music notes and film negative
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Biggest and best film composers

Some of the best movies are famous for their music. What would Jaws be without the music? And not forgetting the quirky fact that it’s pretty hard to switch singing between Star Wars and Superman theme tunes. Over the years there have been a few film music composers who’ve been renowned for their scores. This list celebrates some of the biggest and best film composers of music scores

Ever since I played in music school wind bands and orchestras, film scores have been some of my favourite pieces of music. I can’t stand old westerns, but The Cowboys is a great theme tune. And there are plenty of others right up to recent years that are popular with audiences as standalone pieces of music. You can see movie music popularity grow through the increase in modern classical soundtracks rising up the annual Classic FM Hall of Fame chart.

best composers of movie music

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Here’s some of the greatest film composers, and some of their most famous movie scores.

Famous film composers

John Williams (born 1932, American)

Film scores include: Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Cowboys, Empire of the Sun. Williams has over 450 soundtrack credits, more than 250 music department credits, and over 150 credits as a composer. He’s been awarded 25 Grammy’s, seven BAFTAs, 5 Academy Awards and 4 Golden Globes. With 52 Academy Award nominations, he is the second most-nominated individual, after Walt Disney.

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Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975, American)

Film scores include: Psycho, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Twilight Zone, Taxi Driver, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Cape Fear, Fahrenheit 451, and collaborated with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. He won 1 Academy Award and 1 BAFTA.

Alfred Newman (1900-1970, American)

Film scores include: How the West Was Won, All About Eve, 20th Century Fox theme, Wuthering Heights, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Airport, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, He won 9 Academy Awards

John Barry (1933-2011, English)

Film scores include: Dr No, Goldfinger, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, Born Free, Chaplin, Mary Queen of Scots, Midnight Cowboy. He Composed for over one hundred films and television series including the first 11 James Bond movies. Awards include 5 Academy Oscar Awards, 2 BAFTAs, 1 Golden Globe, and 4 Grammy’s.

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Henry Mancini (1924-1994, American)

Film scores include: The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Touch of Evil, Wait Until Dark, Hatari!. With over 350 music credits, he won 4 Oscars, a Golden Globe and 20 Grammy’s.

Dimtri Tiomkin (1894-1979, Russian-American)

Film scores include: High Noon, Duel in the Sun, Dial M For Murder, The Guns of Navarone, It’s a Wonderful Life, The High and the Mighty, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Rio Bravo. He won 4 Oscars.

Maurice Jarre (1924-2009, French)

Film scores include: Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, Ryan’s Daughter, Witness, Ghost, Dead Poets Society, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Mosquito Coast, Gorillas in the Mist, A Walk in the Clouds. He won 3 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes, 3 BAFTAs and a Grammy, and was well known for working with Director David Lean.

Howard Shore (born 1946. Canadian)

Film scores include: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, Se7en, Hugo, The Aviator, The Silence of the Lambs, Crash, Gangs of New York, Spotlight, The Departed. He’s won 3 Academy awards, 3 Golden Globe Awards and 4 Grammy’s.

Max Steiner (1888-1971, American)

Film scores: Gone with the Wind, King Kong, Casablanca, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Informer, Adventures of Don Juan, A Summer Place. Worked a lot with George Gershwin, and ended his career having written 300 original film scores, and been nominated for 24 Academy Awards, winning 3.

Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995, Hungarian-American)

Film scores include: Ben-Hur, Double Indemnity, Ivanhoe, King of Kings, El Cid, A Double Life, The Thief of Bagdad, Madame Bovary. He won 3 Oscars

Franz Waxman (1906-1967, German)

Film scores include: Sunset Blvd, A Place in the Sun, The Bride of Frankenstein, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Spirit of St Louis. He won 2 Oscars and a Golden Globe

James Horner (1953-2015, American)

Film scores include: Titanic, Braveheart, Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Avatar, Field of Dreams, A Beautiful Mind, Cocoon, An American Tail, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, The Land Before Time, The Perfect Storm. He won 2 Academy Awards, 6 Grammy’s and 2 Golden Globes,

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957, Austrian-American)

Film scores: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Captain Blood, The Prince and the Pauper. In 1934 after he’d written just one score, Warner Brothers offered Korngold a lifetime contract which included his own rehearsal building, composition studio, a private orchestra and artistic control of the scores and films he was asked to compose. He won 2 Oscars

Hans Zimmer (born 1957, German)

Film scores: Gladiator, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Thin Red Line, Dunkirk, Rain Man, Crimson Tide, The Last Samurai, Driving Mrs Daisy, As Good As It Gets, 12 Years a Slave. He’s won 2 Oscars.

Ennio Morricone (born 1928, Italian)

Film scores include: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Untouchables, Days of Heaven, Bugsy, Once Upon a Time in America, In the Line of Fire. Morricone has over 500 credits dating back to 1960, and he’s known for his Spaghetti Western music. He won an Oscar for The Hateful Eight in 2016, has an honorary Academy Award, 3 Grammy’s, 3 Golden Globes and 6 BAFTAs.

Vangelis (1943-2022, Greek)

Film scores include: Chariots of Fire (for which he won an Oscar), Blade Runner, 1492 Conquest of Paradise, The Bounty, Missing.

Rachel Portman (born 1960, English)

Film scores include: Emma, Bessie, The Joy Luck Club, The Cider House Rules, Oliver Twist, The Duchess, Godmothered. She’s written over 100 scores and was the first female film composer to win an Academy Award for Emma, and first female composer to win a Primetime Emmy for Bessie.

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004, American)

Film scores include: The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Escape, The Ten Commandments, Far From Heaven, Walk on the Wild Side, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Age of Innocence. Earned 11 Oscar nominations with one win for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967, and 7 Golden Globes and 5 Grammy’s

AR Rahman (born 1967, Indian)

Hugely celebrated and prolific composer in Indian cinema. His score for Slumdog Millionaire earned 2 Academy Awards, 2 Grammy’s, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

Nino Rota (1911-1979, Italian)

Film scores include: The Godfather, The Godfather II, War and Peace, 8 1/2, Romeo and Juliet. Won 1 Oscar.

Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004, American)

Film scores include: Chinatown, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, The Omen, Alien, Mulan, Papillon, LA Confidential, Logan’s Run, Rambo, Total Recall, Poltergeist, Air Force One, The Mummy, Under Fire, Basic Instinct. Wrote scores for about 200 films over the span of 50 years. His works have been nominated over 30 times but he only won one Academy award for The Omen.

music notes and film negative

Michael Giacchino (born 1967, American)

Film scores include: The Incredibles, Star Trek, Up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes and Coco.
He won an Academy award for Up, plus an Emmy, and 3 Grammys

Ann Dudley (born 1956, English)

Film scores include Full Monty for which she won Oscar for best original score, Les Misérables, and Mammia Mia. She’s also won a Grammy and Ivor Novello.

Alex North (1910-1991, American)

Film scores include: A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Viva Zapata!, The Misfits, Death of a Salesman, Good Morning Vietnam. With 15 Academy nominations, he didn’t win, although he was awarded an honorary one. Won a Golden Globe.

Lalo Schifrin (born 1932, Argentine-American)

Film scores include: Mission Impossible theme, Bullitt, Enter the Dragon, Dirty Harry, Cool Hand Luke, Rush Hour, The Amityville Horror, The Sting II. He has won 5 Grammy’s and has an honorary Academy Award.

Thomas Newman (born 1955, American)

Film scores include: The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, Skyfall, Wall-E, Bridge of Spies, Finding Nemo, Road to Perdition, Six Feet Under, Saving Mr. Banks, Meet Joe Black. He’s had 15 Oscar nominations, won 6 Grammy’s and 2 BAFTAs

James Newton Howard (born 1951, American)

Film scores include: The Village, The Dark Knight, The Fugitive, The Hunger Games, Wyatt Earp, Pretty Woman, Batman Begins, Blood Diamond, The Sixth Sense, The Prince of Tides, King Kong, I Am Legend. Awarded a Grammy, and had multiple Oscar nominations.

Danny Elfman (born 1953, American)

Film scores include: Batman, The Simpsons, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Mission Impossible, Desperate Housewives, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Chicago, Alice in Wonderland. He’s won a Grammy and 4 Oscar nominations

Philip Glass (born 1937, American)

Film scores include: The Hours, Cassandra’s Dream, Notes on a Scandal, The Trueman Show, Candyman. Three of his scores have been Academy nominated, and he’s won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

Alan Silvestri (born 1950, American)

Film scores: Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, The Avengers, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, Predator, Van Helsing, The Bodyguard, GI Joe, Contact, What Lies Beneath. He’s known for working with Robert Zemeckis, and has 2 Oscar nominations

Randy Edelman (born 1947, American)

Film scores include: The Last of the Mohicans, Anaconda, Six Days Seven Nights, Shanghai Knights, The Mask. Twice nominated for Golden Globes, and a BAFTA.

Lesley Barber (born 1962, Canadian)

Film scores include Mansfield Park (1998), You Can Count On Me (2000), Manchester by the Sea (2019).

Which are your favourite film composers and movie scores?

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  1. Music is a huge part of movies and John Williams is my favorite! This is such a great list. There are so many films on this list that I haven’t seen yet and I can’t wait to discover the music as well. Thank you for sharing!

    1. John Williams has always been my favourite too. I love how so many of them have a ‘sound’ and their music is recognisable as being theirs. I suppose in the same way as pop/rock bands too. Thanks for stopping by

  2. This is a fantastic list! Danny Elfman is my favorite because he composed the music for many of Tim Burton’s movies. Hans Zimmer is great too!

    1. I’ve always been a Williams and Barry fan, plus I love the Morricone classics (although I can’t stand Westerns). I was always awful at composing during my music studies, so I’m in awe of how much great music they can create that stands the test of time.

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