• David Lane

Favorite 100 Film Scores of All-Time (60-51)

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

It's been 30 years since I started actively listening to film scores, not just with the film, but away from the film as well. People often ask me what my favorites are, and I finally decided to make an official list. I'm careful to note that the title of this list is "favorite 100" not "top 100". These are not all critically-acclaimed, nor are they selected primarily for how well they work in the film (although that is a consideration).

The criteria for me is in this order, (1) Instrumental Underscore only, no song soundtracks, (2) musical excellence, (3) Effectiveness in the film. (4) Originality (though not without the excellence. There are plenty of scores that I consider highly original, but not musically excellent.

To prepare for this list, I listened to well over 400 soundtrack albums this year. Most were titles I hadn't gotten to, but some were refreshers. So I feel very confident in my opinions on this list. Also, please know that I think EVERY score here is GREAT! #100 doesn't mean "sucks". #100 is an excellent score! I just happen to like 99 (out of how many hundreds of thousand possibilities?) more. Two things to note: First, there are a lot scores from the 3 J's (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner), but a lot of total composers represented. Second, there is an obvious lack of diversity. I wish that weren't the case. I tried my best to judge the music only, and did not want to include any composers for reasons other than how I honestly felt about the work itself.

Previous: 70-61


60. The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith) - It's a shame that Jerry Goldsmith only won a single Oscar, but he ABSOLUTELY deserved the one that he did win - this one! Goldsmith's use of strings, muted brass ostinati, and eerie chorus (with Ave Satani of all texts) is simply chilling. This is a movie that gets higher regard as time goes on, and Goldsmith's score is certainly a reason. Standout cue: the main title "Ave Satani". Other good cues: "Safari Park" and "The Killer Storm".

59. Jaws (John Williams) - Are you humming those 2 notes? Good, you should. It's an incredible choice. Are you here to say he ripped it off from Dvorak? Get out of here! If anything, you should look at the Monstro Whale Chase from Pinocchio. The similarities to that are much more than Dvorak. Also, there's so much MORE to this score! The opening attack, the barrels scene and chase (a clinic on what music can do for a film), the underwater cage sequence. This is a monumental score for good reason...more than the 2 reasons you probably thought.

58. Cinderella Man (Thomas Newman) - I don't just love Thomas Newman the way other fans do, but scores like this are truly great! I pull hard for Jim Braddock in this film, and Russell Crowe's performance is certainly a reason why, but so is the heart-tugging music from Thomas Newman. The standout cue is, of course, the climax of the final fight. On another subject, Paul Giamatti incredible performance!

57. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone) - And finally...the best of 1966! Even the most casual film score fans know this by two cues: the main theme and "Ecstasy of Gold". If we're marking influential scores, then we should back up 2 years to 1964 to A Fistful of Dollars, where Morricone brought in the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ocarinas, and so much more into the orchestration. But this is where he perfected the Spaghetti Western sound.

56. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Erich Wolfgang Korngold) - I've tried to avoid listing soundtracks strictly for historical importance. Sorry, King Kong. Just because something was first doesn't mean it's the best (keep this in mind when I finally talk about Star Wars). Korngold's score for this film is still an orchestrational gem! Yes, without Korngold, you don't get Star Wars. But this is great swashbuckling music on its own. The standout cue for me is "The Procession"!

55. Rambo: First Blood part 2 (Jerry Goldsmith): Goldsmith did great work on the first 3 Rambo films, but it was this second one where the mixed meters (especially use of 5/8), the piano, muted brass, and rest of the orchestra deliver such an incredible unpredictable energy! Some great cues include: "Main Title", "River Crash", "Betrayed", "Escape from Torture", and one of the best music/visual moments in the film "Bowed Down".

54. Little Women (Alexandre Desplat) - Delightful, eloquent music for this adaptation. The cue "Christmas Morning" with the string harmonics, piano, harp, vibraphone, and solo woodwinds... is the standout. I also loved "Plumfield" and "Dance on the Porch".

53. Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson) - A lot of what the composer did here seemed to be to have some inspiration from modern concert composer John Adams, but the brass chords and rhythmic energy are definitely to be applauded in what I think is probably the best film to date in the MCU. Some of the cue highlights include: "Royal Talon Fighter", "Busan Car Chase", and "Glory to Bast".

52. The Red House (Miklos Rozsa) - Another score that's probably a surprise. This is not one of Rozsa's famous scores. But I think it's absolutely his best, and definitely best of the non-epic scores. Such dramatic tension throughout. Rozsa struggles to avoid repeating himself musically, but that is not a problem here. There are many great cues, including: "Morgan House Farm", "Meg Asks Questions", "Meg Finds the Red House", and "Ellen Goes to the Big Woods".

51. Predator (Alan Silvestri) - For my money, its Schwarzenegger's best film of the '80's. It's not the best score for one of his films (one more to come), but this is so good! One great choice is the opening title scene. There isn't much going on visually. A helicopter lands, people get out, then they walk slowly. But Silvestri isn't scoring that. He's telling you that this is an incredible action movie, and gives a rousing march that propels us forward. In the jungle, Silvestri goes as simple as bongas and congas by themselves. The other standout cue is "Building the Trap".

Next: 50-41

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