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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lane

Favorite 100 Film Scores of All-Time (70-61)

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

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.


70. Saving Private Ryan (John Williams) - Sadly, a lot of Williams fans dismiss this score (with the exception of the end credits "Hymn for the Fallen") has dull. But it isn't dull! It's Williams at his most simple, forsaking dissonances and polyphony for rich string parts, some choral-like suspensions, and some heroic solo brass. What's notable about this score for a war film is that NONE of it accompanies an action scene. Spielberg opted for realism and kept those scenes without music. Williams brings out the tremendous heart everywhere else. It is Copland-esque, but also truly Williams, and so good! Other stand-out cues: "Revisiting Normandy", "Omaha Beach", and "The Last Battle" (in spite of the cue name, it still doesn't accompany an actual battle) .

69. A Beautiful Mind (James Horner) - Much like Theory of Everything (mentioned earlier), the music captures so well the inner workings of a genius. James Horner also scores the struggles of schizophrenia in a way that is so heartwarming. Not as flashy as the scores that made Horner a household name, but so great! Many stand-out cues include: "A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics", "Cracking the Russian Codes", the elegiac "Alicia Discovers Nash's Dark World", and the lovely "Saying Goodbye to Those You Love"

68. Dirty Harry (Lalo Schifrin) - This movie is a nostalgic favorite that, admittedly, gets harder to justify since police stepping outside the regulations in real life is not nearly as cool as it looks here. But Lalo Schifrin's groovy score is always going to be a standout, along with the memorable lines. Stand-out cues: "Prologue/The Swimming Pool", "Main Title", and Floodlights"

67. Zulu Dawn (Elmer Bernstein) - Film music fans may be thinking, "you had to include Elmer right?" I'd say yes. Then they'd comb this list and wondering why they're not finding To Kill a Mockingbird, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Magnificent Seven, or any of the others he's known for, and then comb it again and stop when they find....THIS? Yes! Bernstein's use of brass, percussion, and energy have never been bolder. And while all of those other scores are outstanding, this is the one I'm going to play away from the film just for fun! Stand-out cues include: "The Chase", "River Crossing", "The Hunt", and "Escape"

66. Lady in the Water (James Newton Howard) - This film is popular to hate, but count me as a fan...the last Shymalan film I could say that about for about a decade, but still... Even if you dislike how the director casts himself, or the story itself, or somehow overlook just how great Paul Gaimatti is (and how? how can you not at least admit how great he is here?!), there should be little argument of how wonderful James Newton Howard's score is for this adult fairy tale. "The Great Eaton" is the standout cue, but also "Prologue" and "The Healing".

65. Aliens (James Horner) - I used to give Horner a lot of crap for how liberally he borrowed from himself and other composers. Williams (for all his similarities to Holst, Dvorak, or Copland at times) never did. Goldsmith never did. But I don't think the other composers found themselves having 2 weeks (instead of the projected 6) to score a full picture with a director cutting him no slack whatsoever. The score he came up with is a horror standout, and I think has still defined a common direction of how to score this film. That he did it in those circumstances is amazing! Stand-out cues: "Main Title", "Bad Dreams", "Ripley's Rescue", "Going After Newt", and "Bishop's Countdown" (which has been used in numerous trailers for other action films).

64. The Mission (Ennio Morricone) - I personally know people who would rank this as #1. The reason I don't is because, of the the 20+ cues, 10 are okay to forgettable. 5 are good. However, about 4 are great, and 1 of them is legendary! "Gabriel's Oboe", what more can one say about you! Other great cues: "On Earth As It Is in Heaven" and "The Falls".

63. Crimson Peak (Fernando Velázquez) - I still need to actually see this movie, but the music is a gothic masterpiece! Most cues feature lots of strings, harp, and piano. But some cues such as "Lucille & Showdown" have full-orchestral energy led with brass and percussion. Some of the other stand-out cues are: "My Mother's Funeral", "I Desperately Need Your Help", and "The Machine/The Box".

62. Us (Michael Abels) - I don't want to say that Hollywood DEFINITELY has a race problem, but Michael Abels not getting an Oscar nomination for either of his two films for Jordan Peale really makes me wonder. Cues like "Anthem" represent what he does so well: children's and adult choirs, organ, strings, harp, and a variety of percussion mixing Renaissance harmonies with an African dance. There is plenty of good horror cues as well. Other stand-out cues: "Beach Walk", "Zora Drives", and the really wonderful cue: "Pas de Deux".

61. The Natural (Randy Newman) - This whole score for this baseball fantasy is very good but, if you removed the last 5 minutes of music, it might not be enough to get it beyond being an honorable mention. But then that last cue happens. I know I said I left off Far From Heaven because it didn't have anything exceptional to offer beyond that one great theme, but this is different. It's not just a great theme, it's a great CUE! I'm talking about the last at-bat for the pennant, the ball into the stadium lights, the rain of sparks, the shot of the late-great Wilford Brimley, the slow motion...and Randy Newman delivers the most epic music not penned by John Williams in the '80's. That moment alone places this score on the list.



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