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 | | |
Sergei Prokofiev Russland 1891 – 1953 | |
Erich Wolfgang Korngold Austria, Brünn 1897 – 1957 |
Aaron Copland USA, Brooklyn 1900 – 1990 Of Mice and Men | | Our Town |
Alfred Newman USA, LA 1901 – 1970 |
Dmitri Shostakovich Russia, Saint Petersburg 1906 – 1975 | |
Franz Waxman Germany 1906 – 1967 |
Bernard Herrmann USA, NY 1911 – 1975 | | | |
Nino Rot1 Italy, Milan 1911 – 1979 |
Leonard Bernstein USA, Massachusetts 1918 – 1990 |
Malcolm Arnold GB, Northampton 1921 – 2006 |
Elmer Bernstein USA, NY 1922 – 2004 | | The Greatest Game
Henry Mancini USA, Ohio 1924 – 1994 | |
Leonard Rosenman USA, Brooklyn 1924 – 2008 |
Maurice Jarre France, Lyon 1924 – 2007 |
Ennio Morricone Italy, Rome 1928 – now | | |
Jerry Goldsmith USA, LA 1929 – 2004 | | |
Michel Legrand France, Paris 1932 – now Cléo from 5 to 7 | |
John Williams America, NYC 1932 – now | | | | | | | |
John Barry GB – York 1933 – 2011 | |
Philip Glass USA, Baltimore 1937 – now |
Randy Newman USA, LA 1943 – now | |
Alan Menken USA, LA 1949 – now | | | |
Gabriel Yared Lebanesia 1949 – now | |
Alan Silvestri USA, NY 1950 – now | | |
James Newton Howard USA, LA 1951 – now | | | |
Vangelis Greece, Agria 1943 – now |
David Newman USA, LA 1945 – now |
Howard Shore Canada, Toronto 1946 – now | |
Patrick Doyle Scottland 1953 – now | |
Danny Elfman USA, LA 1953 – now | | | |
James Horner USA, LA 1953 – now | | | |
Trevor Rabin South Africa 1954 – now | |
Thomas Newman USA, LA 1955 – now | | | |
John Debney USA, California 1956 – now | |
Don Davis USA, California 1957 – now |
Hans Zimmer Germany, Frankfurt A.M. 1957 – now | | | | | |
Christopher Young USA, New Jersey 1958 – now | | |
Rachel Portman GB, Haslemere 1960 – now |
Alexandre Despla France, Paris 1961 – now |
Harry Gregson-Williams GB, Chichester 1961 – now | |
David Arnold GB, Bedfordshire 1962 – now | | |
John Powell GB, London 1963 – now | | |
Edward Shearmur GB, London 1966 – now | |
Rupert Greson-Williams GB 1966 – now | Click |
Klaus Badelt Germany, Frankfurt 1967 – now |
Yann Tiersen France, Brest 1970 – now |
Ramin Djawadi Germany, Duisburg 1974 – now |
Henry Jackman GB, Hilingdon 1974 – now |
Brian Tyler USA, LA 1978 – now |
By | 2017-10-02T12:43:54+00:00 March 26th, 2015|Categories: music composition|11 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!

11 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.

  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.

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