Well, ABC Classic FM has been running their equivalent of Triple J’s Hottest 100. It’s more exciting than the Hottest 100 (these days), I’d say. They’ve never pretended that this would be an exhaustive list and even a quick glance over the list of 100 presents a challenge, albeit an entertaining one. If Vangelis’ Bladerunner is included, where is Harry Gregson-William’s Spy Game? Why is John William’s Harry Potter in there if StarWars is also included? So, I had to use a few criteria of my own to narrow down this selection. Since my demographic is probably going to be underrepresented in this poll, I’ve chosen my top ten with the following considerations:

  • Only one composer is chosen once (yep…!!)
  • Only modern compositions will be selected (This isn’t because there wasn’t anything awesome done before the 1960’s, it’s just that I don’t know about it!)
  • If a track by a classical composer is nominated, it has to have been worked into or recorded for the score of the movie. (This means Albinoni’s Adiago in G minor from Galipoli can’t be included, but Zimmer’s Goldberg Variations of Bach’s Aria da Capo in Hannibal can)

The criteria above suck for a few reasons. I can’t pick more than one John Williams score. I open myself to potential flaming by not including works like Nino Rota’s La Strada or Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (a very unsettling piece of music) and a stack of other European stars from ‘way back when’.

But, since a lot of these are going to be voted for anyway, I’m going to mix it up by nominating a few ‘unexpecteds’. In no particular order, the top 10 modern movie soundtracks are:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Morricone, Ennio
as performed in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Probably the biggest “no brainer” vote of the lot. Here’s where it all started and you’re glad it did. Genre defining wild west wah wah wahs from one of Italy’s best known modern composers. The frontier just wouldn’t be the same without his work and Clint Eastwood would have ended up some mail clerk at a railway station in a backwater town in the wild west. Being many decades old, the recording of this soundtrack is of course charmingly analogue. But then, clean smooth production just wouldn’t fit the wild and gritty settings The Man With No Name finds himself in. I’m also a big fan of a few other Morricone options that were presented on the list, The Paying of Scores and The Scillian Clan in particular. Younger audiences won’t know his name but they’ll know his music. And that’s got to count for something.

 Jurassic Park – Williams, John
as performed in Jurassic Park (1993)

I wanted to be a bit controversial. How does Jurassic Park trump Indiana Jones, StarWars, Jaws, ET and Schindler’s List? Well, I list it here for a technical reason as well as it being a great summary of adventure themes. I love the recording of this soundtrack. The  mix is very wide, which really hits a sweet spot for William’s grand flourishes (Journey To The Island) but also allow for intimacy to pierce through all the wildness and mystery of the world’s craziest theme park (Remembering Pettycoat Lane, My Friend The Brachiosaurus). While everyone knows Indy’s theme, what it sounds like when someone is about to be eaten by a shark and what a space opera should sound like, they’ll most likely remember too the theme from Jurassic Park (Opening Titles, Theme, Welcome To Jurassic Park). And they should because as much as those big wooden gates opening up to swallow the tourists whole, like some sort of carnivorous dinosaur, John William’s cues aurally do the same. It’s Williams well into his career, but at his best. It’s worth noting that last month they re-released a remastered version of this soundtrack to celebrate 20 years. It includes four unreleased tracks, which are probably worth listening to. Since a large part of my reason including this is based on the original mastering and mixing, I’ll likely be sticking with the original.

Edward Scissorhands – Elfman, Danny
as performed in Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Disclaimer: I’m a bit of an Elfman devotee. That might be an understatement, I don’t know. I haven’t bought anything he’s owned, if that counts? Anyway, this choice was actually easy. This soundtrack is responsible for a lot of the eerie choir-and-harp cues you’ve heard since the beginning of the 90’s. In fact it’s the home of the child choir. You’ve heard  the introduction and titles to promote other movies, TV shows and Christmas specials. It’s where waltz was cemented as a modern Hollywood motif. This soundtrack is one of the best examples of where the score is written for a movie but also tells a story in it’s own right. From the innocent music-box Storytime to the madhouse of The Cookie Factory, Elfman describes life in middle America through a combination musical strains that representative of hope, the unknown and of course darkness. The Grand Finale is considered by some to be one of the greatest modern Hollywood cues to have been written. Go and listen to it now!

Hannibal – Zimmer, Hans
as performed in Hannibal (2001)

I think this is one of the most accomplished of the “merge classic with modern” soundtracks to have been composed. And it’s a score that really lets some of Media Venture’s other names really shine. You’d be forgiven for associating Klaus Badelt with nothing but pirate shenanigans, but you’ll find Gourmet Valse Tartare is a brilliant example of taking a classic (Strauss’ The Blue Danube) and making something new of it for today’s movies. Vide Cor Meum, one of the only operatic songs I like (at all) is a great musical presentation of some of Dante’s soul-tearing words. Zimmer is at his best when the synthetic elements really blend in with the orchestral, the rhythm of Fienze Di Notte really makes the Hannibal / Gnocco chase scene fill you with the horrible sense of impending doom. The other tracks, some featuring Anthony Hopkins monologues, pull everything together to what is essentially the music for an incredibly twisted romance story. If you haven’t listened to the album (and if you watched Hannibal and didn’t think too much of it) I urge you to give it another go. It really is a gem.

American Beauty – Newman, Thomas
as performed in American Beauty (1999)

Thomas Newman cemented his name in the popular mind with Any Other Name. Wandering piano, hazy pads, a navel-gazer’s (shopping bag watcher’s?) dream.  The rhythmic tablas add some pace and add an exotic note to Newman’s usual wandering piano lines. The track has been used all over the place and remixed to good effect, and it sits very nicely with Newman’s other works. I feel like the White Oleander score is a sister composition to this one. This nomination was very nearly trumped by the strength of his Shawshank Redemption (Stoic Theme) alone, mind you. American Beauty is the perfect soundtrack to a cool autumn afternoon and it’s not hard to use the word “classic” to describe it.

Braveheart – Horner, James
as performed in Braveheart (1995)

As Scottish as we imagine Scottish is. A great example of a culturally insensitive approach to ethnicity and historical identity. But it sure does sound inspiring to those who love freedom and adventure. There were a lot of options for James Horner but I picked Braveheart because it sits quite well as a self contained collection of music. It worked very well with the power of the film itself and some of the cues (The Legend Spreads) have been used fairly widely in promotions of all other things Celtic. It reminds me of a time where I wasn’t old enough to see the movie and I’m happy about that. My grandmother once said “I didn’t like the violence but I did like the music”.

Forrest Gump – Silvestri, Alan
as performed in Forrest Gump (1994)

This is what the late 90’s sounded like during an emotional moment. Silvestri nailed this one, and while you’re going to know him from things like the Back To The Futures and Predator, you’re going to know him for Forrest Gump too. One of Hollywood’s busiest composers, this soundtrack has played a role in keeping popular interest in movie scores up. The suite appears on any number of compilations and it’s been around since 1994, but you’ll still finding yourself pausing to hear those first few notes on the piano and the thin, wistful strings. Far from Eraser, Volcano and Parent Trap, The Forrest Gump suite is going to be listened to for the next 100 years.

Blade Runner – Vangelis
as performed in Blade Runner (1982)

I’m not actually sure why this was included on the ABC’s list when so many other similar style scores were left out. I would have absolutely put this in the same category as Harry Gregson-William’s Spy Game, but not above. Which isn’t to say anything about Bladerunner – it really is a classic, and this is coming from someone who really dislikes the saxophone. There are some tracks in modern cinema that you just can’t disconnect from the scenes in the movie. Like Zimmer’s use of Hopkins’s narrations in Hannibal, the Bladerunner soundtrack includes vox pops and this really suits the way Vangelis’ tracks feel like they were part of the movie. This is one soundtrack that is almost inextricably linked to the film, but that’s not to say I won’t listen to the Main Titles if I ever have the chance to fly over Los Angeles. I actually own a copy of this on CD but can’t for the life of me find it at the moment. Give me a hard-copy, right there.

The Fountain – Mansell, Clint
performed in The Fountain (2006)

What madness is this? Clint Mansell has done some great work over the past two decades. Pi, Requiem For A Dream, Moon are good examples. He also did the soundtrack to Doom. I have no idea if that one is any good – I did watch Doom once but I had a fair bit of wine to help me through, and I won’t be returning. I guess that’s a bit unfair on poor ol Clint, since he’s also responsible for the excellent Mass Effect 3 soundtrack (add him to the list of crossover composers ala Harry Gregson-Williams). But when you listen to First Snow / Finish It you’ll understand why producers are choosing this man to write music for the films that really mess with your mind.

Master and Commander – Iva Davies et al.
as performed in Master and Commander (2003)

Iva Davie’s Master and Commander  it’s a wonderful modern mixup of the classics (beautifully executed by Yoyo Ma on some cues) and you’ll want to be checking out Motzart’s violin concerto #3, the Bach prelude and the Corelli concerto. It really shows you how modern and classic can be mixed into something wonderful. The Far Side of The World is to violin what Van Halen’s Eruption is to electric guitar. I can’t remember where I read it, but I recall something about them having to record it in a number of takes and string the cues together. This soundtrack does just as well in the movie as it does reading one of Patrick O’Brien’s many Jack Aubrey series. Which, I have to point out, are far superior to the movie – and I reckon Peter Weir did a darn good job.


The countdown is running from today until Monday. You can stream the show Music In The Movies from the ABC Classic FM. Get in!