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Favorite 100 Film Scores of All-Time (honorable mentions, #100-91)

Updated: Aug 4, 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.


Let's start with the honorable mentions.


HONORABLE MENTIONS (or #110-101)


Field of Dreams (James Horner) - LOVE the movie, love the score - just not as much as I used to.


Suspiria (Goblin) - Odd, cool, overwhelming! It took 2 viewings, but this very original score grew on me. (for the 1977 original)


Todo Sobre Mi Madre (Alberto Iglesias) - Lovely guitar-driven score.


Onibaba (Hikaru Hayashi) - One of the few I didn't revisit, but very avant garde and striking!


Ratatouille (Michael Giacchino) - Wonderful and don't worry, Giacchino has more than one title on the top 100.


Far From Heaven (Elmer Bernstein) - This has been a self-proclaimed favorite for a long time. On revisiting this, I have to now say that it has one of the BEST main themes ever! But I wasn't as blown away by the rest of it.


Enchanted April (Richard Rodney Bennett) - Not a lot of scores will go with an intimate chamber ensemble, but this Impressionistic-style score is so perfect for the film, and very lovely.


Avengers: Endgame (Alan Silvestri) - For a lot of old-school film fans like myself, action/comic scores are often mediocre/cookie cutter. Old-school Silvestri delivers in all of the Avengers scores, but he particularly nails the best film in the series!


Sleepy Hollow (Danny Elfman) - One of my favorite Main Title sequences for any film. Tim Burton's visuals and Elfman's music have never been better together! And the musical hit that Elfman does when his name comes up in the opening credits is either a funny coincidence, or so audacious!


Lawrence of Arabia (Maurice Jarre) - This is #101 and probably my first groan from other fans. In 1990, it's going very high on the list. There have been just too many great scores since then. It's still an epic score for an epic film, one that my father took notice of when he saw it the first time.


#100-91


100. The Day of the Dolphin (Georges Delerue) - This underrated and enchanting thriller with a hint of sci-fi has music that is sophisticated and equally enchanting!


99. Ladies in Lavender (Nigel Hess) - Featuring violinist Joshua Bell, this is essentially a violin concerto throughout. Unlike the effective but not-a-favorite The Red Violin (John Corigliano) which also featured Bell, this score is just so happy and light-hearted. Exquisite melodies!


98. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun) - I liked this score enough to purchase it in 2000 after seeing the film. I hadn't listened to it in 18 years before this year, and I forgot just how good it is! Use of percussion, great themes, and the sense of fantasy is all distinctly portrayed!


97. Bram Stoker's Dracula (Wojciech Kilar) - To be honest, I never need to see this film again. But Kilar's full-blooded use of brass and chorus in the spotlight make this a piece that appeals on a Carmina Burana level.


96. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Alex North) - One thing North does so well is to take these melodramatic plays (like A Streetcar Named Desire, an important score that didn't make my favorites list) is to create the music that keeps you glued and really care about what's happening on the screen. The use of strings and harmonies are reminiscent of Psycho, but with a harmonic language that is unique to North.


95. Seconds (Jerry Goldsmith) - the first of many Goldsmith titles on this list. Jerry Goldsmith had an interesting career. From maybe 1984 through his death in 2004, you could argue that he had a lot of very good scores, but nothing ground-breaking. But the '60's and '70's were HIS decades! Seconds is a very disturbing (even now!) black-and-white 1966 film. There isn't a lot of music in the film but what there is so unique and nightmarish, especially the grotesque Saul Bass titles with blurriness and weird angles, and the extremely dissonant organ-led cue from Goldsmith that then erupts into dramatic strings and timpani.


94. Sicario (Jóhann Jóhannsson) - 4 years ago, after my first listen, this was very high on my list. The use of double bass, driving rhythms, and synths is reminiscent of an action score but refreshingly set apart. On a re-listen, I found myself once again mesmerized by many cues, but also found myself skipping ahead on some others. This is a great composer who died too soon. Stand-out cue is "Desert Music".


93. Frankenstein (Patrick Doyle) - Two things Doyle does well. He writes for strings like nobody other than maybe Benjamin Britten, and he has an over-the-top theatrical flair like no other film composer of the modern era (which makes sense given his theatre background). Listen to the cue called "The Wedding Night" for the example of both of these: simply scrumptious music!! Frankenstein features both of these, along with cues that feature the full might of the orchestra.


92. Capricorn One (Jerry Goldsmith) - Great film that might be better received if not for O.J. Simpson being one of the leads. Goldsmith does mixed meter music in a way that seems organic and natural that is unmatched from other film composers, and this adventure score is FULL of those examples. The main title alone will get the blood going, especially when the brass fanfare enters over the driving rhythms. Then check out the Docking cue, which is very much like a cue from Aliens by James Horner 9 years later.


91. Persona (Johan Werle) - What is it with the year 1966? This is the 3rd of 5 scores on this list from that year! This is my favorite Ingmar Bergman films of the ones I've seen, and Werle's avant-garde score is a perfect companion to this psychologically ambiguous film.


Next: #90-81

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