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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lane

Favorite 100 Film Scores of All-Time (80-71)

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.

See previous: #90-81


80. Edward Scissorhands (Danny Elfman) - I know some fans will scream that this is too low, but again... I LOVE all these scores. I think if you ask most film fans what is the most archetypical Tim Burton film OR Danny Elfman score, it has to be this one. It has the Elfman fantasy sound, wordless treble choir, high strings, and such a GREAT theme! Stand-out cues: "Introduction (Titles)", "Storytime", "The Cookie Factory", "Edwardo the Barber", "The Tide Turns (suite)", and "The Grand Finale".

79. Unbreakable (James Newton Howard) - JNH's collaboration with M. Night Shymalan (whatever you think of the films, though I love them) is an incredibly fruitful body of work, and I've represented 3 of them on this list. (Sorry fans of The Village, but not that one). This movie turns out to be a superhero and super villain origin story. Sometimes, Howard plays it that way. Other times, he scores the touching story of Elijah Price and David Dunn just trying to seek answers for their very different lives. The highlight cues are near the end, the great rock-beat led section in the train station ("Visions"), and the following cue where David Dunn does his first rescue ("The Orange Man").

78. The Agony and the Ecstasy (Alex North) - With pipe organ and full orchestra, Alex North perfectly brings out the world of Michaelangelo that the audience can't see, and with vigor - the creativity, the religious inspiration, the craftsmanship, the events around him. It's the combination of orchestral complexity and inspiration. Stand-out cues: "Main Title", "First Battle", "Blind", and "To Battle".

77. The Childhood of a Leader (Scott Walker) - this was a random find of a score. I haven't yet seen the film, but the score (especially the remarkable "Opening") is so incredibly original and just super cool! It's like Bernard Herrmann and Dmitri Shostakovich decided to collaborate with Tina Guo and throw in some avant garde elements. Truly rocking strings, and audaciously dissonant brass! Other stand-out cues: "Third Tantrum", "Printing Press", and "The Meeting".

76. J.F.K. (John Williams) - Williams did something for this film that I don't think he's ever done a second time. He composed (at least most of) the score to the script rather than the footage. What he comes up with is nothing like he'd ever composed before, though with cues like the memorable "The Conspirators", he would begin re-using that style, notably in Jurassic Park 2 years later. The result is a jarring musical soundtrack for this film with so many jump cuts that accompanies the dramatic themes more than the visuals, and it works!

75. Red Sonja (Ennio Morricone) - Film music fans knew I'd get to Ennio Morricone but they probably didn't expect THIS one. Red Sonja is only the 3rd worst Schwarzenegger movie of the 80's (behind Raw Deal and Conan the Destroyer), but not great. Morricone, who can be very quirky in his scores, brings out the orchestra and chorus and scores it like the great fantasy epic that the film tries to be. This is as mainstream as Morricone gets, and the result is a wonderful work for orchestra with some great trumpet parts (which happened to be Morricone's instrument). Some of the highlights for cues: "Main Title", "The Talisman", "Varnas Death", and "End Credits".

74. Rocky (Bill Conti) - If there's a criticism to be laid to this score or Bill Conti in general, it's that he struggled to compose scores that would transcend the era they were composed. The '70's are all over Rocky in a huge way, and compare that to other scores of that era like Jaws or The Omen, and you might see why Conti's career didn't last as long as it seemed like it should have at the time. But there's something to be said for an ICONIC score! It's brassy-percussive-disco and rock driven music that you can't hear without conjuring up an image from the film. And yes, during my one trip to Philadelphia's Rocky Steps, I did play the main theme on my iPhone while I ran up the stairs (carefully... it was snowing).

Highlights: "Gonna Fly Now" (of course!), "Fanfare for Rocky", "The Final Bell", and the surprising Baroque fugal beauty of "Rocky's Reward".

73. The Bourne Supremacy (John Powell) - If I was more diplomatic, I could just say The Bourne TRILOGY, but I'm not doing that with either Star Wars or Lord of the Rings later, so I won't here. I couldn't bring myself to place all 3 scores on this list, but I definitely needed to represent it. All 3 films have their own tones as well as the scores. While ULTIMATUM is my favorite film, SUPREMACY is my favorite score. It perfectly balances the electric/rock/percussive elements with more symphonic sections. And good luck with getting that 16-note ostinato out of your head once you hear it again! Stand-out cues: "Goa", "The Drop", "Gathering Data", and "To the Roof".

72. Coraline (Bruno Coulais) - I really debated on ranking this one higher, much higher. It's such a wonderful combination of harp, mallet instruments, other pitched percussion, solo voices, children's choir, and just makes this movie incredibly enchanting from the opening scene! I didn't readily have this soundtrack available when I wrote this, so I can't recommend specific cues, but the whole score is wonderful!

71. Back to the Future (Alan Silvestri) - This is the first time Silvestri got to write a symphonic score, and he drove it out of the 88 MPH! One of the truly great, and I think underrated, movie themes of all time. Stand-out cues: "Marty's Letter" and the lengthy "Clocktower" sequence.


Next: #70-61

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