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 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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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: