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The Top 10 Movie Scores of All Time

It can’t simply be that the music is good. A score must be effective in creating atmosphere. It must evoke the right emotions and amplify the visual work of the director. We have taken all of this into account when compiling this list, just like we did when compiling our Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time.

Below the top 10 are runners-up, as well as another section of honorable mentions. If you don’t see your favorite movie score, scroll further below. With that said, let’s jump into the list of the best movie scores of all time

#10 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The Indiana Jones The Raiders of the Lost Ark movie score is full of adventure, action, and excitement.

Composer: John Williams

You’re probably sick of the Spielberg/Williams team, but nobody does it better. Williams composed the film score and the London Symphony Orchestra once again played the Herbert W. Spencer orchestrations. Williams’s work received a nod for the Academy Award for Best Original Score but lost out to Chariots of Fire by Vangelis, mentioned above.

The score originally contained only nine tracks but was later expanded to 19 tracks. Williams would go on to score the rest of the Indiana Jones movies as well. It was so celebrated that it was later re-recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Trivia: Three minutes of music featured in the movie are still unreleased on CD but appear on LP. Those tracks are “Marion Into the Pit” and “Indy Rides The Statue”. The track “Desert Chase” is incomplete on most releases, only completely represented on the Concord release.

#9 – The Pink Panther (1963)

The main theme of the "Pink Panther" score by Henry Mancini is one of the most easily recognizable movie tracks of all time.

Composer: Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini knocked it out of the park for The Pink Panther, so much so that the movie score won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2001. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score but lost to Mary Poppins. The animators and Mancini worked together to make the music match what was seen on the screen.

The lead theme, which you can probably hear in your head right now, reached the Top 10 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart and won three Grammy Awards. This song is a part of pop culture and pops up from time to time in countless movies, TV shows, video games, and albums by other artists.

Trivia: “The Pink Panther Theme” is composed in the key of E minor, which was strange since Mancini usually used chromaticism. The tenor saxophone solo was played by Plas Johnson.

#8 – Chariots of Fire (1981)

The Chariots of Fire score won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1981. The music was written and performed by Vangelis, a new age synthesizer player.

Composer: Vangelis

Greek composer Vangelis wrote this score, netting him four Academy Awards, including Best Original Score in 1981. Vangelis was and is still known for making very cinematic new-age music on a synthesizer. The main theme of the movie reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single.

This score changed the game. It was written as electronic music for a film set in the 1920s. Many movies would later adopt this juxtaposition. The music on the actual album was re-recorded and is slightly different from those tracks heard during the film.

Trivia: Vangelis used a CS-80 synthesizer for the score. He played every single instrument, including piano, drums, and percussion. It was recorded at his Nemo studio in London. Vangelis was unsuccessfully sued by Stavros Logarides who accused him of plagiarizing his song “City of Violets” for the “Chariots of Fire” theme.

#7 – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The 'E.T. The Extraterrestrial' movie score, composed and conducted by John Williams, is a masterpiece of songwriting.

Composer: John Williams

You are now being introduced to a name you’ll see a ton here: John Williams, who worked closely with Steven Spielberg. His work on the E.T. score netted him an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Grammy Award. Williams is known for his huge sounds and leitmotifs, but in this case he created a soft and emotional theme to accompany the lovable alien.

Williams used polytonality and the Lydian mode to create a feeling of heroism and a dreamlike quality. Spielberg liked his work so much that he edited some scenes to the music instead of the other way around. This score has been re-released in many versions to satisfy the hungry fans.

Trivia: It was recorded at the MGM Scoring Stage in Culver City, California, in 1981. The score reaches over 500 pages on paper and is almost 80 minutes long.

#6 – Back to the Future (1985)

'Back to the Future' is one of many Robert Zemeckis films to feature a score written by Alan Silvestri. Perfect for adventures, the main theme will stay with you... long into the future.

Composer: Alan Silvestri

Going on an adventure? If so, you’ll need this soundtrack. The current double-disc version features the full orchestral score on the first disc while the second disc contains the original (or alternate) versions from the early sessions. These are darker and moodier versions of the same songs, which was the direction composer Alan Silvestri wanted to go, but was convinced to lighten the tone to fit with the overall light-hearted romp that is Back to the Future.

Alan Silvestri would continue his working relationship with BTTF director Robert Zemeckis, scoring Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, The Polar Express, and many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, including the Avengers movies, and many more.

Trivia: Alan Silvestri has won two Academy Awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The main theme from the film was later used in the sequels and even the Universal Studios theme parks.

#5 – The Fountain (2006)

The 'Fountain' movie score by Clint Mansell is the most alluring on this list. It features about two or three themes that are re-used and remixed throughout the film.

Composer: Clint Mansell

After scoring the movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream for Darren Aronofsky, Clint Mansell was then asked by the director to compose for The Fountain. The music is played by Mansell, the Kronos Quartet, and the post-rock band Mogwai. The challenge was to create one theme that could be applied to the three storylines of the movie. I think he succeeded. This score is one of the most unified I’ve ever heard. It sounds like one giant overture.

Mansell went on to win the Chicago Film Critics Association award for Best Original Score, among other similar accolades. It was nominated for the Golden Globe but didn’t win.

Trivia Facts: Aronofsky wanted David Bowie to provide vocals for some pieces, but this didn’t work out. They tried with Antony Hegarty but realized vocals were altogether inappropriate for this film. Many remixes of the songs exist due to a marketing campaign that supplied the tracks to musicians.

#4 – Interstellar (2014)

The 'Interstellar' movie score by Hans Zimmer is hypnotic and classy, full of wonder and hope.

Composer: Hans Zimmer

After scoring Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy, Hans Zimmer was again tapped by Christopher Nolan to score his film Interstellar. It would be nominated for an Academy Award and for Original Score at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. The film’s themes of fatherhood and loneliness are captured in the music—the sign of an effective score.

Zimmer played every note of the score using synthesizers and computers, but later used church pipe organs, strings, woodwinds, and piano. Critics showered the score with universal praise. The “Illuminated Star Projection” edition contains almost twice the number of tracks.

Trivia: Zimmer started scoring the film two years before its release, well before the typical time frame. Zimmer isolated himself for a month while writing it, since part of the movie is about being alone.

#3 – Jurassic Park (1993)

The 'Jurassic Park' score is another co-production by director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams.

Composer: John Williams

Even by 1993, John Williams and Steve Spielberg had worked together several times, dating back to 1975’s Jaws. Williams, considered the master of film scoring, wrote this wondrous theme to transport its listeners to the island where dinosaurs roamed and adventure (and danger) lurked around every tree. The orchestration was carried out by Alexander Courage, John Neufeld, and Conrad Pope because Williams was suffering from back injuries during the scoring sessions. Apparently, scoring and conducting can be a dangerous gig. Williams has described the music as “symphonic cartooning,” in which the notes complement the movement of the dinosaurs and the awe expressed by the characters and viewers upon seeing them.

Trivia: John Williams wrote this score in a month. It was written at Skywalker Ranch, owned by George Lucas. Steven Spielberg wasn’t able to be at the sessions due to filming Schindler’s List.

#2 – The Lord of the Rings (2001)

An epic score for an epic tale. Funny how so many of these entries are tied to trilogies!

Composer: Howard Shore

From the land of Middle Earth comes our pick for the best score ever. And what a long score it is! Over 13 hours of music was released. Some of the ensembles contained as many as 400 musicians! The London Philharmonic Orchestra played most of the songs.

The composition contains over 100 leitmotifs—more if you include the scores of the Hobbit films. The score won three Oscars, three Grammys, and two Golden Globes, among many others. It even has a documentary and a research book by musicologist Doug Adams. When a score gets its own documentary, that’s when you know it’s a work of art unto itself.

Trivia: The complete recordings for each film contain as many as four discs a movie, and that still isn’t all of the music. Much of it is diegetic songs (i.e., the characters in the film hear the music).

#1 – Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

The 'Star Wars: A New Hope' score is Williams at his best. Each track is someone's favorite.

Composer: John Williams

This is another masterpiece by John Williams, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world. It was recorded over eight sessions in Denham, England, at Anvil Studios. Herbert W. Spencer orchestrated the score. The main title was so popular that it transcended film scoring to reach #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. For better or worse, a disco remix reached #1.

The album won many awards and was certified platinum by the RIAA. It was acknowledged by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. The original was released as a double LP and has since been re-issued and remastered several times.

Trivia: The original double LP release was printed in such a way that an autochanger record player could switch the vinyl records for you. The first record had sides A and D, while the second record had sides B and C.

Runners-Up for Best Movie Scores of All Time

Tron: Legacy (2010)

The Tron Legacy soundtrack was written and performed by Daft Punk, whose sound wavers between synthpop and funk.

Composer: Daft Punk

The Tron: Legacy film score was performed by an 85-piece orchestra, arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese. It’s a mix of orchestral and electronic music, all created by Daft Punk. They said that Wendy Carlos, the composer of the original Tron movie score, was their inspiration, along with Max Steiner, John Carpenter, Vangelis, and others.

Usually the movie is created and then the score is written and layered atop the visuals, but this movie was edited around the score, granting Daft Punk’s music an importance not usually afforded the composers. The score features 22 tracks with as many as 5 extra bonus tracks depending on the version.

Trivia: The song “Computerized” featured lyrics by Jay-Z that were later removed, using only the instrumental. It was meant to be promoted as a single to help the movie. Twenty-seven mainstream critics gave the score an averaged rating of 71/100.

Flash Gordon (1980)

The Flash Gordon movie score was written and performed by Queen, the rock band who also worked on the Highlander score.

Composer: Queen

The Flash Gordon score is also the 9th studio album by one of the best bands of all time, Queen. They later did the same for the movie Highlander. Lyrics only appear on two tracks. Later, an additional EP was released with six additional songs. The album was highly acclaimed for such a goofy action-adventure science-fiction movie (it’s a fun watch).

The album reached #23 on the US Billboard 200 and hit #1 in Austria and #2 in Germany. The main theme “Flash’s Theme” was released as a single under the title “Flash”. It received a music video and performed well globally. It even appears on Queen’s Greatest Hits.

Trivia Facts: Jack Black sings portions of the lead song on one of Tenacious D’s albums. Audio from the film is used prominently in the songs on the score.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Yet another by John Williams, the king of scores. It has an instantly recognizable theme.

Composer: John Williams

Another winning score by John Williams, it sold well and was certified gold. It achieved that rarest of feats for a score, appearing on the US Billboard albums chart. The Collector’s Edition Soundtrack contains 26 tracks totaling 77 minutes, but all anyone really remembers is the five-note theme played by the aliens themselves on their UFO. (Check out the 15 times musicians saw UFOs if you’re into that).

This is another example of Spielberg using Williams’s music to amplify his films. That five-note theme was and still is a cultural phenomenon. If you’re too young to know where it came from, I guarantee you that you’ve still heard it before and can recognize it.

Trivia: The crazily catchy five-note theme received a disco remix. Billboard rules at the time allowed it to chart; it peaked at #17. La-La Land Records’ 40th-anniversary release contains a second disc of alternate mixes and additional music.

Halloween (1978)

The movie 'Halloween' has a score written and performed by John Carpenter, the man who co-wrote and directed the film.

Composer: John Carpenter

I had to choose one, so I picked Halloween since it was John Carpenter’s first big hit. He scores all of his own movies and is known for creating amazing themes by himself on a synthesizer. His songs are simple but, when dealing with thrillers, sometimes less is more.

The 20th Anniversary Edition is the one you want to hear, with 28 tracks at just under 52 minutes of music. If you enjoy that, check out his scores for his newer movies as Carpenter’s skills developed over time. That said, the main Halloween theme is probably the most well known.

Trivia: John Carpenter has seen a resurgence in popularity as a musician, due to a renewed interest in 1980s synthesizer-based music. He has released a few “synthwave” albums recently to considerable acclaim.

Honorable Mentions for Best Movie Scores of All Time

  • The Godfather (1972) – Composed by Nino Rota and conducted by Carlo Savina.
  • Gone With The Wind (1939) – Written by Max Steiner and performed by a five-member orchestra.
  • The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (1966) – Composed by Ennio Morricone.
  • Rocky (1976) – Composed by Bill Conti.
  • The Lion King (1994) – Composed by Hans Zimmer with songs written and performed by Elton John.
  • Jaws (1975) – Written by John Williams, conducted by Joel McNeely, and re-recorded by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
  • Suspiria (1977) – Composed and performed by the Italian band Goblin led by Claudio Simonetti.
  • Braveheart (1995) – Composed and conducted by James Horner and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
  • Akira (1988) – Composed and conducted by Shoji Yamashiro, it features elements of Japanese noh music and Indonesian gamelan music. Brilliant, though not for everyone.
  • Amélie (2001) – Composed by Yann Tiersen.
  • Gladiator (2000) – Composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, performed by the Lyndhurst Orchestra conducted by Gavin Greenaway.

If you enjoyed this list, you’ll probably get a kick out of the Best Movies About Music and the Best Music Documentaries of All Time. And of course, we linked to our list about soundtracks at the top. Music makes up a huge aspect of our lives, and an even bigger part of movies, even if we don’t recognize it. We do here at LedgerNote and thus honor the best movie scores of all time.

Top 10 Movie Scores of All Time (2023 Update)

This is the table for the top 10 movie scores of all time. It contains their names, composer and year of release.

PositionMovieComposerYear of Release
1Star Wars: A New HopeJohn Williams1977
2The Lord of the RingsHoward Shore2001
3Jurassic ParkJohn Williams1993
4InterstellarHans Zimmer2014
5The FountainClint Mansell2006
6Back to the FutureAlan Silvestri1985
7E.T.: The Extra-TerrestrialJohn Williams1982
8Chariots of FireVangelis1981
9The Pink Panther Henry Mancini1963
10Raiders of the Lost ArkJohn Williams1981