50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 3: #30–21

If you’d like to catch up on the earlier installments, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of 50 Favorite Film Scores. Without further ado, on with the list…

Taras Bulba soundtrack
The Lion in Winter soundtrack
Hawaii soundtrack

30. TARAS BULBA (1962)

You gotta love any movie that features Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis as father and son. It’s so unbelievable—and so Hollywood—that it almost works. There’s real chemistry between the two actors but the real star of the show is Franz Waxman’s thrilling music. Brimming with energy and Ukrainian gypsy exoticism, Waxman captures the vibrant atmosphere of the Cossacks in epic fashion.


The medieval side of John Barry. As much as I appreciate Barry’s Bond work and enjoy the lushness of his later lethargic scores, I wish he’d been given more opportunities to dig deeper into periods scores like this one. Featuring a crackling script by James Goldman (much better than his stage play) and two of my favorite performances—Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine—Barry’s dark harmonies and Latin chorus give the music a heavy, monk-like atmosphere that is perfect for the lives among the dysfunctional royals. If only all my bitter family holidays were scored like this…

28. HAWAII (1966)

James A. Michener’s bestselling novel is a big ol’ doorstop of a book, though a highly entertaining doorstop. The film only concentrates on the first half as missionaries try to tame the wildness of the islands. (1970’s THE HAWAIIANS covers later generations from the book.) Elmer Bernstein’s score is lush, sweeping, majestic and every bit as beautiful as the paradise it underscores.

Exodus soundtrack

27. EXODUS (1960)

Another big ol’ doorstop of a book, this time courtesy of Leon Uris. The creation of the state of Israel is certainly dramatic fodder for a film, though Otto Preminger’s production is far too sluggish to generate any excitement. No matter. Ernest Gold’s Oscar-winning score has enough raw power and excitement for a dozen films. And, oh, that main theme…


This film holds a special place in my heart as it was the first time I’d ever seen a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, William Hurt’s dog. With those short stubby legs, big ears and adorable face, I fell in love. So when it came time for me to get my own dog a decade later, I knew there was no contest and that a Cardigan was the way to go. Nearly 13 years later, Watson is still with me and so is John Williams’s beautiful monothematic score. Only someone with the talent of Williams could take that one unvarying theme and create a microcosm of pain, heartbreak, and rebirth.

25. UNDER FIRE (1983)

Audiences didn’t care about the Nicaraguan revolution so they stayed away in droves. And I can’t say as I blame them. I find the film to be incredibly tedious. Not so with Jerry Goldsmith’s masterful score. Brimming with Latin energy, the music pulses with a fiery heat. The music comes across far better on the rerecorded album, a classic in its own right.

Star Trek The Motion Picture soundtrack
Lawrence of Arabia soundtrack


Ask nearly any film music fan and he/she will unequivocally label this as Jerry Goldsmith’s finest hour. And though I have other Goldsmith scores higher on my list, I wouldn’t dare argue with them. The music is such a part of pop culture now that it might be difficult for younger generations to understand the impact this music made in 1979. Though he can’t save it from its own pretentiousness, Goldsmith breathes much-needed life into this lumbering slog of a film. Kirk and Scotty flying around the Enterprise is a classic moment in film music and a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the film from a storytelling and directorial standpoint. May this score continue to live long and prosper.


One of the supreme cinematic achievements is a feast for the eyes and the ears. Maurice Jarre’s main theme embodies the very best qualities of film music. Dramatic, sweeping and oh so memorable, the score goes far beyond that memorable theme. If I’m ever lost in the desert (considering my hatred of heat, it’s doubtful), I want this music to be my midnight at the oasis.

The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack
North by Northwest soundtrack


A STAR WARS sequel from the good old days before the series started to suck. Little did we know at the time just how great EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was. I worked as a movie usher during that summer of 1980. Sometimes at night, I can still hear the lambs screaming… The film is also arguably John Williams’s peak in the series. Thematically rich and filled with classic musical set pieces, I wore out this double LP, much like I did its predecessor. From the battle in the ice to the final shot as the camera pulls back from the sickbay, Williams’s score is practically perfect in every way.


My favorite Hitchcock film, and a great deal of that has to do with Bernard Herrmann’s energetic score. Sure, PSYCHO was more adventurous and cutting edge, but no Herrmann score matches the level of fun of NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Like the film, the music is a wild, careening ride of delicious wit and memorable sequences.

Tommorrow: 50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 4: #20-11

  1. Every single one of these is brilliant and could be in my top 10, depending on the day. Two of those are my top 2, actually. Again, depending on the day.

  2. Some real winners here, but there’s a couple I’d call mediocre.
    I’ve always considered Barry’s score for THE LION IN WINTER the best thing about that film, and the downright inspiration for Goldsmith’s THE OMEN.

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