The 50 Best Film-Score Composers

And Their Greatest Soundtracks

best film score composer

Plenty of times, I read or heard the statement: ‘Film-score composers are the compositional geniuses of our time.’ In my eyes, there is a lot of truth behind this statement. Film-score composers need to be literate not only in many different musical genres but they also have to have a particularly keen sense for the interaction between video and music.

As a normal composer you are free to compose whatever you want most of the times. As a film-score composer you have to deal with many restrictions like deadlines, the directors vision, temp tracks, video, scenes and many more.

Besides all these tripping stones there have been some marvelous film-score composers that created the most compelling soundtrack for great films. These soundtracks not only function as a third emotional dimension in film but are on their own of high aesthetic value as well.

To honor these composers and to create an overview of their greatest soundtracks, I made this list of 50 of the best film-score composers. In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, I asked the help my college and friend Colin van der Lei who is an ambitious film-score composer himself. Thanks Colin!

At a last step, I added the soundtrack’s product links on amazon. Beside my own benefit ( 😉 ), it also gives you the possibility to see the track-list and in some cases preview the songs of the album. To make this a little more interactive, I would like to invite you to share your most favorite soundtrack via a YouTube link with us. At the end of this list you find Colin’s and my all-time favorite soundtracks.

Composer Born In Time Soundtracks
Max Steiner Austria, Vienna 1888 – 1971 [amazon asin=B00000344X&text=Casablanca] | [amazon asin=B0007ACVK0&text=King Kong] | [amazon asin=B000003EM1&text=Now, Voyager] | [amazon asin=B000003EM7&text=Gone With the Wind]
Sergei Prokofiev Russland 1891 – 1953 [amazon asin=B000003CUA&text=Lt. Kije] | [amazon asin=B000003FMD&text=Alexander Nevsky] | [amazon asin=B0000041NT&text=Ivan the Terrible]
Erich Wolfgang Korngold Austria, Brünn 1897 – 1957 [amazon asin=B00005JKEZ&text=The Adventures of Robin Hood] | [amazon asin=B002XCAU5S&text=The Sea Hawk]
Aaron Copland USA, Brooklyn 1900 – 1990 Of Mice and Men | [amazon asin=B00138KHWE&text=The Red Pony ] | Our Town | [amazon asin=B000003FHI&text=The Heiress]
Alfred Newman USA, LA 1901 – 1970 [amazon asin=B000XFNTL4&text=Airport] | [amazon asin=B0000033TD&text=How The West Was Won]
Dmitri Shostakovich Russia, Saint Petersburg 1906 – 1975 [amazon asin=B002XXJQA2&text=The Maxim Trilogy] | [amazon asin=B0001Z65FI&text=Hamlet] | [amazon asin=B000001WOT&text=King Lear]
Franz Waxman Germany 1906 – 1967 [amazon asin=B000AMMSLW&text=Rebecca] | [amazon asin=B0000793VV&text=Sunset Boulevard]
Bernard Herrmann USA, NY 1911 – 1975 [amazon asin=B000001502&text=Psycho] | [amazon asin=B000003EM9&text=Citizen Kane] | [amazon asin=B0000014ZW&text=Vertigo] | [amazon asin=B000006OHL&text=Taxi Driver] | [amazon asin=B000ZLRVCE&text=Fahrenheit 451]
Nino Rot1 Italy, Milan 1911 – 1979 [amazon asin=B000059LEY&text=The Godfather I, II, III] | [amazon asin=B00000DR9R&text=Romeo & Juliet]
Leonard Bernstein USA, Massachusetts 1918 – 1990 [amazon asin=B0000027WF&text=West Side Story] | [amazon asin=B0000029XI&text=On the Waterfront]
Malcolm Arnold GB, Northampton 1921 – 2006 [amazon asin=B0010JN4R6&text=The Lion] | [amazon asin=B000002AN1&text=The Bridge on the River Kwai]
Elmer Bernstein USA, NY 1922 – 2004 [amazon asin=B00000C40G&text=The Magnificant Seven] | [amazon asin=B0000014ZR&text=To Kill a Mockingbird] | The Greatest Game
Henry Mancini USA, Ohio 1924 – 1994 [amazon asin=B000056NN6&text=Pink Panther] | [amazon asin=B000002W3F&text=Breakfast at Tiffany’s] | [amazon asin=B0000071UZ&text=Love Story]
Leonard Rosenman USA, Brooklyn 1924 – 2008 [amazon asin=B00005QY2R&text=Lord of the Rings] | [amazon asin=B000005J43&text=East of Eden]
Maurice Jarre France, Lyon 1924 – 2007 [amazon asin=B0000033J9&text=Doctor Zhivago] | [amazon asin=B0000014RH&text=Lawrence of Arabia]
Ennio Morricone Italy, Rome 1928 – now [amazon asin=B000000WFZ&text=The Mission] | [amazon asin=B0000AUHPG&text=Once Upon a Time in the West] | [amazon asin=B000002UDT&text=The Good The Bad and the Ugly] | [amazon asin=B000002GFG&text=The Untouchables]
Jerry Goldsmith USA, LA 1929 – 2004 [amazon asin=B00000FC5P&text=Star Trek] | [amazon asin=B0000033ZB&text=Poltergeist] | [amazon asin=B0067LGMQM&text=Gremlins] | [amazon asin=B00000IWP1&text=The Mummy]
Michel Legrand France, Paris 1932 Рnow Cl̩o from 5 to 7 | [amazon asin=B00005YW0W&text=The Windmills of Your Mind] | [amazon asin=B000005Z63&text=The Thomas Crown Affair]
John Williams America, NYC 1932 – now [amazon asin=B0002YCVIS&text=Star Wars IV,] [amazon asin=B0002YCVJC&text=V,] [amazon asin=B0002YCVK6&text=VI,] [amazon asin=B00000IQMT&text=I,] [amazon asin=B000062VVV&text=II,] [amazon asin=B000850IS6&text=III] | [amazon asin=B000002OOY&text=Jurassic Park I,] [amazon asin=B000002P6K&text=II] | [amazon asin=B001G562ZU&text=Indiana Jones I, II, III, IV] | [amazon asin=B000002NZU&text=Jaws I,] [amazon asin=B00005A8XX&text=II] | [amazon asin=B000002P2X&text=E.T.] | [amazon asin=B000BGH22W&text=Harry Potter I,] [amazon asin=B00006IR5S&text=II,] [amazon asin=B00020HEG6&text=III] | [amazon asin=B000046PVN&text=Superman I, II] | [amazon asin=B000002OR4&text=Shindler’s List] | [amazon asin=B0000027BR&text=Home Alone I, ] [amazon asin=B000005LBO&text=II]
John Barry GB – York 1933 – 2011 [amazon asin=B0001CCY7E&text=Dances with Wolves] | [amazon asin=B000002O4X&text=Out of Africa] | [amazon asin=B00006I0BO&text=James Bond I-XII]
Philip Glass USA, Baltimore 1937 – now [amazon asin=B000007OAP&text=The Truman Show] | [amazon asin=B0000EWQ0S&text=The Fog of War]
Randy Newman USA, LA 1943 – now [amazon asin=B000DZ6VX2&text=Toy Story I,] [amazon asin=B00002ND9R&text=II,] [amazon asin=B0075FIGTA&text=III] | [amazon asin=B00005QK2X&text=Monster, Inc] | [amazon asin=B000EUMPBS&text=Cars]
Alan Menken USA, LA 1949 – now [amazon asin=B000001M3Z&text=The Little Mermaid] | [amazon asin=B00005TQ5A&text=Beauty and the Beast] | [amazon asin=B0002ZMJF2&text=Aladdin] | [amazon asin=B000001M2I&text=Pocahontas] | [amazon asin=B000001M31&text=The Hunchback of Notre Dame]
Gabriel Yared Lebanesia 1949 – now [amazon asin=B000000XET&text=The English Patient] | [amazon asin=B00009XFS2&text=Bon Voyage] | [amazon asin=B002S1CKL6&text=Amelia]
Alan Silvestri USA, NY 1950 – now [amazon asin=B000002O4S&text=Back to the Future I,] [amazon asin=B000002O6R&text=II,] [amazon asin=B0000014RN&text=III] | [amazon asin=B00136LS2E&text=Forest Gump] | [amazon asin=B000001534&text=Mouse Hunt] | [amazon asin=B000008154&text=Richie Rich]
James Newton Howard USA, LA 1951 – now [amazon asin=B0036B8WIC&text=Batman Begins] |[amazon asin=B0017I1FP8&text=The Dark Knight] | [amazon asin=B000KP62SE&text=Blood Diamond] | [amazon asin=B000002HET&text=The Fugitive] | [amazon asin=B00006AWG7&text=Signs]
Vangelis Greece, Agria 1943 – now [amazon asin=B000025SL5&text=Conquest of Paradise] | [amazon asin=B000001F28&text=Chariots of Fire]
David Newman USA, LA 1945 – now [amazon asin=B000002JEJ&text=Anastasia] | [amazon asin=B000066BZO&text=Ice Age I]
Howard Shore Canada, Toronto 1946 – now [amazon asin=B0000TAZBK&text=Lord of the Rings I, II, III] | [amazon asin=B000002OFQ&text=The Silence of the Lambs] | [amazon asin=B000J3FBVG&text=The Departed]
Patrick Doyle Scottland 1953 – now [amazon asin=B0000029OJ&text=Sense and Sensibility] | [amazon asin=B000005Z9T&text=Quest for Camelot] | [amazon asin=B0000029V8&text=Hamlet]
Danny Elfman USA, LA 1953 – now [amazon asin=B000002OFD&text=Edward Scissorhands] | [amazon asin=B000002LIM&text=Batman] | [amazon asin=B0000040V4&text=Mission: Impossible I] | [amazon asin=B000000OR0&text=Beetlejuice] | [amazon asin=1423492862&text=Alice in Wonderland]
James Horner USA, LA 1953 – now [amazon asin=B006UTJ6DM&text=Titanic] | [amazon asin=B002ZJGN96&text=Avatar] | [amazon asin=B000002OW6&text=Apollo 13] | [amazon asin=B000007T5P&text=The Mask of Zorro] | [amazon asin=B000002O5Q&text=The Land Before Time]
Trevor Rabin South Africa 1954 – now [amazon asin=B00068NWII&text=National Treasure] | [amazon asin=B00004TM2C&text=Gone in 60 Seconds] | [amazon asin=B00000DHS1&text=Armageddon]
Thomas Newman USA, LA 1955 – now [amazon asin=B00003XACV&text=Amercian Beauty] | [amazon asin=B00003CLV2&text=The Green Mile] | [amazon asin=B000002AUQ&text=The Shawshank Redemption] | [amazon asin=B000006NMX&text=The Horse Whisperer] | [amazon asin=B000095J94&text=Finding Nemo]
John Debney USA, California 1956 – now [amazon asin=B0013AWVZS&text=The Passion of the Christ] | [amazon asin=B00009KTXM&text=Bruce Almighty] | [amazon asin=B000MAQLA6&text=Cutthroat Island]
Don Davis USA, California 1957 – now [amazon asin=B00000IFW8&text=Matrix I,] [amazon asin=B002P8BWDE&text=II,] [amazon asin=B002MXBWO6&text=III] | [amazon asin=B00005LOOF&text=Jurassic Park III]
Hans Zimmer Germany, Frankfurt A.M. 1957 – now [amazon asin=B0000A1RJI&text=Pirates of the Caribbean I,] [amazon asin=B000FTCF2M&text=II,] [amazon asin=B00005JPFX&text=III,] [amazon asin=B004V6MWE6&text=IV] | [amazon asin=B0009IW88A&text=Batman Begins] | [amazon asin=B001BZF9UY&text=The Dark Knight] | [amazon asin=B008645YEE&text=The Dark Knight Rises] | [amazon asin=B000V6Q9NU&text=Gladiator] | [amazon asin=B002ZWA1VE&text=Pear Harbor] | [amazon asin=B000001M1Y&text=Lion King]
Christopher Young USA, New Jersey 1958 – now [amazon asin=B000NVIXE6&text=Spiderman III] | [amazon asin=B00068CVBW&text=The Grudge I,] [amazon asin=B000JBWW7Y&text=II] | [amazon asin=B00000DBZY&text=Urban Legend] | [amazon asin=B00284EMKK&text=Drag Me to Hell]
Rachel Portman GB, Haslemere 1960 – now [amazon asin=B0000508VR&text=The Legend of Bagger Vance] | [amazon asin=B000056O00&text=Chocolat]
Alexandre Despla France, Paris 1961 – now [amazon asin=B0043URV8M&text=Harry Potter VII] | [amazon asin=B003DFU3H4&text=The Golden Compass]
Harry Gregson-Williams GB, Chichester 1961 – now [amazon asin=B003RC6PP2&text=Narnia] | [amazon asin=B003AWEZ6U&text=Prince of Persia] | [amazon asin=B00005CF9Y&text=Shrek I,] [amazon asin=B0001XAQ64&text=II,] [amazon asin=B000OPOAPW&text=III]
David Arnold GB, Bedfordshire 1962 – now [amazon asin=B003VSJSEC&text=Independence Day] | [amazon asin=B0000015IW&text=Stargate] | [amazon asin=B000XMEBJ6&text=Godzilla] | [amazon asin=B00002MYXD&text=The World is not Enough]
John Powell GB, London 1963 – now [amazon asin=B00005CF9Y&text=Shrek] | [amazon asin=B000068FWA&text=Bourne Identity I] [amazon asin=B0002IQI3I&text=II,] | [amazon asin=B000YNM5VK&text=III] | [amazon asin=B0018Q7K5S&text=Kong Fu Panda]
Edward Shearmur GB, London 1966 – now [amazon asin=B0013AV0FU&text=Sky Captain] | [amazon asin=B00005V8PS&text=The Count of Monte Cristo] | [amazon asin=B00008W7P1&text=Johnny English]
Rupert Greson-Williams GB 1966 – now [amazon asin=B001H5HW9E&text=Bed Time Stories] | Click | [amazon asin=B003RWSBKO&text=Grown Ups]
Klaus Badelt Germany, Frankfurt 1967 – now [amazon asin=B0000A1RJI&text=Pirates of the Caribbean I] | [amazon asin=B00005JLWN&text=Equilibrium]
Yann Tiersen France, Brest 1970 Рnow [amazon asin=B0000A1WGH&text=Good Bye, Lenin!] | [amazon asin=B00005O6PA&text=Am̩lie]
Ramin Djawadi Germany, Duisburg 1974 – now [amazon asin=B0018B7S3W&text=Iron Man] | [amazon asin=B003EYW1OC&text=Clash of the Titans]
Henry Jackman GB, Hilingdon 1974 – now [amazon asin=B00501JHRQ&text=X-Men: First Class] | [amazon asin=B0070OM5W0&text=Kick-Ass]
Brian Tyler USA, LA 1978 – now [amazon asin=B001UOVU7C&text=Fast & Furious] | [amazon asin=B002HQZ4VU&text=The Final Destination]

Gearology Bestseller

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By | 2017-10-02T12:43:54+00:00 March 26th, 2015|Categories: music composition|14 Comments

About the Author:

Who is writing? Dario, a german-born internet citizen, professional music producer, composer, teacher, blogger and internet entrepreneur who likes to help you become a well rounded music producer!

14 Comments

  1. Chico November 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    No Joe Hisaishi? Seriously?

  2. RJ December 21, 2015 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    As usual of the lists I read, no Joe Hisaishi. You guys should listen to his compositions. Then you will understand why he is one of the best, if not the best, film score composer of all time.

  3. Tony Potter July 2, 2016 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Er, Carter Burwell?

  4. Carole T September 9, 2016 at 3:45 am - Reply

    Georges Delerue? One of my favorites.

    • eric March 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm - Reply

      Got that right, important to the new Wave, sought wildly by Hollywood.

  5. ben November 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Danny Elfman didnt compose mission impossible. Lalo Schifrin did! which comes to the next question…why isn’t he on this list (dirty harry, bullet)

  6. Shelley Long Fehlman April 2, 2017 at 12:34 am - Reply

    No Franz Waxman? Watch any old black and white classic and you will Franz Waxman followed by Max Steiner in the sheer numbers of amazing scores.

  7. Shelley Long Fehlman April 2, 2017 at 1:07 am - Reply

    MY BAD! I reread the list and saw Franz Waxman at number 8. My apologies!

  8. andy August 16, 2017 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    I just watched and then listened to Interstellar. The soundtrack is mesmerizing and enhances the movie tremendously. Incredible use of the organ. Thanks Hans Zimmer.

  9. Allan September 5, 2017 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    Nice reference list! I like the chronological ordering of the composers.

    As a long-time fan of cinema and music, to my way of thinking, the most notable omissions include Georges Auric (1899-1983, maybe the greatest of all French film composers, esp. famous for “Beauty and the Beast”), William Walton (1902-1983, the great British composer who wrote fantastic scores for Olivier’s Shakespeare films and more), and Alex North (1910-1991, one of the top American film composers, who wrote the first notable jazz-influenced score, for “A Streetcar Named Desire,” as well as the scores for “Spartacus,” etc.).

    Oh, and then there are the top two Japanese film composers, Fumio Hayasaka (1914-1955, famous for “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai” and many more) and the great Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996, who composed a huge number of scores, including for “Ran” and “Black Rain”).

    I could add Virgil Thomson (1896-1989, who composed important scores for the documentaries “The River,” “The Plow That Broke the Plains,” and “Louisiana Story”) as well as Brian Easdale (1909-1995, British film composer best known for “The Red Shoes”), the prolific David Raskin (1912-2004, best known for his famous score for “Laura”), and Kenyon Hopkins (1912-1983, perhaps most notably for his jazzy score for “The Hustler”). Another important and foundational figure is Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979, notable for “High Noon” and many other Westerns, etc.).

    Anyway, I think some of those classic older guys deserve a spot ahead of some of the more recent and less time-tested ones. But I’m really glad to see so many of the true greats here, and your first 21 seem to me especially solid.

    It’s funny that there are four guys named “Newman” on your list! Cheers.

    • Dario Brandt September 8, 2017 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Allan,
      Thank you for your input! I’ll check out the composer you mentioned that I don’t know.

  10. Jennifer December 3, 2017 at 5:58 am - Reply

    I’m surprised Miklos Rozsa didn’t make your list.

  11. Marius Bjørnson Hofstad January 25, 2018 at 9:15 am - Reply

    A name that chould have been on the list is Jocelyn Pook. Masked Ball from Eyes Wide Shut and Adam´s Lullaby from A Rome in Rome is of the best from this Composer.

  12. eric March 7, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    No Miklos Rosza no Georges Delerue – do your home work before going on this exercise in ignorance.

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