Top 10 Movie Scores

Movie scores can either make a movie memorable or it can detract from the film. While most people think of the songs in a movie as a soundtrack a movie score is the original music that is specifically written for that movie. The score can heighten the film’s emotion, creating an aural mood for certain scenes, combined with sound effects and dialogue. From legends like Hans Zimmer to new commers like Ludwig Goransson, there is no shortage of composers who create memorable movie scores.

For me when I hear a memorable movie score, a certain song etc. it can transport me and brings me to the scene of the movie when the score was accompanying the scene. It moves you almost. Great movies and music have a way of transporting you through your memories and emotions whether good or bad. The music triggers something in you, it evokes emotions from a certain time and place in your life.

While most people sort of tune out a movie’s score, I always seem to be on the lookout for it. The movie could be the worst of all time but the score was so memorable that I forgot how bad the movie was. Some times a movie just has one original song, but that song is so memorable that it’s etched into your brain. Here are my top 10 movie scores in no particular order.

Last of the Mohicans – Trevor Jones

I want to say that the score written by Trevor Jones for the Last of the Mohicans was the score that really got me to pay attention to originals songs for movies. The opening scene with the main title playing had me hooked right away. It takes me back to 1993 living in Roswell, GA and we rented the movie to watch. That year for Christmas I got the VHS tape of the movie and it came with the soundtrack on CD. I played that CD over and over. And each song transported me to a scene in the movie like clockwork.

The original composer, Trevor Jones died halfway through production and the rest of the soundtrack was completed by Randy Edelman. However, the work Trevor did up to his passing was what really made this score memorable. His use of the strings section with thumping percussions and trumpets blaring is so captivating that if I ever had to say what score from a movie was my favorite it would be this one.

The Karate Kid – Bill Conti

Granted the Karate Kid was before the Last of the Mohicans, but I truly did not appreciate the score till years later. What draws me to this score is the use of the pan flute. While Conti uses a mix of synthesizes beats with some rock undertones of the 80’s it’s the use of the pan flute that makes this score truly stand out to me. The pan flute gives it an Oriental feel to the score and mixed in with the strings section it really gels in my opinion. I can hear a song from the score and it transports me to the beach where Daniel is learning the crane technique or when he is standing on the bow of the boat working on his kata.

Braveheart – James Horner

Aside from being a legendary movie with or without the score, Braveheart stands out to me in so many ways. The mix of flutes with bagpipes along with harps and strings really makes you feel the emotions of the movie. From the battles to the burials and then the ultimate betrayal in the end, the score just heightens each scene. The score is so dramatic and it can take you on a roller coaster of emotions.

Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has always been one of my favorite composers, but when he created Interstellar he really did a masterful job. While I watched the movie a few times to figure out the ending and even to this day I’m still confused as to who put Matthew McConaughey’s character into the space time vortex, it’s the use of the pipe organ in the movie score that really transformed the score, in my opinion, into a masterpiece. The organ is so pronounced and dramatic as was the movie. The use of the organ is so distinctive that when you hear it you already know it’s from the Interstellar score.

Young Guns II – Alan Silvestri

Young Guns II is a prime example of a mediocre movie with an amazing score. While the sequel did not live up to it’s predecessor the score was what made the movie watchable. I guess the best way to describe the score is a symphonic masterpiece with a hint of rock undertones. From the strings, to the horn sections and even the choir like vocals accompanying a plethora of songs, this score is truly one of the kind. You have this symphonic sound and then a little guitar is introduced to give it a Western feel to it and then the song transforms into this dramatic masterpiece with piercing drum beats and strings.

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – Howard Shore

I couldn’t just pick one movie for the score because both trilogies have an amazing score by Howard Shore. The score is just as intense as the movies were. The percussions in the score is the driving force for this score. The horn sections are also amplified and distinguishable and combined with choir like vocals it just adds to the drama of the scene. There is no shortage of action in the movies and likewise there is no shortage of memorable songs to accompany the action.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II – Tyler Bates

I know who would of that a Marvel score would make my list. I will say that the first 2/3 of the score is ok. Nothing to really get too excited about, but the last third of the score is what gets me every time. There is this one piece of strings that is almost like a common theme and that is what pulls me into the songs such as “the Expansion,” “Dad,” “Gods” and “A Total Hasselhoff.” I can’t really explain what draws me so much into these songs. It could be the solo piano or the relaxing strings, but either way the last third of the score totally makes up for the first 2/3.

Only the Brave – Joseph Trapanese

When I first watched Only the Brave, two things jumped out at me. 1) this was a true story and that these firefighters died and the way they did was so traumatic and 2) the use of both acoustic and electric guitars in the score. Sometimes at the same time. While the majority of the score has hints of the guitars in it, sort of like it’s unofficial theme, the rest of the score is quite dramatic. And rightfully so given the context of the movie and how everything plays out. With the guitar and the soft piano for the end scene in the movie, you really could feel the hurt and sorrow those families must of felt when they were huddled into a gym and learning all their husbands, boyfriends, brothers etc. perished in the flames.

Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson

The Black Panther score uses a lot of African elements into it’s score from African chants, to flutes and Senegalese talking drums. And when mixed in with an orchestra piece, Goransson truly made a masterpiece. Everything blends so well together. The movie is one of a kind and the score that accompanies it is as well. Everything from the Black Panther is memorable. There isn’t much I can say that the score cannot say for itself.

3:10 to Yuma – Marco Beltrami

When you think of scores for Western type movies you automatically think of Ennio Morricone, a legend in his own right. While Beltrami created the score you can hear almost a little homage to Morricone in his score. From the brass section to the use of percussions, Beltrami definitely made a Western score. The guitar is, to me, what gives it the Western feel. The whole movie it was a slow build up to the end and the score reflects that. The end of the score was the most dramatic and expressive at the same time and it perfectly coincides with what the characters were going through or about to endure at any given moment.

These are my top 10 movie scores. I’m sure this list can change with time with the emergence of new movies and accompanying scores. For now these are the scores that truly move me. And honestly I can listen to them over and over and never tire of them. That’s how I know they’re great scores because even though I’ve heard them a thousand times, I look for to listening to them for the next thousand.

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