The Top Seven List of the Only Soundtrack Composers I Can Name

It takes a lot of people to make a movie. There are actors and actresses, directors, producers, gaffers, best boy grips, editors, screenwriters, foley artists, and tons more. Unfortunately for those behind the scenes, usually only actors/actresses and directors gain any sort of fame. As such, even the most devoted cinephiles can have giant gaping holes when it comes to naming the individuals who do anything on a film set other than act or direct. To illustrate the point, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of films. Do you know how many soundtrack composers I can name? Not many. Here’s the full list:

John Williams
John Williams is as much of a gimme as you’ll find amongst soundtrack composers. Everyone knows John Williams thanks to his contributions to beloved classics like E.T., The Raiders of the Lost Ark films, the Star Wars films, Schindler’s List and many more. And they’re all really good scores. They’re integral pieces to the films. Even now, several decades after they were in theaters, you could begin humming the themes from several of the movies that Williams’ has scored and people around you would instantly recognize the film. Here’s my favorite. It’s my favorite because it shows diversity, given how much of a break it is from his usual, thundering brass-filled action movie scores:

James Horner
Horner composed several soundtracks for James Cameron films… apparently. I assure you that his work on Titanic and Avatar are not the reason he’s on this list. In fact, I really only know Horner because of one film–Field of Dreams. He’s scored a LOT of movies, but the only score that I know him from is Field of Dreams. His other most notable score, other than the two Cameron movies and Field of Dreams, is Braveheart. Guess which one is my favorite? Sadly, embedding is disabled on the bulk of the film’s soundtrack, but here’s a suite featuring several of the songs:

Jon Brion
Brion is easily the most obscure name on this list. I first noticed him after enjoying his work in I Heart Huckabees. Then he started showing up all the time in movies I watched. His style is unmistakable and unique. Once you hear it, you’ll probably never mistake it for any other composer’s music. The list of Brion scores includes Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Other Guys, amongst others.

Ennio Morricone
Morricone is almost as much of a given as John Williams, considering his soundtracks go hand-in-hand with seemingly the entire spaghetti Western genre. Most people know that he scored the Man With No Name trilogy, but most people don’t realize that he also composed the soundtracks for The Untouchables, Days of Heaven, Once Upon a Time in the West, and even films as average as Wolf (1994). Still, he’s known because of his spaghetti Western soundtracks. Just thinking about them gives me goosebumps, and any film possessing a soundtrack scored by Morricone is instantly better for that simple fact. My favorite, tied for first of course with the opening theme from the same film. It took an outstanding finale to the film and turned it into something ethereal:

Mark Mothersbaugh
I know of Mothersbaugh exclusively because he created Devo, and (more importantly) he’s composed the soundtracks for most of Wes Anderson’s films. The lone exceptions are The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Darjeeling Limited. As it turns out, Mothersbaugh has composed soundtracks for a lot more movies. The list includes a lot of stuff like The Rugrats Movie, Happy Gilmore, and Sorority Boys. Like Brion, his style is unmistakable, and the quirk in his creations fits Anderson’s movies like a glove. Prime example:

Danny Elfman
With a name like “Elfman”, he’s an easy soundtrack composer to remember. It doesn’t hurt his memorability that his soundtracks are often full of forced wackiness, a trait perfectly suitable for a guy with “Elf” in his last name. Elfman’s credits include most of Tim Burton’s movies, along with Scrooged, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Good Will Hunting and Men in Black.

Hans Zimmer
I’ve learned of Zimmer in recent years because I see his name every time South Park spoofs the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Also, when I saw Inception, I instantly recognized that whoever had done the score for the Batman films had also composed the score for Inception. I can’t say that I’m all that much of a fan because it’s all so repetitive. But I’m also not familiar with his other work, which includes the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Pearl Harbor, Hannibal, The Thin Red Line, and Driving Miss Daisy. The score I associate most with Zimmer:


215 Comments

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215 responses to “The Top Seven List of the Only Soundtrack Composers I Can Name

  1. Another one of my favorites is Jerry Goldsmith, mostly because of his avant-garde score for the original Planet of the Apes.

  2. Well you do better than me. I can only name Williams and Zimmer!!

  3. Phil

    I’m no expert, but Howard Shore is a big name currently, and of course, Bernard Herman and Max Steiner are probably the most famous of all time. Movies on the Radio is a great show to pick up a bit of composer knowledge.

  4. Don’t forget John Barry, the creator of (among many other things) the James Bond films soundtrack.

  5. Oskar

    I am positive you merely forgot this other giant: Bernard Herrman

  6. Darah

    Horner also did the unbelievable score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Its one of the few movie scores that you (well, I) can listen to all the way through.
    Goldsmith did a couple of Treks too.
    I’d like to mention the ‘rising star’ Michael Giacchino.
    I love his work, from his early PC game stuff like Medal of Honor to TV like Lost and the movies Incredibles and the new Star Trek.
    Big future IMO.

    • maryfollowsthelamb

      Bravo for remembering Star Trek! I was looking to see if anyone would mention them. It is probably one of the most recognized scores of works world-wide.

  7. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    Little known fact: John Williams also composed the original score to the shower scene in Debbie Does Dallas, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Leprechaun: Back to da Hood.

  8. rtm

    Awesome post, John, I love soundtracks. The only two I’m not familiar with are John Brion and Mark Mothersbaugh but the rest I LOVE. From Morricone, my all time favorite is Cinema Paradiso, in fact that’ll be my next music break post 🙂

  9. I’ve spent the past couple of months or so devoting my Soundtrack Saturday feature to composers, and it’s been an education for me in that while I knew the names of a number of composers, I couldn’t always remember who did what, or even what distinguishes one from another. In fact, last night I watched a documentary about John Williams on YouTube that goes into great detail about the film composing process.

  10. I’m going to go a little crazy here and suggest one person, who I believe is the greatest living musician in the world, and has composed for films too. His name is Zbigniew Preisner. He is Polish. And his score for Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy is just heavenly. The music that, if there are Gods, the Gods would listen to. I highly, highly recommend you listen to some of his music. End of rant.

  11. Stu

    Add Cliff Martinez, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Murphy to the list and that about taps me out as well…

    @ Oscar: Wow, I can’t believe I forgot Herrmann! All the great Hitchcock, Scorsese, etc.

    I also like some bands who do soundtracks, namely “Goblin” (Suspiria, Deep Red). “The Chemical Brothers” did a bang-up job with “Hanna” last year, I thought.

  12. Alexandre Desplat who has really gotten my attention the last couple years. He worked on the soundtrack for The Tree of Life, The King’s Speech and soon, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. I absolutely loved what he did with the last two Harry Potter movies

  13. Hans Zimmer pretty much scores everything.

  14. Here’s a few others I love that no one has mentioned yet:

    Henry Mancini
    Bernard Herrmann
    Gustavo Santaolalla
    A.R. Rahman

  15. And of course, Basil Poledouris: Conan The Barbarian, Robocop, Starship Troopers, Free Willy, Hunt For Red October, Lonesome Dove etc.

  16. Adriano

    Angelo Badalamenti FTW!

  17. …well, I think, my blogging friend, that you named five more than I could. Congrats on that…

    🙂

  18. Like a ripe orange picked from the Florida tree and squeezed into a trendy Crate and Barrel juice glass for a loving wife’s breakfast in bed, this post is definately freshly pressed! Congrats! -m

    • Thank you! Weird but resounding endorsement here to new readers- if you want to know what sort of fun food items STL has to offer, I highly recommend visiting Eat Me in St. Louis. It’s become a new daily visit for me.

  19. rmv

    howard shore: the lord of the rings trilogy. wonderful job.

  20. pleurer2rire

    it is beautiful, i like
    http://tinyurl.com/cto7u7r

  21. I’m a soundtrack junkie, and for someone who says he doesn’t know much about the field, you’ve picked some gems. Congrats on a well-deserved FP!

  22. I only knew one of these. #fail.

  23. Dude's Wife

    This is awesome!!!!

  24. Great list! I would’ve just thought of John Williams and Danny Elfman.. tho i’m a fan of Michael Giacchino’s work on JJ Abram’s work too.. 🙂

  25. dhrumil

    only for jocking

  26. John Williams is the best .. I don’t why some people say all his scores sound the same.. I find all his scores magical…I was kind of hoping that he’d return for the HP7 movie but he didn’t.. Great list , btw!

    I like Nina Rota’s Godfather track and Francis Lai’s Love Story track too..

  27. Peter

    Great post,

    Don’t Forget Elmer Bernstein (no relation to Leonard)! He’s responsible for The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and a flurry of Bill Murray classics, Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters.

    Also, one of my favorites is Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Shawshank Redemption). The man likes dissonance into consonance.

  28. Miriam Joy

    I love soundtrack music. How many composers can I name?
    John Williams, of course.
    Howard Shore – the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, which is amazing.
    Hans Zimmer – PotC
    Klaus Badelt – PotC also (the first one. Some of it.)
    Nicholas Hooper – Harry Potter, some of them.
    Alexandre Desplat – Harry Potter, the last couple.
    Murray Gold – Doctor Who and some of Torchwood.
    Ben Foster – Torchwood, some of it with Murray Gold and some alone.
    Also, didn’t James Horner compose the music for The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas as well?
    I’m a bit of a soundtrack fanatic, because I love using it to write to. I have all sorts of ‘death scenes’ playlists and they’re nearly all soundtracks, because they’re epic, but they stay in the background. I also like Shostakovich. Then again, he used to write for films…

  29. You mentioned Devo in conjunction with Mothersbaugh but left out Oingo Boingo with Danny Elfman, just in case someone wants to get to the ‘roots’

  30. Rae

    One of the most striking soundtracks I can think of is the Atonement soundtrack by Dario Marianelli. The way the score blends with the movie is amazing. I’m not good at describing this sort of thing, but I suggest watching the movie if you haven’t already.

    • Rae

      Oh, I also watched the Lord of the Rings with a live score, which was truly amazing and gave me an even deeper appreciation for that soundtrack.

      Ok, I’m done now.

  31. Very nice post. I recently wrote a corollary blog post about the lack of melodies in today’s film scores. Some (but not all) of the composers you mention are on my list of great melody crafters. It’s a short post. Check it out and let me know what you think. http://simpsonsmusic500.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/why-cant-i-hum-the-score/

  32. Thomas Newman’s work on movies like American Beauty and the HBO series 6 feet under stand out in my mind every bit as uniquely “Newman-esque” as most of Elfman’s music is so categorically “Elfmanesque.”
    CF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDOXxa1U7Oc
    CF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as1dUhUnvgU

    And, though not strictly speaking a movie composer, Aaron Copeland’s music is arguably the most distinctive of the American Composers, and his music is often featured in many different movies.
    CF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsReWx9XdNs

    • You sure nailed it. Newman is very distinct, and I love the American Beauty soundtrack.

      There’s a mashup on Youtube of that particular Copeland piece, mashed up with clips from Buster Keaton’s Go West. I enjoy it thoroughly.

  33. Siv

    Howard Shore [Lord of the Rings] is awesome as well! I like that you included Ennio Morricone, he’s amazing.

    • Listening to the Morricone clip makes me want to re-watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It says a lot for the soundtrack when just hearing it makes you want to watch the movie again.

  34. I like that your list has big name and lesser known names. I’m a soundtrack fan, and I admit I didn’t know Jon Brion by name. My favorite current composes are Dario Marianelli (I’ll echo Rae above me and say that his Atonement score is genius), Alexandre Desplat (I love his Benjamin Button score and what he did with the final Harry Potter films), and Michael Giacchino (he did brilliant work on Lost and with Pixar). As far as more classical composers are, I love Max Steiner and Maurice Jarre; their works for, respectively, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia are iconic. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, by the way!

  35. Lovely piece – of blogging!

  36. You can name about three more than I can. I’d disagree, however, that Mark Mothersbaugh’s work with DEVO is less significant than his work as a film composer, unless you meant for the purposes of this list.

  37. Haven’t Hans Zimmer and John Williams combined written the soundtracks for 98% of all the films ever made? I swear that everytime I see the credits at the end of a film it always mentions Hans Zimmer. What a busy man

  38. daniellesussingham

    John Powell, his score for P.S. I Love You is easily one of my favorite scores of all time!

    • I’ll have to check that one out!

    • mackerelskies

      He also did How To Train Your Dragon, which is one of my favorite soundtracks ever. It’s so gorgeous.

      On a slightly related note, I first knew Mark Mothersbaugh from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. I’d seen some of Anderson’s movies and loved them – and the music – but for some reason never really thought to look up who wrote it. With Meatballs though, it was such a wonderful fit that I just had to know. Also a frequently-played soundtrack.

  39. Dario Marianelli. My favorite film composer…he’s wonderful. and also Mark Motherbaugh, the soundtrack for Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is supreme!

    • Agreed. Who would’ve thought that Portugese covers of David Bowie songs, Joan Baez, and a Mothersbaugh score could mesh so well? Wes Anderson’s soundtracks are always ace.

  40. TRC

    David Arnold (‘Independence Day’, ‘Godzilla’, ‘Casino Royale’) and Trevor Rabin (‘Armageddon’), James Newton Howard… I wrote a similar post about this, here you go: http://wp.me/pCBs0-Cq

  41. Great choices and a few memory joggers in there, but I have a couple of names you might not immediately recognize, unless you know the movies.

    * George Aliceson Tipton (Phantom of the Paradise~1974) He wrote the MUSIC score, not the songs. He would go on to write the incidental music for Benson, Soap and Golden Girls.

    * John Morris (Young Frankenstein~ 1974) I love the Theme to that movie; which is hummed by Madeline Kahn as well as performed on Violin by Marty Feldman.

    John Williams’ countless collaborations with Steven Spielberg have created movie magic! I remember the story behind the JAWS theme, which, at first, Steve thought was a joke. The opening lines to that movie have become synonymous with terror!

    Quincy Jones (The Color Purple) One of the very few times Spielberg was not teaming with John Williams, but the choice of Quincy was, again, BRILLIANT!

    James Newton Howard (King Kong~2005) There is a flavor of ‘golden age movies’ that comes with much of the music for this movie. I LOVE ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Central Park.’ with is a variation on that theme.

    • Now I’ve got the Benson theme stuck in my head. I just saw The Color Purple not very long ago, and Quincy Jones’ soundtrack was as important a piece of that movie as Williams’ scores are for Spielberg’s others.

      I still need to see The Phantom of the Paradise.

      Great, in-depth comment!

  42. I was surprised that Howard Shore didn’t make your list. :O
    (Then again, I didn’t recognize all of the names on your list, so I suppose we’re equal 😉 ) Zimmer also did The Lion King.

    You should go listen to Stardust’s soundtrack. I’ve never heard of Ilan Eshkeri, but he did a great job! Oh! Now you’ve got me started. John Powell is another one! I love his score for How to Train Your Dragon 🙂

  43. Duuuuude… Freshly Pressed! Well done!

  44. Interesting post. David Byrne of Talking Heads fame also scores soundtracks these days. I know for sure he scored Bertolucci’s Last Emperer, for which he won an Oscar.

  45. Informative & entertaining, well done!

  46. JJ Mellors

    Clint Mansell, Howard Shore and Christopher Franke to round it up to ten 🙂

  47. If you only know 7, those are good ones to know. A few others whose work you might want to check out: Terence Blanchard, Eleni Karaindrou, and Jerry Goldsmith. Very interesting post!

  48. I skimmed the comments and I don’t think anyone mentioned Les Baxter; he wrote some good scores.

  49. I like your list! My personal favourites among those that you listed are James Horner, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. There were even two names on that list that I had never heard of before, but I’ll definitely be listening to their works from now on!

    • Great to hear!

      After seeing Elfman’s name on the Simpsons credits for 20 years, I’m surprised I didn’t put it together until AFTER I did this list that he was the creator of the Simpsons theme.

  50. Don’t forget John Barry with his Bond scores and the lovely John Dunbar Theme.

    Another fave of mine is Vangelis- Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner.

  51. Michael Nyman’s “The Departure” in Gattaca (1997) is the only score that stays with me.

  52. One composer not mentioned here is Bruce Broughton who is one of my favorites. Otherwise, many of the giants in the business are present: Williams, Morricone and Preisner, just to name a few, are all brilliant.

  53. I laughed when you wrote that everyone knows “John Williams” name. I don’t. In fact, I don’t know any of them. I do need to get out more.

    val
    http://valentinedefrancis.wordpress.com

  54. Mike is Happy

    I think we might be list buddies.

    http://wp.me/pJdsk-He IF I HAD TO CHOOSE MY TOP FIVE JAZZ ALBUMS OF 2011, IN ASCENDING ORDER, I DON’T THINK I COULD. BUT ONLY BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE JAZZ.

  55. I love that you mentioned Brion. I truly didn’t expect to see the likes of him on here, but I’m glad someone else out there enjoys his work.

  56. Well, you can name a whole lot more than I can. LOVE the soundtrack for Out of Africa… my all time favourite. No idea who composed that, though.

  57. Thomas New MUST be on this list… Shawshank Redmeption, Road to Perdtion, American Beauty, Green Mile, Horse Whisperer, Finding Nemo, Cinderella Man… etc. etc…

  58. Ora

    Surprising no one has mentioned Patrick Doyle here. He’s a particular favorite of mine not yet mentioned here. He scored Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Sense and Sensibility, Hamlet, Gosford Park, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (among many others).

    Elmer Bernstein is also one of the greats. Just look at his repertoire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmer_Bernstein

    For me, I grew up with Danny Elfman. Even at age 8 he was my favorite composer alongside Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy video games). Some of my other favorites are: Basil Poledouris (Hunt for Red October), Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables), and Alan Silvestri (The Abyss).

    I like Hans Zimmer though like Williams and Horner he kind of hogs all the opportunities for new rising composers. James Horner is alright (especially Field of Dreams), except his pervasive use of the exact same trumpet trill to signify ominous and bad feelings in almost every film from Willow to Troy to Avatar. Bugs the heck out of me.

  59. fireandair

    Jerry Goldsmith, Howard Shore, Wolfgang Korngold. Dude.

  60. Ora

    Of course there’s also non-traditional electronic compositions:
    – Wendy Carlos: A Clockwork Orange, Tron
    – Neil Young: Dead Man
    – Chemical Brothers: Hanna
    – Daft Punk: Tron Legacy
    – Vangelis (as someone else already pointed out): Blade Runner, Cosmos series, Chariots of Fire
    – Toto & Brian Eno: Dune (1984)

  61. Kat

    What? No Alan Menken? Blasphemy!

  62. moneymakingjus

    Reblogged this on thehiltonburnellfiles.

  63. I feel Henri Mancini should be on top of the list…

  64. The only movie music that came to mind for me, other than a few of these, was The Dust Brothers score for “Fight Club”.

    Nice post that gave me some music to look up. Thanks. =).

  65. Why didn’t you include any of the Newman brothers works?? Especially my favorite, Thomas Newman. He has an exceptional style. You should check him out. Especially for Road to Perdition. He was nominated for an Oscar.

  66. Pingback: The Top Seven List of the Only Soundtrack Composers I Can Name | slopestreetcats.com

  67. wow! That’s amazing. I only know Hans Zimmer and I can’t even begin to associate his music in movies to him. Awesome!

  68. Joe Labriola

    Some great ones! But what about Howard Shore? Come on! Music of Middle Earth!

  69. The Letter "B"

    I can often guess when Zimmer has scored something. Anyone notice the similarities between the Gladiator and Pirates scores? They always pop up on one of my Pandora stations and I sometimes mix them up because they sound so similar.

  70. chiliv8

    Nice post! I love Danny Elfman, the perfect match for Tim Burton movies 😉
    Very often people don’t pay much attention to the score/soundtrack, but it actually creates the whole atmosphere of the movie, which you don’t perceive consciously. Also great: Graeme Revell (The Crow, Daredevil)…

  71. 2tacos

    Seven is much more that I could name. But Bugs Bunny conducting at the top reminded me that I knew the fact that Carl Stalling wrote the soundtracks for many Warner Bros cartoons.

  72. jmurtonen

    These are all really good composers, but I would add Howard Shore simply because of the Lord of the Rings movies.

  73. These are among some of the best film composers on your list. A few others who bring pleasant emotion to my ear are John Debney, Jerry Goldsmith and Steve Jablonsky. If you really want to delve into movie music and feel movies in their entirety, the book “The Soul of Cinema: An Appreciation of Film Music” is a highly recommended read.

  74. I like Randy Edelman, Henry Mancini, Patrick Doyle, and Dennis McCarthy. It’s interesting how so-called classical music gets written mostly for the movies these days. If Beethoven were alive today, that’s probably what he’d be doing.

  75. Don’t forget the great Disney composer, Alan Menken! I also have an obsession with Marc Shaiman.

  76. I have loved Danny Elfman since his Boingo days! Would love to spend a day with him!

  77. sosoclever

    There are some others that I don’t think I saw in any of the comments:
    Stewart Copeland
    Carter Burwell
    Randy Newman
    Trent Reznor

  78. John Williams and Hans Zimmer are my favorites! I also like Jerry Goldsmith for the original Star Trek movies. 😀

  79. Nice list. I can tell you what group of people can rattle of a list of movie composers effortlessly: high school band and orchestra members. Students always play arrangements of soundtracks because they are such crowd pleasers.

    I am disappointed that Alan Menken isn’t on the list! I spent my childhood humming his Disney songs.

  80. I love Ennio Morricone and John Williams and last but not least Jerry Goldsmith!

    Great composers!

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  82. ramonesguerra

    How about Bill Conti, who composed the training theme song from the first Rocky movie and “For Your Eyes Only”? 😀

  83. You should add Vangelis to your short (but still more impressive than mine) list of soundtrack composers! If you haven’t seen or don’t remember the music in Blade Runner, you can download the soundtrack here http://endofthegame.net/2011/09/08/bladerunner-soundtrack/ it’s out of this world.

  84. Thank you so much for your post. When I was younger, I was part of a taekwondo demonstration team. My favourite pattern was done to this haunting, slow song that none of us knew the name of. Now I know it’s called ‘The Ecstasy of Gold,’ by Ennio Marricone. I’m off to download it!

  85. hello, tdylf,

    you made me experience these films again through the musical scores you posted. thank you very much for sharing. 🙂

  86. This is great list. I liked them all.

    TechSmartLife

  87. good post! I love soundtrack too 🙂

  88. Great post! I’m a big fan of scores, myself, and have albums from almost all of these composers in my stash 🙂

    However, though he’s been mentioned a few times in the comments, John Newton Howard is a composer you might want to check out, In addition to working with Zimmer on Batman Begins and Dark Knight, he composed one of my favorite scores of all time (albeit for a medicocre movie): The Village.

    In addition, he’s done a lot of great movies (too many to name), and is composing the upcoming Hunger Games (at least the first one).

    Cheers, and thanks again for introducing me to some other great composers!

  89. Wonderful article, and I feel motivated to make a top 10 list of my own now! Couple of names I’m not familiar with, even if I’ve heard their work and not realised it.

    Trevor Rabin has a good knack for scores too – and Shigeru Umebayashi

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  91. Henry Mancini springs to mind for Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and the Pink Panther Theme.

  92. Before going down the list I thought Zimmer would’ve been mentioned earlier in the list… his other work were ‘The Lion King’, ‘Di Vinci Code’, ‘Angels & Demons’ whom are my fave of his work. Definitely Horner especially with his work in the ‘Titanic’ … great post! 🙂

  93. theillustriouskingofspace

    The three I was somehow expecting to see come up here, I didn’t see.

    I love Elliott Goldenthal because he always does delightful, larger-than-life, while somehow still sounding cheesy, soundtracks for movies with a camp gothic twinge such as Batman Forever and Interview with the Vampire; there’s also some nice unexpectedly subtle stuff here, smooshed in with moments of giant theatricality.

    I have to bring up Thomas Newman for his exquisitely enchanting and mystifying work on movies such as Finding Nemo (just think about the way some of that music made you feel), Series of Unfortunate Events, and WALL-E; really any movie that had to take you away to a mysterious place. Any time his music plays, I get that tingly excited feeling that world is bigger than it really looks.

    The first composer I ever fell in love with was Alan Silvestri, for his heartwarming pieces in Lilo and Stitch. When you need someone to do warm and snuggly, he’s the guy. It gives you the idea the kind of stuff he does when you also realize he composed two major Christmas movies, Polar Express and the recent Christmas Carol- what a perfect fit. Let’s also not forget his amazing adventure theme in Back to the Future! Alan always packs a lot of heart.

    Two honorable mentions: French composer Brian Coulais, for composing my absolute favorite soundtrack of all, Coraline. The music from that ENTIRE movie sends chills down my spine and is just perfect- if I had to pick a soundtrack for my life, THAT’S IT. I’m not aware of any of his other work. (MUST RESEARCH…) Other favorite movie soundtrack: Atlantis the Lost Empire, absolutely is the stuff of adventure and epic journeys, so I must mention James Newton Howard. Okay. I’m done.

  94. Vangelis is my fave. Moving and dramatic. Whenever I watch Blade runner it really hits home how timeless it is. Indeed of all the albums I listen to, his are the only soundtracks ( 1492 and Blade Runner) .

  95. Ha ha my head went rap rap rap and I couldn’t come up with more past your post and I’m a music major (hangs head in shame).

    I loooovveee James Horner and sat there with youtube and my piano to figure out the Field of Dreams soundtrack. Gorgeous music.

  96. Howard Shore! Lord of the Rings!

  97. I am not an expert but I think that Howard and Bernard Herman Šore big names and that all they have to be done. It is my humble opinion!

  98. I’d say Hans is the most popular at this, but if you listen carefully to soundtracks from the same composers they all have certain signature sounds they put into their pieces. Once you know them, you can easily name the composer after just listening to a few minutes of the music even if you don’t know what movie it’s from.

  99. Ennio Morricone—yes, a great. But his best score was not for the spaghetti Westerns but for “The Battle of Algiers,” a truly remarkable film. Also am glad someone mentioned Henry Mancini—the Pink Panther movies, “Hatari,” and on and on it goes with great music.

  100. John Williams is definitely one of my favorites.

  101. This is great list. I liked them all.

  102. Thomas Newman would be at the top of my list, along with current fave Alexandre Desplat. I’m happy that you are focusing on soundtracks by one composer. I get very tired of movies that are nothing more than a jumble of top hits, as the music, in my mind, can make or break a movie and its message. And I’m always sorry that Thomas Newman hasn’t yet won an Oscar!

  103. I’m personally a huge Williams fan, mostly because of his work on Jurassic Park (perhaps it’s the nostalgia factor). Anyway, great list! As a movie guy, I always appreciate posts that relate to film.

  104. I appreciate your post (list). But, I think that we should pay homage a few of my fave pioneers like Franz Waxman (*Rear Window, Stalag 17), Alfred Newman (All About Eve, Airport 1970), and Miklós Rózsa (Double Indemnity, Ben Hur) by adding them in. These composers are among those who came up before the days of technology where everything was conducted live to the spotting with a big screen. Alfred Newman actually did Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights 1931. These people set the bar for today’s film composers.

    *Obviously their scores are way to numerous to to list completely but I encourage researching them.

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  106. try Philip Glass or Clint Mansell

  107. Good list – I paticularly love how you’ve added Mark Mothersbaugh, I love his work on some of the Wes Anderson films. Aside from him though I can only ever name Morricone, Zimmer and Williams. I think maybe that’s a bit shocking since music is such a huge part of what makes a film great!

    Great post 🙂

  108. Greg Brown

    Nino Rota!

  109. Hans Zimmer is a genius.. true that…

  110. I have loved Mark Mancina ever since Bad Boys one

  111. blackshepherd

    Darling…whatever you choose is fine with me…I’ll choose the tablecloths for the wedding reception…deal? From now on can we talk about these things in bed? I love you. Kisses.

  112. Harry Gregson-Williams, Nick Glennie-Smith, Steve Jablonsky, Klaus Badelt, Trevor Jones, James Horner, Trevor Rabin, among others

  113. Pauliina Tulenheimo

    I didn’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if these were mentioned before: Alexandre Desplat (King’s Speech, for example) and Michael Giacchino (Alias and Lost on TV, movies include M:I 3 and 4, and he won an Oscar for Up).

  114. Fantastic list and I scrolled through the comments oy ve and saw some other great mentions. So I didn’t have to repeat what was already said.

  115. Okay, I know I’m definitely not the only one to write this but Howard Shore is a totally badass composer. Lord of the Rings and David Cronenberg – the man is a force to be reckoned with!

    I love movie scores – seriously can make or break a film. Great post!
    http://rantandrollallnight.wordpress.com/

  116. Rai

    7 is actually pretty impressive!

    Also CONGRATULATIONS on pressing freshly… you know =)

  117. Great list of composers. Ennio Morricone is the all-time greatest. I was just writing a post on the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, with a wonderful score by Maurice Jarre. He’s left his musical fingerprints on many a great film. Very good post! Glad I discovered you.

  118. Danny Elfman is the only one I know from this list. He is brilliant. He wrote all the music for The Nightmare Before Christmas AND sang Jack’s voice?
    That’s what’s up.

  119. Oh, what a GEEK I am! I read (and enjoyed) not only your article, but over 180 comments JUST to make sure no one had mentioned the composer who began the tradition of using the Romantic style, like Beethoven and Brahms and Wagner, in films. All the men and women who use this style today for adventure, action and romance movies are traceable directly to (drum roll) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold:
    His scores included The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Robin Hood (the first academy Award for Best Original Score), The Sea Hawk, and King’s Row. Along with Max Steiner and Alfred Newman (the first of them Newmans in the same tribe as Randy and Thomas), he founded the tradition of film music.

    On a lighter note, I’m a big fan of Carl Stalling, and I can’t believe you would show Bugs Bunny conducting and not mention the man whose MUSIC he would be leading the orchestra to perform!

  120. Great list. I’m fast becoming a fan of contemporary TV composers. Ramin Djawadi’s theme for “Game of Thrones” blows me away every time I hear it. He’s done some film work as well.

    Robert Duncan and Bear McCreary have done some fantastic work as well.

  121. muyosanspeaks

    I wouldn’t say Hans Zimmer is all that repetitive. Have you heard the Lion King OST scores? As far as I know, IMO, they’re are his best ever

  122. Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy series – video games and movies

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  125. We love that you could think of seven, you seem like an expert on the subject! We love ur choice of I heart huckabee’s, that is a really unique score.

    And also Mark Mothersbaugh is a vital pick, we could throw on the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums and get through a whole weekend, anytime.

    The Eye
    http://theeyeoffaith.com

  126. Awesome post! Ah, Danny Elfman… he’s the only one I can name. At all.

    Thank you for sharing!

    …following your blog…

  127. Victor De Leon

    Great list! I’ll be following your blog. Good Job. Morricone also did John Carpenter’s The Thing. Great score.

  128. Excellent post and excellent comments. Let me suggest the best Ennio Morricone theme imho: The Mission. (Cinema Paridiso is a close second). The Newman family – Alfred, brother Lionel, son Thomas, nephew Randy – could qualify as film music’s royal family. For an iconic sound, I’d suggest listening to Elmer Bernstein’s theme for “The Magnificent 7.” Mancini has always been a favorite of mine, though I particularly enjoy his themes for thrillers such as “Experiment in Terror” and “Wait Until Dark” for how they build the suspense. One who I don’t believe has been mentioned yet is Alberto Iglesias. His score for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has been nominated for this year’s Oscar, and he’s done most of Pedro Almodovar’s movies, such as “Talk To Her.”

  129. Tommy

    Great article. You should also check out Craig Armstrong. He did the soundtracks for Moulin Rouge and Ray.

  130. I thought I was done once you listed John “The M-Effin’ MAN” Williams, but I do know Horner and Zimmer and vaguely remember Marricone’s name. Hard to believe i live in a world that remembers Danny Elfman more for his soundtrack work than his turn in Oingo Boingo (though I did NOT know the Devo guy by name, so I’ll give myself half a point there). One name absent, primarily because he seems to be the premiere African-American film go-to guy, is Terence Blanchard. And let’s not forget Henry Mancini (of Pink Panther fame). There are probably more whose work I could place but not call the name, though….

    Way to go on the Freshly Pressed!

  131. I’m glad someone has mentioned Philip Glass. I had been lucky to see a screening of Koyaanisqatsi with live music by the Philip Glass ensemble last summer, and it was something beyond this world… His music is simply mesmerising. Also, as far as I’ve seen, no-one has mentioned Yann Tiersen (Amelie fans, where are you?) and Michael Nyman (The Piano) – a contrast to big symphonic scores, nevertheless very effective.

  132. pixelnotation

    My favorite composer of all time is Bear McCreary, he did the score for Battlestar Galactica.

  133. Harry Gregson-Williams: Prince of Persia, Kingdom of Heaven, Unstoppable, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
    Really great music, his style can be compared to John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

  134. Love this post! So true..it takes a village to make a movie. Appreciate that you recognize those behind the scenes, too.

    • Thank you! And you’re absolutely right. When I first found out what a “foley artist” actually does, I started paying attention to what and when they step in (insofar as I can tell). Those people are completely unsung and yet if they misstep, it can damage a movie big-time. That’s just unfair. They deserve more credit.

  135. I had hoped for henry mancini

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