These are the 25 best film scores from the past 25 years

2 September 2017, 18:50 | Updated: 13 April 2018, 12:38

Our resident movie music expert, Andrew Collins selects what he thinks are the 25 best big screen soundtracks of the past quarter century.

Every Saturday evening at 5pm, broadcaster, writer and film-lover Andrew Collins gets to dives into one of his favourite things in the world, move music.

Each week Andrew showcases on the greatest film composers and classic scores, shines the spotlight on lesser-known cinematic and TV gems, shares his his take on all the latest happenings in the music world, and occasionally steps into the incredibly musically rich world of Video Game Music.

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Like most movie buffs, Andrew loves a good best-of list. Starting in 1992 and taking us all the way up to present day with his selection of the finest and most influential film scores, he has chosen popular favourites as well as a few lesser-known surprises. Of course, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat all feature – but for which film scores?

So without further ado, here are Andrew's Top 25 film scores from the past 25 years:


The Piano – Michael Nyman – 1993

A game-changing commission for Nyman after years of establishing work on the puzzle-like art films of Peter Greenaway, this sumptuous, reiterative, piano-dominated score made him an international best-seller.


Jurassic Park – John Williams - 1993

Williams ramps up the scale and sense of wonder for constant collaborator Spielberg’s dinosaur adventure, recalling his score for Close Encounters.


Schindler’s list – John Williams – 1993

Williams had initial doubts that he was up to the job of scoring Spielberg’s respectability-minting Holocaust memorial, but he rose to the sombre occasion and violinist Itzhak Perlman provided the first-hand musical testimony.


Apollo 13 – James Horner – 1995

Having scored Cocoon and Willow for Ron Howard, James Horner turned a corner with this monumentally stirring, anthemic music for the director’s tribute to NASA ingenuity.  


Emma – Rachel Portman - 1996

Never mind that she was the first woman to win the Best Original Score Oscar, Portman’s intelligent, classically-rooted music for this Austen adaptation, rich with individual character motifs.


Titanic – James Horner - 1997

A big score for a big film – the most expensive film ever made at the time – but Horner’s masterstroke, aside from the Celtic lilt, is his use of the haunting voice of Sissel Kyrkjebø, which provides a siren’s call from the sea.


Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace – John Williams - 1999

The second trilogy left some fans in a quandary, but Williams surpassed himself – listen out for the choral Duel of the Fates in Sanskrit, one of the best ever Star Wars cues.


American Beauty – Thomas Newman - 1999

We call him the International Man of Mystery, as he’s so adept with conjuring intrigue, but this typically piano-led score captures something deeper and more profound.




Gladiator – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard - 2000

While Zimmer’s reputation is for pounding modernism, he tilts towards Holst and Wagner for the battle scenes, while Gerrard’s Elysium combines with Zimmer’s more reflective Earth to balance this life and the afterlife.


Requiem for a Dream – Clint Mansell – 2000

The Williams to Darren Aronofsky’s Spielberg, British iconoclast Mansell hits an early peak with a sophisticatedly string-driven score that reflects the doomed stories of the film. The dominant Lux Aeterna has taken on a life of its own.


Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring – Howard Shore - 2001

The Canadian composer’s masterwork, which stretches across three films, was forged in his magisterial narrative sweep for the first part, whose Breaking of the Fellowship is a definitive marker: epic and delicate at the same time.


Amelie – Yann Tiersen - 2001

Tiersen describes himself as a musician and not a composer, and compiled his beautiful piano-and-accordion-dominated score for this delectable French comedy from existing pieces and the film is unthinkable without it.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – John Williams - 2001

Williams redefines “magic” with the first Potter film and provides a motif – the twinkly Hedwig’s Theme – that sustains every chapter thereafter.


Pirates of the Caribbean – Klaus Badelt - 2003

It’s literal, yes, but Badelt infuses his swashbuckling and seafaring shanties with such joyful energy, you feel like you’re at sea. Hans Zimmer developed them further over the next three films in the Teflon franchise.


Brokeback Mountain – Gustavo Santaolalla - 2005

Argentine exponent of Andean string instrument the charango, Santaolalla brings brittle emotion to Ang Lee’s tale of forbidden love between cowboys.  


Atonement – Dario Marianelli - 2007

From the arresting typewriter rhythms to the diegetic choir-laced Elegy for Dunkirk, Italian composer Marianelli provides a truly original score for this Ian McEwan adaptation.  


Wall-E – Thomas Newman - 2008

A thematically challenging animation from Pixar about a ruined earth gets a dose of lightheartedness from Newman, as well as themes that suggest the vast emptiness of space.


Up – Michael Giacchino - 2009

Arguably the most complex of all modern animation scores, Giacchino deftly leads us through the life and death of a beloved spouse into a wacky highwire adventure, adapting his own themes for each mood.  



Under the Skin – Mica Levi – 2013

One of this century’s most out-there composers, Levi made her mark with her skin-crawling experimental sounds for this chilly visiting-alien-in-Scotland horror: funereal percussion, doomy chords, scraped strings and who knows what else!


Interstellar – Hans Zimmer - 2014

The antidote to his Gothic excesses for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, Zimmer strikes a more personal, contemplative, stripped-back note with this subtle sci-fi symphony that rises to the occasion with a real church organ.


The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat - 2014

Unlike any other score you’ve heard, and Oscar winning, Desplat creates an original Mittel-European netherworld using 35 balalaika players, augmented by alpine horns and cimbalom. It’s one you can listen to again and again.


Carol – Carter Burwell – 2015

A malleable composer through his work for the genre-hopping Coen brothers, Burwell creates one of his best works for this melancholy 50s-set Sapphic romance. Heavy on mournful strings and woodwind, it almost aches with longing.


Far from the Madding Crowd – Craig Armstrong - 2015

As earthy and bucolic as Thomas Vinterberg’s elemental take on the Hardy classic, Armstrong seems to follow the seasons and make the sun rise and fall with his gorgeous themes.


La La Land – Justin Hurwitz – 2016

The only score for a musical in our list, Justin Hurwitz’s Oscar-winner was intrinsic to La La Land’s success, a colourful collision of jazz, classical, chocolate-box and Latin whose hooks are the kind you can’t get out of your head.


Dunkirk – Hans Zimmer – 2017

A genuinely groundbreaking fusion of sound and vision, Dunkirk’s score grinds through the wartime suspense with sometimes imperceptible momentum, only to explode out of its ticking clocks and siren wails into Elgar’s Nimrod. It would be half the film without it.