Movie scores can either make a scene stand out by being conspicuous, or inconspicuous. Without music in a film, the film would fall flat. A film score can be quite subtle, or, bombastic and in your face. For example, Hans Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk or Ludwig Göransson’s score for Tenet – two of the best movie scores of all time.
Regardless if you prefer a more subtle score or one that is upfront and center, there is no denying the effect of music in our film experience. In this article, we take a look at several famous movie scores that are now considered to be the best movie scores of all time.
Including particular genres such as the best horror movie scores, best romantic movie scores, best western movie scores, and other genres. You don’t want to miss this one – let’s dive in!
First, the film score for The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
The ambient and atmospheric score sets a gloomy vibe to compliment the storyline of the film. Reznor and Ross utilized lots of long ethereal and gritty guitar drones. Including glitchy textures and pads to orchestrate the sometimes gloomy scenes of what it takes to create a social media network like Facebook.
What made this score a masterpiece is the sparse instrumentation giving space for the audience to subconsciously watch and think with each scene. The music sits conspicuously and sometimes inconspicuously in the background.
According to Reznor, director David Fincher requested a “synthetic landscape” such as Vangelis’ masterpiece for Blade Runner. Utilizing glitchy synthetic soundscapes to represent the world of technology and start-ups. This film score is definitely one of the best movie scores and best movie scores for a biological drama.
Director James Cameron originally intended for Enya to compose the music for his gigantic film, Titanic. He actually put together a rough edit of the film using her music as a temporary soundtrack. But, when she declined the offer, he approached composer James Horner.
While Enya would’ve done an awesome job based on her music, this opened the door for James Horner to score what is considered to be one of the most iconic film scores of all time. What made this film score outstanding was James Horner’s decision to go a more unorthodox route. He did this by incorporating sounds to compliment the Irish background of Leonardo di Caprio’s character, Jack Dawson.
Ironic, but Horner’s sound palette had elements in the vein of Enya’s style of music. The sounds were also big when they needed to be and quiet when necessary. It soared, banged, and crashed while complimenting the tragic romance film.
It is no surprise that James Horner’s film score for Titanic is one of the best-selling albums of all time. As well as the highest-selling primarily orchestral soundtrack ever. With other legendary scores before Titanic, this cemented James Horner as one of the best movie score composers. Horner’s film score for Titanic is one of the best movie scores of all time.
Cliff Martinez’s film score for Drive was quite an iconic film score in respect to minimalist and ambient style of film scoring.
One can say that Martinez introduced or popularized the idea of using ambient electronic sounds that were somewhat unusual at the time. It was after Martinez’s score for Drive that it became popular to utilize more sparse ambient soundscapes to compliment movie scenes.
Martinez’s score for Drive is actually a bit dark with ominous elements via the various buzz and burbling sounds of the synthesizer. Cliff Martinez is also known for owning a rare musical instrument called a Cristal Baschet. The Cristal Baschet is one of the most beautiful musical instruments made of vibrating-tuned steel with fiberglass amplification cones.
Along with the eerie buzzing sound of the synthesizers and the ethereal sounds of the Cristal Baschet, the film composer was able to create an outstanding film score for Drive. Martinez’s score for Drive is one of the best movie scores and one of the best action drama movie scores of all time.
Composer and singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes composed the music for Shaft in 1971. As an accomplished singer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and songwriter, Hayes combined pop music and orchestral elements.
The score and soundtrack, which was very forward-thinking at the time, made it an easy listen for a diverse audience. Therefore, Haye’s score and soundtrack for Shaft also topped the music charts.
What made this score outstanding was the myriad of music genres. Featuring jazz, rock, funk, R&B, and disco. In addition to the myriad of music genres, this score is quite unique because of Haye’s wah-wah guitar groove alongside his baritone voice.
The score and soundtrack for Shaft also catapulted Hayes as a legit movie composer outside standard pop songs. His score and album earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song and the first for an African American composer.
With lush sweeping strings from the legendary Memphis Strings and Horns, Haye’s score is without a doubt one of the best movie scores of all time.
One of the most famous and iconic movie scenes is a young couple running off to the ocean for a skinny dip.
Shortly after, the dreadful ‘dun nun…dun nun’ sound takes over as one of the swimmers becomes the first victim of the deadly super shark called Jaws. Simplicity seems to be the theme in scoring for a lot of successful films. Maybe it’s because the simplicity compliments the scene better or a combination of how great the composer is. Composer John Williams created one of the most iconic film scores for Jaws.
Two notes from a tuba exemplify the sound of dread as we watched beachgoers meet their end by the jaws of a super shark. What made this film score quite successful was the ominous repeated two notes of the tuba that also represent a sense of urgency and doom. Including the idyllic tourist setting of peace and quiet interrupted by a killer shark that terrorized beachgoers as the two signature notes support the scene.
With his 19-piece string and horn section, John Williams masterfully conveys bone-chilling terror and mayhem in his film score for Jaws. The dreadful repeated two notes appear to sound louder as another victim falls prey to Jaws. John Williams’ score for Jaws is not only one of the best movie music scores. But it is also the best horror movie score.
After he won Best Original Score in 1981 for Chariot OF Fire, composer Vangelis went on to score for the futuristic sci-fi film, Blade Runner.
Vangelis went the unconventional route to score for Blade Runner. Instead of the expected cold – sterile and emotionless score that is typical for sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner, Vangelis used warm analog synths along with cool big wet reverb. Including forward-thinking techniques at the time such as pitch bending.
This superb score by Vangelis is so intertwined with the scenes from Blade Runner, it would be quite difficult to imagine the film without it.
What made this score so unique and unorthodox is the fusion of East and West. For example, the Arabic wails and galloping rhythms of the East. With his usage of big reverbs, this element also exemplified a big futuristic world. Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner isn’t only one of the best movie scores but one of the best sci-fi film scores of all time.
The most sought-after composer and possibly the first most forward-thinking composer in Hollywood is Hans Zimmer.
Maybe it is the simplicity in his scores that also leaves room for otherworldly sounds or for the audience to think and anticipate the action ahead. It would be quite criminal to do a top-best film score list without Hans Zimmer. Who of which is considered to be one of the best movie score composers ever!
With so many scores to choose from, the Inception film score was as forward-thinking as the movie. Inception directed by Christopher Nolan is also known for being a big fan of loud bombastic sounds in his movie. Zimmer’s score is considered to be very electronic due to the high usage of electronic instruments. Including minimal notes as stated by Hans Zimmer himself.
The marriage of cool and edgy synth sounds and minimal orchestral elements fit this forward-thinking sci-fi juggernaut. The soundtrack was nominated for several awards. Including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, and a BAFTA.
Henry Mancini is without a doubt one of the best best movie score composers of all time. With lots of experience composing for the silver-screen, Mancini was beyond primed and ready to create an awesome cinematic score for the sophisticated comedy film, The Pink Panther.
The distinctive tenor sax melody played by Plas Johnson has since become the legendary sound associated with the theme for The Pink Panther. As soon as you hear the saxophone melody, you can either visualize the Pink Panther strolling on his many adventures.
What made this score so successful was Mancini’s skills to support the storytelling with his music that was as playful and mischievous as the characters on the screen. Mancini’s background in Jazz also lends itself to presenting a jazzy vibe within his orchestration.
With syncopated notes strutting with attitude as the unique characters in the film, it also punctuated the talent of virtuoso tenor saxophonist, Plas Johnson. Mancini’s score was also quite rhythmic and sometimes mimicked the action on screen.
The album and title song were nominated for the Grammy Awards for Best Album of Original Score and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for best score. In 2001, the soundtrack album was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. In 2005, the score was listed at #20 on AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores.
Henry Mancini’s score for The Pink Panther is definitely one of the most iconic and best movie scores of all time. It would be correct to say that the score is also the best comedy movie score.
A four-note riff that is one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs in cinema. Ever since the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962) the famous riff has become the signature theme sound for all James Bond films.
What makes this somewhat ominous and hypnotic riff by Monty Norman’s so famous is the 4 repetitive notes that go up and down within the same octave. It also has a sense of suspense and intrigue.
An interesting back story is that the guitar player Vic Flick was paid a one-off fee of £6 for recording the tune. This score was so outstanding that it became the theme music for all James Bond movies. It has also become the most famous spy sound due mainly to the signature Minor/Major 9th chord. Which is also coined “James Bond Chord”, aka the “Spy Chord”, or the “007 Chord”.
Maybe it’s the eerie sounds of the ocarina but no other music conjures up the Old West as the score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly by Ennio Morricone.
What makes this score so unique and legendary is the unorthodox usage of human voices and unusual instrumentation. The legendary Italian composer exemplifies the uniqueness and outstanding power of his score. Especially at the lengthy but cool graveyard scene.
Before the three main characters‘ ultimate showdown, the audience got a chance to experience this legendary score in context. The eerie whistles of the ocarina send chills and warning that there will be a showdown.
Morricone’s score proves why he is considered to be one of the best movie score composers. From the click-clack rhythm of horses, yodelling, gunfire and steam engines followed by three guitar notes, this is not only one of the best movie scores of all time, it is the best western film score of all time.
From Wild West Sounds Of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, to ethereal sounds of Drive, these are some of the best movie scores of all time.
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