75 Years of Oscar Scores Redux

What has gone unnoticed in this frenzied and long awards season is this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Academy Awards for Music, which were first handed out in 1935 for the films released in 1934. Oscar nuts, no matter their caliber, like to second-guess and rearrange the Academy Awards, and us film music fans are no different.

Anyone who knows me even slightly knows of my love for the Oscars and that I don’t brook any Oscar-bashing in my house. You can disagree but no bashing. I won’t deny where the Oscars stand in the great scheme of things, but I’ll continue to champion any organization that brings attention to film music with the global impact that the Academy does.

Since the Oscars were my early education into film music and what I considered the bellwether of quality for so many years (no comment), I’ve probably spent far more time rethinking their choices than most people. I choose not to look too deeply inside myself for fear that all of that time I spent making lists over the years only makes me look pathetic.

My choices over the years have changed as I have become exposed to more and more film music. And just because I list an alternate choice doesn’t mean that I think the winner was undeserving. And no matter the choice, it doesn’t negate the quality (or lack thereof) of other nominated scores in the category (which will not be listed). For the complete list of winners and nominees, visit the Academy’s Oscar database.

Even though the Music Branch has named and renamed the various music categories in numerous permutations over the years, I’m only focusing on what is now considered the Original Score category. Oscar winners are in bold, my choices are in parentheses following. If there is no alternate selection, that means I too would have voted for that particular winning score.

  • 1934 – ONE NIGHT OF LOVE, Victor Schertzinger and Gus Kahn (THE LOST PATROL, Max Steiner)
  • 1935 – THE INFORMER, Max Steiner (PETER IBBETSON, Ernst Toch)
  • 1936 – ANTHONY ADVERSE, Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • 1937 – ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL, Charles Previn (THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, Alfred Newman)
  • 1938 – THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • 1939 – THE WIZARD OF OZ, Herbert Stothart (GONE WITH THE WIND, Max Steiner)
  • 1940 – PINOCCHIO, Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith, Ned Washington (OUR TOWN, Aaron Copland)
  • 1941 – ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY (aka THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER), Bernard Herrmann (CITIZEN KANE, Bernard Herrmann)
  • 1942 – NOW, VOYAGER, Max Steiner
  • 1943 – THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, Alfred Newman
  • 1945 – SPELLBOUND, Miklos Rozsa (THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, Alfred Newman)
  • 1946 – THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, Hugo Friedhofer
  • 1947 – A DOUBLE LIFE, Miklos Rozsa
  • 1948 – THE RED SHOES, Brian Easdale
  • 1949 – THE HEIRESS, Aaron Copland
  • 1950 – SUNSET BOULEVARD, Franz Waxman
  • 1951 – A PLACE IN THE SUN, Franz Waxman (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Alex North)
  • 1952 – HIGH NOON, Dimitri Tiomkin (IVANHOE, Miklos Rozsa)
  • 1953 – LILI, Bronislau Kaper
  • 1954 – THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, Dimitri Tiomkin (ON THE WATERFRONT, Leonard Bernstein)
  • 1955 – LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, Alfred Newman (PICNIC, George Duning)
  • 1956 – AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, Victor Young
  • 1957 – THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, Malcolm Arnold (RAINTREE COUNTY, Johnny Green)
  • 1958 – THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Dimitri Tiomkin (THE BIG COUNTRY, Jerome Moross)
  • 1959 – BEN-HUR, Miklos Rozsa
  • 1960 – EXODUS, Ernest Gold
  • 1961 – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, Henry Mancini
  • 1962 – LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Maurice Jarre (MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Bronislau Kaper)
  • 1963 – TOM JONES, John Addison
  • 1964 – MARY POPPINS, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
  • 1965 – DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, Maurice Jarre (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, Alfred Newman)
  • 1966 – BORN FREE, John Barry (HAWAII, Elmer Bernstein)
  • 1967 – THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, Elmer Bernstein
  • 1968 – THE LION IN WINTER, John Barry
  • 1970 – LOVE STORY, Francis Lai (PATTON, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1971 – SUMMER OF ’42, Michel Legrand (STRAW DOGS, Jerry Fielding)
  • 1972 – LIMELIGHT, Charles Chaplin, Larry Russell, Raymond Rasch (SLEUTH, John Addison)
  • 1973 – THE WAY WE WERE, Marvin Hamlisch (PAPILLON, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1974 – THE GODFATHER, PART II, Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, Richard Rodney Bennett)
  • 1975 – JAWS, John Williams (THE WIND AND THE LION, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1976 – THE OMEN, Jerry Goldsmith (duh!)
  • 1977 – STAR WARS, John Williams
  • 1978 – MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, Giorgio Moroder (THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1979 – A LITTLE ROMANCE, Georges Delerue (STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1980 – FAME, Michael Gore (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, John Williams)
  • 1981 – CHARIOTS OF FIRE, Vangelis (RAGTIME, Randy Newman)
  • 1982 – E. T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, John Williams
  • 1983 – THE RIGHT STUFF, Bill Conti (UNDER FIRE, Jerry Goldsmith)
  • 1984 – A PASSAGE TO INDIA, Maurice Jarre (UNDER THE VOLCANO, Alex North)
  • 1985 – OUT OF AFRICA, John Barry
  • 1986 – ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, Herbie Hancock (THE MISSION, Ennio Morricone)
  • 1987 – THE LAST EMPEROR, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su (CRY FREEDOM, George Fenton, Jonas Gwangwa)
  • 1988 – THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR, Dave Grusin
  • 1989 – THE LITTLE MERMAID, Alan Menken
  • 1990 – DANCES WITH WOLVES, John Barry
  • 1991 – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Alan Menken
  • 1992 – ALADDIN, Alan Menken
  • 1993 – SCHINDLER’S LIST, John Williams
  • 1994 – THE LION KING, Hans Zimmer (LITTLE WOMEN, Thomas Newman)
  • 1995 – Dramatic: IL POSTINO, Luis Bacalov (APOLLO 13, James Horner)
    Musical or Comedy: POCAHONTAS, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
  • 1996 – Dramatic: THE ENGLISH PATIENT, Gabriel Yared (HAMLET, Patrick Doyle)
    Musical or Comedy: EMMA, Rachel Portman
  • 1997 – Dramatic: TITANIC, James Horner (KUNDUN, Philip Glass)
    Musical or Comedy: THE FULL MONTY, Anne Dudley (MEN IN BLACK, Danny Elfman)
  • 1998 – Dramatic: LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, Nicola Piovani (PLEASANTVILLE, Randy Newman)
    Musical or Comedy: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, Stephen Warbeck
  • 1999 – THE RED VIOLIN, John Corigliano
  • 2002 – FRIDA, Elliot Goldenthal (FAR FROM HEAVEN, Elmer Bernstein)
  • 2004 – FINDING NEVERLAND, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (THE VILLAGE, James Newton Howard)
  • 2005 – BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Gustavo Santaolalla
  • 2006 – BABEL, Gustavo Santaolalla (THE GOOD GERMAN, Thomas Newman)
  • 2007 – ATONEMENT, Dario Marianelli
  • 2008 – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, A.R. Rahman (DEFIANCE, James Newton Howard)

I better be able to add Michael Giacchino’s name to the winner’s circle later tonight.

  1. I’m positive Giacchino is going to win for Up. “Married Life” is enormously popular with the critics after all. I think Hans also deserves it for Sherlock Holmes, but sadly I think it’s unlikely to win.

    1. I think SHERLOCK HOLMES is a great nomination and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zimmer eventually takes home a second Oscar. But I think it’s going to need a more critically acclaimed film to do so, probably some piece of Oscar bait.

      As for Giacchino, I hope you’re right. :)

  2. well it seems your both right since Giacchino won!… and rightfully so! Jim, I love that you made this list and even though I dont have the exstensive knowledge you do on the subject, I can only really comment about the last 20 years and for the most part i’m 98% in agreement with you. As much as i adore the Little Women score, I dont know if Id still wouldve given it the oscar over The Lion King. Its just too powerful for me to ignore. Is Emma’s score really better that The Hunchback of Notre Dame? (you know how i am with my disney scores lol)…

    1. I don’t have a problem with LION KING winning (even though I really dislike the movie). I think it’s one of Zimmer’s stronger efforts, but I still prefer LITTLE WOMEN. As for EMMA, even though it’s nothing particularly new for Portman, it’s a lovely score and contributes a lot to a wonderful movie. I think HUNCHBACK is probably Menken’s strongest orchestral score, but the songs are not quite up to his usual standards (always a problem when working with Schwartz) and I think that drags it down a bit.

  3. I personally think Stephen Schwartz is HIGHLY overrated. He hasn’t done anything, lyrically or musically, that I can say I like. That includes Wicked… curious to know what your beef is with Lion King?

    1. I think LION KING is a beautiful movie, but I think the story is simplistic and it is told without the wit of the recent Disney films at the time. And I think the songs, except for “Circle of Life,” are “B” efforts at best. Of course it doesn’t help having Tim Rice as your lyricist. Outside of the wonderful animation, the best thing in it is Zimmer’s score.

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