Top Ten Best Original Movie Scores Of All Time

By Brian Volke –

I am a deep lover of music and movies.  It has always been an amazing fusion between the two when a great original score can elevate the material and create a deeper connection between the filmmakers and the viewers.  I started to narrow this list down to ten but it was very, very difficult.  Also, you’re going to see a lot of John Williams on this list and that was purely a coincidence.  I never intended to single him out this much but his original scores speak for themselves.  Here we go!

10.     “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”:  Composer: Danny Elfman

There are rarely film scores that so perfectly fit their material than the one for Pee-Wee.  It complements Tim Burton’s vision so well that it’s amazing to think that the story was written without hearing the music first. It is the highlight of Danny Elfman’s brilliant career.

9.     “Halloween”:  Composer: John Carpenter

Irwin Yablans, the producer of the film, once told the story of the first time he saw Halloween.  He stated that he originally saw it without the music in a rough cut before the movie was finished.  I’m paraphrasing but he basically thought the movie wasn’t scary at all.  He later saw it with the score and had trouble sleeping that night.  That’s the power of music in film and a great complement to John Carpenter’s stellar work that set the bar for horror scores forever.

8. “Lord of the Rings”:  Composer: Howard Shore

It’s awfully hard to take fantasy movies seriously.  The great people who put these movies together have to go to great extremes to make the unbelievable believable and the glue that holds them together is the music.  Peter Jackson’s terrific directing was the biggest piece to the puzzle but Howard Shore’s score is so fantastic that it sweeps us right into Middle Earth.  Brilliant!

7.     “Psycho”:  Composer: Bernard Hermann

The greatest horror score of all time used so many techniques that are being ripped off to this day.  The aggressive string sections bring us deep into Hitchcock’s world of terror and brought that horrible shower scene to the legendary heights it achieved.  The greatest score by one of the greatest composers ever

6.     “The Godfather”:  Composer:  Nino Rota

It’s interesting to think that after all of the stupendous scores that Rota created for Fellini (my favorite being that for La Dolce Vita) that he would outdo all of them with what he delivered for “The Godfather”.  The music has an amazing mood to it.  It conveys sadness, family, love, violence, suspense in such an amazing way that I can’t help but think it would never have gotten the recognition it did without it.

5.     “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”:  Composer: Ennio Morricone

We get two back to back amazing Italian born composers on the list.  I still get a tinge of excitement when I hear the opening theme to this film.  If you ever want to do an interesting experiment, go the last gunfight in the film and shut off the sound.  It boring!  Yes, it is possible for this film to feel boring.  That’s how important Morricone’s music is to each and every suspenseful moment.  Legendary!

4.     “Braveheart”  Composer:  James Horner

There are some scores that are exciting, suspenseful, or scary but there are none as beautiful as the one James Horner wrote for Braveheart.  I’ve seen this film so many times and it still amazes me how the music draws me in right from the opening credits.  It’s not only a part of the film, it’s almost like another character. Absolutely gorgeous.

3.     “Jaws”:  Composer: John Williams

Bum bum bum bum bum bum.  You can play two notes on a piano and there’s no one that doesn’t know it. The theme to Jaws isn’t just scary, it’s downright terrifying.  It’s also the most memorable theme in movie music history.  And that’s just the theme!  The rest of the score is just as good!  I don’t need to say much else.  Everyone already knows its greatness….

2.     “Star Wars”  Composer: John Williams

I’m a firm believer that George Lucas owes an enormous debt to John Williams.  There is not a doubt in my mind that Star Wars would have never been the worldwide sensation that it is without the music.  The themes for each one of the characters is spot on, the suspense builds throughout the experience, and the theme exploding right off the opening line of A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy far, far away is now legendary.

1.     “Superman: The Movie”  Composer: John Williams

The greatest movie score of all time contains some of the best elements of all the scores on this list.  It’s exciting, it builds, it has character and flow, and it’s beautiful.  Epic doesn’t begin to describe it.  It has the greatest title theme of all time and the greatest love theme ever.  The music had to fly just like the main character and John Williams delivered on every level.  He is the greatest film composer of all time and this is his masterwork.

Honorable mentions:
“Dances With Wolves”  Compser: John Barry
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” Composer: John Williams
“E.T. The Extra Terrestriel”  Composer: John Williams
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
“American Beauty” Composer: Thomas Newman
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5 responses to “Top Ten Best Original Movie Scores Of All Time

  1. No Angelo Badalamenti? Come on bro!!! His scores are so fuckin key to David Lynch films!!

  2. Angelo Badalamenti is brilliant and his score for Mulholland Drive is my favorite of all of his work but it wouldn’t be in my top 10. sorry…

  3. Not so sure about No.10 but love the rest! The Jaws sound track is just spot on and super creepy, if you’re in the sea and one of your friend starts humming that you just can’t help looking around – in fact it just makes me want to get out QUICK!
    Lynn 😀

  4. I love that you gave Goldsmith’s Star Trek score an honorable mention. I love that score. I have it on my iPod.

  5. So basically what you’re saying is that John Williams rocks! Which I fully agree with… because he also did the Harry Potter soundtracks… for 1 and 2, which I have on my MP3 player. Also, Raider’s of the Lost Arc was on the other night and I could definitely pick out some of the same score that was used in Harry Potter…. *nods*

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