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Top 5 Movie Scores That Stand The Test of Time

Ben Atwater

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One of the most essential elements of any film is its score. Known as being the musical sound track of a movie, a score sets the tone and feel of a film, and is an integral part of the artistic end result. Scores have been in place before films even had dialogue, back when silent films relied on scores to set the tone.

So, I’ve decided to do a countdown of the top five film scores of all time. Bear in mind this is my own subjective opinion, so your choices might be different. However, the subjectivity of all things in film, including the score, is what makes them so great. The criteria for my selections were: variety in themes, as many films merely repeat the same theme over and over; showing creativity and uniqueness in composition; and finally how the music complements the story.

5) Gone with the Wind

On top of being the oldest score on this list, Max Steiner’s score from the 1939 classic is just as monumental as the film itself. Bringing the antebellum South to life, the theme of Tara plantation still haunts to this day and represents the ambition of a people who lost everything due to the Civil War. With an extraordinary combination of intensity and boldness, Steiner’s score reflects the emotions of the main character, Scarlet O’Hara, as she navigates life during and after the War. Gone with the Wind continues to be a timeless movie, even after its release over 75 years, as is Steiner’s score.

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4) Mad Max: Fury Road

The most chronologically recent film on this list, the score of Tom Holkenborg, or Junkie XL, well-accompanied the adrenaline rush that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Holkenborg’s score was a combination of classical orchestral string pieces with heavy metal. Accentuating the post-apocalyptic desert setting, action scenes featuring monster cars chases as the drivers and passengers hung on for their dear lives, the score’s rhythmic drumming and chaotic string pieces add to the frantic chases.

For the few bits of Fury Road that are not chase, Holkenborg creates sensitive adagios that complement the characters, akin to Star Wars. Fury Road was the best film of 2015, and the score is an integral part of that accolade.

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3) Ben-Hur

One of the most epic films of all time also has one of the most epic scores of all time. Ben-Hur was released in 1959, and swept the Oscars with a record-breaking eleven wins, including the honor of Best Score for Miklos Roza. Unlike many other film scores, each track is a different theme in different style, essentially making a symphony. Beautiful choirs sing over landmark scenes of Jesus being born, as trumpets herald in the intense chariot races and galley slaves rowing to progressively faster marches. Still holding up to this day, the score may even outshine the film, at least in this case.

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2) Star Wars

While the general consensus places John Williams’ score at number one, I do not. Yet that does not change the fact that Williams created one of the most iconic film scores of all time with the original Star Wars trilogy. With a vast sampling of styles from the opening credit crawl theme to the “Imperial March,” each film built upon other themes and added something new. Even the heavily-criticized prequel films brought instrumentals such as “Duel of the Fates,” an overall epic track that accentuates light saber duels perfectly. Fast-forward nearly forty years later, and at 84 years old,Williams composed another masterpiece for the continuation of the Star Wars saga with The Force Awakens soundtrack in 2015, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Honestly, Williams could take up this entire list. From Jaws to Jurassic Park to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams is the most influential film composer of all time. Yet, as Star Wars is the most iconic of these, it seems fitting to make it his definitive opus.

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1) Lord of the Rings

And the award for the number one film score goes to Howard Shore for his work on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The tale of Middle Earth, as written by acclaimed fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, featured in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was always considered to be one that was too impossible to be told on screen. However, from 2001-2003, director Peter Jackson managed to do just that with The Lord of the Rings, and this could not have been achieved without the masterful score by composer Howard Shore. From the Shire theme to the ring theme to the different kingdoms of Middle Earth all having unique leitmotifs, Shore brought this universe to life. Also scoring The Hobbit trilogy, Shore established a rich repertoire that has been performed by orchestras around the world continuously for over a decade since the original films’ release.

With songs that are instantly identifiable classics, Shore has crafted a complete, four hour long symphony that just happens to be commissioned for a film. Encompassing different styles, the score takes us through the sense of danger and feelings of turmoil that the hobbits face on their quest to destroy the one ring, as well as highlighting ideals such as the comforts of home and the bonds of fellowship. Shore’s score may not be as iconic as Star Wars, but the complexities and relationship between the film and its score make The Lord of the Rings the best film score of all time (so far).

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Top 5 Movie Scores That Stand The Test of Time