This week's traditional Wednesday Question saw the people of UG community discussing the greatest movie scores ever. Based on your votes and almost 350 comments, we expanded our list to a Top 31, make sure to check it out below.
SPECIAL RULE was: original scores only. So no movies that use rock classics or pre-existing music, only films with music made specifically for them.
So, let's dig in!
31. 'Koyaanisqatsi' - Philipp Glass (1982)
"Koyaanisqatsi" is a 1982 American experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio with cinematography by Ron Fricke. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means "unbalanced life." The film consists primarily of slow-motion and time-lapse footage of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. And the score was written by Philip Glass, cult American composer who is considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century.
The film's soundtrack was released in 1983, after the release of the film. Even though the amount of music in the film was almost as long as the film itself, the soundtrack release was only 46 minutes long and featured only selections from the film's pieces - the complete original soundtrack recording was released only in 2009 on Glass' own label.
30. 'Only Lovers Left Alive' - Jozef Van Wissem & SQÜRL (2013)
"Only Lovers Left Alive" is a 2013 film by cult independent director Jim Jarmusch, who also known for his special approach for the music in his movies. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, "Only Lovers Left Alive" includes original dark and atmospheric score written by the Dutch lute player Jozef van Wissem and SQÜRL, Jarmusch's own band.
29. 'The Dark Knight' - Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (2008)
"The Dark Knight" is a 2008 film directed by Christopher Nolan, being the second part of Nolan's "The Dark Knight Trilogy" and a sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins." The soundtrack, composed by "Batman Begins" collaborators Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard and recorded in April 2008, won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
28. 'Batman' - Danny Elfman (1989)
Appropriately enough, next we have another Batman movie - this time it's he original 1989 film directed by Tim Burton, which was the first installment of the Warner Bros' initial Batman film series. While the soundtrack album was written and released by Prince, the score was written by an American composer Danny Elfman.
Originally producer Jon Peters was not sure about Danny Elfman as a composer until Tim Burton made him play the main titles. Elfman admitted he was stunned when Peters announced that the score would be released on its own album, as releasing a separate score album for a film was something that was rarely done in the 1980s.
27. 'The Pink Panther' - Henry Mancini (1963)
Up next is "The Pink Panther," a 1963 American comedy film directed by Blake Edwards, which introduced the famous cartoon character to the world. The soundtrack consisted of music written by an American composer Henry Mancini and performed by his orchestra. In 2001, the soundtrack album was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. The famous main title theme music includes the distinctive tenor saxophone of jazz musician Plas Johnson.
26. 'Conan the Barbarian' - Basil Poledouris (1984)
"Conan the Barbarian" is a 1982 film co-written and directed by John Milius, based on stories by Robert E. Howard, a pulp fiction writer of the 1930s, about the adventures of the eponymous character, who was portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie. The score was written by John Milius' friend, Basil Poledouris, with whom they already had a successful collaboration on "Big Wednesday" movie.
From late November 1981, Poledouris spent three weeks recording his score in Rome, condacted a 90-instrument orchestra and a 24-member choir from the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra. The pieces of music were orchestrated by Greig McRitchie, Poledouris's frequent collaborator. Also, "Conan the Barbarian" is the last film released by a major studio with a mono soundtrack.
25. 'Jurassic Park' - John Williams (1993)
"Jurassic Park," based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, is a 1993 American science fiction adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The score was composed by John Williams, with John Neufeld and Alexander Courage prividing the orchestrations. Similar to another Spielberg film he scored, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Williams felt he needed to write "pieces that would convey a sense of 'awe' and fascination" given it dealt with the "overwhelming happiness and excitement" that would emerge from seeing live dinosaurs.
24. '12 Monkeys' - Paul Buckmaster (1995)
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt, "12 Monkeys" is a 1995 American neo-noir science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam, inspired by Chris Marker's 1962 short film "La Jetée." The film's score was composed, arranged, and conducted by English musician Paul Buckmaster.
Also, the main theme is based on Argentine tango musician/composer Astor Piazzolla's "Suite Punta del Este." And the violin on the track "Dreamers Awake" from the last scene was performed by Michael Davis. Paul Buckmaster about Michael Davis: "The amazing thing is that he had just stepped off the plane from New York, having caught the flu' during the flight, and came straight to the session at De Lane Lea Studios, Wembley. He was, at the time, the First Violinist - or Leader - of the London Symphony Orchestra."
23. 'Princess Mononoke' by Joe Hisaishi (1997)
"Princess Mononoke" aka "Mononoke-hime" is a 1997 Japanese epic historical fantasy anime film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by his famous Studio Ghibli. The term "Mononoke" is not a name, but a Japanese word for a spirit or monster. Unlike Ghibli's earlier films, Mononoke has a darker and more violent setting and tone.
The film score was composed and performed by Joe Hisaishi, the soundtrack composer for nearly all of Miyazaki's productions, and Miyazaki wrote the lyrics of the two vocal tracks, "The Tatara Women Work Song" and its title song. The music was performed by Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Hiroshi Kumagai. The titular theme song was performed by counter-tenor Yoshikazu Mera, with Sasha Lazard sang the song For the English adaptation.
22. 'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai' by RZA (1999)
Another Jim Jarmusch's movie on the list, "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" tells the story about the mysterious "Ghost Dog," a hitman and urban samurai, who follows the ancient code of the samurai as outlined in the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomo's recorded sayings, "Hagakure." The original score was written by RZA, leader of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, and it is the first of RZA's first fully scored film works.
The original score was available only in Japan, while the soundtrack album was released internationally and includes hip-hop songs by Wu-Family artists, most of which do not appear in the film. Also soundtrack album includes quotations from "Hagakure: the Book of the Samurai" as read by Forest Whitaker in the voice of the title character.
21. 'How to Train Your Dragon' - John Powell (2010)
Next is "How to Train Your Dragon," 2010 3D computer-animated cartoon produced by DreamWorks Animation, based on the British book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell. Its music was composer John Powell's sixth collaboration with DreamWorks, earned Powell his first Academy Award nomination and his third BAFTA nomination.
The score also won the International Film Music Critics Association 2011 Awards for Best Original Score for an Animated Feature and Film Score of the Year, and was nominated twice for Film Music Composition of the Year for the tracks "Forbidden Friendship" and "Test Drive." Also Icelandic singer Jónsi from the post-rock band Sigur Rós was brought on to write and record the song "Sticks & Stones," which plays during the end credits of the film.
20. 'Dead Man' - Neil Young (1995)
And again, Jim Jarmusch on the list with his cult movie "Dead Man." Starring Johnny Depp and dubbed a "Psychedelic Western" by its director, "Dead Man" tells the story of a spiritual journey of main character. Neil Young recorded the soundtrack by improvising (mostly on his electric guitar, with some acoustic guitar, piano and organ) as he watched the newly edited film alone in a recording studio.
The soundtrack album consists of seven instrumental tracks by Young, with dialog excerpts from the film and Johnny Depp reading the poetry of William Blake interspersed between the music.
19. 'Gladiator' - Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (2000)
The Oscar-nominated score for "Gladiator," a 2000 film directed by Ridley Scott, was composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, Australian musician, singer and composer known as part of the music group Dead Can Dance. The Lyndhurst Orchestra performing the score was conducted by Gavin Greenaway. On the other hand, the music for many of the battle scenes has been noted as similar to Gustav Holst's "Mars: The Bringer of War," and in June 2006, the Holst Foundation sued Hans Zimmer for allegedly copying the late Holst's work.
Another close musical resemblance occurs in the scene of Commodus' triumphal entry into Rome, accompanied by music clearly evocative of two sections - the Prelude to "Das Rheingold" and Siegfried's Funeral March from "Götterdämmerung" - from Richard Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung."
The album won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and was also nominated for the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Score.
18. 'There Will Be Blood' - Jonny Greenwood (2007)
"There Will Be Blood," inspired by Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!," is a 2007 film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. And its score, written by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood himself, won a Special Artistic Contribution Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Concerning his approach to composing the soundtrack, Greenwood said: "I think it was about not necessarily just making period music, which very traditionally you would do. But because they were traditional orchestral sounds, I suppose that's what we hoped was a little unsettling, even though you know all the sounds you're hearing are coming from very old technology. You can just do things with the classical orchestra that do unsettle you, that are sort of slightly wrong, that have some kind of undercurrent that's slightly sinister."
In December 2008, Greenwood's score was nominated for a Grammy in the category of "Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media" for the 51st Grammy Awards. Although widely admired and thought of as a contender for the Academy Award for Original Music Score at the 2008 Academy Awards, it was ruled ineligible due to its use of pre-existing material: the score features elements from Greenwood's compositions "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" and "Convergence" and works from Arvo Pärt and Johannes Brahms.
17. 'Requiem for a Dream' - Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet (2000)
A 2000 American psychological drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky, based on the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr., "Requiem for a Dream" is also known for its original soundtrack and especially for the song "Lux Aeterna." Clint Mansell, the composer of this soundtrack, is an English musician, composer, and former lead singer and guitarist of the industrial rock band Pop Will Eat Itself.
Written by Mansell, the soundtrack was performed by the string ensemble Kronos Quartet, withthe arrangements written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang.
16. 'Psycho' by Bernard Herrmann (1960)
Cult psychological horror film, "Psycho" was directed and produced in 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock insisted that Bernard Herrmann write the score for "Psycho" despite the composer's refusal to accept a reduced fee for the film's lower budget. Herrmann used the lowered music budget to his advantage by writing for a string orchestra rather than a full symphonic ensemble, contrary to Hitchcock's request for a jazz score.
Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith writes that the music for the shower scene is "probably the most famous (and most imitated) cue in film music," but Hitchcock was originally opposed to having music in this scene. When Herrmann played the shower scene cue for Hitchcock, the director approved its use in the film. Herrmann reminded Hitchcock of his instructions not to score this scene, to which Hitchcock replied, "Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion." This was one of two important disagreements Hitchcock had with Herrmann, in which Herrmann ignored Hitchcock's instructions.
Alfred Hitchcock was so pleased with the tension and drama the score added to the film, later remarking "33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music."
15. 'Donnie Darko' - Michael Andrews (2001)
Cult film "Donnie Darko" was written and directed by Richard Kelly. While the soundtrack widely known for the piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" performed by composer Michael Andrews with vocals sung by Gary Jules, "Donnie Darko" includes full score written by Michael Andrews, transmitting the movie's dark and surreal mood. Richard Kelly said that he was confident that Michael Andrews could do the job: "I met with Michael and I just knew right away that he was really, really talented and that he could come up with a really original score. He would allow me to be in there and be really kind of editorial with how I wanted the score to be."
As Donnie Darko was not a hit at first, the score was not put on a soundtrack album until Andy Factor, a friend of Michael Andrews, released it on his Everloving Records independent label in 2002.
Fact: Like many of his role models for soundtrack composing such as John Barry and Ennio Morricone, Michael Andrews wanted to put a song on his otherwise instrumental score. He eventually chose "Mad World" (1982) by Tears for Fears, who were one of his and childhood friend Gary Jules' favorite bands while growing up. Andrews enlisted Jules to sing the song, while Andrews himself played the piano.
14. 'Schindler's List' - John Williams (1993)
"Schindler's List" is a 1993 American epic historical period drama film, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel "Schindler's Ark" by Thomas Keneally. The film is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.
John Williams, who frequently collaborates with Spielberg, composed the score for the movie. The composer was amazed by the film, and felt it would be too challenging. He said to Spielberg, "You need a better composer than I am for this film." Spielberg responded, "I know. But they're all dead!" Itzhak Perlman performs the theme on the violin.
The album won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. It also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score.
13. 'Inception' by Hans Zimmer (2010)
And again Hans Zimmer's collaboration with Christopher Nolan in his 2010 movie "Inception." Zimmer, who described his work as "a very electronic, dense score", filled with "nostalgia and sadness" to match main character Dominick Cobb's feelings throughout the film.
The music was written simultaneously to filming, and features a guitar sound, played by Johnny Marr, former guitarist of The Smiths. Édith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No, I Do Not Regret Anything") pointedly appears throughout the film, used to accurately time the dreams, and Zimmer reworked pieces of the song into cues of the score.
The film music was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Score category in 2011.
12. 'Blade Runner' - Vangelis (1982)
"Blade Runner," directed in 1982 by Ridley Scott, is a modified film adaptation of the 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Greek composer Vangelis, fresh from his Academy Award winning score for "Chariots of Fire," composed and performed the music on his synthesizers. Soundtrack also features vocal contributions from Demis Roussos and the sax solo by Dick Morrissey.
Despite the music being well-received by fans and critically acclaimed - nominated in 1983 for a BAFTA and Golden Globe as best original score, the original soundtrack release was delayed for over a decade, until 1994. While the first official release was a reinterpretation by the New American Orchestra in 1982, consisted of jazz-inspired, orchestrated renditions of the major tracks from the film, but not the original score tracks.
11. 'Twin Peaks' - Angelo Badalamenti (1990)
While not an actual movie but a television serial drama, "Twin Peaks" was created by Mark Frost and David Lynch. Being one of the top-rated shows of 1990, it features soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti with David Lynch penned lyrics for three songs which were sung by Julee Cruise.
The main theme song to "Twin Peaks" received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the 1991 Grammy Awards.
"Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," continuation of the "Twin Peaks" television series, also features music by Angelo Badalamenti.
10. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' - Danny Elfman (1993)
"The Nightmare Before Christmas," a 1993 stop-motion animated musical film directed by Henry Selick and produced and conceived by Tim Burton. The soundtrack for the iconic cartoon, composed by Danny Elfman, was nominated for the 1993 Golden Globe for Best Original Score.
9. 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' - John Williams (1981)
"Raiders of the Lost Ark," directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay written by Lawrence Kasdan from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, was the first installment in the Indiana Jones film franchise to be released, though it is the second in internal chronological order. John Williams composed the score, which was the only in the series performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The score most notably features the well-known "Raiders March," the piece came to symbolize Indiana Jones and was later used in the scores for the other three films. The soundtrack received an Oscar nomination for best original score, but lost out to Vangelis' score for "Chariots of Fire."
8. 'Jaws' - John Williams (1975)
And up next is... John Williams, again, this time around working with Steven Spielberg. "Jaws" is based on Peter Benchley's 1974 novel of the same name, includes the score, which earned John Williams an Academy Award, his second win and first for Original Score, and was later ranked the sixth greatest score by the American Film Institute.
The main "shark" theme, a simple alternating pattern of two notes became a classic piece of suspense music, synonymous with approaching danger (see leading-tone). Williams described the theme as "grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable." The piece was performed by tuba player Tommy Johnson.
When Williams first demonstrated his idea to Spielberg, playing just the two notes on a piano, Spielberg was said to have laughed, thinking that it was a joke. Spielberg later said that without Williams' score the film would have been only half as successful, and according to Williams it jumpstarted his career.
7. 'Interstellar' - Hans Zimmer (2014)
Being the most recent movie on the list, "Interstellar" marks another collaboration between Christophen Nolan and Hans Zimmer. With an original screenplay by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, which has its origins in a script Jonathan developed in 2007, "Interstellar" is also known for its soundtrack. Zimmer and Nolan strived to develop a unique sound for the movie.
Zimmer said: "The textures, the music, and the sounds, and the thing we sort of created has sort of seeped into other people's movies a bit, so it's time to reinvent. The endless string (ostinatos) need to go by the wayside, the big drums are probably in the bin." Zimmer also said that Nolan did not provide him a script or any plot details for writing music for the film and instead gave the composer "one page of text" that "had more to do with [Zimmer's] story than the plot of the movie."
Nolan has stated that he said to Zimmer: "I am going to give you an envelope with a letter in it. One page. It's going to tell you the fable at the center of the story. You work for one day, then play me what you have written", and that he embraced what Zimmer composed. Zimmer conducted 45 scoring sessions for "Interstellar," which was three times more than for "Inception."
6. 'Pirates of the Caribbean' - Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer (2003-2007)
You guys for the score the whole "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, with Klaus Badelt being a main composer for "The Curse of the Black Pearl" with Hans Zimmer (who is the 5th time on the list) as music producer and seven other composers credited for "additional music."
Director Gore Verbinski oversaw the score with Badelt and Zimmer, who headed 15 composers to finish it quickly. For the "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End" Zimmer was the main score writer with additional music by a lot of other composers.
5. 'Harry Potter' - John Williams (2001-2004)
And again voted for the whole film series, you choose "Harry Potter" score at number 5. Music for the first three movies ("The Philosopher's Stone," "The Chamber of Secrets," and "The Prisoner of Azkaban") was written bu the most prolific composers John Williams, while the rest parts have Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat as the main composers respectively. Anyway, you choose Williams as the best composer for the series.
4. 'The Godfather' - Nino Rota (1972)
Another iconic film series, "The Godfather" consists of three movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola and inspired by the novel of the same name by Italian American author Mario Puzo. And again, it widely known also for its famous soundtrack, written by Nino Rota and conducted by Carlo Savina. Score's main title, also know as "The Godfather Waltz," as well as "The Godfather Love Theme" are definitely one of the most recognizable tunes ever.
3. 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' - Ennio Morricone (1966)
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is a cult 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. The score is composed by Ennio Morricone, who is possible one of the busiest musians ever with more than 440 (!!!) albums and scores released (not counting EP's, compilations, etc).
Morricone's distinctive original compositions, containing gunfire, whistling (by John O'Neill), and yodeling permeate the film. The main theme, resembling the howling of a coyote (which blends in with an actual coyote howl in the first shot after the opening credits), is a two-note melody that is a frequent motif, and is used for the three main characters. A different instrument was used for each: flute for Blondie, ocarina for Angel Eyes and human voices for Tuco.
2. 'Star Wars' - John Williams (1977-2015)
The second place was taken by the genius John Williams, whose appearance is the sixth through this list. You voted for the whole "Star Wars" series again, directed by George Lucas, and all scores were written by John Williams and performed by London Symphony Orchestra (with London Voices added since 1999), with Williams himself conducting.
In 2005, the American Film Institute named the original "Star Wars" soundtrack as the most memorable score of all time for a US film. In 2004, it was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry, calling it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Can't agree more with it full of iconic and one of the most memorable tunes ever.
1. 'The Lord of the Rings' - Howard Shore (2001-2003)
And the gold medal is taken by "The Lord of the Rings" saga directed by Peter Jackson and based on the famous J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." Howard Shore composed, orchestrated, conducted, and produced the whole trilogy's music. The score is primarily played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and many artists such as Ben Del Maestro, Enya, Renée Fleming, James Galway, Annie Lennox and Emilíana Torrini contributed.
Even actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto (extended cuts only for the latter two), and Peter Jackson (for a single gong sound in the second film) contributed to the score. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens also wrote the lyrics to various music and songs, which David Salo translated into Tolkien's languages.
The music for the series turned out to be a success and has been voted best movie soundtrack of all time for the six years running.
That's all folks, hope you enjoyed the top, stay tuned until next week for another WQ!