10 Great Film Composers and the Movies They’re Known For

Can’t stop humming the theme from your favorite film? Meet a few of the composers behind the music in the movies.
Image credit: Isaac Ibbott/Unsplash

Music is an essential part of filmmaking, even if one of the signs of great movie music is that you barely notice it’s there. Over the years, countless fantastic composers and musicians have put together brilliant film scores, but you may not be familiar with those composers names, even if you recognize their music.

In this article we’re shining a light on some composers whose work you’re likely familiar with, even if you aren’t aware of their names. That said, we’re sure you’ll recognize at least a few of the names on this list.

1. John Williams

The first name on this list probably needs no introduction. Not only is John Williams the composer of the iconic Star Wars theme, but he has also composed for films like the first two Jaws movies, the first three Harry Potter movies, the Indiana Jones franchise, and many, many more.

2. Hans Zimmer

No matter what types of films you tend to watch, you’ve probably seen something with a Hans Zimmer score. His credits include the 1995 animated version of The Lion King, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk. That’s just a few of the films he’s either won awards or been nominated for.

3. Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard got his start playing jazz, and still does, with his latest release as recently as 2018, but he’s also done some important film work. One of his earliest films was Malcolm X, while more recently he’s scored The Comedian and BlackkKlansman.

4. Ramin Djawadi

Ramin Djawadi has composed music for films like Iron Man, Pacific Rim, and A Wrinkle In Time, but even if you’ve never seen any of the movies he’s scored, you’ve almost undoubtedly heard his work. Why? He’s also the composer of the iconic theme for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

5. Harry Gregson Williams

Harry Gregson-Williams has scored plenty of movies, but if you enjoy video games, you may know him best as the man behind the music in the Metal Gear Solid games. When it comes to films, his credits include the 2012 Total Recall remake, The Martian, The Zookeeper’s Wife, and the Disney nature film Penguins.

6. Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini may be best known for composing the iconic Pink Panther theme, which you’ll still hear often today despite its origins in the 1960s. Don’t let that paint a picture of the composer though, as his work also includes chilling scores for films like Experiment in Terror and Wait Until Dark.

7. Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has had a career with so many highlights that it’s hard to pick just a few to mention. He produced Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson among many others, but he’s also composed for plenty of films and TV shows, including The Italian Job, Roots, and The Color Purple.

8. Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman got his start playing in the new wave band Oingo Boingo, but that’s probably not why you’re familiar with his work. His trademark sound has been used in nearly every Tim Burton movie ever made, plus many films by horror icon and Spiderman trilogy director Sam Raimi. Even if you’ve somehow missed those, he also composed the theme for The Simpsons.

9. Ennio Morricone

Most of the composers on this list have at least a few major films under their belt that you’ve seen. Ennio Morricone, on the other hand, may only be on your radar if you’re a fan of older films or Quentin Tarantino’s work. Morricone scored many 1960s-era western films, but has more recently worked on movies like The Hateful Eight.

10. Herbie Hancock

If you’re familiar with Herbie Hancock, it’s most likely his work as a jazz musician. He’s played piano and keys with Miles Davis, Chick Corea, and Joni Mitchell in addition to being a legend himself. That said, he’s also scored more than 10 films, including the gritty 1974 classic Death Wish.

Can’t Get Enough Soundtracks?

Going through the catalogs of the composers we’ve gathered here, you’ll find plenty of material to put together a few different playlists for various moods or activities. That said, if you’re an avid music fan with hundreds of hours stretched across various playlists, you may be looking for even more music.

If that sounds like you, take a look at our list of amazing soundtracks to listen to while you’re working, even if you aren’t actually working while you listen to them.

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