The Top 25 Movie Scores of All Time

Rounding out its 100 years of cinema series, the American Film Institute created a list of the top film soundtracks of the century. Out of 250 nominees, 25 film scores were chosen to be the best of the best by a panel of over 500 film makers, composers, musicians, critics and historians.

The list offers a who’s who of Hollywood composers, and just like Kasey Kasem, we’re saving the best for last.

The List of Scores

#25. How The West Was Won – Composer: Alfred Newman. Released in 1962.
If this soundtrack is unfamiliar to you, you certainly know another one of Alfred Newman’s compositions – the 20th Century Fox logo theme.

#24. On Golden Pond – Composer : Dave Grusin. Released in 1981.
With a career stretching back to 1962, Grusin has scored numerous films and is still working today. His music was recently heard in Ocean’sTwelve and 2006 film, Even Money.

#23. The Mission – Composer: Ennio Morricone. Released in 1986.
Perhaps better known for writing the music for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Morricone has over 400 film scores to his credit.

#22. On the Waterfront – Composer: Leonard Bernstein. Released in 1954.
Arguably, Bernstein’s most famous music would be from West Side Story.

#21. Ben-Hur – Composer: Miklos Rozsa. Relesed in 1959.
Rosza himself considered his score for Hitchcock’s Spellbound to be his best. Hitchcock felt Rosza’s score overpowered his direction, and never worked with the composer again.

#20. The Pink Panther – Composer: Henry Mancini. Released in 1964.
Mancini’s jazzy style has often been imitated but never quite duplicated. He was pictured on a 37 cent stamp in 2004.

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#19. A Streetcar Named Desire – Composer: Alex North. Released in 1951.
Alex North’s original score for 2001: A Space Odyssey was scrapped by director Stanley Kubrick.

#18. Planet of the Apes – Composer: Jerry Goldsmith. Released in 1968.
Prolific and daring, Goldsmith has composed for an astonishing variety of films, from Patton to Star Trek and just about everything in between. Nominated for 17 Oscars, he won only one for The Omen.

#17 To Kill a Mockingbird – Composer: Elmer Bernstein. Released in 1962.
Bernstein’s other credits include such diverse works as The Ten Commandments and Ghostbusters.

#16. Sunset Boulevard – Composer: Franz Waxman. Released in 1950.
Waxman fled Nazi Germany and came to the United States. His first big break in the U.S. was Bride of Frankenstein.

#15. Out of Africa – Composer: John Barry. Released in 1985.
Always majestic, Barry has composed for films as varied as Dances with Wolves and Howard the Duck.

#14. E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial – Composer: John Williams. Released in 1982.
Chances are if you watch classic TV, you’ll come across Johnny Williams in the credits. He’s one and the same. He won his first Oscar for musical arrangements in Fiddler on the Roof.

#13. King Kong – Composer: Max Steiner. Released in 1933.
Steiner studied under Gustav Mahler. He was nominated for 18 Academy Awards and won three.

#12. Vertigo – Composer: Bernard Hermann. Released in 1958.
One of the most distinctive Hollywood composers, Hermann penned the scores for such films as Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver. He often collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock.

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#11. The Adventures of Robin Hood – Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Released in 1938.
Korngold was a child prodigy. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1935 to escape the Nazi annexation of Austria.

And now, the top ten…

#10. High Noon – Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin. Released in 1952.
Tiomkin worked with Frank Capra on a number of films including It’s a Wonderful Life.

#9. Chinatown – Composer: Jerry Goldsmith. Released in 1974.
Although Jerry Goldsmith passed away in 2004, you will hear his music on two upcoming films: Star trek XI and Rambo IV scheduled for release next year.

#8. The Magnificent Seven – Composer Elmer Bernstein. Released in 1960.
Among Bernstein’s other scores are: The Great Escape and The Rainmaker. He passed away in 2004.

#7. Laura – Composer: David Raksin. Released in 1944.
Not as well known as others in the top ten, Raksin’s career still spanned five decades. One of his last well known works was for the 1983 apocalyptic TV movie, The Day After, directed by Nicholas Meyer.

#6. Jaws. – Composer: John Williams. Released in 1975.
This score probably has been referenced in more movies than any other. Unforgettable, pounding, relentless, you can’t go to the beach and not think about it.

#5. The Godfather – Composer: Nino Rota. Released in 1972.
Another child prodigy, Rota was a classical composer in Italy. He also scored Fellini’s Satyricon.

#4. Psycho – Composer: Bernard Hermann. Released in 1960.
Hitchcock’s classic is all the better for Hermann’s piercing score. Hitchcock originally wanted a jazz score with no music during the shower sequence. I’m glad Hermann talked him out of it.

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#3. Lawrence of Arabia – Composer: Maurice Jarre. Released in 1962.
This film marks Jarre’s first collaboration with David Lean. His second would be the score for Doctor Zhivago, and as they say, the rest is history.

#2. Gone With The Wind – Composer: Max Steiner. Released in 1939.
Some of Steiner’s other scores include such classic films as Casablanca and The Searchers.

#1. Star Wars – Composer: John Williams. Released in 1977.
This score is the top selling all-orchestral soundtrack in movie history, and one of the soundtracks that brought back the symphonic score to movies. John Williams became one of the most successful composers in movie history. Just so that doesn’t go to his head, he also composed music for Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (TV).

Agree or disagree, these are AFI’s picks for best scores for the first 100 years of movies. Of course it’s a bit ironic celebrating 100 years of film scores when the first three decades of filmmaking were silent, but then, that’s showbiz.