9 Desert Island Film Scores

Ah, the time-honored tradition of “desert island discs”–the discs, in our case the film scores, you simply can’t live without. Forget the fact that there probably won’t be any electricity. Or that heat, humidity, sun, sand, wind conditions and barometric pressure will all play a part in just how long your discs will weather your solitary tropical existence. Some people choose ten, some five, others somewhere in between, or more or less. I’m doing nine because I wanted a topic for this month’s “9 on the 9th” post.

My selections are not necessarily the “best” (whatever “best” means to you), whether in their particular genres or from a particular composer. Nor are they necessarily the scores I would recommend to people. These are the scores that I could play over and over ad nauseum and never get tired of them. These are the scores I have played over and over again, day after day, year after year. It’s my island, I can do whatever I want on it.

I hereby submit to you my 9 Desert Island Film Scores as of today, in alphabetical order. I also reserve the right to change my mind if I’m ever faced with an actual desert island situation.

Ben-Hur soundtrack
The Boys From Brazil soundtrack

BEN-HUR (Miklos Rozsa)

If I’m stuck on a desert island, you can be damn sure that I’ll be questioning God’s plan in all of this–especially considering how much I hate sun and sand. Let’s not even talk about how I wilt in the heat. (Yes, I’m a delicate flower.) And if I’m going to be talking to God, I’m going to need some help, considering my heathen sinner status. From rousing action sequences and pageantry to tender cues and visionary harmonies, Rozsa’s score embodies the best of religious epic film music.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (Jerry Goldsmith)

Since I can’t bring along Richard Strauss to the island (this is a film music post after all), I’ll take the next best thing. Goldsmith channels his inner Strauss in this whirling dervish of a score. It doesn’t matter that the film (one of my guilty pleasures) is all about the cloning of Hitler’s DNA. A rousing waltz and heart-pounding thriller cues make for my second favorite Goldsmith cue next to THE OMEN.

FINDING NEMO (Thomas Newman)

When I first heard this score, I didn’t know what to make of it. It didn’t have the immediacy of Alan Menken’s work and yet it was heads and tails above Randy Newman’s mediocre animated scores. And it sounded like no other animated score I’d ever heard. But the more I listened to it, the more levels I heard. As sophisticated as anything Newman has written for live dramatic features, NEMO is an underwater symphonic tone poem.

Islands in the Stream soundtrack
The Omen soundtrack
The Song of Bernadette soundtrack


As soft as an ocean breeze and as lush as tropical vegetation, Goldsmith’s score calms and soothes. With the undulating sounds of the musical waves, the score surges and breaks upon the shore. Even though I’d be surrounded by plenty of water on the island, I can’t imagine living the rest of my days without this Goldsmith masterpiece.

THE OMEN (Jerry Goldsmith)

C’mon, this one was a no-brainer, right? The score that started it all. My first soundtrack purchase and my ideal of everything that is right and true about this art form. The Satanic sounds of Goldsmith’s devilishly good score will allow me to rant and rave against the Higher Power that allowed me to end up in what I consider hell on earth–the beach. (Though admittedly it was probably my fault anyway.)


There’s always the chance that I will take the high road and enjoy my stay in “paradise”. Perhaps I’ll look out over the calm blue waters, feel the sun on my face, and revel in the miracle of life. It’s a long shot, but it could happen. If so, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle and I’ll need the heavenly sounds of Newman’s masterpiece to accompany that “vision”.

Star Wars soundtrack
Un Homme et Chien
The Wizard of Oz Soundtrack

STAR WARS (John Williams)

To me a desert island is another world. You might as well stick me on the moon. Williams’s classic score is the first time that music took me to another world. By using the time-honored traditions of classic symphonic scoring, Williams made the unknown known. If I get into the whole adventure aspect of my situation on the island, then Williams’s classic score will be my accompaniment.

UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN (Philippe Rombi)

Stranded on a desert island, I can guarantee you that I’d probably be awash in self pity. “Why me?” would be my mantra. More emotional than any score I can think of, Rombi’s music hits a primal source deep within me and gives musical voice to the emotions behind my overactive waterworks. When I need a good cry, this’ll do nicely.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (Herbert Stothart, Harold Arlen, et al)

Of all the scores listed here, this is the one I listen to the least. Yet it has the longest association to me and my life of any film score. Even before I discovered the art form with THE OMEN, OZ was affecting me on an annual basis as I watched the film on TV as a child in the ’60s. Every year, no matter how many times I watched it, I cried and cried, thinking Dorothy would never get home again. When you’re stuck on a desert island, home, family and everything you know and loved are gone. And yet the lesson of OZ is that home is and always has been inside each of us. A lesson I’d do well to remember.

What are your desert island discs?

  1. I love this article! Can I bring all 6 Star Wars scores? Can that count as 1? They are all of a larger piece! This article has also made me revisit The Omen, which is as amazing as ever.Finding Nemo is 1 that to me, may be Newman’s best.How do you score a film set under water? That’s how.Great article Jim :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Will. Sure, you can count all 6 STAR WARS scores as one. It’s your island, your rules. :) Would love to see your list.

      1. Hmmm, decisions, decisions. I would have to say;
        1-Twilight Zone:The Movie (My personal favorite Goldsmith score)
        2-Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan (A classic in every sense of the word)
        3-ALL 6 Star Wars scores(although i could have easily gone with Empire, my favorite film score, ever)I was born the day it was released in theaters
        4-The Magnificent Seven: I feel it took Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Springs, and moved the concept, and sound a little further
        5-Citizen Kane: Maybe the best B.H. score, certainly my favorite.
        6-Hook: I bought this album about 5 years ago and never really gave it a good listen until recently; many believe this to be William’s best and it certainly gives weight to the argument!
        7-Batman: The reason i am a composer.When i saw this film, i was 9 years old, sitting in a theater, and i knew as soon as the main titles rolled what i wanted to do for the rest of my life.
        8-Trick r’Treat: Right now, i love this score so much. Douglas Pipes writes fun horror music that is fun to listen to.
        9-Signs: J.N.H. took a 3 note motif, re-arranged it, flipped it, brought it back again. Depending on where that motif popped up in the orchestra, it was terrifying(main titles)beautiful(first crop circles)and epic(hand of fate, pts 1 and 2)A study in thematic development. It show us that, if an idea is strong to begin with, the possibilities are endless.
        Wow, that was tough! I hope you enjoyed this list as much as i enjoyed yours Jim.

        1. Interesting choices, Billy. And I like that it spans nearly 70 years worth of music. I’d sure like to have the “Kick the Can” segment from TWILIGHT ZONE with me on the island.

          1. Thank you!! I’m glad you like the selections! Although 5 minutes after posting I thought of about 25 more. That’s the beauty/curse of Desert Island lists and what makes them so fun. :)

  2. Let’s see:
    THE BIG COUNTRY Jerome Moross – one you want to never end and my favorite slice of Americana.
    EL CID Miklos Rozsa – never a dull moment – great for making spears by.
    HAWAII Elmer Bernstein – to remind me I’m in paradise
    THE LION IN WINTER John Barry – for worshipping any forbidden idols
    THE PINK PANTHER Henry Mancini – jazzy hunting music
    PICNIC George Duning – for those romantic moments and soothing any savage beasts
    THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD Bernard Herrmann – keeps things lively when your in adventure mode.
    HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE Neal Hefti – when I’m lying in my hammock drinking coconut milk.
    THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT Michel Legrand – non-stop melody for every occasion – in case I run into any natives that want to party.
    Good grief! Sadly, only a couple of these maestros are still alive!

    1. Damnit! Didn’t even think of HAWAII! Talk about the perfect island disc. Oh well. I’ll just have it swirl in my head…unless I change my mind on any of my discs at some point.

  3. Nine!? Only nine!? Okay, I can do this…

    Here they are in semi-random order:

    1. Empire Strikes Back (John Williams)
    I can write a book about this. Star Wars started it for me; my obession/love for movies and soundtracks. Empire is my favorite Star Wars movie and score.

    2. E.T. (John Williams)
    Still makes me cry…

    3. The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith)
    Like Jim said, a no brainer. I still remember the first time I listened to this score.

    4. Lord of the Rings (Howard Shore)
    Can I bring all three of them? Nope, I know, and I also picked 1 Star Wars score…okay Two Towers it is.

    5. The Departed (Howard Shore)
    Because Billy’s Theme is one of my favorite tracks.

    6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner)
    If FSM hadn’t released this one I would have picked Willow.

    7. The Shipping News (Christopher Young)
    The best non-horror score from Young IMHO.

    8. Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
    Beautifull and scary at the same time.

    9. Conan the Barbarian (Basil Poledouris)
    A classic. Played it as many times as Empire Strikes Back,

    Clicking “Add Comment” before I regret this…


    1. Can’t quibble with any of those, Erik. Though I’ll admit I need to listen to THE SHIPPING NEWS and CONAN. Never saw those movies or heard the scores. And I don’t remember THE DEPARTED (certainly wasn’t a fan of the movie), so I’ll have to go re-listen to that one.

      Bravo for having the willpower to pick one STAR WARS and LOTR score. :)

      1. The Departed is an interesting score. Not a classic or anything. I just really like Billy’s Theme and The Departed Tango (forgot to mention that one). Play those tracks very often. If I had to pick 9 tracks Billy’s Theme would be one of them.

        And Conan…well…if Boys From Brasil = Richard Strauss then Conan = Carl Orf. I prefer Conan because the Carmina Burana has been (ab)used so many times it has become, I don’t you, kind of cheesy Don’t really know how to explain this but I hope you know what I mean.
        So if you don’t like Orf I guess the chances are that you don’t like Conan either.

        1. Hi Erik, sorry it’s taken me days to reply. Got swamped by FSMO stuff.

          I’ll have to go back and give DEPARTED another listen. I actually do like Orff and Carmina Burana (though I haven’t heard the piece in years…outside of movie trailers, of course). I’ve always heard how good CONAN is, but Poledouris is one of those composers I just don’t know much about.

  4. 1. Islands in the Stream (Goldsmith)

    2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (North)

    3. Fahrenheit 451 (Herrmann)

    4. Jules and Jim (Delerue)

    5. Far from the Madding Crowd (Bennett)

    6. Meet Joe Black (T. Newman)

    7. Klute (Small)

    8. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Legrand)

    9. Cesar and Rosalie (Sarde)

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for comments! I LOVE that you put some North in there and what a wonderful score VIRGINIA WOOLF is. Back in my grad school days in Austin, I always wanted to have a Virginia Woolf party where my friends would come over and we’d match George, Martha, Nick and Honey drink for drink. Everyone would bring sleeping bags because nobody would be in any shape to drive! Now, I know my body couldn’t handle it. What a great movie and the perfect score for it.

      FAHRENHEIT 451 is one of my favorite Herrmanns, excellent choice for Delerue (though I’m ashamed I’ve never seen the movie). I adore UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and I’ve never even heard of the Sarde film. Yay! A new one to check out! Anyone who includes Thomas Newman on his list and the underrated Michael Small is okay by me. :)

      Glad you enjoyed the topic.

  5. Great post! Really got me going through my library.

    1. Finding Nemo (obviously, we share a great love for the little clownfish from the reef)
    2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End–Hans Zimmer (an underrated work, imho, esp “One Day”)
    3. The Last of the Mohicans–Joel McNeely (Cliche, perhaps, but still almost flawless)
    4. Conan the Barbarian–Basil Poledouris (A surprisingly strong score for a campy but great movie)
    5. Avatar–James Horner (This choice surprised even me. Considering how much Horner pissed me off with this, he just regurgitated all of his previous work, I still *love* it and I can’t help it. Shame, I know.)
    6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula–Wojciech Kilar (Such a haunting score, and to be frank, pretty sexy.)
    7. Braveheart–James Horner (Just for “For the Love of a Princess”)
    8. Legend–Tangerine Dream (The one score on this list I could absolutely never live without. Legend is hands down my favorite movie, and the difference between the movie when Goldsmith’s score is used and Tangerine Dream is astounding.)
    9. The Princess Bride–Mark Knopfler (“Guide My Sword”, anyone?)

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