenwood's score for "There Will Be Blood" kind of epitomizes the far more atmospheric, avant-garde mood many film scores seem to be taking nowadays, but it is not hummable. Memorable, enjoyable on its own? Yes indeed.

Michael Giacchino understands rhythm better than most composers out there and on a show such as "Lost" where building tension is key, his score is perfection. His Roar overture for the "Cloverfield" end credits was the best part of that film for me. It hearkened back to the Japanese Monster heyday and composer Akira Ifukube and by doing so brought a rousing energy back into film music, something I hadn't really heard since early 90s Williams.

Max Richter, generally known for his chamber orchestra and shoegazer sound from such works as "The Blue Notebooks" has done the score for the Israeli animated war film "Waltz with Bashir" and it is really something special. Haunting, ethereal, unsettling while weaving a theme, it captures the energy and mystery of youth at war.

Besides Greenwood's score for TWBB and Giacchino's Roar overture my favorite film music this decade has come from director Tom Tykwer and his collaborators Johnny Klimek and Rhinehold Heil. It is their score for "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer."
One reason why I find this score so successful is that they began composing the music as they were writing the script. The score is intrinsically woven into the emotions and mood of the story, underlying, unifying every beat. Then of course it helps when the director is also one of the composers.

So yes, we've entered a new era of film music, one where the influences of avant garde, jazz and electronica are far more prevalent. Is this a good thing? Not always, but I am optimistic.

Anonymous said...

What about Nick Glennie-Smith (Shrek), Trevor Rabin (Armageddon), and Randy Edelman (theme from Dragonheart, an awful movie but a theme played in half the trailers and teasers in films today)?

The Third Man in Space said...

What about Trevor Jones. His score to Last of the Mohicans is legendary.

Ryan said...

SO glad you mentioned Michael Giachinni.

John Ottman has done some amazing things with some blockbusters that didn't necessarily do so well at the box office. But with good work with Superman Returns and X-Men 2 under his belt, I think he's close to being ready to take over the John Williams position (especially after already redoing Williams' Superman Main Titles)

I'm going to go check out Alexandre Desplate now...

r.j. laaksonen said...

Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story is not a film score; it was written for stage.

Anonymous said...

Hans Zimmer's still doing great stuff. As is James Newton Howard - i.e. The Village, Lady in the Water.

Harry Gregson-Williams - with the Narnia movies, Shrek movies, and Kingdom of Heaven.

John Powell with The Bourne movies.

Steve Jablonsky with The Island and of course The Transformers soundtrack.

(Though sadly, I must disagree with you about James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer on the two most recent Batman films - I found both fine, but not very interesting scores, and I primarily blame Christopher Nolan.)

Movie soundtracks are my favorite genre, and I still buy them pretty regularly.

Though I am sad the likes of James Horner has faded into obscurity, as he used to do some pretty great stuff. And I'm sad Jerry Goldsmith died.

Michael Giacchino is overrated, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Mark Mothersbaugh is an excellent composer. I have really enjoyed the soundtracks to Royal Tenenbaums, and Life Aquatic. I guess he is director Wes Anderson's GO-TO guy.

J-rad said...

What about David Shire? His Return to Oz score has to be one of the greatest ever composed and performed!! I am still in disbelief that it didn't get nominated for an Oscar.

Anonymous said...

Every personal list have hits and misses. But how forgetting the great Randy Newman?
Toy Story? The Natural? Ragtime? Aren't those memorable enough?

Anonymous said...

I must say I agree with what a lot of you are saying; movie scoring has been going downhill.

However, I was delighted to find a shining star in a movie I did not expect. The soundtrack for Stardust by Eshkeri is beautiful. It was the first one in a long time I bought not two minutes after watching the movie. It plays with and adds to the story. You can hear shadows of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith (two of my favorites) that are nice to hear someone else play with.

Zernul R. Shackelford said...

My name is Zernul R Shackelford and I am a composer from Merrillville, IN. I have scored several low budget indie films but I treat them as if they were the biggest blockbuster to ever be created.

Remember my name because I want to bring back the Score. I don't have the mega bucks or the big name yet...but I'm pushing to get there. Every one of those composers mentioned are influences of mine in every way. I plan to do them honor not by mimicking them...but by creating my own style that will stand up among theirs.

Don't write off the composers just yet.

shizwipe said...

I'm really surprised that there are not more comments about James Horner. I really do wonder what happened to the good scores....I am a dork at heart, I still have the Aliens soundtrack in my cd player in my car. Horner can take me back to being a kid any day I want. Only one mention of Basil Poledouris? Both Conan movies were truly thematic and grand.

No mention of Ennio Morricone? His work on "The Thing" practically gave birth to the dark ambiance used in the Batman re-boots.

Theodore Hocevar said...

i agree with what a lot of these people have said. there are plenty of good scores and, therefore, composers. the dark knight and there will be blood scores are fantastic and i listen to them often. everything clint mansell has made is pure magic and john ottman is like the new john williams. there are plenty of good new scores, i think your taste is just skewed more towards the older ones.

Anonymous said...

I think there are still some good to great composers out there.

Steve Jablonsky- He may have a Hans Zimmer feel to him that may turn people off, but I think his Transformers sound track was amazing.

Nick Cave- "Assassination..." was a very strong score

Michael Giacchino- I agree with everyone, and I think his work on "Speed Racer" was very underrated.

Still have to give props to Danny Elfman too. A recent one of his "The Kingdom" though a little different than his usual stuff, still shows me he is doing alright.

Daniel said...

I like Marco Beltrami's score for 3:10 to Yuma and Pascal Estéve's score for Man on the Train. And, he's primarily scored videogames (the Hitman series), but Jesper Kyd has done enough work in film to qualify. I also like Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' work on both The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James, and I agree with everyone who said Carter Burwell, David Holmes, Lalo Schifrin (what would Dirty Harry be without him?) Nino Rota, Alexadre Desplat and Mark Isham.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Jones is somebody to keep an eye on. His music is amazing.

Kyle said...

Thomas Newman = Best Composer working today

WanderingCosmo said...

Thomas Newman's scores have been consistently impressive, from Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty to Finding Nemo and Wall-E(on which he collaborated with Peter Gabriel).

I'm glad that you pointed out Gustavo Santaolalla. His films pulsate with such a primordial, other-worldly quality that sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.

Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood was especially notable, as was Dario Marianelli's score for Atonement, but neither could rightly be considered anthems the same way the Star Wars theme could. And Rachel Portman always creates romantic, lovely little pieces for her films in much of the same vain as Alan Silvestri, albeit with a much more provincial quality to them.

Anonymous said...

What is a bit funny is the fact (though not a feature film), Michael Giacchino was a breakout in my mind for one composition: Medal of Honor. Sure, it was a game - but when it was released in 1999 that score instantly became a high water mark for the format.

Give it a listen and tell me it couldn't be confused for lost themes of Saving Private Ryan...or the original score for a missing Indiana Jones movie.

Jacob McAlister said...

Just gotta chime in. Great read by the way. I can't wait to check out some of those composers. Favorite score is a 3 way tie Horner for Rocketeer Willams for Hook and Horner agian for Willow. I guess I'm just drawn to the fantasy/adventure genre.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Michael Giacchino fans. "Ratatouille" is one of the rare recent scores that I can listen to beginning to end rather than skipping to favorite tracks. Also, his overture for "Cloverfield" gives us a brief glimpse of one of the greatest film scores never written.

Nina said...

Michael Giacchino also did fabulous work on The Family Stone...I downloaded parts of the score on iTunes - so beautiful!

Anonymous said...

RZA is exciting. Everyone is hiring him.

Anonymous said...

Klaus Badelt? john Murphy? Both fantastic, but HIGHLY overlooked imo.

Mike said...

I love JOHN POWELL... Italian Job, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Bourne.

HOWARD SHORE's work on Lord of the Rings was phenomenal.

STEVE JABLONSKY's music from The Island is great, and Transformers is pretty similar

ANDREA GUERRA wrote a great score for The Pursuit of Happyness

... and whoever writes for High School Musical... yeah, a GOD ;)

Marty said...

Great article, yes.

I didn't see any mention of Gabriel Yared here--is music is so haunting: "Camille Claudel," "The ENglish Patient" and "Talented Mr. Ripley" are staples in my collection!

Kyle said...

Thomas Newman has already been mentioned, but he's in the top few working today. I first heard his work on "American Beauty," and it's what I remembered most about the film. Also, "Finding Nemo" is one of my favorite scores.

I think John Debney's work on "The Passion of the Christ" and "Sin City" should be recognized.

I'm also surprised most have overlooked Clint Eastwood's lovely and thoughtful scores for his films; of particular note are "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby," whose melancholy piano motif evokes in me (even now as I think of it in my head) the emotion of the film.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone mentioned this before me but I liked Kenji Kawai´s work on Ghost in the shell, I think its one of the most memorable scores for a scifi film. Also Michael Stearns´s work on Baraka is quite beautiful and overwhelming. Last but not least is Elliot Goldenthal, I´m not a big fan of all his scores but Alien 3 and Heat are great scores IMHO.

Kyle said...

And now that I think about it, Carter Burwell's score for "Fargo" is fantastic, and memorable.

TSchiefer said...

You left out Hans Zimmer in your mention of the scores for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. They both scored the film, splitting up the workload. And I have to disagree with your opinion of the scores for them both.

If you take and listen to both, you get a distinct feeling of loss and lonelyness from the score in Batman Begins, and the score for The Dark Knight is amazing in itself, and I think the most overlooked track on that score is 'Like A Dog Chasing Cars'. If you want a piece that jumps off the page, that's the one. The sheer thrill of the theme contained in it is exhilerating. It goes from a slight build up into a very great heroic sense of urgency and bravery.

Anonymous said...

Ennio Morricone and the Mission anyone? 'Gabriel's Oboe' was something that ran more loops in my head than the bagpipes from braveheart

Anonymous said...

You mentionned Clint Mansell but nobody acknowledged his best work yet: The Fountain! It's fresh, haunting and memorable and more complex than Requiem for a Dream (which I also love).

And of course, how could anyone mention Thomas Newman without talking about his American Beauty score is beyond me.

There's also Tan Dun, the composer of both "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero" among others.

lieslieslies said...

Carter Burwell? Lalo Schifrin? And what about Mark Mothersbaugh's erudite and magnificent scores for Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums

lieslieslies said...

and another thing, I really did rush out and buy Warren Ellis' score for The Assassination of Jesse James along with Jonny Greenwood's brilliant There Will Be Blood (even though it wasn't written for the film and, therefore, possibly, not a score proper...)