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 Casablanca | King Kong | Now, Voyager | Gone With the Wind
Sergei Prokofiev Russland 1891 – 1953 Lt. Kije | Alexander Nevsky | Ivan the Terrible
Erich Wolfgang Korngold Austria, Brünn 1897 – 1957 The Adventures of Robin Hood | The Sea Hawk
Aaron Copland USA, Brooklyn 1900 – 1990 Of Mice and Men | The Red Pony | Our Town | The Heiress
Alfred Newman USA, LA 1901 – 1970 Airport | How The West Was Won
Dmitri Shostakovich Russia, Saint Petersburg 1906 – 1975 The Maxim Trilogy | Hamlet | King Lear
Franz Waxman Germany 1906 – 1967 Rebecca | Sunset Boulevard
Bernard Herrmann USA, NY 1911 – 1975 Psycho | Citizen Kane | Vertigo | Taxi Driver | Fahrenheit 451
Nino Rot1 Italy, Milan 1911 – 1979 The Godfather I, II, III | Romeo Juliet
Leonard Bernstein USA, Massachusetts 1918 – 1990 West Side Story | On the Waterfront
Malcolm Arnold GB, Northampton 1921 – 2006 The Lion | The Bridge on the River Kwai
Elmer Bernstein USA, NY 1922 – 2004 The Magnificant Seven | To Kill a Mockingbird | The Greatest Game
Henry Mancini USA, Ohio 1924 – 1994 Pink Panther | Breakfast at Tiffany’s | Love Story
Leonard Rosenman USA, Brooklyn 1924 – 2008 Lord of the Rings | East of Eden
Maurice Jarre France, Lyon 1924 – 2007 Doctor Zhivago | Lawrence of Arabia
Ennio Morricone Italy, Rome 1928 – now The Mission | Once Upon a Time in the West | The Good The Bad and the Ugly | The Untouchables
Jerry Goldsmith USA, LA 1929 – 2004 Star Trek | Poltergeist | Gremlins | The Mummy
Michel Legrand France, Paris 1932 – now Cléo from 5 to 7 | The Windmills of Your Mind | The Thomas Crown Affair
John Williams America, NYC 1932 – now Star Wars IV, V, VI, I, II, III | Jurassic Park I, II | Indiana Jones I, II, III, IV | Jaws I, II | E.T. | Harry Potter I, II, III | Superman I, II | Shindler’s List | Home Alone I, II
John Barry GB – York 1933 – 2011 Dances with Wolves | Out of Africa | James Bond I-XII
Philip Glass USA, Baltimore 1937 – now The Truman Show | The Fog of War
Randy Newman USA, LA 1943 – now Toy Story I, II, III | Monster, Inc | Cars
Alan Menken USA, LA 1949 – now The Little Mermaid | Beauty and the Beast | Aladdin | Pocahontas | The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Gabriel Yared Lebanesia 1949 – now The English Patient | Bon Voyage | Amelia
Alan Silvestri USA, NY 1950 – now Back to the Future I, II, III | Forest Gump | Mouse Hunt | Richie Rich
James Newton Howard USA, LA 1951 – now Batman Begins |The Dark Knight | Blood Diamond | The Fugitive | Signs
Vangelis Greece, Agria 1943 – now Conquest of Paradise | Chariots of Fire
David Newman USA, LA 1945 – now Anastasia | Ice Age I
Howard Shore Canada, Toronto 1946 – now Lord of the Rings I, II, III | The Silence of the Lambs | The Departed
Patrick Doyle Scottland 1953 – now Sense and Sensibility | Quest for Camelot | Hamlet
Danny Elfman USA, LA 1953 – now Edward Scissorhands | Batman | Mission: Impossible I | Beetlejuice | Alice in Wonderland
James Horner USA, LA 1953 – now Titanic | Avatar | Apollo 13 | The Mask of Zorro | The Land Before Time
Trevor Rabin South Africa 1954 – now National Treasure | Gone in 60 Seconds | Armageddon
Thomas Newman USA, LA 1955 – now Amercian Beauty | The Green Mile | The Shawshank Redemption | The Horse Whisperer | Finding Nemo
John Debney USA, California 1956 – now The Passion of the Christ | Bruce Almighty | Cutthroat Island
Don Davis USA, California 1957 – now Matrix I, II, III | Jurassic Park III
Hans Zimmer Germany, Frankfurt A.M. 1957 – now Pirates of the Caribbean I, II, III, IV | Batman Begins | The Dark Knight | The Dark Knight Rises | Gladiator | Pear Harbor | Lion King
Christopher Young USA, New Jersey 1958 – now Spiderman III | The Grudge I, II | Urban Legend | Drag Me to Hell
Rachel Portman GB, Haslemere 1960 – now The Legend of Bagger Vance | Chocolat
Alexandre Despla France, Paris 1961 – now Harry Potter VII | The Golden Compass
Harry Gregson-Williams GB, Chichester 1961 – now Narnia | Prince of Persia | Shrek I, II, III
David Arnold GB, Bedfordshire 1962 – now Independence Day | Stargate | Godzilla | The World is not Enough
John Powell GB, London 1963 – now Shrek | Bourne Identity I II, | III | Kong Fu Panda
Edward Shearmur GB, London 1966 – now Sky Captain | The Count of Monte Cristo | Johnny English
Rupert Greson-Williams GB 1966 – now Bed Time Stories | Click | Grown Ups
Klaus Badelt Germany, Frankfurt 1967 – now Pirates of the Caribbean I | Equilibrium
Yann Tiersen France, Brest 1970 – now Good Bye, Lenin! | Amélie
Ramin Djawadi Germany, Duisburg 1974 – now Iron Man | Clash of the Titans
Henry Jackman GB, Hilingdon 1974 – now X-Men: First Class | Kick-Ass
Brian Tyler USA, LA 1978 – now Fast Furious | The Final Destination

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By |2018-12-12T14:12:49+00:00March 26th, 2015|Categories: music composition|15 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!

15 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.

  13. Eddie September 20, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Marvin Hamlisch?

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