Which film composers have won the most Academy Awards?

21 March 2022, 17:34 | Updated: 13 March 2023, 12:31

Which composer tops the Oscars chart for most wins?
Which composer tops the Oscars chart for most wins? Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

We’ve ranked the most legendary musical masterminds - in order of total number of Oscars - who have won big at the glitzy annual awards ceremony.

The Academy Awards ceremony, perhaps better known as the Oscars, has been running since 1929 and is one of the most prestigious events in the film industry’s calendar.

The annual awards show recognises excellence in cinema and the glitzy ceremony is routinely watched by millions of people from all corners of the globe.

Alongside the prestigious accolades for Best Actress, Best Director and Best Film, the Academy also presents two highly sought after musical awards; the Oscar for Best Original Song and the Oscar Best Original Score. Over the last 70 years, since the ceremony’s first telecast in 1953, we’ve witnessed both well-seasoned and newcomer composers pick up these coveted awards, with some even winning multiple times.

In 2022 however, the Academy announced it would cut eight categories from the live Oscars telecast, including Best Original Score. The decision was met with pushback from the music, and wider film industry.

So, to celebrate the achievements of composers – telecast or not, we’ve created a list of the most decorated musicians to have their work honoured at the Oscars over the last century.

Read more: All Quiet on the Western Front wins Oscar for Best Original Score at the 95th Academy Awards

Bette Midler performs 'The Place Where Lost Things Go' at the Oscars 2019

Alfred Newman – 9 wins

The 20th century American composer, Alfred Newman, received 45 nominations during his lifetime (1900 - 1970) for his soundtracks. Along with two of his fellow composers, Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin, was considered one of the “three godfathers of film music”.

Over his forty year career he scored over 200 films, and was one of the most respected film score composers of his time.

Some of his most notable work includes the scores to: Wuthering Heights (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), How the West Was Won (1962), and Airport (1970).

Alfred was the head of a family of major Hollywood film composers. His brother Lionel Newman won the Academy Award for Best Score of a Musical Picture for Hello Dolly! (1969).

His son, Thomas Newman, has been nominated for fifteen Academy Awards (notable scores include, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), WALL-E (2008), the James Bond films Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). His nephew, Randy Newman, has won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song (“If I Didn't Have You” from Monsters, Inc. (2002), and “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 (2011).)

Read more: Who is Randy Newman? Songs, film scores, wife, age and net worth

Main Title - How the West Was Won (1962) - Alfred Newman

Alan Menken – 8 wins

Known for his spectacular scores to Disney’s Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas, American composer, Alan Menken is part of an elite group of EGOT holders (winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award).

The composer also has a won a whopping eleven Grammy Awards.

Menken won both Best Original Score and Best Original Song for all four of the following films; The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995).

The Little Mermaid - Under the Sea (from The Little Mermaid) (Official Video)

John Williams – 5 wins

John Williams has received more than 50 Oscar nominations to date – more than any other living composer – so it’s no surprise the composer comes a very close third on this list.

Since winning Best Original Score for Fiddler on the Roof at the 44th annual ceremony in 1972, the American composer has continued to mesmerise audiences with his soundtracks.

His four other winning soundtracks include the scores to Spielberg’s thriller Jaws in 1976, the music for Star Wars in 1978, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial in 1983 and the heart-breaking music for Schindler’s List in 1994.

Read more: 10 of John Williams’ all-time greatest film themes, ranked

John Williams conducts an extract from ‘Flight to Neverland’ from Hook

John Barry – also 5 wins

With a total of five Oscar wins, English composer and conductor John Barry has also found success with the Academy.

In 1967, he took home Best Original Score and Best Original Song for his soundtrack to Born Free – a heartwarming true story about Elsa the lion.

Subsequent wins have included for his scores for The Lion In Winter (1969), Out of Africa (1985) and Dances With Wolves (1990).

John Dunbar Theme - Dances with Wolves

Johnny Green – also 5 wins

American composer, John Waldo Green, was nominated for an Oscar thirteen times, and won five awards.

The twentieth century composer won for the musical scores of films including An American in Paris (1951), West Side Story (1961), and Oliver! (1968).

Johnny Green at the 50th Academy Awards
Johnny Green at the 50th Academy Awards. Picture: Getty

Multiple high profile composers have received four or three Academy Awards each.

Composers who have won four awards include; Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, André Previn, Dimitri Tiomkin and Jimmy Van Heusen.

Those with three Oscars each include; Max Steiner, Miklos Rózsa, Maurice Jarre, Howard Shore, Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Burt Bacharach, Giorgio Moroder and Stephen Schwartz.

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