Even back when cinema was limited by technology and had no way to synchronize dialogue with on-screen visuals, those films still had musical scores to accompany everything that was happening.
Sometimes those musical scores were performed by live pianists in the theaters, while other times the music came through a separate audio system. The point is, sound and image have always been partnered together for as long as cinema has existed.
And just as cinematography has evolved over the decades, the use of sound and music in cinema has also evolved. The score has the power to elevate a good film to great, a great film to legendary.
Even when you're unable to connect to a film's setting or characters, the mood established by the music can take you there. And when it comes to sci-fi films, the score has as much power and potential to set off your imagination as the actual imagery does.
Whether it's the booming sounds of a far-off world going to war, a near-future detective hunting down replicants, or the saga of an intergalactic family torn apart by The Dark Side, a film's music is just as important as every other element tying it together.
Here are our picks for the best sci-fi movie scores and soundtracks that truly took their respective films to new worlds.
8. The Thing (1982)
Ennio Morricone's score for John Carpenter's The Thing is almost as unnerving as the movie itself.
As the film unfolds, the audience understands that all is not well at camp—and that's where the score lends an eerie feeling that tickles down the spine, infecting the senses, until you realize that the shapeshifting creature has already infiltrated the base.
The score comes from a composer of classic Western movies, yet features no similarities to Morricone's prior work. Instead, he crafts an unrelentingly chilling theme that we remember to this day.
7. Back to the Future (1985)
"We've got to go back, Doc!"
Marty McFly's words come out as he's stranded with Doc Brown, the Back to the Future title theme playing over them. It's a moment of pure sci-fi cinema, a merging of visuals and music at its most iconic.
Alan Silvestri's composition for Back to the Future has endured decades. It's instantly recognizable and leaves an unchanging impact on the audience. It's heroic with a bit of Western flair, and yet it comes across as bold, futuristic, and adventurous.
The entire score for the film conveys the gravity of Marty and The Doc's situation, but always remembers that the young people in the audience need to be charmed by it.
6. Dune (2021)
This one's a very recent addition to the annals of science fiction cinematic composing, but an instant classic delivered by Hans Zimmer.
The title score feels as though it originated in the arid desert of creation. It has a tribal element that perfectly captures the vast sands of Arrakis and the Fremen who inhabit it.
The expansive feeling of Dennis Villeneuve's direction and storytelling calls for a score that's equally as bold—one that evokes the emotions and grandiosity of films like Lawrence of Arabia. Zimmer's work does that and still retains an Earthly vibe to it.
5. Star Wars (1977)
Is there a more iconic shot in sci-fi cinema than a young Luke Skywalker looking out at the twin sunset of Tatooine?
The "Binary Sunset" music swells behind him, and his future sets forth—it's the music that would follow Luke all the way through until his passing into the Force.
John Williams' score for Star Wars is emotional yet heroic, mystical but tactile. Williams balances the Force in his work, which gives the audience a sense of operatic scope that's rarely heard in sci-fi.
Williams' work on the saga feels as though it itself comes from a galaxy far, far away. It holds up the mythical legends of Jedi and Sith while showing an intimate story that centers on the Skywalker family.
4. Jurassic Park (1993)
Here with have an iconic score that's deeply thematic and able to engage you with a childlike wonder of a discovery that changes the world, while also showcasing the horrors that it brings.
Once again, John Williams went to work scoring a sci-fi film, and once again, he delivered a wondrous score with hidden malice.
The wreckage of Jurassic Park's central concept—as the park is reduced to a terror chamber by the dinosaurs that wreak havoc on the humans inhabiting it—is underpinned by the danger in Williams' score.
The stark contrast between the opening sense of wonder and the horrors of the kitchen sequence is balanced with a raw energy that represents nature, and that's the brilliance of John Williams' score.
3. Interstellar (2014)
If there's one theme that perfectly represents the incredible sight and hostility of space, it would be Hans Zimmer's score to Interstellar.
The scene where Cooper attempts to dock with the out-of-control Endurance is put on a knife's edge by Zimmer's work.
It's indicative of how Zimmer operates throughout the film: building up to moments that highlight the dangers of space, but never forgetting the importance of the mission that Amelia and Cooper are on.
The booming horns and the ticking of a clock provide an anxiety-inducing pulse that runs through the film, and it all flawlessly syncs with Christopher Nolan's visual mastery.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Comprised of classical music pieces, 2001: A Space Odyssey is different than the rest of the scores on this list. None of the music composed with the film in mind made it to the final cut; instead, Stanley Kubrick built his film and found the perfect score for each scene elsewhere.
The best-remembered sequence in the movie—a bone being thrown into the air as the Monolith appears before a bunch of apes—is set to Richard Strauss' classic score "Also sprach Zarathustra."
The moment is a perfect sci-fi merger of visuals and score, as the Strauss score is used to showcase the dawn of humankind. In doing so, it has become more than a classical piece from 1896.
1. Blade Runner (1982)
When Ridley Scott handed over control of the Blade Runner score to Vangelis, nobody predicted that the film's visual composition would need time to catch up with the recorded score. It was ahead of its time.
No sci-fi film has ever had a score that fits its narrative better than Blade Runner. Vangelis used the synth style to transport the audience to a near-future Los Angeles, and he used experimental tones to create an otherworldly feeling. It's a musical feat to behold.
When Blade Runner's Final Cut became available in 2017, the film suddenly clicked. It became clear that Ridley Scott had created a masterpiece beyond his Director's Cut in 1992, and mostly because it came with a score that's wholly unique.