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Music has always been at the heart of the movie industry. Even at the Lumiere brothers’ first film screening in 1895, there was a pianist tinkling the ivories. Twenty years later, Fritz Lang’s classic silent film, Metropolis, was accompanied by an original full scale orchestral score. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern mobile tech, we can enjoy movies and their music, wherever and whenever we want. But if you had to choose a play list, which would you go for?

The composer’s criteria

We asked composer Douglas Black Heaton which scores he thought deserved the title of greatest ever. His criteria: They had to be popular, influential and a damn good listen. They had to be composed scores, rather than soundtracks of songs, and each composer had to be different. So without further ado, here’s his magnificent seven.

Psycho 1960

Bernard Hermann’s unsettling string score for Hitchcock’s masterpiece is never better than in the infamous shower scene. Those high jagged string jabs have become embedded in the modern psyche as a byword for horror.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 1969

Ok, there had to be a Bond movie in the list, after all the Bond theme is one of the most recognisable pieces of movie music from the last 50 years.  In OHMSS John Barry takes this and almost tops it with the magnificent OHMSS theme. The score also makes liberal use of the classic melody that John Barry wrote for the song “We Have All The Time In The World” (ironically Louis Armstrong’s last recording).

Star Wars 1977

Any of John Williams’ big scores from this era (Jaws, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T.) could have appeared in the list, but Star Wars is undoubtedly the biggest of them all. Williams, introduced to George Lucas by Steven Spielberg, re-introduced the symphonic orchestra into movie music and a generation of movie goers listened in awe as the opening fanfare kicked in following the now immortal “A long time ago in galaxy far, far away..”

Blade Runner 1982

The Greek composer Vangelis was still basking in the glory of his Oscar winning score for Chariots of Fire when Ridley Scott asked him to create a musical backdrop for his dystopian vision of the near future. Vangelis duly obliged with one of movie music’s first electronica scores.

American Beauty 1999

Thomas Newman’s simple but effective score for Sam Mendes’ Oscar sweeping picture features many of his trademarks; repeating piano figures over minimalist strings and usual, often found, percussion. His style, and in particular the title track from this film, has reached the inglorious heights of being one of the most imitated in the business.



Lord of the Rings Trilogy 2001-2003

Howard Shore took on the enormous task of scoring Peter Jackson’s original trilogy and succeeded created a cinematic soundscape that has become synonymous with epic fantasy music. When Jackson released the extended versions of the films Shore had to write and record up to an hour’s worth of extra music for each film. Apparently a glutton for punishment, Shore will return to Middle Earth scoring duties for the upcoming Hobbit trilogy.


The Dark Knight 2008

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard had already collaborated on the first film of Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise. With his new instalment they had a major new character to introduce; the Joker’s theme “Why So Serious?” is a massive tension laden monster using distorted cellos designed to shred your nerves.


This is undoubtedly an amazing list, but would you have picked Psycho over the Pink Panther, or American Beauty over Gladiator? Should Elfman, Goldsmith, Horner, Desplat or Morricone have been given a thumbs up? Let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: LSO