10. Chariots of Fire: Vangelis
Everyone knows this song, whether you know it or not. In fact this theme was so ubiquitous in the 80’s I would argue it catapulted this above-average movie into a Best Picture Oscar victory. Vangelis is a one-named artist from Greece who typically works with ambient music, which makes this even more of a curiosity. By the way, he also wrote the them for Blade Runner; another theme I would argue trumps the movie.
9. Midnight Cowboy: John Barry
Two Academy Award winners in a row? You don’t say…. But don’t worry, not all the movies are Oscar winners. Midnight Cowboy is a dark and dystopic view of urban life, in fact I would say this film parallels my experience in Seattle to a tee. Anyway, John Barry has done other hit movies like Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa. What I like about this theme is the harmonica; it provides a desperate and lonely feeling which is exactly what the movie is going for. I prefer the slower tempo-ed version, but this is the only one I could find.
8. Lawrence of Arabia: Maurice Jarre
Another Academy Award winner? OK, last one….or is it?? Anyway, what is interesting about this piece is this is Maurice Jarre at the time was a relative unknown and this was his first major opus. This definitely turned into his magnum opus. Sweeping, epic, and clean; all traits of the desert and all traits of this score. Maurice Jarre nailed it all in this massive-scaled movie. If you have not seen this film, see it now!! It will be the best 8 hours of your day.
7. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: Danny Elfman
I told you not all the movies are Best Picture winners, although this one should have at least been nominated. Danny Elfman is one of the biggest names in all of movie musicdom. He lent his talents to such projects as the Simpsons, the original Batman, and pretty much all Tim Burton films. Is there a better marriage of composer/director than Burton/Elfman? I say no! They both capture that bizarre, creepy circus-esque world all Burton movies dwell in. So why did I chose this one as Elfman’s best? Well, if you forgot what it sounded like, listen to it now! It is really good.
6. Magnificent Seven: Elmer Bernstein
Ever been to the wild west? Well if you have not, just listen to this theme and it will take there you there ASAP. In fact, this theme song is played in the background everywhere in Arizona. When you think of gun slinging, riding horses, and brothel frequenting, this Aaron Copland Rodeo knock-off will always come to mind. Elmer Bernstein is a stalwart in the movie music industry; he has literally done hundreds of movies, but this one…well…..this one is special and will live on for as long as we fantasize about 1800’s frontiersman-ship.
5. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Ennio Morricone
Notice a theme here? Yes, I like the desert, or at least music that is about the desert…or tries to capture the desert….or whatever! I like these songs! Ennio Morricone is to Sergio Leone as Elfman is to Burton. It is an amazing phenomena that two Italians captured the spirit of the American West better than any other director/composer while shooting it all in Spain. Go figure huh? Anyway, I am not sure if this is even Morricone’s best; you have the theme and love them from Once Upon a Time in the West theme as well as the theme when Eli Wallach finds the gold in The Good/Bad/Ugly. But this is the one we all know, so I’ll conform.
4. Rocky: Bill Conti
People I give you Bill Conti; the inventor of the training montage (also known for his work on The Right Stuff). There is not a more inspiring piece of music than the Rocky theme. Every time I need to get hyped up for a max-out bench rep or if I need to summon enough bravery to ask out that cute girl at the end of the bar, I channel the Rocky theme. Although typically the weights fall down on me and the girl always says ‘get away from me you fuckin’ creep’, at least I tried. Thank you Rocky theme for giving me the strength and motivation to face my failings on a daily basis and instilling a belief that someday the outcome will be different.
Of course Rocky did lose in the movie….maybe I should rethink this……
3. Lord of the Rings: Howard Shore
First off, why isn’t this #1? I mean LOTR is the best in just about everything, why not this? Well if you know me, one thing I am is objective. Yes, LOTR is the greatest cinematic masterpiece ever created. Yes, LOTR is the greatest story ever told (apologies to the Bible). No, it is not the greatest movie score ever. But it’s close. It is really really really good. Just not the best.
Secondly, what is the actual theme? I mean there is a musical piece written for just about every character and land the fellowship encounters. Honestly, I am not sure what the proper answer is to this. Howard Shore wrote a virtual opera when scoring this epic, much like Star Wars. So I will call the ‘main theme’ whatever I conjure up on the Google when I type ‘lord of the rings main theme music’.
Here you go….
2. Gladiator: Hans Zimmer
This entire score is ridiculous. From the rebel-rousing music from the opening battle to the soft and spiritual music of the ending when Russel Crowe’s dead carcass gets carried off, the entire score is so good. Even though Zimmer completely ripped off the main theme from Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from the ‘Planets’, I don’t care!! First off, it is a great song to rip off, secondly I like to think of it as an homage; much like Melania Trump’s speech at the GOP convention.
Hans Zimmer is the hottest name in movie music today. You hear his music in most of the big budget films today and all of Christopher Nolan’s movies. His music revolves around visceral feel as opposed to intellectual and complex melodies. He has a natural gift for sound and orchestration even if his melodic themes do not always cut through the din. Regardless, Zimmer writes a hell of a score in all cases I have seen and his music adds to every film as opposed to overpowering it.
1. John Williams: John Williams
Is this cheating? Is this just excuse to not rank his tremendous work and dump it into one ranking all by itself? Maybe so, but I wanted to give the other composers a chance. You really want to read a top 10 list of just one guy? I’m thinking of you the reader. Call it lazy if you must, but I call it selfless and heroic.
John Williams is to movie music as Wayne Gretzky is to hockey, as football is to sports, as Breaking Bad is to TV, as LOTR is to cinema/literature, as a porterhouse steak is to dinner options: Simply the best. Peerless.
Instead of wazing poetically about the greatness of this man, I’ll rank my top five favorite works from John Williams below:
5. NBC Nightly News
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark march
3. Olympics Fanfare
1. Star Wars
Didn’t know he did all of that huh?