Can you imagine movies without musical scores? Even during the era of silent films, there was an organist playing music to accompany the picture. Composers can create music that evokes fear, excitement, romance, or sadness. There are countless of films that have amazing scores. Many of them have become so iconic if someone hums a few bars and you instantly recognize the film it’s from. My list names just a few films with musical scores that really made the movie. The movie would not be complete, or maybe even as great, without them.
Interstellar by Hans Zimmer
I am obsessed with Interstellar. It’s one of my favorite films, and I think should be considered a cinema classic. Hans Zimmer’s sweeping score truly adds to the beauty, wonder and intensity of the film. Interstellar is a story with extremely high stakes- Matthew McConaughey’s character is literally in a race against time to reunite with his children and save the world as we know it. The score expresses that intensity in tenfold. The example below is from the docking scene- the visuals paired with this powerful score (THOSE ORGANS!!) made for one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in the theatre.
Scarface by Giorgio Moroder
Scarface’s synth-pop perfect encapsulates the film’s 1980s period. The score absolutely sizzles. The operatic and epic quality of the music reflects what Al Pacino and the filmmakers wanted exactly the story to be- an opera. Scarface’s score, with the pulsating operatic chorus, somehow captures the never-ending reach of Tony’s greed. There’s one moment in the film- as the gunmen attack Tony’s home- where the score makes you feel the Miami heat steaming off the screen.
Gravity by Steven Price
Being alone is space is one of the most terrifying situations one can imagine. Steven Price expertly captures that fear. His score takes you for as much of a ride as the entire film does, leaving you on the edge of your seat. The epic piece that accompanies the ending will leave you with chills. Gravity is a gripping film with a score to match.
Atonement by Dario Marianelli
Atonement’s score occasionally uses a combination of typewriter sounds and piano, an absolutely genius idea. The use of the typewriter underlines the importance of writing in the film’s story. Briony is a young girl and writer whose actions set off a shocking course of events. Briony’s love of writing and overactive imagination and is both her downfall and way of gaining some small chance at salvation. The film’s score is filled with tension, an undercurrent of something more beginning to brew. A beautiful piece is also “Elegy for Dunkirk” which is used under the famous tracking scene.
The Lord of the Rings by Howard Shore
This amazing trilogy has an iconic score with memorable musical themes. Howard Shore crafts specific music for each place within the wide expanse of Middle-Earth. He truly makes J.R.R. Tolkien’s world come to life. Whether it’s a giant battle scene or Frodo giving his friends a tearful good-bye (whenever the song comes up on Spotify, you bet I start crying). Shore’s score masterfully captures each moment. The piece I’ve chosen below is “The Black Gate Opens”. It begins as a tense battle score, then switches when in the film we see Frodo and Sam finally reach Mount Doom, nearly exhausted. The gorgeous choir and the pipes from the Shire theme reflect how far these characters have come. And when the “Into the West” theme plays as Sam carries Frodo, I get major chills.
Titanic by James Horner
James Horner sadly passed away recently. Among his composing achievements, Titanic stands tall. Horner captured the mournful quality of reflecting on the tragedy. Horner’s music sweeps the audience off its feet when we see the beauty of the Titanic brought to life by James Cameron. We feel as many of the passengers and onlookers must have felt when they first set eyes on the “Ship of Dreams” in 1912. The song sample I’ve chosen has the aching “Hymn to the Sea” and “The Portrait” and “Rose”. Those two music pieces are simple and tender, reflecting the quiet beauty of Jack and Rose’s romance and intimate moments.
Stoker by Clint Mansell
Stoker’s score really stuck out for me, as beautiful and haunting as the film itself. The score has a brooding sense of tension about it. The music has a strange dichotomy that reflects the film’s imagery, which balances and merges violence and beauty. The last few minutes of the piece shown below are simply gorgeous, but they occur while the main character is masturbating while thinking of a murder she just watched. Music plays an important part within the film’s story as well. One scene shows the girl and her uncle playing a piano duet (composed by Phillip Glass). Their playing of the song is intense, their sexual attraction for one another growing and growing. When they finish it’s as if they’ve climaxed.
Requiem for a Dream by Clint Mansell
Requiem for a Dream is a film that seems to nearly suck out your soul. It is so haunting and visceral that it leaves you slack-jawed. If you don’t want kids doing hard drugs, show this in schools. The one piece (shown below) is Mansell’s magnum opus, a famous piece that is countlessly used in film trailers. The score is every bit as melancholy and intense as the film is.
It Follows by Disasterpeace
It Follows is perhaps the one example of a film that would not be nearly as good without the score. It Follows has a synth-heavy score that expresses the terror of being followed, and the impending doom of what it would be like to be caught. This spot should really be shared with Halloween’s iconic score. Disasterpeace’s score feels like John Carpenter’s on acid. If you like this score, also check out the score to Cold in July, another modern film with a synth score that is a throwback to the 80s.
Jaws, E.T., Basically everything that John Williams has ever done
What more is there to say about John Williams, the composer who has scored countless childhoods? His work, whether with Steven Spielberg or Star Wars, is forever cemented into cinema’s iconography. His scores are sweeping, epic, filled with dreamlike wonder and adventure. We all can hum the bars Jaw’s titular theme, marking the shark swimming towards the innocent swimmers. And once you hear the Jurassic Park theme, I dare you to try and get it out of your head.
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.