The 10 Best Film Scores

*Written and published for AUX.

From the mountains of Sicily to Gotham City, Jedi Knight to The Man with No Name, Italian stallion to the son of Satan, Samwise Gamgee to “The Cooler King,” these places and characters simply wouldn’t be the same without the music surrounding them. Whether they’re with or without vocals, a film’s score is crucial as it sets the tone of the characters and setting. The score of the films listed are so great that even without the visual images to accompany them, the stand on their own as masterful pieces of art.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Ennio Morricone (1966)

– No doubt considered one of the best scores in film history, Ennio Morricone’s distinct compositions contain gunfire, yodeling and whistling. The main theme is perfect for any momentous introduction and was used by the Ramones when they took the stage in their latter years. The film’s climax, a three-way Mexican standoff is accompanied by “The Ecstasy of Gold,” enhancing the scene many movie critics believe to be one of the most electrifying climaxes ever filmed.

Batman – Danny Elfman (1989)

– Danny Elfman composed the first and best Batman film score. One of the first films to release two soundtracks, Elfman had help from Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker when arranging the compositions for the orchestra. From the cathartic “Descent into Mystery” to the heartfelt “Flowers,” this score truly captures the film’s protagonist seeking justice in the face of a laughing maniac and helps distinguishes it from the other Batman movies.

The Empire Strikes Back – John Williams (1980)

– Hard to draw up a list of memorable scores and not include Star Wars, even if John Williams copied Gustav Holst and Antonin Dvorak. For this episode, which is by far the best, the score contains several works that have an almost despairing sound, such as when Han Solo is encased in carbonite or during the lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth.

Braveheart – James Horner (1995)

– For a film about Scottish Rebels, one of them being William Wallace, rising up against Longshanks and the crown, an epic score was needed and James Horner delivered. Despite the film’s historical inaccuracies, the music is breathtaking and is appealing to anyone in a struggle for freedom.

The Fellowship of the Ring – Howard Shore (2001)

– In the first Lord of the Rings film we are introduced to Hobbits, Ringwraiths, Wizards, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves and Men, all of whom are captured beautifully through Howard Shore’s score. Irish vocalist Enya appears twice and her voice advances the dramatic twists the score contains, especially on “The Council of Elrond.”

Rocky – Bill Conti (1976)

– Before heading out for a run every morning, crack a few eggs into a glass, drink it and throw on Bill Conti’s score for Rocky. Having both jock jam esque and tearjerk compositions, the score fits with one of the most notorious underdog films ever. You can’t help but think of Balboa chasing a chicken or hammering iron at the dump when listening to “Going the Distance” or the main title “Gonna Fly Now.”

The Great Escape – Elmer Berstein (1963)

– Elmer Berstein truly captures the essence of the prisoners in the camp and the trials they face once they are on the road. The main title is easily the most recognizable marching composition and reminds us of Steve McQueen toying with Hitler’s Nazi thugs.

The Omen – Lionel Newman, Jerry Goldsmith (1976)

– Chilling to the bone might be an understatement. Rather if you really want to scare the crap out of yourself, or someone else, throw this on and turn out the lights. Even without looking at little Damien this score is both powerful and disturbing and was awarded an Oscar.

Goldfinger – John Barry (1964)

– With the exception of Shirley Bassey putting vocals on the main theme, John Barry’s compositions intensify Sean Connory’s quest to blow Oddjob’s fuse, foil Goldfinger and win over Pussy Galore. The stripped down main theme entitled “Goldfinger” is especially nice.

The Godfather – Nino Rota (1972)

– Despite being scratched off the list of 1973 Academy Award nominees at the last second, Nino Rota’s score for the Godfather compliments one of the greatest films ever made. Watching Michael roam the mountains of Sicily whilst hearing the love theme makes anyone wish they were Italian…albeit only for a minute or two.

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