Back in the earliest days of cinema, even Charlie Chaplin and the silent movie era had a piano playing for the audience, who took their seats in a theater to watch a picture play before them.
Those early artists understood that sound is a fundamental element when watching moving pictures, and the experience falls short when that essential piece is missing.
And that’s why modern film composers like Hans Zimmer play a key role in the delivery of a top-quality film.
Capturing the mood on screen and translating it into music requires one to be immersed within the story, and when it’s done well, a film’s score can elevate the story and make it feel much more real. It goes deeper than just the story—it evokes emotions.
Few movie composers have been more successful than Hans Zimmer. The iconic genius has heightened countless movies with his musical magic. Here are the best Hans Zimmer scores and soundtracks!
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8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Although Hans Zimmer wasn’t the one who came up with the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, he did craft the score to At World’s End and brought it to its crescendo.
At World’s End might not have been the best movie in the Pirates franchise, but it was a bold picture that never felt like it wasn’t building to something mighty and dramatic. Most of that came down to Zimmer’s work on the film’s music.
The grandiosity of the score that accompanied the movie was everything that Disney wanted At World’s End to be. The film is a rare case where the visuals let down the score—Zimmer’s amazing music deserved to serve a much better picture.
7. Gladiator (2000)
Despite Gladiator being a box office success, it’s oddly one of Hans Zimmer’s lesser-known scores. The work he did on Gladiator is still some of his best as he draws deep emotion from every scene.
Case in point: the final sequence in which Maximus is dying, and he can see his family waiting for him as he walks through the wheat fields. Zimmer’s angelic work on the sequence is gentle yet moving, showing us that this is the right thing for Maximus. It’s his time to go.
The whole picture’s score is inspiring and glorious, evoking images of the once-golden halls of Ancient Rome. For his work, Hans Zimmer was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
6. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s Inception remains one of the most talked-about pictures of the modern era. While the film itself was a sci-fi masterpiece that captivated a big audience, the score behind it perfectly matched the filmmaker’s vision.
The use of horns was inspired as Zimmer composed a movie that needed a special accompaniment, resulting in an evocative and profound sound that was as gripping during the quietest moments as it was during the most tense action sequences.
Zimmer’s work garnered him an Academy Award nomination but he ultimately lost to The Social Network, which has a score that isn’t nearly as recognized as the score from Inception is.
5. Dunkirk (2017)
The ticking of a pocket watch in the Dunkirk score keeps the audience on seat’s edge as we follow the journey of various soldiers across the beaches of Dunkirk and the RAF fighter pilots in the sky.
Zimmer worked with frequent collaborator Christopher Nolan on his World War II epic film, Dunkirk. As a finished movie, the picture is a tight and tense affair that’s made all the more so by the soundtrack, which constantly reminds you that time is running out.
It was Nolan’s own pocket watch that Zimmer used to create the film’s sense of time, which shows the level of trust between the filmmaker and the composer. Zimmer received an Academy Award nomination for his work but lost out to The Shape of Water.
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
A fight between controlled chaos and entropy itself, Batman’s war against the Joker has never been better than in The Dark Knight, and Hans Zimmer’s score underlined the stakes portrayed in the picture.
The tight use of strings heightened the tension as the audience wondered how Batman was to defeat his greatest foe, all the while stuck with unshakable dread that the Joker couldn’t be stopped. It was Zimmer’s score that played with audiences so freely.
The Dark Knight remains the benchmark for superhero movies, and Zimmer’s score took its place alongside John Williams’ Superman as one of the best soundtracks in a superhero movie.
3. Interstellar (2014)
For the docking scene alone, Zimmer’s work on Interstellar earned legendary status—even if the rest of the picture had been silent, which some of it was (because, of course, there is no sound in space).
The gentle pace of thudding drums while strings grew louder as the sequence became more and more intense? That was enough to keep the audience from blinking or breathing for almost four minutes, afraid that they may miss something spectacular.
Few director-composer collaborations have yielded results as consistently brilliant as Nolan and Zimmer, and on Interstellar, it reached the pinnacle of synergy between them.
2. The Lion King (1994)
Of his eleven Academy Award nominations, Hans Zimmer’s work on The Lion King is the one that emerged triumphant.
The classic animated movie is one of the best remembered for its musical melodies, and Zimmer wasn’t the only winner—Elton John and Tim Rice won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The Disney adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet using animals shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but the pure visceral heart of the movie is compounded by Hans Zimmer’s weighted score.
It’s deadly, magical, and heartbreaking at all the right moments, proving that Zimmer’s skill and range were unlimited when it came to capturing the essence of any scene.
1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Crafting the musical score to Blade Runner 2049 could easily be considered one of the hardest endeavors in cinematic history.
Following the original film’s iconic theme (composed by Vangelis) and how otherworldly it felt to audiences? That’s a tall order. Not many composers have the mastery to come in and break ground with a new score that feels new while paying homage to what came before.
But Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch did just that. Together they found a way to build a score that felt as groundbreaking as the original did, while respecting the work that came before.
The lack of recognition by the Academy for Best Original Score was a stark omission. But it did garner recognition from BAFTA with a nomination for Best Original Music. It remains Hans Zimmer’s most understated but best movie score to date.