Music that makes a film – My favourite film scores.


(Photo above taken from

As my theatregoing is on hold at the moment due to a broken foot, I’ve been thinking more about films recently and one thing that has always been clear to me is how crucial a movie’s score is to the connection you have with the film. In fact there are some films where I love the music more than the film! Deciding on my favourite film scores has been a lot harder than I expected and this list could have been much longer. It’s already longer than my usual lists, being a top 20! For each film I’ve chosen a specific piece from the score that I especially love, although there are some entries where the whole album from start to finish could have been listed. Feel free to let me know your choices in the comments.

1. “Honor Him / Now We Are Free” – Hans Zimmer (Gladiator)


The soundtrack from Gladiator remains one of my all time favourites and these specific two pieces from it, which have such a powerful, emotional impact at the film’s end is still my top choice for any piece of movie music. I cannot fail but be moved whenever I hear it and it was particularly incredible to experience it live at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year (see my earlier post on that event).

2. “The Breaking of the Fellowship” – Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)


Probably my favourite film score from beginning to end is that from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Each film in the trilogy has a wonderful score by Howard Shore, with moments that still leave me in awe of his talent, but as my favourite of the films and the first time this music was brought to life, The Fellowship wins. It was tough choosing a specific track but if I have to it would definitely be this one, during which the Fellowship separates in to the strands that will continue for the rest of the story. It’s hard to believe over a decade on that there was ever a time when these now instantly recognisable pieces of gorgeous music didn’t exist!

3. “That Next Place” – Thomas Newman (Meet Joe Black)


Some people love Meet Joe Black and others can’t stand it, but I still think it has a beautiful score by Thomas Newman. It is subtle, understated and works wonderfully for the movie and never more so than the lovely That Next Place, which underpins the film’s bittersweet and emotional ending. Give it another listen if you can’t remember it. You may even shed a tear.

4. “August’s Rhapsody” – Mark Mancina (August Rush)


August Rush is such a sweet little film about a boy in search of his real parents and his love of the music that is all around us. The film builds to this gorgeous suite of various instruments, which together are so wonderful. One of the clearest examples of the power of music and film together.

5. Main Title – Marc Shaiman (The American President)


Before the glorious television triumph that is The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin wrote another story about the White House for film. This was The American President with Michael Douglas as the charming but firm President Shepherd. It’s a wonderful film and Marc Shaiman’s beautifully romantic score is the perfect accompaniment and is one album I never tire of listening to.

6. “Vesper” – David Arnold (Casino Royale)


David Arnold took on quite a responsibility when scoring the new Bond film in 2006. Arguably John Barry is as intrinsically linked to Bond as the actor in the title role. The score for Casino Royale did a fantastic job in rebooting the franchise and yet still giving a nod to the past. My favourite piece though is Vesper’s theme. It’s such a delicate piece of music, which seems quite new for a Bond movie, focusing on the romance rather than the action.

7. “The End” – Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises)


Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is the pinnacle of comic book films for me. Why we are getting another Batman so soon is beyond me. A huge part of the style and atmosphere of the trilogy is the score and the themes that run through them all. For me, these all build up to an impressive climax with The End from the final movie, which plays over the last few minutes of this brilliant film. I can’t imagine the movies without the score, which highlights how pivotal it is.

8. “Home Again” – Mark Snow (The X-Files: I Want To Believe)


As a lifelong X-Files fan, the return of my favourite characters in 2008 was very exciting. Admittedly though this second big screen adventure did not live up to the past and this choice is an example of a piece of movie music I love more than the film that created it! Mark Snow will always be a special part of Mulder and Scully’s world and this lovely piece from their tender final scene together is perfect.

9. “So Was Red” – Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption)


The Shawshank Redemption is my favourite film and so it was inevitable Thomas Newman’s score would appear in this list. I can listen to it all quite easily, with all its light and shadow. However if I have to pick only one piece to draw out, it would be this one, as Red makes his final journey. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch the film again!

10. “An Ocean Of Memories” – James Horner (Titanic)


I am not ashamed to admit to liking Titanic. Maybe I was the right age group when it was released, but I was captivated by the stunning sets, the costumes (especially Kate’s first outfit) and beautiful music from James Horner. The soundtrack is one of the first film scores that I noticed doing well commercially, which can only ever be a good thing for interest in classical music. James Horner successfully translates the power of the ship, the romance of the story and the emotional tragedy of the sinking perfectly. I could have picked so much of this score but An Ocean of Memories is one that includes all the elements that, for me, show what a brilliant score it is.

11. “The Launch” – James Horner (Apollo 13)


Another superb film is Apollo 13 and another entry for James Horner in this list. The score adds to the patriotic, heroic themes running through the film, as we learn the incredible story of three astronauts whose unsuccessful mission to the Moon almost cost them their lives and the brave individuals who worked tirelessly to get them home safely. This track in particular, The Launch, is classic James Horner – it is bold, soaring and feels epic in scope. As he does with his Titanic score he is able to use music to bring to life such incredible feats of human achievement while still capturing the emotional humanity of the story.

12. “Gabriel’s Oboe” – Ennio Morricone (The Mission)


This is such a classic piece of movie music, but is another example of me being more familiar with the music than the film itself! Ennio Morricone has created some wonderful music for film, but for me Gabriel’s Oboe is at the top. It is a beautifully emotive, delicate piece, that is far to short for my liking, but perhaps that’s one of the reasons it works so well. It leaves you wishing it would go on forever!

13. “Theme From Schindler’s List” – John Williams (Schindler’s List)


Schindler’s List is one of the most powerful and important films made and is something I strongly believe everyone should watch to ensure such a terrible time in history is never forgotten. As Steven Spielberg’s long term collaborator John Williams creates something stunning with the music for the film. It doesn’t distract from the film, but blends with it to convey the power of the events on the screen and the theme from the film remains one of the most powerfully, emotional movie themes I’ve ever heard. It makes me cry every time I hear it with the sole violin played with such love by Itzhak Perlman.

14. “Theme from Jurassic Park” – John Williams (Jurassic Park)


I still remember seeing Jurassic Park for the first time at the cinema as a kid and being in awe of what I was seeing. Dinosaurs really were real. They had to be! Yet again the partnership of Williams and Spielberg worked to create another memorable soundtrack and one that remains near the top of most movie music polls.

15. “Portuguese Love Theme” – Craig Armstrong (Love Actually)


The next choice for this list is Craig Armstrong’s Portuguese Love Theme from Richard Curtis’s festive film. You often hear all of his love themes together in one suite, but if I had to choose one it would be the romantic music underpinning the love that grows between Colin Firth’s Jamie and his Portuguese maid Aurelia. It makes me smile every time I hear it.

16. “End Title/You Are Karen” – John Barry (Out Of Africa)


John Barry’s beautiful score to Out of Africa had to be included in this list as it is remains to me one of the most romantic and emotional pieces of music from any film score. I can’t imagine anyone not feeling moved when they hear it.

17. “Solomon” – Hans Zimmer (12 Years A Slave)


12 Years A Slave became one of the most incredible films I’d ever seen immediately. Its sheer power, emotional depth and heartbreaking story moved me to tears. The music is a great balance for the film, with metallic chain-like effects adding to the horror and suffering seen on screen. However for me it is the track Solomon which captures all the emotions the film stirs up and it had to be included in this list. If you have yet to watch this film I can’t recommend it enough.

18. “The John Dunbar Theme” – John Barry (Dances With Wolves)


Another John Barry classic from a wonderful film. It’s a superb soundtrack, but I especially love the John Dunbar Theme, which captures all the wonder of the film brilliantly in the way John Barry does best.

19. Main Title – Somewhere In My Memory – John Williams (Home Alone)


One of my favourite childhood films and a Christmas tradition, Home Alone’s score by John Williams is the perfect festive soundtrack. It captures all the heart, beauty and fun of this classic family film and yet again shows what a special composer John Williams is.

20. “Chevaliers de Sangreal” – Hans Zimmer (The Da Vinci Code)


It may have been a controversial book and film on release, but Hans Zimmer does a great job with the score, particularly for the film’s end, as Robert Langdon realises the answer to the riddle he’s been trying to solve throughout the story.

21. “Rue’s Farewell” – James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games)


After recently watching the final film in The Hunger Games franchise I was reminded of just how powerful its score is and I had to add it to this list. Picking just one theme is hard but it would have to be Rue’s theme, first heard in the tragic, yet beautiful scene in which Katniss honours her fallen friend. The music lifts the emotion of this moment to something very special and it brought a lump to my throat.


So those are my top choices. There are so many other wonderful scores I could have included, but especially Pirates of the Caribbean (Hans Zimmer) and Hook (John Williams). Composers play such an important part in the creation of special films and it’s wonderful that the soundtracks are as accessible as they are these days. I’m excited to see what the next film will be that will captivate me through what I hear as well as what I see on the screen.

For anyone looking for a good compilation of movie music, I highly recommend the Classic FM at the Movies sets, which contain some of the ones I’ve mentioned as well as other classic film scores.


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