Ten of the Best Musical Score Composers in Movies (With Music)


Aside from the acting and directing, I truly believe that the score of a movie is one of the most crucial elements in telling a story.  I cannot even begin to describe how much I appreciate a good score to a movie.  In a sad scene, what sounds capture that moment?  What sounds inspire?  Piss us off?  Make us scared?

It’s truly remarkable how some composers have the kind of mind to know exactly what types of sounds will go with a given scene in a movie.  I also appreciate soundtracks too, but let’s be real here.  Writing a score must be amazingly difficult. To these guys, it’s just going to work.

Here are ten of the best musical score composers in movies.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman happens to be my favorite composer out there.  He’s developed an entirely new style that many people seem to copy these days.  Newman uses a ton of off key notes that almost sound strange, but he makes them work.  He’s not your normal, in synch, C-chord type of a guy.   Plus he did Shawshank Redemption.  What you didn’t know?  He did the score to the movies Revenge of the Nerds and Threesome.  The guy’s been around and I’m glad he’s finally getting his credit.  American Beauty was an obvious classic as was Scent of a Woman.

Jerry Goldsmith

Goldsmith unfortunately passed away in 2004 but is considered a legend when it comes to musical composition.  The guy was nominated for an astounding 18 academy awards (winning one for The Omen) and won 4 Emmy’s.   My favorite Goldsmith composition?  Hoosiers.   Man do I love the music in that flick.  He did all the Rambo movies and the list goes on.

Bill Conti

Rocky and Karate Kid.  I mean that’s just the tip of the ice berg for Mr. Conti.  Conti is a legend who happens to also conduct at the Academy Awards quite often.  He’s done tons of television as well.  I’m not sure he’s quite in the same league as these other guys but his distance in the industry and respect warrants him a nod.

Hans Zimmer

I’m surprised that Zimmer is only 51 years old because he did the music for Rainman which was in 1988.  Pretty impressive that he did a movie that big at only 31 years of age.  He’s won an Ocscar, has another 38 wins to his credit and 50 other nominations.  He did the score to Gladiator and True Romance to name two of my favorites of his.

John Williams

Williams is probably the most acclaimed of this bunch.  When you’re the man who scared the crap out of millions of people with just two notes you know you’ve got talent.  Williams wrote the score to Jaws.  But it certainly doesn’t end there.  Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List.  He even did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!  Plus he’s got 5 oscars.  This guy is the man.

Danny Elfman

All I had to read was Good Will Hunting to know this guy belonged on this list.  Elfman actually does a ton of Television but when it comes to movies, he does not falter.  He did Chicago, Proof of Life,  and Batman, just to name a few.  His list is long and extensive and easily earns him a spot on here.  Ah yes, 35 wins, 33 nominations, including 3 for Oscars.

Clint Mansell

Clint is a little less established from the rest of these guys but you have to hand it to him.  Clint represents a new age of electric music that by most standards is considered “risky.”  But he truly nailed it with Requiem for a Dream.  He doesn’t have any Oscar nominations yet, but they’ll be soon to come.  P.S. The music in Silent Hill is awesome.

James Newton Howard

You can’t make a list like this and leave out James Newton Howard.  His most recent success?  The Dark Knight.  I sure hope he’s getting some of the gross.   Nominated for 7 Oscars.  Howard is in my opinion, amazing at music that kind of pumps you up.  Like “unreal” tales music or something.  I mean he does all of the Shyamalan films and tons of weird flicks like Stir of Echoes and Devil’s Advocate.  He’s awesome.

Randy Newman

I’ve known the name Randy Newman ever since I saw the movie The Natural.  In fact that was the music on my Bar Mitzvah video.  At the time it seemed cool.  Ah screw it, it still is.  Newman’s probably more known for his silly voice and funny face, but his composing ability is remarkable.  You can pretty much tell his style any time his music is on.  From Parenthood to Avalon, Newman is unmistakable.  I’ve actually seen him live, and he was great.  Very entertaining.

Howard Shore

3-Time Oscar winner and creator of the music for the Lord of the Rings movies, you gotta have this guy up here.  Plus he did the score to multiplemovies directed by David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme.  The man’s obviously doing something right.

Honorable mention to Ennio Morricone and Alan Silvestri.  And a credit to all the others out there who make movies that much better with music.

  • Nick

    I’m not sure how you excluded Ennio Morricone. Clearly a mistake has been made.

  • Nattyb

    Do some of you people even read these posts? Look at the bottom smart guy.

  • LynnG

    What about James Horner?

  • KayXome

    James Horner? Star Trek III, Commando and Aliens had great music. The same music but great music. Oh yeah and there was that other one with the boat in it.

  • Wildkard85

    Yes, you mentioned Ennio Morricone. Yet as he is only honorable mention you have made a giant mistake. The Good The Bad and The Ugly, The Godfather, Once Upon a time in the West are scores among the greatest ever.

    Honestly only Williams has any business being compared to Morricone. Your lists have lost all credibility after this glaring oversight.

  • Ennio M.

    This list sucks.

  • Nitzertitz

    No love for Basil Poledouris? Conan the Barbarian is one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. Not to mention Robocop, Starship Troopers etc.

  • Daniel

    And what of John Brion? Eternal Sunshine, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, I <3 Huckabees.. sure, he may not be as prolific as some of these guys but he also writes songs specifically tailored for the movies they’re featured in (see Strings that Tie to You from the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack – brilliant) and his scoring work speaks for itself. His approach is fresh and his arrangements are breathtaking. Check him out!

  • wrath

    epic fail. morricone? jon brion? HENRY MANCINI!!!!!!!!!!!?

    • spohlso

      Yeah, Randy Newman but no Henry Mancini? The guy that gave us the themes to Peter Gunn? The Pink Panther (and no, I don’t mean the Steve Martin movies) and countles others.
      Talk about a long list

  • Karla

    Dude? Composers in music and you miss Morricone? He made some of the best movie music – Westerns wouldn’t be westerns without him!

  • Maren

    Where is Tan Dun? Haven’t you heard the Hero soundtrack? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Absolutely beautiful.

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  • John W

    Bernard Hermann.