Top 100 Film Scores At 100

I love lists. Awards, best/worst, “to do” items that I have no intention of completing… You get the idea. Lists beg to be discussed and argued. And among film score fans, The Hollywood Reporter raised some eyebrows yesterday when it released their list of the Top 100 Film Scores of all time. But this wasn’t just any list.

The idea sprang from a December 2008 roundtable in which Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore pointed out that “the film score is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.” Camille Saint-Saens is widely credited with the first original film score, for Charles le Bargy’s 18-minute historical epic THE ASSASSINATION OF THE DUKE DE GUISE in 1908. So, the magazine conducted its first-ever music poll, an industrywide survey to determine the greatest 100 movie scores of all time “in an effort to pay tribute to the best film muisc of the past century.”

The Jury

A special jury was formed, including:

  • Dan Goldwasser–Co-Editor-In-Chief,
  • Peter Golub–Director of Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program
  • Andy Hill–Diretor, Music Composition for the Screen, Columbia College, Chicago
  • Jan A. P. Kaczmarek–Oscar-winning composer of FINDING NEVERLAND
  • Nancy Knutesen–Film & Television Special Consultant, ASCAP
  • Richard Kraft–co-owner, Kraft-Engel Management
  • John Powell–composer of the BOURNE trilogy
  • Doreen Ringer Ross–VP, Film/TV Relations, Los Angeles, BMI
  • Robert Townson–VP Soundtracks, Varese Sarabande Records

The jury suggested an initial list of 100 movies. THR then polled several hundred industry members, including composers, musicians, agents, music supervisors and executives. Votes were assigned numerical values and tallied, and write-in votes were encouraged. The final list reflects cumulative responses from all surveys.

I won’t go through the entire list. You can read that at The Hollywood Reporter‘s site. Most of the major scores of the last 100 years (well, actually the last 80 years) appear on the list. There are no embarrassing entries of pop song compilations such as BEVERLY HILLS COP, but the list still contains its share of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

It’s Greek To Me–It’s nice to see foreign composers like Ennio Morricone, Georges Delerue, Toru Takemitsu, Nino Rota, Tan Dun, and Krzysztof Komeda scattered throughout the list.

Silence Is Golden–Bravo for including silent classics like Charlie Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS and especially Prokofiev’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye–Lesser-known (at least to the general public) gems, such as Bernard Herrmann’s THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR and Walter Schumann’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, are welcome additions to the list. As the article explains, “Schumann’s score is an absolute masterpiece that tragically has never been released as an album.” Indeed!

The Bad

Hey, Don’t You Remember, They Called Me Al?–As head of the 20th Century-Fox Music Department, Alfred Newman was arguably the most influential Golden Age musician (and my favorite composer, a fact that I’m sure sways no one’s vote…ever). Winner of an astonishing 9 Academy Awards (a record I predict will forever stand the test of time), Newman appears only once on the list at #62 with his classic HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Where is THE SONG OF BERNADETTE or CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE?

Fill ‘Er Up–After ALEXANDER NEVSKY places at an appalling #98, the list rounds out with subpar entries like Hans Zimmer’s RAIN MAN and John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

The Ugly

Don’t Rain On My Parade!–I personally find Burt Bacharach’s anachronistic pop music for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID to be goofy fun, making the Paul Newman/Robert Redford buddy movie even more enjoyable. But as a film score proper, it’s merits are debatable at best, Academy Award aside (which it probably won based on the popularity of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”). To see it sandwiched in between Howard Shore’s mammoth THE LORD OF THE RINGS (combined as one entry in the list) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s brilliant THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is sacrilege. That it bests Max Steiner’s KING KONG (considered to be the first use of modern film music as we know it today), Jerry Goldsmith’s classic STAR TREK and PATTON, and my beloved OMEN cuts to the quick.

The Bold and the Brave

As the article mentioned, “a number of voters expressed a deeply felt longing for Hollywood to return to the days when a lush, dramatic, Maurice Jarre-like theme could carry a picture without competition from an overbearing soundtrack.”

“Film music today has to be so subtle,” one prominent composer said. “It’s just not fashionable to write music that draws attention to itself. Look at all the great scores on your list–they were all big and bold.”

If Hollywood directors and executives would show some courage, we might see a return to scores that function as more than aural wallpaper.

Nino Rota’s THE GODFATHER wouldn’t be my personal choice for the top slot, but it was “big and bold.” And it’s hard to argue with a score that is recognized around the world by film score fans and laymen alike.

What favorite film scores are missing from this list? Leave a comment below and let’s start our own list!

Further Reading:

Top 100
Jury Selection
Composers Talk Film Scores


  1. I’m sure I missed it, but I looked twice. Ennio Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso.

    1. No, you didn’t miss it. It’s not even on the list. And I love that score…and the movie.

  2. Al the Hollywood Reporter and AFI list’s was a crook. I gave up on them years ago. When QT has more films on the list than Frank Capra, and Howard Hawks, I know it is wrong. I agree that the score for “The Best Years of our Life is wonderful. The B17 “junk yard” scene is classic, what a marriage of music and Greg Tolands work and Wylers direction.

    1. When you get right down to it, all lists are a crock…even mine. LOL They’re just a compilation of a bunch of people’s opinions. But the debating about them is the fun part. And THE BEST YEAR OF OUR LIVES has to be in the one of the top slots of any film score list.

  3. What a pathetic excuse for a jury! I would argue that most likely only one of them could find middle ‘c’ on a keyboard. It’s all politics, mates.

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