Posted in Listening to Music, The Awesome 13, Watching Movies

The Awesome 13 – Film Scores

About a year ago I wrote a post about some of my favorite film scores and why I’m such a film score geek.  I talked about some great ones from such composers as John Williams and Howard Shore, but I didn’t have the guts to actually rate them and narrow them down to a #1 winner.

Well, I think it’s about time I do just that.

This was a difficult list to make.  Not the rating, but the leaving out of so many awesome scores that didn’t make the cut.  For example, John Williams has scored about fifty-thousand movies (give or take a few thousand), but I couldn’t have a list with just John Williams scores.  He appears on this list twice (Patrick Doyle, however, appears on the list three times).

So here it is…The Awesome 13…Film Scores.

13.  How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – John Powell

This is the most recent film score to appear on this list, and also the most surprising.  I didn’t know much about this movie when it came out two years ago, except for the fact that it was based on a children’s book of the same title.  It looked cute, but I just thought it was just another animated kid’s movie that I probably wouldn’t see.  But I began to hear some positive buzz about it.  And then amongst all that buzz, it got itself an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.  Well, this definitely got my attention, since that’s my favorite category at the Oscars.  So I went on Amazon and bought the soundtrack to see what was so great about it.  And you know what?  It’s awesome!  If you like powerful orchestral works that soar with a touch of Celtic, this is a great score to listen to.  Never slow, always beautiful and exciting.

Try These Three:   

  1. “See You Tomorrow”
  2. “Test Drive”
  3. “Romantic Flight”

12.  Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Hans Zimmer

The score for Guy Ritchie’s film Sherlock Holmes remains to be one of the most inventive and original musical scores I have ever heard.  Using a banjo, cimbalom, squeaky violins, a broken pub piano, this mish-mash of odd instruments matches perfectly with the quirkiness of the movie.  It’s such a fun score to listen to because you never know what’s going to come next, and you can’t help but feel a little mischievous as you listen, like you’re about to do something crazy and unpredictable, too.

Try These Three:

  1. “Discombobulate”
  2. “I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before”
  3. “Marital Sabotage”

11.  The Secret Garden (1993) – Zbigniew Preisner

Most people have heard of the classic children’s book, but not too many people I know have seen the 1993 movie starring virtually all unknown actors (except for Maggie Smith, though in 1993 I didn’t know who she was, either).  But I highly recommend seeing this movie if you love beautiful sets and atmosphere and storytelling, and especially if you love beautiful and melodic, yet haunting music.  Mostly using piano and violin, composer Zbigniew Preisner brings the moors of Yorkshire to life and makes you feel like you’re part of the magic.

Try These Three:

  1. “Awakening of Spring”
  2. “Taking Colin to the Garden”
  3. “Colin Loves Mary”

10.  Little Women (1994) – Thomas Newman

While Thomas Newman is more known for his work with Pixar (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), he first got my attention in 1994 when he scored Little Women starring Winona Ryder.  He has an interesting style, using what almost sounds like tubular bells in his work, paired with a more traditional orchestral sound.  It’s light and fluttery most of the time, and as with most good composers, makes you feel like you’re living in 1860s New England with the March sisters.  And it’s his music that creates much of the emotion captured in the movie.

Try These Three:

  1. “Orchard House”
  2. “Spring”
  3. “Beth’s Secret”

9.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – Tan Dun / Yo-Yo Ma

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the most international-sounding of all the scores on this list, as it mostly consists of traditional Chinese-style instruments, especially the drums.  Yo-Yo Ma contributes to the score with his beautiful cello solos, which flow so serenely that you forget this is considered to be an action movie.  There are moments of excitement when the Chinese pounding of the percussion puts you right in the middle of the action, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the score and the artistry of the whole movie.

Try These Three:

  1. “The Eternal Vow”
  2. “Night Fight”
  3. “Farewell”

8.  Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – Patrick Doyle

Excluding John Williams, Patrick Doyle is one of my favorite composers, although he remains to be unknown to most people.  The main reason why he’s so awesome is because he has a way of creating the most beautiful, memorable melodies of any other composer out there.  And Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing is no exception.  As one of Shakespeare’s comedies, it makes sense that this score is light and bubbly and fun.  The opening overture of the movie is soaring and majestic and gets you pumped for the rest of the movie.  And though it’s a light-hearted comedy, it has its dark moments.  But the score never loses its beauty and instead creates a melody that stays with you for a long time.

Try These Three:

  1. “Overture”
  2. “The Masked Ball”
  3. “It Must Be Requited”

7.  Henry V (1989) – Patrick Doyle

This was the first time I was introduced to Patrick Doyle, and I was blown away.  This is a lot different from the happy-fest you hear in his Much Ado score, and instead he focuses on dark, instense melodies while also capturing a powerful and almost patriotic feel moments during Henry V’s famous speech before the Battle of Agincourt.  It’s music that makes you feel like standing up and cheering although you know the bloodbath that will follow.  Don’t get me wrong – the movie is fantastic.  But this is one of those scores that can stand on its own and make you feel as if you’re part of the story without seeing a single scene from the movie.

Try These Three:

  1. “The Death of Falstaff”
  2. “The Day is Yours”
  3. “The Wooing of Katherine”

6.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2004) – Patrick Doyle

While I love all of the scores for the Harry Potter movies, this one still stands out as my favorite, probably because it’s Patrick Doyle and contains some of the more memorable themes than the rest of them.  While he obviously kept in John Williams’s original theme from the first movie (as did all the composers from the other movies), he added in his own blend of magicalness by giving Harry, Hogwarts, Neville, and Winter their own themes.  They’re all beautiful and feel like full orchestra pieces, making them stand out amongst all other music you hear in any Harry Potter movie.

Try These Three:

  1. “Harry in Winter”
  2. “Potter Waltz”
  3. “Hogwarts’ Hymn”

5.  The Indiana Jones Trilogy (1980 / 1984 / 1989) – John Williams

This is the first of FOUR trilogies that appear on this list, and the reason why I didn’t pick individual movies from the trilogies to highlight is because I just can’t split them up.  Using a chorus of trumpets and trombones, “The Raiders March” is one of the most memorable themes of any movie, and the rest of the three soundtracks are just as fun, action-packed, and triumphant.  There’s not much more I can say about them other than they’re classic John Williams that you can listen to over and over again and never get sick of.

Try These Three:

  1. “Raiders March” (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  2. “Nocturnal Activities” (Temple of Doom)
  3. “Keeping Up With the Joneses” (Last Crusade)

4.  The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy (2003 / 2006 / 2007) – Klaus Badelt / Hans Zimmer

The scores to these three movies are so much fun.  Just like the movies, the music doesn’t take itself seriously: it just makes you smile and have a good time.  There’s never a dull moment in the score; the action is constant until the very last note in the final film, At World’s End, which probably has the most variety of music of the three.  Badelt and Zimmer focused on using lots of horn for the main themes, plus furiously fast strings combined with the clashing of cymbals to accompany the background, which not a lot of people had heard before this.  But it’s what keeps people’s attention – always moving, always flowing, and always entertaining.

Try These Three:

  1. “He’s a Pirate” (Curse of the Black Pearl)
  2. “Dinner is Served”  (Dead Man’s Chest)
  3. “One Day” (At World’s End)

3.  Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Javier Navarrete

I hate to use the words “hauntingly beautiful” again, but they definitely describe the score to Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film perfectly.  The entire score was based on a lullaby – a creepy lullaby that will stay in your head for days – and from that lullaby came a magical and lyrical melody that makes you feel like something isn’t right, despite how pretty-sounding it may be.  But that’s what the whole movie is: a fairytale that takes place against the background of a violent war.  Something beautiful paired with something ugly.  It’s amazing how a single violin can manage to make you feel all of that in just a few simple notes.

Try These Three:

  1. “Long, Long Time Ago”
  2. “The Moribund Tree and the Toad”
  3. “A Princess”

2.  The Star Wars Trilogy (1977 / 1980 / 1983) – John Williams

Oh, geez.  Where do I begin?  Everyone knows Star Wars.  It was voted as AFI’s Number One Film Score of All-Time.  Why?  Is it because everyone is familiar with it?  Well, no.  It’s because IT’S AWESOMENESS AT ITS BEST.  John Williams pretty much changed film scores all together with the release of Star Wars in 1977.  Inspired by Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Williams created fanfare in his work for this movie, something that was lacking from a lot of the movies from the same decade.  And suddenly the blockbuster movie and score were born.  All three movie scores have the same themes and tones running through them, yet still contain memorable themes in each of them.  This is a score that will live on as long as Star Wars – which will, of course, be FOREVER.

Try These Three:

  1. “The Throne Room” (A New Hope)
  2. “The Imperial March” (The Empire Strikes Back)
  3. “Parade of the Ewoks” (Return of the Jedi)

1.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 / 2002 / 2003) – Howard Shore

Well, this should be no surprise to anyone who knows how I feel about The Lord of the Rings.  Prior to seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, I had always loved film scores.  But this one sort of changed everything for me.  Suddenly I realized that a film score could be just as moving and wonderful and spectacular and thoughtful as the movie itself, and become a completely separate entity on its own.  Howard Shore created a masterpiece within these three movies that run together so seamlessly that one can sit and listen to all ten hours of score and feel like it’s just one piece.  And even though the three vary in tone, you can hear recurring themes in each movie – themes for the different races, different lands, etc – that seem to pop up at just the right time.  And the fact that books have been written about the score alone, as well as a live concert of Lord of the Rings makes you realize that this is definitely something special that may not happen again for a long time.

Try These Three:

  1. “The Breaking of the Fellowship” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
  2. “Evenstar” (The Two Towers)
  3. “Minas Tirith” (The Return of the King)

Oh, who am I kidding?  TRY ALL OF THEM.



I have way too much information floating around in my head, which is why I write things down. I find that books, movies, music, and television are much more interesting than my local news.

2 thoughts on “The Awesome 13 – Film Scores

  1. “Catch me if you can” I’m sure that’s on the list whether it be 14 or 10 : )… Films are nothing without film scores, great job

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