My Top Ten Favorite Film Score Composers

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve already made a list of my top ten favorite songs from film scores. This is different because… I say it is. No really, it is. Ranking favorite composers is different from ranking songs because you have to consider all their works. Composer A may have a song that’s better than Composer B’s best song, but Composer B might have more nice songs overall.

Also my tastes have changed so this list will include some composers I didn’t know about previously.

And I just wanted to write about film scores again. Because they’re cool.

OK, that’s the only reason I’m doing this.

10. Michael Giacchino

Works I love: Up, Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’m not quite sure where to start, because my favorite Giacchino scores are so different. Let’s see. Into Darkness is fairly typical for what I’ve heard of Star Trek scores – pretty but not overly ornate, quiet but not dull. It’s good background music because it provides some embellishment but doesn’t overwhelm the action.

Up‘s score, on the other hand, is definitely there to be noticed. The main theme is a waltz and I love all its variations – sometimes goofy, sometimes sad and regretful.

You should try:

 9. John Williams

Works I love: Jurassic Park, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws

I know, I know. I’m a terrible person for putting Williams almost. But I have Reasons.

John Williams hardly needs an introduction – you’ve probably heard his stuff without even realizing it – but for the record, he started composing in the late sixties and hasn’t stopped since. Which is why he has so many scores to his credit.

Listening to his music makes me feel like a little girl again, which makes sense because he’s scored so many children’s movies. His style is perfect for that genre, all soft and airy. Lots of quiet, sweeping string instruments.

Unfortunately, Williams’ strength can also be his weakness. He’s composed some darker stuff – “Duel of the Fates” or the Jaws theme – but by and large it’s all very light, innocent music. After a while, I get tired of his scores because I prefer something dramatic with a bit more tempo.

You should try:

8. Harry Gregson-Williams

Works I love: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

If I listened to more of Gregson-Williams’ scores I suppose he’d be higher on this list, but I’m not familiar with much beyond his first Narnia score. (Probably because I disliked the movies that followed.) Despite not composing as much awesomeness, he ranks above John Williams for having more variation. At the beginning of the movie the music is very slow and soft, but gradually builds to the stunning, pounding soundtrack heard during the battle against the White Witch.

This is in contrast to Williams, who is rather middle-y all the time.

You should try:

7. John Powell

Works I love: How To Train Your Dragon

Yep, I like just one of Powell’s scores but he still makes it to seventh place – he’s that good. The film’s score is perfect because it’s majestic (good for a story about dragons) and happy (good for a kid’s movie). Alas, alas, I have now run out of things to say. I should see this movie again.

You should try:

6. Patrick Doyle

Works I love: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Thor

Doyle has a very unusual style that I haven’t heard from any other composer. There is this feeling that he’s restraining his music, pulling it back and only occasionally letting it go. What on earth do I mean?

Well, his scores are sweeping and dreamlike and gentle. GORGEOUS. And yet there’s a sense of power, coming mainly from the strings and horns. Powell usually keeps it in check (“Can You See Jane?”) but when he lets it out (“Earth to Asgard”) the tempo just carries it away, making something angry and majestic.

Am I making any sense at all? Here, it’s like Thor. He’s huge and muscly and could totally bludgeon you with that hammer, but he won’t because most of the time he’s actually like an adorable teddy bear.

You should try:

5. Ramin Djawadi

Works I love: Game of Thrones (seasons one through three)

RAMIN I LOVE YOU.

Describing Djawadi’s scores in terms of someone else’s won’t really work, but I’m going to try anyway – they’re as fantastical as Shore’s and as dark as Desplat’s. An excellent combination for a story about a violent, mythical world!

In particular, I adore his themes for Houses Lannister and Targaryen. In the third song listed, the violin practically purrs along menacingly. It’s perfect for a dangerous family whose symbol is the lion…

You should try:

4. Alexandre Desplat

Works I love: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, New Moon, The King’s Speech

Moody and elegant, that is Desplat’s music. The Harry Potter movies have had four composers (Nicholas Hooper is the only one who didn’t make this list) and although that was a bit weird in terms of continuity, in the end it worked well. Desplat mostly did his own thing, wrote new themes, but I didn’t care because they reflected the darker themes of Deathly Hallows.

Meanwhile, The King’s Speech was a combination of new compositions and Beethoven. Sounds odd, but it’s cool. I especially like the main theme, with its strings behind the plinking piano notes.

And I don’t care if you loathe Twilight, Desplat’s score for the second film is perfect and you really should listen to it. The only reason I would ever watch those movies is for the music.

You should try:

3. James Newton Howard

Works I love: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, The Dark Knight (with Hans Zimmer)

I fell in love with film scores thanks to The Hunger Games. Its score doesn’t actually seem to be very popular – if you look at reviews on Amazon.com, a bunch of people write that it’s too mellow or doesn’t have a recognizable theme. Pfff. Whatever.

To the first complaint I say, “What were you expecting?” Dude, The Hunger Games doesn’t need a majestic score. It doesn’t need something heroic. And it shouldn’t be bombastic. It’s not that kind of story – it’s sad. Newton Howard produced a wonderfully understated score, drawing attention to action scenes with quiet, tense music and underscoring tragic scenes with sad violins.

And as for the second complaint, if you don’t hear any themes then you’re not paying attention. There’s one for the Districts (sad with a slight country twang that fits the setting), one for the Capitol (very intimidating), and one for Rue (GORGEOUS SAD VIOLINS AAAAH).

You should try:

2. Howard Shore

Works I love: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Eclipse

I would’ve placed Shore at #3 were it not for the sheer amount of music he’s written! To me, he is THE high fantasy composer. Howard Shore manages to capture the majestic, mystical feeling of Middle-earth and I’m amazed at how consistently wonderful the scores are. He doesn’t write dull pieces.

His themes are wonderful, too. He uses them frequently to bring past scenes/characters to mind, and just the sounds of the themes are great. They fit well with their subject, from the dreamlike Rivendell and Lothlorien themes to the clanking, disturbing Mordor themes.

P.S. I bet you didn’t know he scored part of Twilight, too.

You should try:

1. Murray Gold

Works I love: Doctor Who (series one through seven)

I don’t think I love Gold’s music because it’s from Doctor Who. I think it’s the other way around. He’s composed everything for the show since it was rebooted in 2005 and the results have been great. There are episodes I like purely for the music! And he rivals John Williams in the use of leitmotifs – there’s hardly a major character/scene, from Amy and the Cybermen to Gallifrey and Ten’s regeneration, that doesn’t call to mind a particular song.

And Gold has so much music, too. Each series has at least thirty songs and I believe some have as many as seventy. (And that’s just on the CD. Who knows what music was featured in the show but not released?) I don’t watch many TV shows so perhaps I’m not the best judge of this, but Doctor Who has a great score. I kind of expected it to have bad, cheesy, overdone sci-fi music but it borders on the fantastical.

You should try:

One thing I noticed – and I hope you did as well – is that there are no women on that list. Why? Because I don’t know of any. I’m sure they exist, but they don’t seem to be composing for any big-name movies or television shows. Sure, the songs from the credits in Lord of the Rings were all sung by women, but that’s not the same. That’s not even close.

Composing still seems to be a man’s world. In a list of the one hundred greatest film score composers, I found one woman – #42, Rachel Portman. I’ve never even heard of her before now and while she’s written dozens of scores, they weren’t for anything popular. The only movie to her credit that I recognize is Because of Winn-Dixie.

That sucks. It sucks because none of my favorite movies and TV shows were composed by someone like me. I knew that orchestras and pop music and whatnot are sexist (either because they exclude women or pay more attention to the woman’s looks than to her music) but why film scores? I never studied music very intensely but if I had, I probably wouldn’t choose to be a writer. I’d want to be a composer.

Who is your favorite film score composer?

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Harry Potter, Neville Sings The Blues, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to My Top Ten Favorite Film Score Composers

  1. matttblack42 says:

    My favorite composer is easily Hans Zimmer, with James Howard Newton and Murray Gold right behind. Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Pirates of the Caribbean, Man of Steel, and Gladiator were all improved because of him.

    One really great soundtrack I hear everywhere nowadays is “Adagio: D Minor” by John Murphy. I completely understand why it’s used so much.

  2. Erin says:

    Nice list!

    Now that you mention it, there really aren’t that many female composers. There are a lot of female musicians and bands, though. Personally, I don’t care about gender because the quality of the music is what really matters to me.

  3. Lydia says:

    Love Up’s soundtrack. Especially “Married Life”.

  4. Artgirl says:

    YES THANK YOU THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I THINK ABOUT THE HUNGER GAMES SCORE. The comments are all “It’s supposed to be majestic.” No. I think the music is perfect because it sounds like a simple song you’d hear in District Twelve, but it’s dark and tragic within that simplicity.
    Ahhh I love the Up score so much…
    I probably would’ve been disappointed if Murray Gold hadn’t been ranked first. I love many composers, but I praise his brilliance practically every day. I have to restrain myself from fangirling about him sometimes. Or any other composer, really.
    That’s a very interesting point about the female composers. Interesting, and sad, and not very surprising. *sighs*

    • nevillegirl says:

      YAY I’M GLAD YOU AGREE. I guess they want something like the Avengers theme, The Majestic Tale, et cetera. And that’s so not what THG is about. It’s NOT this glorious thing. If you think so, you’re no better than the silly Capitol citizens…
      My iPod is about 75% Murray Gold stuff. It was 90% until a few minutes ago but I just put a bunch of James Newton Howard’s THG stuff on there, and then I’ll do FotR and Thor and some others…
      Maybe you could be a famous one! 😀

      • Artgirl says:

        Yes that exactly. And I still can’t get over the fact that Covergirl made a makeup line called “The Capital Collection”. Did they even read the books?
        I own a lot of Murray Gold music, but I also have a lot of other instrumental (and something from practically every other genre), so it’s hard to say what percent of my music he accounts for.
        Oh, I couldn’t. I can’t even play an instrument. Maybe someday, though.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ergh. I don’t understand that make-up thing at all! Silly companies.

      At this point, anything on my iPod that’s not instrumental is… credits songs from movies. 😛 Bahaha.

      Really? I thought you did play one/some. Hmmm.

      • Artgirl says:

        I have…loads of instrumental of varying types, show tunes, a little bit of rock, some alternative/local artists that one of my friends got me interested in, a little bit of pop, Adele…hmm, probably there’s more. I have eclectic tastes.

        I’m learning guitar, and I sing, but other than that I do not play an instrument.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Oh, OK. For some reason I thought you did play instruments.
      (Although, I’d totally count singing. I can’t sing at all…)

  5. John Williams (Star Wars). Hans Zimmer (Prince of Egypt). John Barry (James Bond).

  6. wondrousadventurer says:

    I’m stalking your blog and commenting on 8-month old posts like a creeper and I’m so sorry. But I just HAD to mention — you’ve got several composers on here that have written scores I ADORE, and yet said scores aren’t on your list! I was wondering if you’ve heard them, and if not if you might want to check them out.

    Alexandre Desplat also wrote the score for Rise of the Guardians, which was… well it was a fun movie I guess. I liked it, but I’ve only seen it the once. But the music has been in my film score playlist ever since I saw it. Seriously, it’s gorgeous and cinematic and everything wonderful. “Calling the Guardians” and “Jack & Sandman” might be my favorite pieces.

    John Williams obviously has done a ton, but I’ve had the chance to personally play his “Flight to Neverland” from Hook with a full orchestra and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s just so beautiful. One of my favorite pieces of all time to listen to. (Playing the technical bits? …not so much)

    And last but not least — pleeeeease tell me you’ve heard Ramin Djawadi’s compositions for Pacific Rim? Because OH MY GIDDY AUNT. One of my favorite film scores ever. Literally. Tracks I’d recommend… um…. “2500 Tons of Awesome”, “Cancelling the Apocalypse”, “Call Me Newt”, and “No Pulse” maybe? And then of course the main theme.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ahaha, don’t worry about it; I love comments, so I don’t mind if they’re on old or new posts!

      I haven’t seen any of those movies, actually. I’m aware that they exist, but have never seen them. So my list was limited by which films I’d seen.

      …also, that Pacific Rim music is GREAT and I’m (once again) super impressed with Ramin Djawadi. I mean, that’s the same guy who wrote this:

      Really different musical styles, there!

  7. Pingback: Classical Music (& A Rant About Enjoying It) | Musings From Neville's Navel

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