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
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 Рnow Cl̩o 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 Рnow Good Bye, Lenin! | Am̩lie
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 | The Final Destination

Colin’s all-time favorites

My all-time favorites

Enjoy! If you think that one of your favorite film-score composers is missing please share in the comments below.


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