The Greatest Film Scores Of All-Time (For Real This Time)

Last Friday I promised that I’d follow up my “Greatest Soundtracks Of All-Time” with a list of the greatest scores, so here is the fulfillment of that promise. Now, I could go really easy and just give you ten John Williams scores. Everything he does is great, so I don’t think it would be a problem for anyone if I just listed every piece he’s done. But, in the interest of keeping things compelling, I’ll only grant any composer a single spot. Makes it tough for me, because guys like Williams and Elfman do so much amazing work.

10. There Will Be Blood (2007) by Johnny Greenwood

Ten years ago, if someone had said to me “One of the guys from Radiohead is gonna do a soundtrack to a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and it’s gonna blow your mind.” I would have assumed they were talking about Thom Yorke or Phil Selway. Johnny Greenwood took this thing and just knocked it out of the park. The movie is great without anything supporting it, but with his music the movie is beyond brilliant.

9. Back To The Future (1985) by Alan Silvestri

Silvestri has done some outstanding work over the years. He’s crossed multiple genres and won tons of awards. His work on Forrest Gump (another Zemeckis flick) and The Abyss is incredible. But neither of those films have the Theme from Back To The Future…you know the one. You’re humming it right now.

8. Requiem For A Dream (2000) by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet

Remember that music they used in all the trailers for the Lord of The Rings movies? That epic pulsing bass with the shrill strings? Yeah. That was from Requiem. Everyone from Peter Jackson to the NFL and NBA owes Clint Mansell a great deal of thanks.

7. The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966) by Ennio Morricone

There may not be a more iconic score than this one. People who have never seen a second of the movie know the music. The guy has credit on 500 titles, but none come close to this.

6.Vertigo (1958) by Bernard Herrmann

Hermmann scored a great deal of Hitchcock’s finest films, and with this movie both parties delivered their best work. Herrmann also scored Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, to give you an idea of what a fantastic, long run he had.

5. In The Mood For Love (2001) by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi

One of the greatest talents of director Wong Kar-Wai is his ability to make a movie that, in all honesty, requires no dialogue. There is dialogue, but he tells a perfectly fine story through visuals and music as well as anyone. The cello pieces on this soundtrack are beautiful. Listen to this and it will haunt your dreams for weeks. (A great partner for this music would be Yo-Yo Ma’s score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

4. Schindler’s List (1993) by John Williams

Yeah yeah. The guy did Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Jaws, Home Alone, E.T. , and about a billion other things. But you know what? For all the thrills and chills delivered by those scores, none of them packs the emotional punch like Schindler’s List.

3. Edward Scissorhands (1990) by Danny Elfman

Elfman’s career is as connected to Tim Burton as Williams to Spielberg, so it’s no surprise that my favorite Burton film is also my favorite Elfman score. The mix of Burton’s bizarre visuals with Elfman’s wistfulness makes for a tremendous film.

2. Chinatown (1974) by Jerry Goldsmith

Roman Polanski’s film noir would not work without Jerry Goldsmith. Flat out. The suspense wouldn’t hold up, and the atmosphere would be all wrong. Chinatown is an example of everything falling into place perfectly as it should. Polanski, Nicholson, John Huston, and Jerry Goldsmith.

1. The Godfather (1972) by Nino Rota

Maybe it’s because I’m Italian, but this music follows me everywhere. For some reason every time I see Jimmy Caan I hear the theme and look around to see if there are any trashcans nearby that might be used to crush me. Rota worked with some of the greatest filmmakers in Europe, including Truffaut, Fellini, and Zeffirelli. A perfect soundtrack to a perfect film.

So what does everyone think? Am I an idiot or what? Make your own list and throw it up in the comments if you feel like it.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Film Scores Of All-Time (For Real This Time)

  1. Fine list sir. But I believe mine would have to include Henry Mancini, for The Pink Panther. And I believe John Williams deserves at least 2 spots on any film score list. Mine would be as follows

    10. The Magnificent Seven
    9. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
    8. The Pink Panther
    7. Batman (1989)
    6. Back to the Future
    5. Requiem for a Dream
    4. Psycho
    3. The Godfather
    2. Raiders of the Lost Arc
    1. Star Wars

    1. A very fine list of your own, sir. As I noted at the top of the piece, I needed to create some boundaries for myself. I could have made a list of nothing but John Williams and been ok with it. For inquiring minds, heres what that list would have looked like.
      10 Minority Report
      9 Hook
      8 Jaws
      7 Saving Private Ryan
      6. Harry Potter
      5. Jurassic Park
      4. E.T.
      3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
      2. Empire Strikes Back
      1. Schindler’s List

      Glad to see you included some Bernard Herrmann on that list. 4/10 overlap isn’t too bad considering the overwhelming number of great film scores out there.