Week of Favorites: Composers

In the past few years, I’ve really taken to collecting film scores when I can afford it. It’s amazing to think that I had an even MORE difficult time compiling a favorites list of film composers than I did for actors or actresses. When it comes down to it–and I hope if you haven’t read anything else I’ve written, that you read this–that picking favorite film composers for the average movie lover is something that really comes down to the thought, what do you like to listen to? For someone who grew up playing many instruments and being involved in music frequently, I still lack that intuitive knowledge that would say, This is a good soundtrack because of X reason. At the end of the day, these composers are on this list because I really favor one or multiple scores of theirs.

John Williams

I’m not ranking John Williams on this (even though it is just a FAVORITES LIST) because I don’t think he ought to be ranked. He’s composed some of the greatest scores of our time and is a household name today. He’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking a few notes and creating a memorable melody that is remixed decades later for film remakes. On Williams’s 80th birthday, I posted about him in more detail. You can check out that post here.

6. Daft Punk

Since it’s nearly impossible to find a normal picture of Daft Punk, please enjoy this light-up dance routine to one of the tracks from TRON: Legacy.

Again, I struggled having only five composers on my list. It’s ironic that Daft Punk even makes this list considering that they have scored the soundtrack for only one film. The clincher for me is that it is one of my favorite scores I have listened to on repeat constantly, and I can’t find any other scores even comparable: TRON: Legacy. For two years, the duo that makes up Daft Punk–Frenchman Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter–collaborated with Joseph Trapanese, an arranger and composer who lives in LA. The score is performed by an 85-piece orchestra that combines both electronic and orchestral sounds. Daft Punk has released other types of albums, yet I hope that more film scores are in their future.

5. Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman is really a darkhorse pick even in terms of favorite composers of mine, because I haven’t heard a whole lot by him. After learning that he’s actually partially composed several scores, such as being the music programmer for The Da Vinci Code, the music arranger for The Dark Knight, and contributing to the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, I consider Jackman to be more of an up and comer in the film composition industry. Jackman has worked under the strong direction of Hans Zimmer, who’s been referred to as Jackman’s mentor in the past. Jackman’s also helped write the score for Zimmer’s The Holiday, as well as the scores for the films Vantage Point and Monsters vs. Aliens. He’s recently started to head his own projects, the most memorable being his rich, intense score for last year’s X-Men: First Class. It was one of my favorite soundtrack scores of last year; you can read more about it in this previous post.

4. Nancy Wilson

To many, Nancy Wilson may be considered an odd choice given that she’s known more as a rock musician. According to her IMDB profile, Wilson has performed or written tracks for over 20 films. In terms of film composing, however, her number is quite a bit smaller: four films. Previously married to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, Wilson lended her film composing skills to several of his films, including Jerry Maguire, Almost FamousVanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown. I’m still convinced that Crowe went directly with Jonsi only for the score of We Bought a Zoo because he no longer has Wilson to collaborate with, but that’s just me speculating. Despite only composing for four films (some of which have only one or two tracks), Wilson still makes my favorites list because I’m a big fan of each of her tracks on each album. She mainly works with only acoustic guitar, and there’s a very earthy, deep feel to the sound. My recommendation is to check out her Elizabethtown score. I talk about it a little more in this post. It’s my favorite!

3. Hans Zimmer

This list would be incomplete without the addition of Hans Zimmer. He reminds me of the Peter Jackson of the film composition world because he’s so open and communicative with his fans. Zimmer has collaborated with other brilliant film composers, such as Klaus Badelt on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scores as well as James Newton Howard (one who barely missed this list!) on Christopher Nolan’s batman films. Zimmer has won multiple awards, although he’s won only one Academy Award in his time (crazy or what?!) for The Lion King in 1994. His award-winning (and nominated) film scores tend to be his most well-known, such as GladiatorThe Last Samurai, and Inception. His colleagues at DreamWorks, who Zimmer happens to be head of the music division there, include both legendary film composers John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, who composed the memorable, uplifting score for The Chronicles of Narnia films. Zimmer is also known for his collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, having joint-composed (if that can be a term) for Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises with Newton Howard and composing for the critically-acclaimed film, Inception. My current favorite film scores of Zimmer’s are for Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Inception.

2. Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman has a giant resume of film scores that I’ve never listened to, yet he makes it so high on this list because I’ve very much enjoyed the ones I have heard. He’s clearly at the top of his game right now composing for multiple films almost every year since 1980! Elfman is known for his collaboration with director Tim Burton, having composed for almost every one of Burton’s films. One of the most epic film score themes that earned Elfman a Grammy was the theme for Burton’s Batman in 1989. Elfman has been nominated four times for an Academy Award and has yet to win one. Because of his previous time spent in a rock band, Elfman has suffered hearing loss, which reminds me a little of Beethoven (that is, it’s interesting that great people in music needlessly work in the industry in spite of having poor hearing! crazy!). My favorite scores of his are for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series.

1. Alan Silvestri

The biggest reason Alan Silvestri is in my number one slot is that he composed my favorite score tracks I have heard. It seems that some of the biggest directors and film composers have tag-teamed in their collaborations to make films. Robert Zemeckis is the director who has acted as Silvestri’s main collaborater, Silvestri having scored for twelve of Zemeckis’s films. Silvestri has won two Grammys, one for the song “Believe” in The Polar Express, and one for the theme song to Cast Away in the Best Instrumental Composition category. Silvestri’s been nominated only twice for an Academy Award, once for Best Score for Forrest Gump and once for Best Original Song in The Polar Express. I think it’s a wonder that he can so strongly compose and write for two incredibly different segments of music, be it instrumental scores or writing an original song. You can look forward to hearing the score for the upcoming Avengers film coming out in May of this year. I can narrow down my favorites of Silvestri’s film scores to the Back to the Future series, Cast Away theme song, Forrest Gump, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

OK, who’s your favorite film composer(s)? What do you think of my choices? And most importantly, what tracks/albums/composer recommendations do you have for me? 🙂

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24 thoughts on “Week of Favorites: Composers

  1. I love most of these though I’m not as familiar w/ Silvestri’s work. I wasn’t either about Henry Jackman until X:Men – First Class which I LOVE, just listened to ’em in the car w/ hubby and we both just love that one.

    The rest are movie music legends, especially John Williams. Great list, Kris!

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    • It’s funny – I didn’t really realize that I WAS familiar with Silvestri until I looked up who composed some of my favorite scores.

      X-Men: First Class’s score is epic. Haha, glad you guys like it! Thanks, Ruth!

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  2. I’d have put Silvestri and Williams at the top. I love some of Elfman’s work but am bloody sick of his scores now! Still can’t beat the Scissorhands one though. Zimmer’s also another great choice! I highly rate The Dust Brothers soundtrack for Fight Club. I also think Clint Mansell is one of the greatest. Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain; both brilliant scores! Awesome list Kristin and enjoying the all the lists!

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    • Definitely! Elfman’s definitely a different guy, but I think he’s uber talented. Thanks for the recommendations, Pete. I’ll have to look up The Dust Brothers. Yes, I LOVE Mansell’s theme for Requiem for a Dream. I’ll have to check out The Fountain score.

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  3. Like your list for the most part–gotta add James Newton Howard, Philip Glass, Howard Shore, and Klaus Badelt. Have to say that Hans Zimmer is one of my favorites!

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    • James Newton Howard was very close to making this list! Probably would have been #7. Hans Zimmer is definitely a big favorite today, and it’s understandable. Howard Shore is one-of-a-kind. I look forward to hearing his score for The Hobbit later this year.

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  4. Ahhh, composers. I do love me a great film score – they’re especially good to listen to while writing. Setting aside some of the great scores written by rock musicians lately (Basement Jaxx, Trent Reznor, Chemical Bros., Johnny Greenwood), here are a few I dig…

    Michael Giacchino – tv’s LOST, UP, LET ME IN, SUPER 8
    Clint Mansell – REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, BLACK SWAN, THE FOUNTAIN
    John Powell – HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, BOURNE SUPREMACY/ULTIMATUM
    John Murphy – SUNSHINE, 28 DAYS LATER
    Alexandre Desplat – THE KING’S SPEECH, BENJAMIN BUTTON, TREE OF LIFE

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    • I am with you on Trent Reznor and the Chemical Brothers! I was really impressed with the Chemical Brothers work on the Hanna score last year.

      Wow, a lot of recommendations! Thank you, Ryan – I’m always looking for new scores. I’m happy to say that I’m actually familiar with all the composers you listed, although I definitely haven’t heard all the scores. I really enjoy Mansell’s Requiem for a Dream and Desplat’s The King’s Speech. Also, John Murphy’s theme song for Sunshine is about as popular as the Requiem for a Dream theme song now.

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  5. First off LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE SIlvestri as well as Williams and Zimmer.

    Next, Ryan said pretty much I was going to say:P Although I will second his Giacchino, re-recommend James Newton Howard and raise you some of my all time alternative favorites like Thomas Newman, Steve Jablonsky, Harry-Gregson Williams and Bill Conti just to help round out this list:P

    FYI, Jablonsky like the above mentioned Henry Jackman (who is AWESOME) is another Hans Zimmer protege and did the The Island, Steamboy & Transformers movies.

    Not a shamless plug mind you but if you’re into film scores (as evidenced by this well selected list) check out our FourScore series to find some other talented composers and their work: http://www.goseetalk.com/category/fourscore/

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    • Yay! Happy to hear there’s another big Silvestri fan out there 🙂

      Wow, thanks for all the recommendations. I’m familiar with all of them except for Bill Conti. What’s his most well-known scores?

      Yeah, I was talking to my sister about how Jackman is one of many film composers who have studied under Hans Zimmer. All the more reason to love Zimmer! Thanks for the info. Despite not caring for the second or third Transformers films, I was still a fan of the scores. I will have to look into those!

      I will definitely check it out. Thanks for sharing! Also, I just added your site to my blog roll. Thanks for all the film discussion thus far – I look forward to more in the future 🙂

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  6. Great post. I admit that I didn’t start paying attention to who the composers were until a few years ago, and so I’m always amazed to look back “He did THAT TOO?” Great call not ranking Williams by the way. It just makes everything so unfair when he’s in the race!

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    • Thanks! I’m right with you on that. I knew composers when I was quite a bit younger, but I didn’t really get “into” film scores and composers nearly as much until the past couple years. I know! I’m constantly thinking that to myself too. Haha, that was my thinking anyway – glad someone else understands 🙂

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  7. Love that Silvestri got tops on your list. I think all the way back to his great (but repetitive) work on Delta Force and his absolutely incredible score from the movie Predator.

    I still think my favorite single score of all time is Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman’s work on The Last of the Mohicans.

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    • Thanks, Keith! I need to listen to his score from Predator. So many of these composers have been going at it for such a long time, that sometimes it’s hard to keep up with who’s doing/did what!

      Ooo, I will check that one out as well. I am a fan of Randy Edelman as I have heard some of his work, but I don’t think I’m familiar with Trevor Jones. Thanks for the recommendations, Keith!

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  8. I used to do some musical composition myself as something of a hobby back in the day. Since then, I’ve always paid attention to music in films.

    Pretty nice list here. I’d have to say Zimmer is my favorite. He truly is amazing. His work with Christopher Nolan, alone, is proof of his greatness. Inception’s score was absolutely great. And The Dark Knight as well. That theme he created for Joker, alone, bordered on brilliance. And that’s ignoring his previous 2 decades of work, or even his other modern great scores like the Pirates movies.

    John Williams would be a close second for me. And I may even flip back and forth between the two any given week. The man that can create a two note motif and use it to create a soundtrack that strikes fear into the heart of every man, bringing such power to a minimalist score….that man is a genius. I’m referring to Jaws if that needs to be clarified. Williams has created countless legendary themes on top of that and definitely is one of the greats.

    One that I would prefer to see on this list: Bernard Herrmann. My love of his work is aided by the fact that I’m a big Hitchcock fan and Herrmann created the scores to some of Hitchcock’s best movies. But he did much more than that. From Citizen Kane and Psycho to Twilight Zone and Taxi Driver, he did some really great scores (that’s right, he’s the guy behind those iconic shrieking violins in Psycho). His stuff has even been re-used in movies after his death. I know Tarantino has used some of his stuff on a couple of occasions, even.

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    • Hi, Josh! Wow, that’s quite the hobby to have. I can imagine you have a big appreciation for film scores.

      Hans Zimmer is definitely one of my favorites as well. Glad that you like him a lot too! He seems to be a favorite and is establishing himself as a household name through his collaboration with Christopher Nolan. Inception is my favorite score of Zimmer’s! I listened to it countless times and still haven’t tired of it. Yes! His score for The Dark Knight is great too. I’ve been listening to the track “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” on repeat for a while now 🙂 Yep, I was actually first introduced to Hans Zimmer through his work on the POTC soundtracks. Love those! Especially how he incorporated the organ into the second film’s score.

      Yeah, I was definitely aware of you referring to Jaws there 🙂 He’s a genius, and I didn’t feel like I could rank him because of who he is and the great work he’s done over the past decades.

      Unfortunately, probably due to my (young) age and getting into film later than most, I haven’t seen very much of Hitchcock’s yet (I know, crazy! Getting right on that . . . ), so I’m less aware of Bernard Hermann and his work. Even though I’ve seen Twilight Zone and I know the theme to Psycho. Thanks for bringing him up – I’ll be sure to look him up. I’m always happy to get new recommendations, especially when it comes to film scores 🙂

      Looking forward to checking out your site! Thanks for the comment, Josh!

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  9. Really interesting list and I loved reading your reasons on why you chose certain composers.

    I feel like I might be starting a little fight here, but I’m a bit concerned over your top few choices! Alan Silvestri! I accept he’s done some great work, but some of his more recent scores have felt a little… dunno… cold to me. Empty. I wasn’t impressed with his work on Capt. America. It just felt a bit boring and generic. I am interested to see what he does with The Avengers, but just wished it was someone else scoring it!

    I used to love Danny Elfman, his score for Edward Scissorhands is just beautiful. Though, I’ve got a little bored of his scores. Maybe it’s just my change in taste.

    Henry Jackman’s done some brilliant work. I didn’t discover him until last year with X-Men: First Class, but went back in my collection and realised he did work on Kick Ass and Vantage Point too. Great stuff there!

    Big thumbs up for Daft Punk too. Without their score, Tron: Legacy would have been a huge failure. I enjoyed the film well enough, but whenever I watch it again, I mostly watch for the score. Beautifully composed but it smacks of Daft Punk, which I love!

    Who’d I have on my list? Tough choice! Hans Zimmer is a must. Like you, he’s a big favourite with me. His score for Gladiator was what got me so obsessed with film scores. His work has got a bit samey over the years, but he will still be a big favourite for me. His scores are always a pleasure to listen to.

    I have a big soft spot for Brian Tyler’s scores. Mostly action films but so much fun to listen to. Fast Five, Fast & Furious 4, Final Destination films, The Expendables. Love them all. Same love goes to Steve Jablonsky. The first Transformers film score is wonderful.

    Howard Shore – amazing work on LOTR and really looking forward to his work on The Hobbit. He helped shape Middle Earth – everything from huge battle scenes to really small, tender moments. The themes were all so unique and the same too.

    Other guys I love – Mark Mancina (Twister score is epic!), Trevor Rabin (Cool action film scores).

    TV scores wise I adore Bear McCreary’s work on Battlestar Galactica. Hands down, the best TV score I have ever listened to. I got to see him conduct and perform live once and it just solidified him as one of my all time favourites.

    (Sorry for the essay!)

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    • Wow, quite the comment, Jaina! But no need for the apology – I love the opportunity to discuss all this and learn about other people’s preferences and interests in film.

      Bring it on! Well, you have to admit – it’s a favorites list. In no way would I consider it a “best of composers” type list, because otherwise it just falls flat. I actually really enjoyed Silvestri’s soundtrack for Captain America. Perhaps even more than the film! Ha. For me, he’s just composed some of my favorite scores. There’s no other way I could rank him that high otherwise 🙂 You never know, The Avengers score might turn out to be awesome!

      That thought on Danny Elfman was echoed early and I can definitely see where you’re coming from. For me, I like some of his older stuff, too, and haven’t acquainted myself with as much of his recent work as I have for some other composers. I really need to check out that Edward Scissorhands score already!

      Glad you like Henry Jackman and Daft Punk too. They both HAD to be on my list 🙂

      Nice you mention Bryan Tyler – I really enjoy his work too. He was very close to making it on my list. I especially enjoy his Eagle Eye score. So moving and action-filled. It’s almost better than the film, in my opinion. The first Transformers film score is another I’ll have to check out.

      I’m also with you on Howard Shore! I own the LOTR scores and adore them. I absolutely cannot wait for to hear his score for The Hobbit coming up way later this year.

      I loved the film Twister, but never even thought about looking into the score. I’m so excited to check out all these recommendations, so thank you!

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  10. Do check out the Twister soundtrack. I think it’s on Spotify if you want to give it a listen to on there, but otherwise it’s one of those ones that’s a bit hard to find. So worth it though.

    I really hope I like the Avengers score. Really, really hope!

    Edward Scissorhands is just so very beautifully enchanting. It’s one of those few scores I can listen to which feels just like I’m watching the film.

    The first Transformers film score is definitely the best. 2 and 3 are good, but there’s a lot of recycling going on, though each does have their own themes. Just not as strong as the first one.

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