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Another Top 10 Iconic Instrumental Film Scores

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Elliot Baker We're back again with even more compositions to make our hair stand on end. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for Another Top 10 Iconic Instrumental Scores. Much like our last list, we're only looking at musical compositions that were designed to be part of a movie’s soundtrack. Did you like this video? Got any ideas for what we should cover next? Head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest to submit your ideas today!
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Another Top 10 Iconic Instrumental Film Scores


We're back again with even more compositions to make our hair stand on end. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for Another Top 10 Iconic Instrumental Scores.

Much like our last list, we’re only looking at musical compositions that were designed to be part of a movie’s soundtrack. No vocals are allowed, and we’re discounting the “Mission: Impossible” theme as it was first used for the classic TV series and not the movie itself. We’re also not counting “Kill Bill,” as it’s not an original theme. If you didn’t see a score you thought should be on the list, be sure to check out our first list of the Top 10 Iconic Instrumental Movie Scores

#10: “28 Days Later” / “28 Weeks Later” (2002; 2007)
John Murphy

If ever there was a shining example of a score that doesn’t immediately pound you over the head, it’s this dark and terrifying piece. Composed by John Murphy during the zombie boom’s early days, this score is filled with a foreboding feeling of horrifying mystery and melancholy that infuses the quiet yet looming piano notes. As the track rises, introducing gritty guitars and drums, there’s a mood of creeping danger that accurately replicates the feeling of hiding from a pack of zombies. Whether you’re Cillian Murphy or Robert Carlyle, you can’t help but run when that crescendo strikes up.

#9: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)
Jerry Goldsmith

Sound familiar? Long before it introduced Jean-Luc Picard and the next generation, this adventurous melody was leading audiences into “Star Trek’s” first cinematic foray. Though J.J. Abrams reboot series is also dramatic, the enticing and triumphant trumpets of the 1979 theme practically scream of classic science fiction and the wondrous adventures that are so synonymous with the epic series. According to composer Jerry Goldsmith, he was heavily influenced by the optimistic and epic style of the original “Star Wars” theme and wanted to produce a chorus that can replicate the wandering beauty of the galaxy. We’d say he did a fine job.

#8: “Forrest Gump” (1994)
Alan Silvestri

As Goldsmith did with “Star Trek,” Alan Silvestri uses the audible themes of wonder and spaciousness in his score for this comedy-drama, but embellishes them in a much different way. Reflecting the mind of Alabama’s favorite war hero and Ping-Pong player, the introductory score for “Forrest Gump” gracefully meanders across the film’s credits creating an atmosphere of quiet mystery and contentment. And much like our title character, as the song wanders it reaches unpredictable peaks. Fittingly, it is a mysterious and romantic theme befitting the unknown paths that Forrest finds himself on.

#7: “Harry Potter” franchise (2001-11)
John Williams

It can be fairly tricky to translate the feeling of a fantasy series into a musical score, but if anyone can do it, it’s John Williams. And he did, perfectly complementing the plot by punctuating the action in all the right places and inspiring mystery in others. Although known as Hedwig’s theme, this Williams composition is completely at home as the theme for ‘the boy who lived.’ Its opening notes are quieter than a mouse but as enticing as the first words of a great book, as it enigmatically dances across the films. Eventually, the score rises in rushing anticipation of the action and excitement that is expected of every well-known John Williams composition.

#6: “Inception” (2010)
Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has been making a powerful name for himself in recent years as Christopher Nolan’s golden boy composer. Not satisfied with creating the heart pounding drums featured in “The Dark Knight,” Zimmer produced the iconic horns that are such a standout in “Inception,” incorporating hints of Édith Piaf's “Non, je ne regrette rien” throughout. Zimmer has said that the hoped the score would feel like huge foghorns over a city, and with the electronic flavor he’s added the mixture is instantly compelling. While shaking seats across cinemas, the track entitled ‘Time’ is a slow climb to triumphant success that drives the film and brings us all along for the ride.

#5: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
Brad Fiedel

Gone are Brad Fiedel’s synthesized riffs of the 1980s, only to be replaced by Brad Fiedel’s lower octave, dread-filled orchestral sound for the 1990s. It’s strangely fitting that the closer to Judgment Day we get, the more terrifying and hopeless the Terminator’s music becomes. Hard-hitting drums that emulate the sounds of war engulf our ears, leading to a grand choir whose voices sound eerily like pained cries. What sticks most in our minds is the clanging of metal mixed into the soundtrack, which grows more frequent and louder as the rise of the machines draws ever closer. The war that is; not the third film.

#4: “Schindler’s List” (1993)
John Williams

Give us a moment to put our hearts back together before we talk about this one. Composed by frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams, this Oscar-winning piece pays homage to old World War II choruses with its grieving violin arrangements, played by famed violinist Itzhak Perlman. A tune this harrowing is not something we’d seen often before in Williams’ repertoire, and in fact he tried to back out altogether after seeing the powerful film. He told Spielberg the movie deserved a better composer, but Spielberg contended that everyone better was already dead. And thus a classic yet melancholic instrumental was born.

#3: “Titanic” (1997)
James Horner

When collaborating on “Aliens,” composer James Horner and director James Cameron clashed mightily. The composer therefore never expected the brilliant director come knocking again. But, after being highly impressed with the somber work Horner composed for “Braveheart,” Cameron hired the composer to produce a similarly tragic theme as a send-off to the famous ship. The heavenly choirs and wordless vocalizations are spread across the soundtrack in a graceful collection of sad goodbyes and final solitude that was rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar. And yes, Horner wrote that song as well.

#2: “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (2003-)
Hans Zimmer & Klaus Badelt

If the thirst for adventure doesn’t immediately hit you upon hearing this soundtrack, you’re clearly not listening very well. With bellowing crescendos occurring without warning at a moment’s notice, this grand and epic score inspires a rush of adrenaline in the hearts of any would-be pirate. Glorious in tone and greatly befitting a swashbuckling romp through the Caribbean, created by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt and a team of several composers. But, it’s safe to say they all pirated Zimmer’s tone a little bit.

Before we unveil our top instrumental, here are a few honorable compositions:
- “The Social Network” (2010)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
- “Ben-Hur” (1959)
Miklós Rózsa
- “Halloween” franchise (1978-)
John Carpenter
- “Sunshine” (2007)
Underworld & John Murphy
- “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991)
Michael Kamen

#1: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
John Williams

And the award for most entries on this list goes to John Williams – duh. The heart and soul of the movie, the “E.T.” theme is filled with majesty and a magical tone that emulates the atmosphere of this beloved blockbuster. In an era of other iconic Williams’ compositions, like “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” “E.T.”’s score is another that reminds us of our childhood, and takes us back to a golden age in Hollywood. Fitting perfectly into the film and highlighting its themes and emotions, it’s a dream-like fantasy montage of music, whose beauty stems purely from healthy imagination. While not as dramatic as others on this list, the Oscar-winning score from “E.T” is a perfect addition to a phenomenal family film.

Do you agree with our list? What other instrumental scores have we missed? For more musical top 10s published everyday, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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