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From Gladiator to The Lion King, German-born composer Hans Zimmer has composed some of the most exciting film scores of the last 25 years. Here are his greatest soundtracks to date (no questions asked).
It's a soundtrack that has gone on to achieve legendary status for Zimmer, from the beautiful, otherworldly ‘Elysium’ to the epic orchestral ‘Honour Him’. The composer uses a simple but great melody throughout his score, pushing Gladiator into the ranks of those movies for which the music is a vital part of its success.
Zimmer collaborated with Klaus Badelt on ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’, writing the film’s main themes as a duo. Although critics berated the composers’ work for its lack of connections to the ‘swashbuckling’ genre, Zimmer and Badelt succeeded in creating a score which is both epically beautiful and cheekily evocative of the unpredictable Captain Jack.
Zimmer famously made use of (and was personally responsible for trashing!) a broken pub piano in his soundtrack to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes remake. With a score marked for a banjo, cimbalom and ‘squeaky violins’, Zimmer described his soundtrack to Ritchie as "the sound of The Pogues joining a Romanian orchestra".
Unbelievably, Zimmer revealed his entire score for the Christopher Nolan film originated from Edith Piaf’s song ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ – from the thunderous trombone theme to the threatening semitone-based melody in the violins.
But, he argued, he should still be eligible for an Oscar for Best Original Score. He told the New York Times: “I didn’t use the song; I only used one note. [I got] the original master out of the French national archives. And then [found] some crazy scientist in France who would actually go and take that one cell out of the DNA.”
Zimmer’s trademark technique balances orchestral and electronic sounds, and The Dark Knight is no exception. “It’s about fifty-fifty,” he said. “I never segregate a violin from a synthesiser – both are ways and means of making music.”
Zimmer admitted it took him a year to complete the dark, brass-filled score, and described the Christopher Nolan movie as one of the most challenging projects he has ever worked on. “We had so many ideas and never enough hours in the day,” he said. “Put it this way, I got to hang out with some of my demons for a while.”
The composer won his first Oscar for Disney's The Lion King (1994), in which he seamlessly blended large orchestral forces with the African choral music of Lebo M and Elton John's songs.
Plus, Disney are taking Zimmer on for a second time in their 2019 live-action remake of the movie, starring Donald Glover and Beyoncé.
Zimmer’s religious soundscape, scored with a massive orchestra, chorus and organ, gives you the feeling you’ve just walked into a glorious stained-glass cathedral. Although the film itself had mixed reviews, Zimmer’s epic soundtrack was nominated for the 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
Director Ron Howard said: “Hans Zimmer has given us extraordinarily memorable music to appreciate within the framework of a film or completely on its own, where you can let the sounds carry you on your own private journey.”
Zimmer and Nolan visited London’s Temple Church to record music on the 1926 Harrison & Harrison organ for the Interstellar soundtrack, creating a surprisingly religious feeling for a science fiction film. On top of the organ, he adds 34 strings, 24 woodwinds and four pianos, as well as a 60-voice choir.
Zimmer’s work on Interstellar was nominated for an Academy Award and Original Score at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
In True Romance, the romantic black comedy in which Christian Slater marries Patricia Arquette, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood, Zimmer successfully blended conventional orchestral and choral forces with rock elements to create a thrilling contemporary sound.
Throwing to elements of 50s and 90s rock music, including synthesisers and electronic drums, the True Romance soundtrack is a far cry from the epic feel of Inception or Batman, but it's Zimmer in his element.
Listening to the Pearl Harbour soundtrack without breaking down into a period of uncontrollable weeping is a tough feat in itself. The poignant main theme, always played by a piano, is continuously built up with epic crescendos of sweeping strings, backed by a massive orchestra.
Zimmer’s original work was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, losing to Moulin Rouge!, and is still considered one of his most beautiful pieces of music to date.