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Top Ten Best Movie Scores of the Past 30 Years
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It isn't so much the actors, or the story. Sometimes, it's just the music that makes a film. For instance, I can't remember the plot of Chariots of Fire (something about running on beaches or something), but I do remember the music. On the following page, I've listed the top 10 best movie scores from the past 30 years. (This removes Star Wars, Jaws, The Godfather and all those other movies in black and white that film snobs say you should see, but they don't involve killer robots or meteors destroying most of New York and therefore don't count.)

10. The Lion King
Everyone remembers Elton John's songs, but Hans Zimmer's magnificent score is often over-looked. Combining contemporary and African instrumentation, Zimmer captures the range of emotions of the movie as well as the great textures of the continent.

9. American Beauty
Thomas Newman's stark and haunting soundtrack so elegantly captures the mood of typical American suburbs in the late 90s. I've always loved his music and the way it simply and profoundly moves the listener. (Another great example is his theme from Six Feet Under.)

8. Edward Scissorhands
Picking one Danny Elfman/Tim Burton collaboration is like picking which of your children is your favorite. While I was tempted to go with The Nightmare Before Christmas, I found that the score from Edward Scissorhands was just more moving and perfectly encapsulates Elfman's use of choirs and sweeping strings.

7. Up
Michael Giacchino deservedly won the Academy Award for this film score at this year's ceremony. He felt film scores had lost many of their "themes" in the past few years and attempted to bring back strong and identifiable melodies with this soundtrack.

6. Requiem for a Dream
If a score is measured by its use in other film trailers, sports montages, video games and commercials, Clint Mansell's score for this extremely dark film would be at the top of the list. Trust me, you've heard it before. You may not have realized it came from Requiem for a Dream, but it's quickly becoming this century's Carmina Burana.

5. Jurassic Park
To date, this is John Williams last great score. The argument could be made that his Harry Potter and Patriot scores were noteworthy, but they don't come close to the recognition and grand emotion that his score for Jurassic Park created.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean
There's some confusion as to whether Klaus Badelt or Hans Zimmer wrote this score. (Badelt is credited with scoring the first film, while Zimmer receives credit for the second two.) The use of horns, driving percussion, and a simple cello piece had me humming this score on my ride all the way home from the theater.

3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Themes, themes, and more themes. Make no mistake, this is Howard Shore's masterpiece. The music and melodies are so well crafted that one can only imagine it took him decades to write all of it. It fits the tone and style of the movies perfectly, and took the former bandleader of Saturday Night Live and placed him on a short list of the world's greatest composers.

2. Back to the Future
In an effort of full disclosure, I must admit the Back to the Future soundtrack was one of the first tapes I ever owned. Sure, my love of this movie is profound, but it's helped greatly by Alan Silvestri's impressive score. From it's softer cues, to it's heightened timpani and snare driven melodies, this is one of the most memorable musical scores of all time. It took the story of a kid travelling back in time to meet his parents, and elevated it to a classic film.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
How does a man write the score for Jaws and then Star Wars and manage to pull more talent out and write the amazing score to Raiders of the Lost Ark? John Williams, backed by his standard powerful horn sections, created an eternal musical score with Raiders. No single score has been written in the past 30 years that's come close to touching the greatness and longevity of Williams' work on this film. You know the theme. Your kids know the theme. And, most likely, their kids will know the theme.

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11 Comments

I have to disagree on John Williams not having written any great scores after ‘Jurassic Park’ - he scored 'Memoirs of a Geisha' completely faithful to a truly Japanese sound and at the same time made it sound universal. The score is a tremendous experience to listen to.
And 'Catch me if you can' - the opening title sequence alone is superb, and I don't mean the animation, I really mean the music.

Thank you for including Elfman, I'm a huge fan of his unique style.
Next time make the list longer, like 20 instead of 10.

said palmieres on April 23, 2010 12:49 PM.

Wow, no Sling Blade?

said Brian H on April 23, 2010 1:49 PM.

I am submitting a formal complaint for the lack of "Braveheart." Shameful.

said Johnny Wright on April 23, 2010 2:04 PM.

I agree with JW on Braveheart. I'm just glad there were no Reese Witherspoon romantic comedies on the list, good job Echo.

said cleet on April 23, 2010 2:19 PM.

I'll admit, "Braveheart" was definitely considered. However, James Horner wrote the score and he also wrote the score to "Titanic." Which means he's responsible for that shitty Celine Dion song. And, knowing that, it diminished Braveheart for me. But it's surely in the top 15.

said Echowood on April 23, 2010 2:47 PM.

totally missing "passion" by peter gabriel - soundtrack for the last temptation of christ

said David on April 23, 2010 4:20 PM.

I'm partial to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

said Miss Cellania on April 23, 2010 7:19 PM.

What, no Team America?

said Baierman on April 24, 2010 9:49 PM.

No mention of the OST for Speed? Outrageous! Hehe

said Brian on April 25, 2010 1:19 PM.

Top Gun.

said E on April 25, 2010 6:29 PM.

Lilo and Stitch...all sweetly done Hawaiian melodies with children chorus plus Elvis numbers.

said G on May 3, 2010 6:55 AM.
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