If you can’t tell already by all the music-related posts on here, I love film scores. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of my favorite film composers. Some are known by even casual moviegoers while others are more obscure. Honorable mentions are below the main list and with the exception of the final three names on the main list, there’s no particular order. Enjoy!
The Main List
Hans Zimmer– Sometimes Zimmer has moments of greatness (The Lion King), while other times he sounds boring and redundant (Man of Steel). At least he figured out his music was becoming more and more generic as he retired from scoring superhero films after Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Hans is still very respected and talented, now perhaps being more known as a teacher and mentor than a composer. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Elliot Goldenthal– Goldenthal has awards and a notable pedigree, much of it from the 1990’s. What sets him apart is his highly experimental composing style that stands out to this day. Even if you can’t understand what you’re listening to (Alien 3, Batman Forever), you have to respect the guy.
John Powell– I have to be honest, I didn’t think much of Powell for a long time. That is, until I heard How to Train Your Dragon. And that score alone put him on this list. He is also known for writing the music to the Jason Bourne saga and How to Train Your Dragon 2.
James Newton Howard– Newton Howard defines what I like to call a “Swiss Army knife” composer. He’s the guy who’s scored so many different films you might not recognize his music until the credits roll. Newton Howard’s worked with many directors, most notably M. Night Shyamalan, and collaborated with noted composers throughout his career. Perhaps his best scoring accomplishment (besides Dinosaur and Maleficent) was making The Last Airbender sound worthy of both its source material and high expectations.
Thomas Newman– He’s proved his versatility for years, scoring James Bond films, spy thrillers, dramas and Pixar films. Newman doesn’t have a specific style, save for his similar-sounding scores per franchise. He has a proven pedigree and is always a good choice for directors.
Alexandre Desplat– He’s gone from scoring independent European films to being entrusted with the music for mega-franchises. From The Queen to Harry Potter to Godzilla, the Frenchman’s proved he can take on about any composing challenge and make something great out of it.
Harry Gregson-Williams– I suppose being a composer is in the Gregson-Williams family DNA as Rupert GW also composes. That said, I prefer Harry. His keyboard-driven scores are an acquired taste but he does use a full orchestra when needed, like in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Martian. It’s a proven style, as his scores have garnered praise and recognition across the board.
Christophe Beck– Thank goodness Hollywood is finally giving Beck some major films to score. After waiting for years, he’s received his chances with The Peanuts Movie and Ant-Man, among others, and has taken full advantage. He usually composes fun scores while adding his own distinct flair.
James Horner-Here’s another “Swiss Army knife” composer. His music varied from movie to movie, with Titanic and Star Trek II being among his major triumphs. Horner’s tragic death in 2014 was shocking and sad, but he left us with almost forty years of unique music. His final (albeit incomplete) score was for 2016’s The Magnificent Seven.
Alan Menken– Arguably Disney’s most influential musical voice, Menken returned to his roots in 2017 with Beauty and the Beast. His legacy has already been established and is nearly perfect. How do you disagree with all those Oscar wins?
Jerry Goldsmith– From Star Trek to Alien to Air Force One and everything in between, Goldsmith had a magnificent career and is one of the all-time greats.
John Barry– Any James Bond fan knows his major contributions, having set the standard for how the franchise should sound. Barry’s other achievements include the spectacular Dances with Wolves, among many other films.
Elmer Bernstein– The Ten Commandments. The Magnificent Seven. Need I say more? Elmer’s a legend, right up there with Goldsmith and Williams. I was stupid enough to ignore his iconic music for years.
Danny Elfman– You might know him better as “the guy who scores Tim Burton movies”. It’s a honest statement. Elfman’s career has become intertwined with the dark and strange. That’s okay, because his music proves that wonderful themes and melodies can be found in some strange settings- from The Nightmare Before Christmas to Batman. He’s also proven he can work outside of Burton’s settings too, writing scores for Spider-Man and various other movies.
Alan Silvestri– A talented composer and owner of a vineyard, Silvestri’s given movie-goers theme after theme to hum along. Along with Menken, Goldsmith and Williams, some of the movie themes we know best (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Avengers) were written by him.
Shirley Walker– Walker’s both my favorite female composer and the most underrated/under-appreciated composer I’ve listened to, period. She’s best remembered for her music in Batman: The Animated Series and other TV shows and movies. If you want to know more I encourage you to read my post “Shirley Walker: A Forgotten Legend”.
Steven Price– His score to Gravity remains a unique powerhouse of original composing. I was a little worried that Price was gone between 2014 and 2016. Thankfully, he returned with the score for Suicide Squad. Here’s to hoping he continues his excellent track record.
Michael Giacchino– I’ve always thought of Giacchino as the spiritual successor to John Williams. Their scores sometimes favor each other and like Williams, Giacchino’s scored a wide range of films (The Incredibles, Star Trek, Jurassic World, Inside Out, and Rouge One: A Star Wars Story to name a few). He’s received plenty of awards and praise for his work and it’s all been rightfully deserved.
John Williams– I’ll let his music do the talking.
Steve Jablonsky– One of Zimmer’s mentee’s, Jablonsky paved his own trail, scoring various action films and the live-action Transformers franchise. He knows how to make good themes blend with fast action and when to back off.
Patrick Doyle– From his bombastic scores to Henry V and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to the memorable theme from Thor, Doyle’s successfully blended great tunes with plenty of drums and horns.
Ramin Dijadwi– Another Zimmer collaborator with a strong emphasis on electric guitars, Dijadwi is best known for the Game of Thrones theme but has also scored Iron Man, Pacific Rim and Warcraft.
Randy Newman-Pixar’s leading man since Toy Story. He scored practically all the memorable Pixar films in the 90’s and early 2000’s and also scored The Princess and the Frog among other Disney projects.
Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL– The Dutch DJ-turned-composer is currently enjoying success in Hollywood, no matter what name he chooses to call himself. Holkenborg made a synth-heavy score for Deadpool and also wrote Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s looking like he’ll have a successful composing career.