The Best of the Greatest Cinema Composers, Part 1

John Williams and Steven Spielberg working on the score for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Pure magic.

At its worst, it’s just noise in the background. At its best, it can carry a movie and trigger a violently emotional response from the audience. Film music has been a constant part of my life since my teens when I started buying CD soundtracks. One of my first was Howard Shore’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen (1976) is still a frightening masterpiece; I remember listening to “Ave Satani” with some trepidation in my boyhood room.

In the past few years I’ve been creating and updating my own Spotify lists of composers. It’s been an opportunity to explore their scores and pick favorite pieces, old ones and newly discovered. In this blog entry I’ll list the composers and embed my Spotify playlists – which will continue to be updated, especially those belonging to composers who are still active. Enjoy.

This list turned out to be such a massive undertaking that I had to divide the original blog post into two. Here are the first 25 composers, from David Arnold to Trevor Jones. Here’s the second half of the list.

David Arnold

Born in Britain in 1962. Composer of multiple James Bond scores. My favorite is Casino Royale (2006), especially his insane “Miami International” track.


John Barry

1933-2011, born in Britain. Won five Oscars for the scores of Born Free (also Best Original Song), The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves. My favorite: His 007 scores.


Marco Beltrami

Born in the U.S. in 1966. My favorite: Scream (1996).


Elmer Bernstein

1922-2004, born in the U.S. Won Oscar for Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). My favorite: The Magnificent Seven (1960).


Terence Blanchard

Born in the U.S. in 1962. Frequent collaborator: Spike Lee. My favorite: Mo’ Better Blues (1991).


Carter Burwell

Born in the U.S. in 1954. Frequent collaborator: the Coen brothers. My favorite: True Grit (2010).


John Carpenter

Born in the U.S. in 1948. My favorite: Halloween (1978).


Bill Conti

Born in the U.S. in 1942. Won Oscar for The Right Stuff (1983). My favorite: His themes for Falcon Crest and Dynasty.


John Debney

Born in the U.S. in 1956. My favorite: The Passion of the Christ (2004).


Georges Delerue

1925-1992, born in France. Won Oscar for A Little Romance (1980). Frequent collaborator: François Truffaut. My favorite: Rich and Famous (1981).


Alexandre Desplat

Born in France in 1961. Won two Oscars for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The Shape of Water (2017). My favorite: The Imitation Game (2014).


Ramin Djawadi

Born in West Germany in 1974. My favorite: the varied and extensive music he has written for Game of Thrones.


Pino Donaggio

Born in Italy in 1941. Frequent collaborator: Brian De Palma. My favorite: Body Double (1984).


Patrick Doyle

Born in Britain in 1953. Frequent collaborator: Kenneth Branagh. My favorite: Sense and Sensibility (1995).


Danny Elfman

Born in the U.S. in 1953. Frequent collaborator: Tim Burton. My favorite: Batman (1989).


Michael Giacchino

Born in the U.S. in 1967. Won Oscar for Up (2009). My favorite: Ratatouille (2007).


Jerry Goldsmith

1929-2004, born in the U.S. Won Oscar for The Omen (1976), which is also my favorite.


Harry Gregson-Williams

Born in Britain in 1961. My favorite: The Martian (2015).


Ludwig Göransson

Born in Sweden in 1984. My favorite: Black Panther (2018).


Bernard Herrmann

1911-1975, born in the U.S. Won Oscar for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Frequent collaborator: Alfred Hitchcock. My three favorites are his masterful Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.


James Horner

1953-2015, born in the U.S. Won two Oscars for Titanic (Original Score and Song). Frequent collaborator: James Cameron. My favorites: Aliens (1986) and Apollo 13 (1995).


James Newton Howard

Born in the U.S. in 1951. Frequent collaborator: M. Night Shyamalan. My favorite: Signs (2002).


Alberto Iglesias

Born in Spain in 1955. Frequent collaborator: Pedro Almodóvar. My favorite: the theme for Broken Embraces (2009).


Maurice Jarre

1924-2009, born in France. Frequent collaborator: David Lean. Won three Oscars for Lawrence of Arabia (which is also my favorite), Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India.


Jóhann Jóhannsson

1969-2018, born in Iceland. Frequent collaborator: Denis Villeneuve. My favorite: The Theory of Everything (2015).


Trevor Jones

Born in South Africa in 1949. My favorite: The Last of the Mohicans (1992).

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