These top 15 I have chosen are, in my opinion, the greatest modern film scores! However, I have chosen them because of the atmosphere that they create and their ability to control emotions, which is what I believe makes a successful soundtrack to a film. In other words, I’m not too worried if the theme from is only formed of 4 chords, if its powerful enough to make me cry then it’s good enough to be on this list!
1. He’s a Pirate – Klaus Badlet, Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl
I can never get over how much atmosphere is created by this amazing piece of music. Not only is the melody so memorable, but the sheer power of the piece is the kind that makes you physically exhausted after you listen to it. (Well, maybe that’s just because I can’t listen to it without running around like a pirate). It’s not just this track either, I love the different variations that appear throughout the film, each with their own unique twist – some terrifying, some romantic, some exciting. Pirate’s of the Caribbean is a great film, and what a phenomenal soundtrack to go with it which reflects the film perfectly! If your still not convinced, I urge you to flick through each track of the whole Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack (In fact, I wrote this whole blog entry listening to the full 43 minute album and it made writing a list become the greatest adventure). If your a fellow fan, you must listen to Jarrod Radnich’s epic piano arrangement if you haven’t already.
2. Hymn to Sea – James Horner, Titanic
What a beauty! You may not be a fan of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, but you cannot deny that this remarkable piece by James Horner is one of the most beautiful film scores written. This gave James Horner two well deserved Oscars and a reputation for creating the best selling film score album in history. It may be its originality which caused its mega success – it isn’t the usual romantic flow of strings, but an extraordinary arrangement of pipes and voices along with the traditional orchestral instruments… and the way it makes you feel like you are actually out in the middle of the ocean. This powerful imagery created in the music is like none I’ve ever encountered before, and that’s why it deserves second on my list.
3. Theme from Schindler’s list – John Williams, Schindler’s List
Our first from the Spielberg-Williams marriage! And indeed, what an incredible couple they make. Listen to the Schindler’s List theme, close your eyes, and then check for goosebumps. If they’re not there after the first thirty seconds, I’d be worried. What I love about this piece is that it’s a real piece of music – a real solo with a real solid melody and not just a jumble of slow string arpeggios. It also has that perfect balance of expressive sadness and solemnity with a sense of hope, instead of being a completely depressing piece of music. Another well deserved Oscar!
4. Feather Theme – Alan Silvestri, Forrest Gump.
I love this theme! It’s so sweet and innocent, just like Forrest Gump himself. What I love about all the tracks that Alan Silvestri composed for Forrest Gump is that each completely contrast in mood but are all equally as brilliant and memorable. This theme earned its place because of its lovely melody and how the music represents the feel of this film so well – obviously the Zemeckis-Silvestri marriage is also a match made in heaven. The choice of 60’s songs throughout the film is great fun as well!
5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Theme – John Williams
Maybe it’s because I grew up with Harry Potter, or maybe it’s just this great. Yes, I love the magical ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ but I just think that the Chamber of Secrets theme’s low brass instruments plodding along is so brilliant. How does Mr Williams come up with all these great melodies? Surely he’ll run out of ideas soon…
6. Saving Private Ryan Theme – John Williams
I love how this theme reflects its war and military themes, mainly through choice of instruments, but Williams doesn’t overdo it by making too much of a marching song and it still stays a beautiful piece of music. For me, it also gives a strong religious, or at least patriotic, feel as well, especially with the horns in the beginning and I think works with the themes. The Spielberg-Williams duo have done it again!
7. The Holiday – Hans Zimmer
I can’t believe we’ve got to number 7 without having mentioned the legend that he his, Mr Zimmer. But what a soundtrack! This is our only Rom-com on the list, as traditionally the best dramatic soundtracks come with the dramatic films. But a difficult style of film to work with didn’t stop Hans Zimmer with this beautiful soundtrack. A very inspiring piece, which is expressive and slightly emotional but completely lifts your spirits.
8. Road to Perdition – Thomas Newman
An absolutely stunning score, and doesn’t have the credit it deserves, in my opinion. I suggest if you’re not familiar with the score, listen to the Soundtrack Suite on YouTube and you will fall in love with the music. You cannot pinpoint one emotion when you listen, which works with the film I think, but it’s the kind of music which makes you close your eyes and take a deep breath.
9. Blood Diamond – James Newton Howard
I adore this piece of music. Its wonderfully atmospheric – you get a real feel of Africa in the music but keeping it relatively easy to listen to with the romantic styles that we Brits and Americans are so used to and love so much. Again, beautiful imagery created with the music representing the film so well.
10. Star Wars Main Theme – John Williams, (all episodes)
Although not a huge Star Wars fan, this is a huge piece of music and definitely deserves to be here! I did see on a documentary that John William’s ever so famous theme is almost identical to an early masterpiece, the theme from King’s Row. Although I don’t think this is much of an issue as he did it openly and intentionally, and as the phrase goes ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’. Even though it was a little extreme in this case, Williams still succeeded in another great score.S
11. Flying theme – John Williams, E.T.
Magical, adventurous, emotional, wonderfully odd… a perfect match for Spielberg’s E.T.! A big, orchestral, fantastic piece which adds to the film that magical icing to the already impressive cake.
12. James Bond Theme – Monty Norman
Of course, one of the most well known movie themes of all time. Maybe an obvious choice, but I think that the fact that it’s so well known reduces its value ever so slightly because it can be easily dismissed. But if you actually sit down and listen to the whole theme, you remember just how much it deserves to be on this list.
13. Cast Away – Alan Silvestri
This is the stuff we love, and never fails to impress. The wonderful, extremely emotional, expressive music that makes me want to burst into tears completely. But it still has a great melody, which is easily lost in this kind of string music. I love the piano and strings combination and that oboe solo which gives it subtle variety. Zemeckis and Silvestri are giving Spielberg and Williams some competition.
14. Jurassic Park Theme – John Williams
A lovely piece of music. A real family adventure is created in the music as well as another great tune by Williams. There’s not a lot I can really say about this except for the fact that it’s simply a very enjoyable piece of music.
15. Pearl Harbour – Hans Zimmer.
Another great piano and strings combination, this time utterly romantic and inspiring. A hugely romantic film like this relies that perfect soundtrack to make us believe what is happening on screen (and then go and cry alone with the ice cream tub). No question, Zimmer makes it happen.
I can honestly say how shocked I am that John Williams completely dominates my list with 6 different film scores! Hans Zimmer is only mentioned twice along with Alan Silvestri and the other composers only feature once. In my opinion, all these composers are equally talented and have all composed great masterpieces, but it is important to note that the success of a soundtrack does depend somewhat on the success of the film. So it is easier for someone like John Williams to succeed, who has had many years in partnership with the award winning director, Steven Spielberg and there must be other fantastic pieces written that are not recognized because the film was a flop. The order of my list is fairly flexible, especially towards the end so of course there are many other incredible composers and scores that I haven’t mentioned that you may think deserve a place on this list, and you are probably right, this is merely one film fan’s opinion!