Top 10 Best Film Scores of All-Time

by Kali Tuttle
Film Scores

Music is one of the most integral components of a film. A well-made film score can set the mood, foreshadow, further narrative action and plot, and even engage the audience.

One of the best parts about Hollywood today is the diversity and exceptional quality of the accompanying scores. Though it’s hard to single out just a few, today we’ll be counting down the top 10 film scores of all-time. Since this is such a broad topic (and I had a hard time choosing), there will also be a sizable honorable mentions list.

Honorable Mentions

Jaws (1975)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Titanic (1997)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Gladiator (2000)

The Hunger Games franchise (2012-2015)

Psycho (1960)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The Pink Panther (1963)

James Bond franchise (1963-2015)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Interstellar (2014)

Amadeus (1984)

#10: The Fugitive (1993)

Thomas Newman is one of the greatest composers in film history. He carefully balances the sweet timbre of the piano with the more majestic thrum of the strings to truly capture the mood of the film. Particularly in The Fugitive, he is able to capture the anguish of Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford)–who has been framed for murdering his wife–and his determination to reveal the true murderer, all while avoiding the persistent US Marshall Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). The score will take you from suspense to heartbreak to fear to relief all in ten minutes.

Film Scores

Image via Die Hard Scenario Wiki

#9: Jason Bourne franchise (2002-2016)

While the iconic track, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, always plays during the end credits, the whole score of this franchise is iconic. Composed by John Powell for the first three movies, James Newton Howard for The Bourne Legacy (2012), and John Powell and David Buckley for Jason Bourne (2016), this score knows how to generate suspense. The low, foreboding strings will have you frantically biting your nails as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) sneaks around Europe. Quick tempos match the racing of your heart during exciting car chases. It’s an invigorating score that undoubtedly matches the tone of its film.

Film Scores

Image via Ruthless Reviews

#8: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Once again, Thomas Newman turns a great movie into a phenomenal movie. The melancholy yet hopeful tone of the orchestra matches the mood of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), serving two life sentences for a crime he did not commit. The breathtaking instrumentation carries you along on a story that will teach you what life is really about and the value of true friendship. The glorious mood as portrayed by the orchestra will leave you feeling inspired and motivated to be as persistent as Dufresne and Red (Morgan Freeman).

Film Scores

Image via Steemit

#7: Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone With The Wind is quite possibly one of the greatest movies ever made. What really elevates it to that coveted status is the score by Max Steiner, a famous composer who worked on classics like Casablanca (1942)The Caine Mutiny (1954), and King Kong (1933). Memorable pieces such as “Tara’s Theme” will keep you humming for days after and help you comprehend the strength Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) had to raise her fist at the war and vow never to be hungry again. The powerful and, at times, woeful score truly convey the emotions of this Civil War epic.

Film Scores

Image via Headstuff

#6: The Green Mile (1999)

You guessed it, folks–another Thomas Newman score (is my nerd showing yet?). The man just has a way of pulling at your heartstrings and hitting you straight in the gut with that rush of emotion. I’ll admit it–The Green Mile is one of only two movies that’s ever made me cry (Million Dollar Baby was the other one, if you’re wondering), and the score is a big part of that. Newman has a way of matching the mood with just the right tempo, volume, and section of the orchestra to make you bawl like a baby. Yes, men, this is an acceptable movie at which to cry (rolls eyes).

Film Scores

Image via Moviefone

#5: Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003-2017)

While I think this movie franchise probably should have ended with the third installment, it still has a spectacular score. Hans Zimmer (Inception, anyone?) creates a sense of grandeur and adventure with his orchestra. Staccato bits intermixed with more drawn-out notes evoke the correct emotion at just the right moment. This particular score even conveys a bit of contrasting humor, such as the impressive piece played as Captain Jack Sparrow sails into the British port at the beginning of The Black Pearl, only for us to amusingly realize that his ship has completely sunk as he steps onto the pier, slightly diminishing his imposing figure. However, this score is particularly motivating as well, and I highly recommend listening to it when you have an essay due at the last minute and you haven’t started (why no, I don’t have experience with that at all).

Film Scores

Image via Moustache Magazine

#4: Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

I’ll admit–I’ve only seen Return of the King. However, from that I was able to appreciate the hype about this score. Composer Howard Shore places heavy emphasis on the brass section to truly evoke a sense of majesty and fantasy. The final battle scene is especially memorable with the awe-inspiring score leading them into their glorious redemption. Shore is able to make the orchestra sound like a powerful band of thousands of musicians and portray that sense of excitement and adventure that makes this such a popular franchise.

Film Scores

Image via Independent

#3: Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011)

Of course one of the top three spots has to belong to this book-turned-movie super-franchise. Composed by the extremely talented John Williams, this is the most magical score of all-time. From those first few notes (admit it–you just hummed them in your head), you know exactly what movie you’re watching and you’re psyched to be watching it. The light high-pitched notes are perfect to accompany a film about magic, fantasy, and coming-of-age in a tumultuous world. No other score has created fantasy as well as this one has. Williams isn’t renowned as a world-famous composer for nothing–he knows how to engage people.

Film Scores

Image via The Cordova Times

#2: The Dark Knight (2008)

This movie has everythingripped Christian Bale, the late Heath Ledger, mass murder, gratuitous violence, unbearable suspense, sexy Batman, and a killer score. A collaboration between two of the best suspense composers–James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer–this score elicits such tension and uncertainty that it almost makes you want to scream. This score ingenuously retains a low pitch and moderately slow tempo (with occasional bursts of faster tempo) all the way through to create an almost horror-movie-like state of apprehension. And a movie with the Joker in it definitely needs all that anxiety to create this nail-biting thriller.

Film Scores

Image via It’s All The Rage

#1: Star Wars (1977-Present)

Is it any surprise that this franchise would take the top spot? With the great John Williams composing (in later films he’d be replaced, but the general sound remained), there isn’t a dud in this entire score. “The Imperial March” and the theme for the opening crawl are instantly recognizable almost worldwide. Plus, Williams uses a technique that isn’t used as much nowadays (and it should be): leitmotifs. Each character has their specific theme: Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader, Yoda–even Jabba the Hutt. These musical cues provide excellent foreshadowing and add even more to the plot of this stellar franchise.

Film Scores

Image via Yahoo

Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on the top 10 film scores of all-time?  Comment down below!

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TheButtramWriter February 20, 2018 - 9:08 pm

I agree with everything accept for one statement. “turns a great movie into a phenomenal movie” in regards to The Shawshank Redemption. Not putting the score down in any sense, as I also think it is masterfully crafted. I am however going to say that the movie would definitely be a whole lot more than “great” without the score, I absolutely love this movie from the bottom of my heart. But what do I know, I’m over critical and biased.

Love this top ten by the way. Great job on it!

The Arcane Nibbler February 17, 2018 - 1:11 pm

No Bernard Herrmann in the top ten? No Franz Waxman? Ouch!

Kali Tuttle February 17, 2018 - 1:48 pm

I absolutely love their scores and I am currently kicking myself for excluding them lol

The Arcane Nibbler February 17, 2018 - 1:56 pm

I’m currently working on a couple of top ten lists myself, so I understand how frustrating it can be to remember everything you like. And of course, once you publish, there’s always about five that you suddenly remember. lol.

obyakhigbe February 17, 2018 - 11:31 am

I love everything Matt Damon?

Kali Tuttle February 17, 2018 - 11:31 am

He’s pretty awesome!

obyakhigbe February 17, 2018 - 11:32 am


Patricia Henderson February 16, 2018 - 8:05 pm

Yes, in fact, I did hum “Hedwig’s Theme” while reading the Harry Potter entry. It’s also my ringtone. ha ha. Great choices.

Kali Tuttle February 16, 2018 - 8:38 pm

I knew it! Thanks!

Nate Cloutier February 16, 2018 - 10:15 am

I liked a lot of the picks for this list. Personal favorites include: Interstellar, Braveheart, Gladiator

EclecticMusicLover February 15, 2018 - 8:08 pm

Some great picks, especially Star Wars, the Harry Potter films and Gone With the Wind. Some of my personal favorite scores include Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Godfather, Romeo & Juliet (Franco Zefferelli’s version) and North By Northwest.

Kali Tuttle February 15, 2018 - 8:09 pm

Agree with all of those, especially North by Northwest!

Frank Gerechter February 15, 2018 - 2:07 pm

Good list, however, no E.T? If you remember the scene where the boy’s are escaping on their bikes and for about 12 minutes it is all score and no dialogue. Without the score, the picture falls flat.

Kali Tuttle February 15, 2018 - 2:11 pm

E.T. does have a good score, which is why I put it in the honorable mentions, but I honestly hated the movie. I know I’m in the unpopular group with that opinion though haha

raistlin0903 February 15, 2018 - 10:47 am

Terrific list. Agree with pretty much all the choices here. I also agree with the comment from missdolkapots. Inception was a terrific score. ?

missdolkapots February 15, 2018 - 10:38 am

I completely agree with your N#1, like you said, it’s no surprise. My n#2 didn’t make your list at all but here it is, Inception. I think that movie wouldn’t be the same without its score :)

Kali Tuttle February 15, 2018 - 11:05 am

Inception definitely has a great score, but I just didn’t see the hype about it. My opinion though. I know it has a lot of fans!

Nick Kush February 15, 2018 - 10:02 am

Great list Kali! For whatever it’s worth, I would’ve have added Junkie XL’s score to Mad Max: Fury Road into the discussion!

Nick Kush February 15, 2018 - 9:59 am

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