Celebrating the Best Film Composers Working Today!

By October 16, 2015

The score is the life blood of a film. I’m not talking about the soundtrack, although occasionally, they are one and the same thing. I am talking about the score. The music that plays underneath the dialogue or the action or whatever else is happening on the screen. The music that is composed specifically for that film.

Have you ever tried to watch a movie without the score? The difference is really quite astonishing. Whether you realize it or not, it’s the music that heightens the emotions you’re feeling in regards to what’s happening on the screen. It’s what causes those tingles to race up your spine with suspense. It’s what pulls you through when it seems like all hope is lost. It’s what keeps you on the edge of your seat, right in the action. It’s what breaks your heart at that one crucial moment. The score is what pulls you forward. It’s the thread that holds it all together. The one constant in the ever moving, ever changing landscape.

To say that I love music is an understatement of epic proportions. And while I usually like my music to have lyrics, movie scores are the one time where the lack of words doesn’t bother me. It’s all about the feelings that the music invokes.

I have my favorite composers and often turn on a score and let the music take me to faraway places. Today I thought I would share some of my favorites in the hopes that you may discover something new, or maybe just fall in love with something old once again.

michael-giacchino-composerFirst up, Michael Giacchino, who is an absolute master at his craft. He won an Academy Award for scoring the delightful Pixar film, Up. (I only just discovered Giacchino a couple of years. How it took me so long to find him, I’ll never know!) Yes, he is the man responsible for the breathtaking melody during the first 4 minutes of Up, entitled “Married Life“, the beautiful and heartbreaking tale of Carl and Ellie. He is one of the main reasons that you always cry during that sequence. He has also scored a handful of other Pixar properties, including The Incredibles, (one of my favorite scores as well as films), and Ratatouille, which is my favorite of all of his works. The score to this film, with its French flair is exquisite. He seems to be J.J. Abrams go to guy and has also scored both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as Super 8. His credits this year alone include Jupiter Ascending (say what you will about the film, but the score was fantastic!), Tomorrowland (same thing as with JA!), Jurassic World and Inside Out. His work is absolutely amazing.

19_5_Powell-lead2(1)John Powell is also near the top of my favorites list. While he has scored over 50 films, he is mostly known for his work on animated features. His music has been featured in the 3 Bourne films, Bolt, Shrek and The Italian Job, as well as Hancock and Pan. My favorite, however, is the Academy Award nominated work he did for How To Train Your Dragon and its sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2. The scores for these films are absolutely stunning. With their Celtic undertones and soothing string sections, they make you believe that you are actually there with Hiccup and Toothless as they journey across the land. It’s both breathtaking and brilliant.

Of course, no discussion about movie scores is complete without the mention of the incomparable John Williams. The man is a genius. Pure and simple. No question, no hesitation, no anything. He is a genius. And he has created some of the most beautiful, most instantly recognizable pieces of music in history. His score for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be his 113th film score.

b8bb071df60cLet’s look at that number again… he has scored 113 films. One hundred and thirteen. That number is staggering. And it more than cements him as one of the greatest composers over the last 60 years, if not arguably, ever. There is no way you can argue his genius. I mean, can you imagine Jaws without those two base notes? What about Star Wars without the Main Title theme or the Imperial March? Or the five tones used throughout Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Who is Indiana Jones without his theme music? How about those haunting first few notes that play over the credits of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? All John Williams.

While I have a number of his works (and with the list of movies that he’s scored, you would be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t!) and I enjoy them all, my favourites are definitely the scores to the Star Wars films. All six of them. I know the prequels had a lot of issues, but the music was definitely not one of them. One of my all-time favourite pieces of music is Binary Sunset (also known as The Force Theme)… the bit that plays in A New Hope when Luke is watching the twin suns of Tatooine set. To me, it is the epitome of Star Wars and always brings a smile to my face and a shiver of anticipation to my spine. It’s short, but oh, so sweet.

There are many amazing artists out there who have created beautiful music for film. Marvin Hamlisch, who scored such classics as The Way We Were and Sophie’s Choice. Paul Williams, who scored the delightful Muppet Movie and A Star Is Born (and two of my most favourite Christmas specials, Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas and A Muppet’s Christmas Carol). Randy Newman, who scored all three Toy Story films, as well as The Natural. Hans Zimmer, who scored The Lion King and Man of Steel (although my favourite scores are his Kung-Fu Panda for its Asian influences and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides for its Spanish flair). The late James Horner, who scored An American Tail, Willow (another of my most favourite films), Braveheart and Titanic. Danny Elfman, who scored such films as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. James Newton Howard. Rachel Portman. Alexandre Desplat. The list goes on and on and on…

My favourite all time score, however, was composed by Academy Award winner, Howard Shore. His discography includes such films as Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs and Eastern Promises, but to me, nothing will compare to the music he created for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.


The haunting beauty of the score holds a special place in my heart (as do the films themselves). Just listening to the score instantly brings back all the breathtaking emotion and feelings I get when I watch the films. I can’t listen to certain parts without getting emotional. The Grey Havens makes me tear up every time I hear it, and just thinking about Annie Lennox’s Into The West always brings a tear to my eye. (I’m not actually allowed to watch the movies anymore, because when I do, I take the entire day and watch all 3 special editions back to back… and I pretty much cry from about halfway through Return of the King, right to the end… so, I’m currently banned from watching them). It’s that kind of visceral reaction that makes the music so special.

They say the song remembers when. That just hearing a certain song or melody can instantly take you back. That feeling is never truer than with a film score. Once you take away the picture and the dialogue, what you’re left with is the heart. That emotional bit that connects everything together. One beat… or note… at a time.

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Erin Parisien
Erin is a writer, a comic-book geek, a movie nerd and a pop culture junkie... all long before it was cool! She's the senior Editor and a writer over at SchmoesKnow.com and can always be found behind a keyboard, because it's all about the words. Follow her @erin_the_novel over on twitter.