Music is one of the most effective ways of making your movie all the more impressive, and that’s where the score comes in. These films really succeeded in that, and are as such the 10 best film scores of all time (instrumental).
10. Melancholia (2011) – Composed by Robert Wagner
‘Melancholia‘ is one of the most impressive arthouse films in recent years, thanks to an unnerving premise, stunning visual effects, great performances, and most of all, an amazing score.
Lars von Trier’s depressing sci-fi drama follows a young woman on the edge of madness as the Earth is doomed by a rogue planet, Melancholia, hurtling towards it across space.
The film and premise themselves are hugely eerie, but the score, largely compiled of Robert Wagner’s work, is strikingly unsettling. There are few films whose scores give such a powerful sense of doom and gloom that has a genuinely nasty but impressive effect on you.
It may not be the most pleasant piece of music to hear, but it really is one of the most effective.
9. Up (2009) – Composed by Michael Giacchino
Pixar’s ‘Up‘ was one of the biggest movie hits of the 2000s, receiving a great response from critics and audiences alike, as well as having one of the most iconic sequences in a film in recent memory.
The scene in question hits early on, about five minutes into the film, and is a four-minute long montage of protagonist Carl, and his childhood sweetheart, Ellie, as they embark on their married life and all of the trials and tribulations thrown their way.
The truly remarkable thing about this scene is that, with no dialogue, and little character introduction before, you will definitely be hit so hard by its emotional power, thanks to the stunning score. Whether it’s perfectly happy or desperately sad, this is by far one of the most impacting pieces of music you’ll ever hear, and it does it in such fantastic style.
Yes, the rest of the score may not be up to the level of the first song, named ‘Married Life’, but the quality of that theme, which replays later on, is so amazing that you cannot discount Up from this list.
8. Senna (2010) – Composed by Antônio Pinto
It’s not everyday that you see a documentary in a top film scores list, but Asif Kapadia’s stunning ‘Senna‘ really deserves its place here.
The film itself is a marvel, with Kapadia’s stylish and original narrative-like structure grabbing you right from the off on a ride as fast-paced as Ayrton Senna’s driving, and never letting you go.
The score is also, surprisingly, one of the most integral parts of this documentary. As the film is composed of stock footage, the music plays a huge role in creating the emotion and drama that would otherwise be lost if this was a more orthodox picture.
As a result, there are themes in there that brilliantly echo Senna’s incredible talent in an F1 car, ramping up the excitement in the process, as well as some that tug at your heartstrings in a way you would never expect, making this one of the most impressive movie scores ever made.
7. Two For The Road (1967) – Composed by Henry Mancini
One of the most underrated films of all time, Stanley Donen’s incredible romantic-comedy-drama ‘Two For The Road‘ also features one of the greatest scores ever made.
Following a couple on a non-linear story of their life together in the South of France, Two For The Road makes for incredible emotion and drama throughout.
However, Henry Mancini’s title theme ‘Two For The Road’ is one of the most remarkable you’ll ever hear. It plays almost consistently throughout the film, however in various different guises. In that way, Mancini manages to create both elation and desperation out of just one song, and it works an absolute treat, and is also absolutely wonderful to listen to on its own.
6. Gone With The Wind (1939) – Composed by Max Steiner
It’s one of the most iconic films there will ever be, and it features a score just as significant to boot.
The romantic war epic follows the life of Scarlett O’Hara as she grows from a young girl to a strong-willed and fierce woman during the American Civil War, and the music behind the tale is just as epic as it sounds.
Named the second best score of all time by the American Film Institute, Gone With The Wind‘s backing track is historically significant as well as brilliantly epic, as it took place right at the beginning of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and played a huge role in influencing iconic Old Hollywood music.
However, historical significance aside, this score by Max Steiner is one of the most beautiful and fitting of all time, and helps to make a four-hour epic absolutely fly by.
5. Psycho (1960) – Composed by Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece ‘Psycho‘ is undoubtedly one of the best films of all time, but its score is also one of the most impressive.
The film is a B-movie style slasher thriller, with incredible psychological torment hidden beneath, but what really helps to make it such an engrossing and amazing film is the music.
Bernard Herrmann’s score is a true icon of cinema, playing ingeniously throughout the film and constantly building amazing tension and threatening horrible violence. It’s so effective that there’s even a scene where Janet Leigh buys a car, and it’s just so thrilling, even though not much is going on, the music makes it so.
What’s more is that the groundbreaking shower scene is accompanied by Herrmann’s chilling music that has basically defined the horror genre since the film’s release, showing the clear importance and brilliance of the music.
4. Star Wars (1977) – Composed by John Williams
Whilst most of the scores on this list are here for their incredible emotional impact, the theme behind ‘Star Wars’ is one that deserves praise for being purely entertaining.
Of course, the iconic Imperial March instils fear into all who hear it, whilst the main theme behind the opening crawl does inspire the imagination that the film so brilliantly delivers, but it’s just the fact that the music here is so fun and adventurous that makes it such a classic.
Everyone from age 1 to 121 knows the Star Wars score, and everyone, even those who aren’t into sci-fi, can really appreciate the brilliance of it in setting up one of the most amazing movie universes ever created.
3. The Godfather (1972-90) – Composed by Nino Rota
It’s surely clear by now that a feature of the greatest films of all time is a great score, and The Godfather is no exception.
One of the most engrossing depictions of the gangster world ever, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy has been a huge success ever since its release, thanks to its gritty violence, accurate details, incredible performances and unsettling score.
Throughout all three movies, the iconic theme plays in both subtle and overpowering guises, creating a hugely tense and unpredictable, as well as elegant and operatic, atmosphere to echo the hugely impressive drama of Mario Puzo’s story.
2. Requiem For A Dream (2000) – Composed by Clint Mansell
Well, Darren Aronofsky’s psychedelic horror ‘Requiem For A Dream‘ is simply one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant movie experiences you will ever have if you watch it, and that’s almost all down to the score.
The films follows four individuals as they descend further into a drug-fuelled insanity, and whilst the directing, cinematography and performances are all incredible, nothing beats the unbelievable music that accompanies this desperate film.
The main theme ‘Lux Aeterna’ is such a cold and horrifying piece, and yet so euphoric in its stature. As the drama builds throughout the film, the score becomes ever more present and overpowering, mirroring these people’s further descent into desperation, until it reaches an unbelievable climax.
It’s pretty much impossible to think of a score that will ever be as painfully and deeply affecting as that of Requiem For A Dream, and that’s why it deserves all the praise it gets.
1. Jaws (1975) – Composed by John Williams
But for all of the deep emotional drama and artistic value of most of the scores on this list, it’s the iconic music from the first ever summer blockbuster that takes the top spot.
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws‘ is a masterclass in tension and excitement. His direction, along with Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider’s performances are ingenious, but again, it’s John Williams’ incredible score that is what really makes it so thrilling.
It’s probably the most iconic movie score of all time, with the increasingly loud and booming ‘DUN-DUN-DUN-DUNs’ creating a real sense of fear like no other as the menacing shark approaches its prey, putting children behind sofas and everyone out of the water for a long, long time.