The Beatles Red Album
The Beatles Blue Album
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets

The Greatest Film Scores Of All Time

Since the advent of sound in cinema, music has become an integral part of the movie experience.

Published on

Best Film Scores
Illustration: uDiscoverMusic

Since the advent of sound in cinema, the almighty film score has become an integral part of the movie experience. Some took years, others were made up on the spot, but all of the best film scores share a few things in common. They are able to convey what the movie is trying to say without words and evoke an emotional response even the most brilliant bit of dialogue cannot. Some scores even outlive the film they soundtracked.

Check out some of the greatest film soundtracks on vinyl here.

Without further ado, here is a list of the best film scores of all time to debate, argue over, and maybe even agree about.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

74: Laura (1945)

A singularly haunting score by David Raskin, Laura is largely built around variations of the title song, which has an evocative lyric by Johnny Mercer. In the song, Laura is the ultimate, untouchable object of desire; in the movie she is a murdered woman with whom a police detective played by Dana Andrews becomes obsessed. So with the mix of love, sex and death… you might call this a proto-goth song. Frank Sinatra’s version is beautifully chilling (it’s one of his first tracks to include a minute-long orchestral intro), as is the latter-day version by Patricia Barber. – Brett Milano

73: The Hours (2002)

There couldn’t have been a better choice than Philip Glass to score an intense, psychological film about three women linked in different decades by the works of Virginia Woolf. All the hypnotic Glass trademarks are here and the circular nature of Glass’ music underlines the unseen connections between the characters, to alternately soothing and chilling effect. – Brett Milano

72: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The wonder of Franz Waxman’s soundtrack to Sunset Boulevard was that it took you inside Norma Desmond’s head, which was a cluttered place indeed. Accordingly, the score might be called one of the first mash-ups, containing snippets of jazz and popular song, along with more haunting themes that signify Norma’s insanity. Film scholars have pored over this score for decades; and in 2012 they unearthed an unused song, “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues,” a musing of Norma’s that was deemed too much of an in-joke at the time. – Brett Milano

71: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

A Streetcar Named Desire was one of the first mainstream films ever to have a fully jazz-based film score, as befits its New Orleans setting. But Pennsylvania-born composer Alex North was a true musical eclectic, who also studied with Aaron Copland and wrote symphonies; he famously wrote a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey that Stanley Kubrick never used. He also wrote a tune you’ve almost certainly heard: “Unchained Melody.” – Brett Milano

70: On the Waterfront (1954)

On the Waterfront was Leonard Bernstein’s only proper movie score, not counting the famous musicals (West Side Story, Candide) that were adapted to film. Though now recognized as one of the great soundtracks, it proved a bit controversial at the time, since Bernstein envisioned the music as a crucial part of story development, a device that would interact with and comment on the action and the dialogue. Bernstein was frustrated that director Elia Kazan discarded some of his work, a possible reason why he never scored another film. – Brett Milano

69: On Golden Pond (1981)

Jazz-associated pianist Dave Grusin is one of the more celebrated film composers of the modern era – for starters, all the non-Paul Simon music in The Graduate was his – and also the owner of the GRP label. Combining jazz, pop and New Age elements, his Golden Pond score captures both the rustic New England setting of the film, and the bittersweet story of a couple, played by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, who reconnect and find acceptance late in life. – Brett Milano

68: High Noon (1952)

The plot of High Noon builds slowly to its climactic gun battle, and Dimitri Tomkin’s film score is all dramatic tension, with recurring themes including a horse’s advancing hooves and the ominous melody of the title tune. With a vocal performed by Tex Ritter in the movie, the song’s percussive horse-hoof sound was actually made by a Hammond Novachord, an instrument invented in 1935 that was a precursor to the synthesizer. – Brett Milano

67: Out of Africa (1985)

This was one of the later movie scores by the English composer John Barry, who’s forever associated with his James Bond soundtracks. Though a short score (only covering a half-hour of the film) it contains some of Barry’s prettiest and most melodically grabbing themes. It won Barry his second-to-last Oscar for Best Original Score (he’d win again in 1990 for Dances With Wolves) and spun off a hit single, “The Music of Goodbye (Love Theme)” by Melissa Manchester & Al Jarreau. Interestingly, director Sidney Pollack was set on using African music for the score and originally cut the film that way; Barry had to personally persuade him to change direction. – Brett Milano

66: Ben-Hur (1959)

The Biblical epic Ben-Hur got a suitably grand score from Miklos Rozsa; with two-and-a-half hours of music, it was the longest score used in a film at that time. Everything about the score is larger than life, from its series of fanfares to the sweeping chariot race to the heavenly church organ that accompanies the appearance of Jesus onscreen. The Oscar-winning score was trimmed to a single LP for the original release, though many expanded versions have since appeared. It’s considered a major influence on John Williams’ Star Wars soundtracks. – Brett Milano

65: How the West Was Won (1962)

Alfred Newman has one of the longest-running careers as a film composer, ranging from Charlie Chaplin films in the 1930s to his final project, Airport, in 1970. His score for the epic Western How the West Was Won was an unusual one, as it used country and folk tunes and in grand orchestral arrangements. One of the key moments was an adaptation of “Greensleeves,” here called “A Home in the Meadow,” which Debbie Reynolds sings enchantingly as a saloon performer. – Brett Milano

64: Soul (2020)

Soul really offers two soundtracks in one, alternating between the electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and jazz/R&B songs by Jon Batiste. As you’d expect from a Nine Inch Nails-associated project, the film score can be quite haunting – but it’s also very different from Nine Inch Nails, offering a lot of straight-up beauty in the “Epiphany” theme and ghostly music box-like sounds in “Falling.” Reznor famously told Rolling Stone that he hoped to “darken Pixar up,” but it also lightened him just a bit. – Brett Milano

63: King Kong (1933)

The Austrian-born Max Steiner was still a new name in Hollywood when he wrote music for King Kong, which made his name and expanded the possibilities of movie scores. Much of the music has a French Impressionist flavor derived from Ravel and Debussy, though he does amp up the grandeur in the Empire State Building scene. The score was innovative for its use of particular musical themes associated with each of the main characters, along with its use of open space: Steiner purposely used no music at all in the first 20 minutes, letting the New York sound create the atmosphere. – Brett Milano

62: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Nicholas Britell turned in one of the finest 21st century movie scores for this Barry Jenkins film. An early draft of the score only included horns, but as things evolved, strings entered the picture. Said Britell in an interview around the time of its release, “What’s remarkable about the way Jenkins made the film is that it explores so many different kinds of love. It explores the love of parents for their children, it explores romantic love, it explores this divine, pure kind of love that exists between people. The strings came to symbolize that for us in a lot of ways.” – Sam Armstrong

61: Phantom Thread (2017)

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood has become more and more interested in movie soundtracks and film scores as time has gone on. While his work ordinarily features strange, electronic timbres, Phantom Thread explored 1950s symphonic pop, jazz, and classical music. Glenn Gould, Ben Webster, and Nelson Riddle are just a few of the inspirations that fed into the score’s creation. – Sam Armstrong

60: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score to The Adventures of Robin Hood earns a spot on this list not only because of its wonderful music, but also because of its historical value. The score to the 1938 film marked the first time that a composer won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Previously, the statute was given to the head of the studio’s music department. – Sam Armstrong

59: Chinatown (1974)

Jerry Goldsmith’s stately score for one of the best film noirs of all-time did the important work of sending you back to a time and place that had long since past. The famed composer’s “Love Theme” still sounds stunning, a lush and romantic piece carried by a lone trumpet. – Sam Armstrong

Love Theme From Chinatown (Main Title)

Click to load video

58: Jackie (2016)

Mica Levi’s score for Jackie is a perfect fit for a film that explores the inner life of Jacqueline Kennedy, the First Lady of the United States. Strings quaver and bend in strange ways, and silence is employed liberally. It’s the sound of a world that seems normal, but has actually been turned upside down. Mica has become a master of this form: Just check their work for the Scarlett Johansson film Under the Skin. – Sam Armstrong

57: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Alexandre Desplat has worked on countless film soundtracks since the 1980s, but perhaps his most celebrated partnership is with director Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel won Desplat his first Oscar at the Academy Awards for Best Original Score. Typical of his work for Anderson, the music is simple and quirky, perfectly attuned to Anderson’s unique visual style. – Sam Armstrong

56: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The blockbuster 2000 action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon depicted what director Ang Lee called a “China of the imagination.” Composer Tan Dun’s film score was a huge help in this effort, bringing together Chinese themes with typical Hollywood soundtrack flourishes, courtesy of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Tan Dun’s ability to speak to both audiences helped make the film a runaway success. – Sam Armstrong

55: Emma

Rachel Portman is one of Hollywood’s busiest film composers, having worked on projects like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and the Academy Award-winning score for Emma. The delicate, symphonic score was a perfect fit for the retelling of Jane Austen’s novel. With the win, Portman became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Original Score. – Sam Armstrong

54: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Clint Mansell is Darren Aronofsky’s go-to film composer. Early on in their partnership, Mansell’s innovative combinations of electronic elements and symphonic scores gave Aronofsky’s movie a unique sound. Requiem for a Dream may be the best of those early soundtracks, with “Summer Overture” still sounding like a haunting march into oblivion, decades after the film’s release. – Sam Armstrong

53: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

In 1968, Wendy Carlos introduced listeners en masse to the Moog synthesizer with dazzling renditions of Bach compositions. For Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the Moog was once again the instrument (mostly) featured throughout. The effect, however, was far different. When paired with the shocking and provocative images on film, the sound of the Moog was strange, uneasy. Decades later, it remains one of the most iconic soundtracks ever. – Sam Armstrong

52: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic, avant-garde “Main Title” for Planet of the Apes immediately puts you in the frame of mind of the main character. Thrust into a strange land, everything seems confusing, with danger lurking around every corner. It’s hard to believe that, just a few years later, Goldsmith would go on to produce the relatively straight-ahead Chinatown score. – Sam Armstrong

Click to load video

51: Black Panther (2018)

Ludwig Göransson and director Ryan Coogler had a long working relationship before Black Panther, but the superhero film was obviously a huge undertaking. The score, which won Best Original Score at the Academy Awards, was the result of major research on Göransson’s part. The composer traveled to Africa, learning about the continent’s various musical forms, and integrated it seamlessly into a score that also featured Senegalese musician Baaba Maal. – Sam Armstrong

50: Tron: Legacy (2010)

Combine the tenets of a traditional film orchestral score with the electronic wizardry of French electronic duo Daft Punk and you have a score that is much greater than the sum of its parts. With the help of American composer, arranger, and producer Joseph Trapanese, Daft Punk broke ground in cinematic scoring while still paying proper homage to Wendy Carlos’ original work for the 1982 film.

Tron Legacy - Soundtrack OST - 01 Overture - Daft Punk

Click to load video

49: Sorcerer (1984)

The ever-prolific Tangerine Dream boast a run of movie scores almost as long as their main album discography, and Sorcerer was their first. Issued in 1977, it helped lay the blueprint for the eerie, synth-soaked cues that would become a horror trademark in the 80s, and remains a key inspiration for today’s revivalist soundtracks, chiefly the Netflix show Stranger Things.

48: Flash Gordon (1980)

The campy space opera based on an iconic comic strip by Alex Raymond may have missed the mark. The Flash Gordon soundtrack, however, nailed it with a bullseye. Rock gods Queen did not skimp when it came to laying down the lumber for what was supposed to give Star Wars a run for its money. Ultimately, the music far outshined the film and remains one of the best movie scores written by a rock band.

In The Space Capsule (The Love Theme)

Click to load video

47: ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

In one masterstroke, John Williams not only created an extremely catchy film theme but also an emotionally affecting piece of music that’s impacted generations of audiences and filmmakers alike. The score itself is exactly what everyone’s childhood should feel like: filled with naivety, wonder, and a sense of danger (but not doom) to remind us all that men in Hazmat suits are terrifying.

Far From Home / E.T. Alone (Soundtrack Reissue (2002))

Click to load video

46: Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud (1958)

What could be better suited to the new loose, improvisational acting style that characterized French new wave cinema than an entirely improvised film score? The origin story of how Miles Davis met French director Louis Malle differs but the result is inarguably one of pure cosmic fate, with Davis and a slew of French session musicians improvising this seminal cool jazz score live to projected film sequences. A key piece of work in Davis’ artistic development (it marked his first foray into modal jazz, en route to recording the seminal Kind Of Blue), it also remains one of the best movie scores to come out of the jazz world.

Générique (Bande originale du film "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud")

Click to load video

45: The Mission (1986)

This is not the Ennio Morricone we are used to. Most would think of The Maestro’s best film scores as being for westerns, but here Morricone clearly wanted the world to know that he was more than echoing harmonicas and catchy spaghetti Western stings. Not exactly foreign to those who know Morricone’s work as a composer, it’s his best non-action score to date.

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Click to load video

44: Jurassic Park (1993)

Another John Williams and Steven Spielberg joint masterpiece, this has all the hallmarks of a classic Williams score: soaring strings, dramatic brass, and a childlike sense of wonder that’s inherent to what is, at its core, a fantasy adventure tale. Williams flexed his dramatic muscles, matching the ominous tone of the danger that lurks within the park. With just a few notes, he created a musical signature for the Jurassic Park franchise, one that conjures up hope, adversity, and grand adventure all in one theme.

43: The Seven Samurai (1954)

Drums and impending doom. Akira Kurosawa’s pioneering cinematic masterpiece singlehandedly created the “mission movie” as we know it, but the score has gone largely unnoticed for its contribution to modern film. Why Fumio Hayasaka scores don’t get more attention for creating one of modern cinema’s best movie scores is anyone’s guess, but this is easily a favorite among Kurosawa fanatics.

42: Goldfinger (1964)

With his work on the James Bond films, composer John Barry created a musical vocabulary that will forever be synonymous with 007. While it was hard to choose between his Bond soundtracks, Barry really perfected his sound with the bold and brassy theme for Goldfinger.

Goldfinger (Main Title)

Click to load video

41: Vertigo (1958)

Exactly what the best film scores from this age are supposed to do. Though a bit on the nose, this swirling, manic take on the subject matter also works as a brilliant piece of music in its own right. Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann were constant collaborators and this was one of their best soundtracks.

Prelude and Rooftop

Click to load video

40: The Social Network (2010)

As dubious as the idea of a “Facebook movie” may seem, it’s hard to imagine the scenes about tech theft and branding without the creepy, haunting (and Oscar-winning) tones that Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross supplied for David Fincher’s tale of greed and ego gone awry.

Hand Covers Bruise (HD) - From the Soundtrack to "The Social Network"

Click to load video

39: Titanic (1997)

James Horner’s score is everything this film is. It’s big. It floats. It crashes. It rises. It freezes to death in the middle of the ocean. Wait… scratch that last one. James Horner is no slouch and neither is James Cameron, who knew exactly the man for the job to score this masterpiece.

Click to load video

38: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

If just for the odd tune that the human scientists and the aliens communicate with, this movie deserves to have its hopeful, thrilling score included on this list. This is John Williams having some fun – and it shows.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind — "Tones"

Click to load video

37: The Godfather Part II (1974)

A lovely extension of the story and music that was not just a repeat of the original Godfather score. With compositions by Nino Rota and conducted by Carmine Coppola, the Godfather Part II score expertly achieved what its predecessor did by putting the listener in turn-of-the-century Italy and New York. It’s a truly remarkable feat, that stands on its own among Hollywood’s best film scores – particularly considering the iconic soundtrack it followed.

The Godfather Pt. II: Main Title - The Immigrant

Click to load video

36: Shaft (1971)

Shaft isn’t the only film Isaac Hayes scored, but it’s certainly the most well-known. From the wah-wah-enhanced guitar groove to his own baritone vocals, Hayes proved that he was a force to be reckoned with in modern American soundtracks.

35: Taxi Driver (1976)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of art that better embodies the creeping disillusionment and moral decay of 70s New York than Martin Scorsese’s landmark film and its accompanying score by Bernard Herrmann. Eschewing the classical orchestration that typified the era, Herrmann used a palette of dissonant sounds and instruments that left audiences feeling deeply uncomfortable long after the credits rolled.

34: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

Burt Bacharach may seem like an odd choice to score a film about two of the most notorious outlaws who ever terrorized the Old West, but boy did he deliver. Not only did he supply the score, he also gave the world the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” which won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

33: The Untouchables (1987)

The music from Brian De Palma’s gangster classic will ring through your head any time you find yourself in an old train station. It’s foreboding, filled with adventure, and almost makes Al Capone look like a hero. Fresh and classic all at once, Ennio Morricone’s score brings the film’s characters to life.

The Untouchables

Click to load video

32: Doctor Zhivago (1965)

This film may not resonate with modern audiences used to fast-paced storytelling and characters with easily digestible backstories, but the haunting, wonderful score by David Lean and Maurice Jarre will stay with you and bring you back wanting more of this amazing classic work of art.

31: Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973)

Bob Dylan not only supplied the unique take on a western soundtrack in this rare gem of a film, but he also acts in a small, almost non-speaking, role as one of Billy’s gang members. Dylan’s songs, composed exclusively for the film, could not be better suited for this postmodern western.

30: Beetlejuice (1988)

Just sit back and listen to this eerie, fun, and thrilling score: it jumps, bops, and dances the calypso straight into your childhood memories. Beetlejuice is one of director Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s early collaborations, resulting in one of their best movie scores, capturing the whimsical and ominous tones that color most of their work.

29: The Dark Knight (2008)

When it came to breathing new life into the famed Batman franchise, Christopher Nolan reimaged the caped crusader as a brooding anti-hero – and he needed a score to match. Starting with Batman Begins, Nolan tapped Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard to create a dark soundscape filled with throbbing bass and shrieking strings. If you listen closely, you can almost hear Heath Ledger’s Joker voice in your head, urging you to do something…crazy.

Click to load video

28: The Hired Hand (1971)

Having already been the inspiration behind “Mr Tambourine Man,” folk musician Bruce Langhorne once again found Dylan at his boot heels after he scored Peter Fonda’s western-with-a-domestic-twist in 1971. Dylan would follow suit with his Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid soundtrack in 1973, though the stark Americana of Langhorne’s score is arguably the more atmospheric of the two, remaining a cult soundtrack for decades until it was finally issued in 2004.

Bruce Langhorne - Ending - (The Hired Hand)

Click to load video

27: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Remarkably, it wasn’t until the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy that John Williams gifted fans with “The Imperial March,” the theme you hear whenever you think of The Dark Lord Of The Sith, Darth Vader. With The Empire Strikes Back, Williams expands on the musical themes of the original film – and creates even more in the process.

26: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It’s difficult to find modern film scores that don’t feel derivative, but George Miller knew what he was doing when he hired the Dutch multi-instrumentalist and composer Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, who’s been a close collaborator with Hans Zimmer. Holkenborg’s immersive and driving score amounts to an audio assault that perfectly matches the chaotic world of the Mad Max franchise.

25: Conan The Barbarian (1982)

Even if the film itself usually fails to make any lists, Basil Poledouris’ score can get anyone’s blood pounding, and is well worthy of respect, particularly within the fantasy B-movie genre.

24: Once Upon A Time In The West (1969)

Both beautiful and brutal at once, this could be the best thing Ennio Morricone has ever done. Of course, he also scored The Good, The Bad And The Ugly; in the western genre, Morricone’s only competition is himself.

Once Upon A Time In The West

Click to load video

23: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Danny Elfman at his most impish, dancing in the middle of the street, beckoning you to the deep and mysterious forest. Though not as playful as some of his work, this is where Elfman stretched a bit towards romance and gothic fairytale, paving the way towards his next project, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Elfman: Edward Sissorhands - Manin Title & Ice Dance (From "Edward Scissorhands")

Click to load video

22: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

A violent, foreboding, and dark look into the terror of a possible future, there’s not a single moment of frivolity or room to breathe in this score. From top to finish, Brad Feidel puts listeners on a ride toward an inevitable clash between good and evil.

21: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

While Stanley Kubrick initially commissioned noted Hollywood composer Alex North to score his interstellar masterpiece, he ended up scrapping North’s work in favor of classical music pieces he’d originally used as guides. From the Johan Strauss waltz “The Blue Danube” to avant-gardist György Ligeti and, most famously, Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” Kubrick catapulted these composers back into the spotlight and made these classic pieces forever synonymous with his iconic film.

20: Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter is a man to be reckoned with. When people hear this music they start looking around every corner and hiding the steak knives. It’s threatening and catchy, and, like the villain in the film, feels as if it will never stop.

Halloween (1978) - Opening Credits

Click to load video

19: Blade Runner (1982)

Like the amazing effects and the dark mood of the cult classic movie, this score seems to ooze along the wet sidewalks with everything else in the film. Is it born from a fever dream of director Ridley Scott? No, it’s just one of the enigmatic Vangelis’ best film scores.

Blade Runner Blues

Click to load video

18: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and one of the best Western scores that ever graced a silver screen. Hear it and you want to jump on a horse and ride into the sunset. With a single melody, famed composer Elmer Bernstein created a score that has come to epitomize the idea of the American West. So much so the title tune even became the “Marlboro Cigarette Theme.” (For more greatness from Bernstein, check out their score to To Kill a Mockingbird.

17: Chariots Of Fire (1981)

Even before his trailblazing work for Blade Runner, the Greek composer Vangelis applied his synth skills to the period film Chariots Of Fire, set amid the 1924 Olympics. A cinematic gamble for sure, director Hugh Hudson didn’t want Chariots to feel like a stuffy heritage film, so he tasked Vangelis to create a modern score, resulting in one of the most popular theme songs of the early 80s that’s been parodied ad infinitum.

Chariots Of Fire

Click to load video

16: The Pink Panther (1963)

If someone doesn’t know who Peter Sellers was, there’s no better introduction than this series of films. He was as brilliant as Henry Mancini’s score – and that’s really saying something. The broad and – yes – cartoonish theme perfectly accentuates the slapstick comedy of this classic.

Henry Mancini - The Pink Panther Theme (From The Pink Panther) (Audio)

Click to load video

15: Psycho (1960)

Ever been scared while taking a shower? You can thank Bernard Herrmann for creating the ultimate cultural touchstone of terror with just a shriek of strings. How is it that so many know the music from this classic Hitchcock film without even seeing it? That is Bernard Herrmann’s true genius here.

The Shower - Psycho (5/12) Movie CLIP (1960) HD

Click to load video

14: Batman (1989)

For many, there are two primary film composers who represent the genre: John Williams and Danny Elfman. And this is Danny Elfman’s crowning achievement. The main theme can make a person feel as if they are perched atop a rooftop thousands of feet above a fictional city.

The Batman Theme

Click to load video

13: Superman (1978)

How often can a score speak to its audience? Not just emotionally, but literally. As in, when the main theme peaks and the listener can actually hear the word “superman” – even though it isn’t there. John Williams’ best movie scores become characters in themselves, and this one stands out among his series of blockbuster works throughout the 70s.

Prelude and Main Title March

Click to load video

12: Braveheart (1995)

Known for his beautifully lush orchestration, James Horner captured the spirit of William Wallace’s journey with his evocative compositions using Celtic textures to create a score that is both awe-inspiring and melancholic. The listener is transported to the rolling green hills of Scotland and then suddenly the blood-soaked battlefields of legend with expert efficiency.

Horner: The Battle Of Stirling

Click to load video

11: Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

For many, the work of Maurice Jarre conjures the sweeping scores of John Williams, but it was Jaree who first soundtracked one of the greatest adventures to appear on screen when he scored this 1962 desert epic starring Peter O’Toole. With its grand theme and exotic instrumentation, this evocative soundtrack is a work of astounding mastery that remains one of the best movie scores ever recorded.

Jarre: Overture (From "Lawrence Of Arabia")

Click to load video

10: Back To The Future (1985)

An easy way to tell if a soundtrack earns its place among the best film scores of all time: just bring to mind a piece of dialogue… “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Hear it yet? The Back To The Future score transformed Alan Silvestri’s career, turning the jazz percussionist into one of the orchestral greats.

Back To The Future (From "Back To The Future" Original Score/End Credits)

Click to load video

9: Jaws (1975)

What John Williams is able to do in the signature piece of music we all know and loathe to hear when swimming is nothing short of miraculous. Two notes. Repeated. Played louder as if they were approaching until… well, you get eaten by a shark. Figuratively, of course.

Main Title/John Williams/Jaws (From The "Jaws" Soundtrack)

Click to load video

8: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)

Is there anything more ethereal than the elves in this movie? Yes, there is. Howard Shore’s score seems to have hatched from a celestial bubble of creativity that has been traveling the cosmos ever since JRR Tolkien slipped this mortal coil.

Lothlorien (feat. "Lament for Gandalf")

Click to load video

7: Rocky (1976)

It can be hard to find the desire to climb an insanely high set of stairs. But put on the score for the film that introduced the world to the heavy-lidded, crooked-mouthed, lame-brained yet strong-of-heart hero of this film and anyone will find themselves dancing at the top step. His combination of pulsating horns and rumbling drums birthed the training montage that became the ultimate anthem for athletes everywhere.

Rocky - Main Theme from the Motion Picture

Click to load video

6: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

It’s no accident that John Williams appears more than any other composer (eight times in total) in this list of the best film scores ever. His thrilling score to the first Indiana Jones adventure makes you want to put on a Fedora, grab a whip, and beat up some Nazis. Another collaboration with his two muses, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg, Williams was tasked once again to create a lasting theme for one of film’s most iconic heroes. The result was a sweeping soundtrack that could lure you in one moment and terrify you the next.

5: Casablanca (1942)

It takes the likes of Max Steiner to create a musical masterpiece out of just a six-note refrain, and yet one of the most recognizable film themes of all time is based on a borrowed melody. Tasked with using a popular song at the time, “As Time Goes By,” Steiner expertly picks apart a simple 30s tune and turns it into a dramatic device that scores one of the greatest romances on film.

4: Gone With The Wind (1939)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential score from the Golden Age of cinema. This film’s main theme could not be more heartbreaking, grand, and epically tragic, thanks to the legendary composer Max Steiner, who used music as a tool to develop characters. Steiner was instrumental in making Hollywood’s best movie scores equally important as what was happening in the foreground, and created the blueprint for every film that followed.

3: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

Ennio Morricone is a master of Western gothic soundtracks and this particular work could not be more singular and attached to his legacy. Thanks to his pioneering work with director Sergio Leone, not only is this one of the best film scores in history, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is hands-down the best Western movie score of all time. Think of the Old West and you instantly hear the opening whistle followed by three guitar notes that let you know danger is just around the corner.

Ennio Morricone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (titles) - Il Buono, Il Brutto E Il Cattivo (1966)

Click to load video

2: The Godfather (1972)

Is there a score that better invokes the sights, sounds, and tones of the film it accompanied? Certainly, there is not. This score by the prolific Italian composer Giovanni “Nino” Rota is so powerful that even real mobsters well up with tears when they hear it.

The Godfather Waltz (Main Title)

Click to load video

1: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

When it comes to the best film scores of all time, few can touch the impact of John Williams’ symphonic soundtrack for the original Star Wars film. George Lucas’ grand space opera would not be the emotionally affecting cultural juggernaut that it is today without John Williams’ transformative score. It restored a level of epic scoring for films that had been lost amid smaller storytelling, and its influence can still be felt today in nearly every film that hits the silver screen.

Click to load video

Looking for more? Discover the 50 Best Film Theme Songs.

Build your soundtrack collection with classic titles and under-the-radar favorites.



  1. Matt

    January 27, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    How can The Italian Job not be there?

    • Steve

      January 29, 2018 at 9:45 am

      Which one?

      • Billy

        March 5, 2020 at 10:58 pm

        Obviously a subjective list and in no way is definitive. So many films missing from list and many that are listed are mediocre at best.

  2. Razvan

    January 27, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in America should be up there.

    • William

      February 18, 2021 at 4:05 pm

      It should be at number 1.

      As for the line “Is there a score that better invokes the sights, sounds, and tones of the film it accompanied?” that the author used for Godfather?” Yes there is, and it is Morricone’s best ever score “Poverty”, also knows as the theme to Once Upon a Time in America.

  3. jozsef

    January 28, 2018 at 6:33 am

    What about the Gladiator?

  4. DrBre

    January 28, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Adding a “Big Blue” score by ‎Éric Serra‎ would fit the list.

  5. عرفان

    January 28, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    what the bad and shit list…. schindler list??? gladiator…. conquest of paradise? inseption?? interstellar? cinema paradiso?? and…. titanic is 39 and Star Wars: Episode 1? :)))) are you kiding me??!!!

    • Pasindu Fernando

      July 10, 2020 at 5:55 pm

      IDK you agree with me. But I also thinks Harry Potter Hedwig Theme is the Film Scoring masterpiece of All-Time.

  6. Steve

    January 29, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Any list of “Best 50 Film Scores” without a mention of Elmer Bernstein’s work on ‘The Great Escape’ is irrelevant.

  7. John Rank

    January 29, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    No Born Free, unbelievable.

  8. Mart

    January 29, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    The Piano, The Shawshank Redemption, The English Patient, Paris Texas? Good otherwise.

  9. Discophile44

    January 29, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    This list is a piece of crap for uncultivated people !! Junkie XL really ?

    • Mike

      June 15, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      That’s what I said! Junkie XL’s Mad Max 4 is ranked higher then The Empire Strikes Back LOL! What a load of crap! Why in the fuck is Queen’s Flash Gordon on here? Terrible score & movie. Tron Legacy is one of the 50 best film scores? REALLY????

  10. Joe Schlenger

    January 29, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    A Hard Days Night should be here!! Specifically written for the movie, practically on the spot

  11. Bryan

    January 30, 2018 at 12:38 am

    There are so many great scores out there; it would be tough to pick just 50.

    I would add:

    Elmer Bernstein — “The Man with the Golden Arm”
    Alex North — “Dragonslayer”
    Giorgio Moroder, Klaus Doldinger & Limahl — “The NeverEnding Story”
    Erich Wolgang Korngold — “The Adventures of Robin Hood”
    Jerry Goldsmith — “The Omen”

  12. Victor

    February 4, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    What “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Way We Were”?

    • Dario

      July 19, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      I would mention: Out of Africa by John Barry, Murder on the Orient Express by Richard Rodney Bennet, Summer of 42 by Michel Legrand…

  13. Martin Holland

    April 27, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Most of these scores are relatively recent (i.e. within the last 50 years) and therefore omit the two greatest composers to write music for major films – Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Prokofiev’s scores for Eisenstein’s films ‘Alexander Nevsky’ and ‘Ivan the Terrible’ rank as the two greatest film scores of all time. John Williams is wonderfully skilful but very derivative – for example, Jaws is Stravinksy’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and ET is Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. Star Wars is in the tradition of music for the big Westerns, absolutely fitting a western shot in space.

    • Tim Bo

      September 1, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      Well said. You could easily say Star Wars is derivative in part of Holst’s “The Planets”. No shame there because Williams excels. No.1 seems right to me.

      Bernard Hermann’s score for the original Cape Fear is better that most on this list and is far more chilling than his work for Psycho.

    • Bernie Ur

      October 27, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      Really? I always hear people say that the Jaws Theme resembles the finale of Dvorak Symphony No. 9 and ET is modeled after the finale of Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. I actually think much of the music from Star Wars has a lot more in common with Rite of Spring than Jaws does. Compare the opening of Part II of Rite to all of the atmospheric space music in Star Wars.

      As great as Prokofiev and Shostakovich are, I don’t think their film music had nearly as much impact on the genre as their body of symphonic works did. I wouldn’t put any of their scores on this list either.

      Anyway, I really enjoyed this list! Although they’re pretty recent, I would have loved to see mentions for Schindler’s List, Amelie, Up, or Interstellar.

  14. bthom

    June 30, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Last of the Mohicans is Horner’s most inspiring work.

  15. ronald

    August 1, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    David Shire’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Alan Silvestri’s Predator are missing. Who compiles these “lists”…


    October 10, 2018 at 11:21 am

    What you have here, other than Max Steiner, is a list of modern composers of recent movies, not a list of the great movie composers which were all from the Golden Age of Hollywood. These were also all great classical musicians in their own right, and wrote symphonies and operas alongside their movie scores, people such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, not to mention Fellini’s great composer,Nino Rota.

  17. Ozz

    October 16, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Superman theme should be way higher than 13. That is way more iconic than almost all of the the top 10.

  18. Aarob

    October 29, 2018 at 1:41 am

    Hans Zimmer – Inception
    Jerry Goldsmith – Rudy

  19. Abhinav

    November 17, 2018 at 5:37 am

    what’s the point of having such list, if it doesn’t have Pirates of the Caribbean? that score hands down beat all the rest combined

  20. Josh

    December 29, 2018 at 8:23 am

    no Dances with Wolves, no Glory. big miss.

  21. Duane

    January 2, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    How can none of the Star Trek films not be on this list???

  22. Theda

    January 7, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    What about the theme ” A Summer Place”?

  23. Theda

    January 7, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    Why isn’t “theme of a summer place” up there?

  24. Sosa

    January 17, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Even though I live John Williams, there is too much of him on this list.

    I would suggest cult classic Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks “fire walk with me”

  25. John Dorrington

    February 3, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Thought “the shining” might have got a look-in..

  26. Jacob Morin

    February 10, 2019 at 6:20 am

    I think Goblins score for the original 1977 “Suspiria” would be a very nice addition

    • Jacob Morin

      February 10, 2019 at 6:37 am


  27. Šurda

    March 13, 2019 at 11:16 pm

    Judgment Night, The Crow…Morricone? Lame list.

  28. Rob

    April 28, 2019 at 12:02 am

    Disappointing not to see Jean Claude Petit’s score for “Jean De Florette/Manon Des Sources”. I cannot think of another film where the soundtrack so comprehensively delivers the viewer to a time and place in history.

  29. David croft

    June 3, 2019 at 3:21 am

    John Barry’s Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves should be on the list as should Gerry Goldsmith’s The Sand Pebbles

  30. Si

    June 4, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    No “The Third Man”, what the hell is wrong with the compilers, Anton Kara’s must be spinning in his grave!

    And where is “An American Werewolf in London” – maybe not the best, but definitely one of most well-balanced and thought through.

  31. Christian Markham

    June 22, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Hans Zimmer – This Land
    Should be in the top ten here.

  32. Toby

    June 25, 2019 at 5:20 am

    Umm I’m sorry but the 1954 gojira theme tho if you hear that one you immediately know godjira/godzilla

  33. James W

    June 29, 2019 at 6:00 am

    What a joke. E.T. is widely known as the greatest film score of all time and they have it at #48 – all credibility here lost. Peace.

  34. Lewis

    July 4, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    BEN-HUR! by Miklos Rozsa not even on this list when it should be in top 5. What about MR’s EL CID, QUO VADIS, SPELLBOUND, IVANHOE, KING OF KINGS? This list is a farce. None from the Golden Age except for BH and Max Steiner. What about Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, Eric Wolfgang Korngold, Victor Young, & Dmitri Tiomkin, et al.!? Also, no Jerry Goldsmith! Whoever made up this list probably wasn’t born until 1960.

  35. Bro

    July 10, 2019 at 3:22 am

    Wojciech Kilar’s score for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” deserves a mention.

  36. Adrian Williamson -

    July 11, 2019 at 5:26 am

    Seriously the fact that Inception is not on here at all let alone not in the top 5 is absolutely criminal. It literally makes the movie what it is. The last part in the airport puts your brain to work on whether or not he actually is alive or is just in his own self made reality limbo where he no longer needs to try and see his kids faces in the real world because being with them is good enough to him even if it’s not real because reality to him is having them near him again.

  37. joe

    November 14, 2019 at 4:21 am

    how dare you. sam raimi spiderman number 1

  38. Phil Pepin

    November 21, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Instead of Goldfinger I would have picked McCartney’s Live and Let Time as a great film score from the Bond movies.

  39. Parker Jackson

    November 21, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    as bad as the transformers movies are, steve jablonsky deserves a place on this list for the amazing soundtrack it has

  40. Andrew S Grundy

    January 12, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    This has a great list of film scores but what about the greatest film score of all time Miklos Rozsa Ben hur

  41. Mickey

    January 14, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    Summer of 42 and a Man and a Woman……………..gotta have them on there

  42. JoeJohn

    February 17, 2020 at 3:32 pm


  43. Charity Son

    February 19, 2020 at 10:20 am

    An ok list… Several great additions in the comments… I’d also add the soundtracks to Dune (David Lynch version) and The Black Stallion (Coppola version; composed by his father Carmine I think).

  44. Lacc

    February 28, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    The Omen soundtrack should be there. Jerry Golsmith’s work is one of the most pretentious horror film music ever written. Not only it’s scary as hell, but also incredibly captivating with the satanic lyrics and the choir etc.

  45. Nick Brett

    February 28, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Halloween and not Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape From New York? Both better Carpenter scores.
    Goldfinger and not OHMSS? The brilliant ski escape theme and the incredible close from Louis Armstrong!

  46. xyxoan

    April 19, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    Walkabout by John Barry could beat a great many of these with one hand (figuratively, of course). Combine the soundtrack with the visual brilliance of the film, and it is criminally overlooked.

  47. Surf City

    May 9, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    The Best Years of Our Lives Friedhofer, Who orchestrated so many great scores for others finally got his chance
    and wrote a masterpiece which won an Oscar.

    The Spirit of St. Louis Waxman One of the best scores that never got an Oscar nomination. The movie was average. Also Sunset Blvd.

    Ben Hur Rozsa The master of the historical film score. The Red House, Jungle Book, Spellbound, Ivanhoe, The Thief of Bagdad etc.

    Korngold Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, etc. He said Robin Hood saved his family because he stayed in Hollywood rather than return
    to Germany. John Williams said that one of the big scenes inside the Death Star (The first SW film) was a tribute to Korngold. It
    is easily recognizable.

    Tiomkin The master of the western film High Noon, Red River The Alamo. The Thing etc.

    My number one composer is, with out question, Max Steiner!

  48. Scott Arendt

    May 16, 2020 at 7:26 am

    Michael Kamen Robin Hood Prince of Thieves needs to be on this list.

  49. Hamu

    June 6, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    I add more to this list:
    Ben Hur (1959)… Rozsa was one of the inspiration of Basil and Williams….
    Gladiator (2000)
    The Hunt for Red October (1990)
    Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
    Labyrinth (1986)… David Bowie
    Alien & Predator tracks so good I use on XCom games as background music…

  50. Nora

    June 7, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    I definitely agree with Star Wars Episode 4 being number 1. It’s arguably the most recognizable movie soundtrack in history.

  51. Raden Payas

    June 12, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    No Somewhere in Time? I’m speechless

  52. Matt

    July 8, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Robocop theme time is a stunning, thoughtful piece.
    Much like the move itself, often missed by the masses.

    The way it starts with organic, orchestral instrumentation but evolves into synthesized music and even adds the sounds of anvils being hit to represent Murpheys change from human to robot.

  53. makar

    July 15, 2020 at 5:50 am

    Wow, I can’t believe there isn’t at least one studio ghibli soundtrack but pink panther is in there? BTW, Schlinder’s list is clearly missing.

  54. Rob G

    August 1, 2020 at 2:55 am

    Great effort! And, thanks for sharing your list, which is certainly much better than others I’ve seen.

    Here would be some of my choices for best movie scores:

    Hans Zimmer: The Da Vinci Code, Gladiator, Inception, Black Hawk Down, Interstellar, The Last Samurai, King Arthur

    James Horner: Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, Troy, Mask of Zorro, Glory, Titanic, Searching For Bobby Fisher, A Beautiful Mind

    John Barry: Dances With Wolves, Somewhere In Time, Body Heat

    Jerry Goldsmith: Rudy, Masada, First Knight, The Sum of All Fears, The Blue Max, 13th Warrior, The Mummy, The Wind and the Lion

    John Williams: Munich, Schindler’s List

    Miklos Rozca: El Cid, Ben-Hur

    Harry Gregson-Williams: Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia

    Roque Banos: Risen

    Alexandre Desplat: Argo, Unbroken

    Alex North: Spartacus

    Carlos Rafael Rivera: Godless

    Elliot Goldenthal: Michael Collins

    Elmer Bernstein: The Great Escape

    Howard Shore: Fellowship of the Ring, Twin Towers, Return of the King

    Maurice Jarre: Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago

    Ron Goodwin: Battle of Britain

    Trevor Jones: Last of the Mohicans

    Lorne Balfe: Saints and Strangers

    Trevor Morris: The Tudors (series), The Vikings (series)

  55. SR

    October 30, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Are you serious? Where is ‘The Sea Hawk’?

  56. Hitechcpa

    November 30, 2020 at 5:48 am

    Uh, Easy Rider?

  57. Philip Berk

    April 3, 2021 at 10:23 pm


  58. Finn

    July 7, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    First off I’d like to say, decent list, and I know it is your opinion but almost every Tarantino movie should be up on that list. I thought Pulp Fiction would be at least Top 10.

  59. James

    November 3, 2021 at 3:55 am

    Why is Shaft so low on this list when it should be in the top ten , this sound track had a number of great songs, and I heard no mention of the sound track from the movie Superfly another sound track that is still being played today

  60. Christopher Norris

    January 23, 2022 at 1:17 am

    I would like to submit Joe Hisaishi’s score for ‘Mononoke Hime’, especially the ‘symphonic suite’ version. It’s just transformative.

  61. Josh

    September 22, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Sorry, but the scores from all of the Harry Potter movies are some of the best works of all time in any movie. And the fact that none of them (John Williams, Nicholas Hooper, Alexandre Desplat…) made this list is absurd on its face.

  62. LC

    November 8, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    I’m sorry? Where is How to train your dragon???

  63. Brian Birch

    January 14, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    How can Dances with wolves and the Big Country not be included in this list?

  64. Matt

    January 19, 2023 at 9:10 pm

    Not having the Oscar-winning score to “The Right Stuff” by Bill Conti on here is a crime.

  65. Achintya S

    February 15, 2023 at 7:56 am

    A very shitty list, how can one leave out interstellar n pirates of the Caribbean this is an abomination in the name of listing movie scores, an utter blasphemy in the world of composing, a pinnacle of failure.

  66. Jason Kelly

    April 28, 2023 at 5:00 am

    No inception or interstellar? Hans Zimmer is literally a great, subjective of course, but to have only one of his films and 324 John Williams films. Come on.

  67. Bob Forrest

    June 17, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    Death in Venice introduced every one to Mahler in the Sixty’s and The Elephant man had Samual Barbers adagio many people heard it here first . I don’t agree with the order of the list but I am enjoying The Waterfront by Bernstein now
    Bob Forrest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
uDiscover Music - Back To Top
uDiscover Music - Back To Top