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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lane

Favorite 100 Film Scores of All-Time (90-81)

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: Honorable Mentions and #100-91


90. The Dark Half (Christopher Young) - If any composer has gone up in my estimation over the years, it is Christopher Young! He is a very underrated composer, but his score for The Dark Half is his best! I've read the book the film is based on, haven't seen the film, but the score is delightfully ominous with strings, synth, and some great dissonances mixed with a fantasy sound. Some of the stand-out cues include "Prelude and Tumor", "Twin Ghosts", and "Dano".

89. Ben-Hur (Miklos Rozsa) - One of the few spectacle movies of the mid-20th century that I think still holds up well! Rozsa's scores for all of these types of films are very similar to each other. Ben-Hur stands out to me because his use of the open 5ths really fits the Roman era, the battleship oaring sequence could be from a ballet with how it fits the visuals, and the religious music is spectacular! Stand-out cues: "The Galley" and "The Miracle".

88. BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard) - I decided I had room for one Blanchard score to a Spike Lee film, and it was tough to choose between this and The 25th Hour, which should probably be an honorable mention, but I edged this. Blanchard's scores really emphasize the drama of the scenes. His mix of jazz and symphonic give him a unique voice where the listener doesn't really think of one style or the other. This has some great use of electric instruments. Stand-out cues include: "Patrice Followed", "Here Comes Ron", and "Blut und Boden".

87. The Lion in Winter (John Barry) - There are so many great film scores from John Barry. Somewhere in Time, Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, and Born Free are all great examples of what I call the great legato John Barry. And who could forget his contribution to the James Bond series? But The Lion in Winter is such an ambitious score with chorus and orchestra that fits this historical film so well!

86. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (John Williams) - Get used to the name John Williams. This is the first of 13 titles from him on the list, and for good reason. When it comes to memorable music, nobody delivered quite like him. This 3rd in the Indiana Jones series has 4 standout sequences, all much more neo-classical and light-hearted than the previous films. The first is the incredible opening sequence with so many hit points featuring the young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix). The second is the "Escape from Venice", delightful music featuring a mandolin ensemble. THE standout cue is the "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra". Finally, you have the reverent music for the Grail itself ("The Keeper of the Grail").

85. Up (Michael Giacchino) - A great score often has a great theme, and this is a GREAT theme. Everybody who loves this film knows the montage at the beginning. Part of why they're in tears is the music of Giacchino, who does a theme and variations for each stage of life. And when the house with balloons begins to soar, so does the music!

84. The Blue Max (Jerry Goldsmith) - For those keeping score, it's the 4th movie from 1966, the 3rd score from Goldsmith, and the 2nd score from Goldsmith in 1966. This movie about competitive German WWI flying aces has one of Goldsmith's greatest melodies in the main title. It is such a rousing cue, along with the many great action sequences throughout. Stand-out cues: "Main Title" and "The Attack".

83. The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson) - the score that put the late great composer in the spotlight. This is one of my favorite movies of the past decade, and the score is a big reason. Jóhannsson so wonderfully scores the brain at work along with the relationship between Stephen Hawking and Jane Wylde. Stand-out cues include: "Cambridge 1963", "Rowing", "Collapsing Inwards", and "Forces of Attraction".

82. Fargo (Carter Burwell) - Fargo is set in North Dakota and Minneapolis, but Burwell scores it like it's set in Scandinavia, and it's a wonderful choice. The great majestic Nordic-style theme in the opening titles during the drive in the snow tells the movie watcher right away - this "comedy" has some tragic moments ahead, but memorable ones! I've never had access to the isolated soundtrack, so I can't recommend specific cues.

81. Cutthroat Island (John Debney) - My understanding is...if I ever see this film, my experience might bring down my opinion of the score. I don't know, but Debney went after a Korngold style with this score and NAILED it! The sheer volume of incredible adventure sequences with full orchestra is impressive! The orchestration is right up there with Korngold and Williams! Frankly, it amazes me that Debney has never gotten the chance to do any score like this since then. Many stand-out cues include: "Morgan Captured - Sword Fight", "Setting Sail", "To the Bottom of the Sea", and "Morgan Battles Dawg".


Next: #80-71

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