How To

Famous Movie Composers: A Review Of Our Top Favourites

Photograph of the blog post author, Jodie Francis

Jodie Francis

6.1.2021

Small blue and purple gradient divider

SHARE:

Are you interested in famous movie composers? Would you like some inspiration? Then welcome – you have come to the right place! This is Music Gateway’s list of some of the best film composers out there. 

movie composers

For those of you out there wondering what a movie composer is, a brief definition is the person in charge of the score of a film. Which pertains to the creation of original music. 

They write the score according to the wishes and explanation of the director. They record demos of the score and play them to a creative team for feedback. Looking for how well the music accompanies the scene. 

Film composers are vital to a film project. Despite them not being visible, or indeed, always appreciated as much as they should be! 

They help to create and set a tone and mood that’s essential to driving the story forward. As well as influence the audience’s feelings. 

So, make sure that you stay tuned for our famous movie composers list and be able to fully appreciate these unsung heroes!

John Williams 

john williams

John Williams is one of the most successful and famous movie composers in US history. 

He was born in 1932 and he discovered his love for music early in his life. As the son of a percussionist, he was often surrounded by it.

He began experimenting and creating music in his teen years. And at age 19 he premiered his very first original composition. 

He studied orchestration at both UCLA and Los Angeles City College. And he also honed his performance skills and made some money by playing at jazz clubs.

He was then ready to hit the Hollywood movie scene to begin his professional career. 

He is famous for being the composer of some of the most recognisable theme tunes in film. Such as Harry Potter, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Superman (1978), and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

Other notable films include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List

More recently, his works include the action films Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. 

He won the Classic Brit Award for Soundtrack Composer of the Year in 2005 for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for Fiddler on the Roof in 1972. And the AFI Life Achievement Award honouring his contribution to film music in 2016. 

Javier Navarrete

Javier Navarrete movie composer

This Spanish film composer was born in 1956. He is arguably best known for the score he created for Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth

His creations are so elegant and clever that they will remain in your head for a long time after you’ve left the cinema. That’s the mark of truly being one of the best movie soundtrack composers!

In Pan’s Labyrinth he is able to mix and blend music box melodies alongside soft humming. To create a truly memorable atmosphere.

He has also worked on other memorable film scores like Mirrors, Hemingway and Gellhorn, Wrath of the Titans, Devil’s Backbone and Inkheart. 

So, what awards has this famous film composer won? 

Well, he received the Ariel Award for the Best Film Music in 2007 for, you guessed it, Pan’s Labyrinth

2012 was also a good year for Navarrete as he received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score) for Hemingway & Gellhorn. At the BMI Film & TV Awards, he won for Wrath of the Titans. 

Rachel Portman OBE 

rachel portman movie composer

Rachel Portman is an English composer born in 1960. And is most famous for her work composing films. 

She seemed destined for a career in music, as she began composing her own music at the tender age of 14. She also attended Worcester College at the University of Oxford to study music.

During this time, she not only honed her skills through her lessons, but she also gained practical experience by experimenting with her own writing for student theatre and films. 

After her studies, she began her professional career by writing scores for Channel 4 and the BBC. With her works including Four Days in July, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Storyteller

She has now written over 100 scores for television, theatre, and films. And has received numerous awards and nominations for her memorable work. 

Her first was from the British Film Institute for scoring a large body of work for The Storyteller series. She also made history when she was the first female composer to win an Academy Award for the Best Musical or Comedy Score! 

This was for the 1996 Jane Austen’s Emma film adaptation. She made history again in 2010 for receiving the Richard Kirk Award at the BMI Film & TV Awards for her contribution to music for film and television.

Finally, she was awarded the honour of an OBE in the 2010 New Year Honours. 

AR Rahman

AR Rahman film composer

A.R Rahman, otherwise known as Allahrakha Rahman, is an Indian music composer, producer and singer. 

He was born in 1967 and has primarily focused his work on Tamil and Hindi films

His early career saw him compose music for television series, adverts and jingles for Indian TV channels. 

His extension into composing for UK films saw his fan base grow to new heights. As more people could appreciate his talents. 

His most notable films include Slumdog Millionaire, Couples Retreat and 127 Hours

His style is versatile, contributing to making him one of the best movie soundtrack composers.

He has won a number of awards to date – let’s take a look at his achievements! 

Rahman won the BMI Award for Best Score for the rom-com Couples Retreat, the Best Original Score and Best Original Song at the 81st Academy Awards for Slumdog Millionaire. He also received the ‘Best Song Written for Visual Media’ at the 2010 Grammy Awards. 

Perhaps his highest recognition came from the Indian government when he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. In Indian this is their nation’s third-highest civilian award, so a very high honour indeed! 

Max Steiner

max steiner

If you know your famous movie composers, then this name will be legendary to you! 

This Austrian-American film composer was born in 1888 and died in 1971. 

Max Steiner was also a conductor and stage manager – so an all-round extremely talented (and busy) man! He was considered a child prodigy and he conducted his very first opera when was just 12 years old. 

By the age of 15, he entered the professional realm. From then on, he spent his days either conducting, composing, arranging, or writing

He worked in both England and Hollywood, but it was the latter place where he would truly make his mark. In fact, in 1929 when he moved to Hollywood he became one of the first music composers to specifically compose film scores. 

Therefore, he played a huge part in ensuring the creation of music for film and setting the benchmark for all of the traditions that come with it. 

Let’s face it, we would be here all day if we were to list all of the films he has worked on. So let’s mention some of the most memorable: King Kong (1933), The Informer, Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind and The Letter

In terms of awards, he won the International Award for Best Score in 1948 for The Treasure of Sierra Madre. The Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score that same year for Life with Father. And the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2016 for his work on Gone with the Wind

He works on themes and timings by digesting what he has viewed. For example, he noted that some scenes could appear too slow and need some animated music. In contrast, a scene that’s perceived as too fast can be given more feeling with slower music. 

Steiner is remembered fondly as the ‘father of film music’. And we would definitely recommend that you research this fascinating talent for yourself. 

After all, he was able to shape the music film industry through his creation of original and memorable scores. 

Hans Zimmer 

hans zimmer movie composer

If you’re looking for one of the most famous movie composers of the 21st century, then look no further than Hans Zimmer! 

He’s had his hand in many of the most notable films of the past couple of years. Such as Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk and Planet Earth II

He’s a German film composer and record producer, and he was born back in 1957. Since his career began during the 1980s, he has composed music for a whopping 150 films. 

His Hollywood film scoring began in 1988 for the film Rain Man, directed by Barry Levinson. Zimmer used synthesizers for the score with a mix of steel drums. 

 He has an ability to create scores that complement the film, rather than overpowering it. The score he created for Rain Man received a nomination for an Academy Award. Plus, he is no stranger to accolades!

He has been the recipient of 111 awards for his work. These include the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Disney’s 1995 The Lion King. In 2013 he won the Best Composer of the Year. And in 2014 he won the Saturn Award for Interstellar – to name just a few! 

Alexandre Desplat

alexandre desplat

Our list wouldn’t be complete without including Alexandre Desplat. As he is arguably one of the hardest working people in the industry.

He has become one of the most recognisable and best film composers in the movie business. He was born in 1961 and is a French film composer. 

His early career saw him compose music for a range of French cinema releases. Such as Les Péchés Mortels and Un Héros Très Discret. He now has over 100 films to his name. And has swiftly become one of the best movie soundtrack composers! 

He has taken charge of the score of indie films down to big blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Godzilla and Zero Dark Thirty

His career demonstrates his versatility and adaptability to all different kinds of genres. A prime example of this is the heavy horns and dramatic strings for Godzilla compared to the gentle xylophone and mild guitar for The Fantastic Mr. Fox

So far, he has been nominated for 185 awards and won over 70! 

These wins include the BMI Film Music Award for The Queen. An Oscar for Best Original Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel. And Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for The Shape of Water

Our Final Thoughts 

movie composer

So, there we have it – Music Gateway’s list of the most famous movie composers. 

Of course, there are many others, but it would be simply impossible to include them all. So, don’t despair if you didn’t see your favourite on this list! 

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about these popular movie composers, and maybe that it has even left you feeling inspired to begin your career as a movie composer! 

If you liked this article, check out some others on our blog such as the best movies of 2019best movie franchises and best musical movies! With our concierge and service and extensive music library, allow us to help you find music for your film. Sign up free for Music Gateway now!

Your music career
Get ahead.
“Making it in this business, means making sure you have everything you need to succeed.”
What you can expect from our newsletters:
  • Industry news and tips
  • Opportunities to submit your music and collaborate with others
  • Free software and resources
  • Free membership to Music Gateway
Are you sure that email is right?
Thank you! Newsletters will be sent to: .
Is this the right email address? If not, you can correct it.
Junk mail? Hell no - we hate that stuff too!
Tap here to get our newsletter!
News and opportunities
Thank you! Newsletters will be sent to: .
Is this the right email address? If not, you can correct it.
Are you sure that email is right?


Music Gateway Company Logo

Sign up for a 14 day free trial

Get started
{* *}