Film Scores. We’ve heard them before and inevitably, at one point or another we’ll hear them again, but what exactly are they? These timeless compositions and musical themes are so iconic, your mind usually doesn’t require any effort of registering the origins of these sounds, in order to remember the names and titles of the classic films they represent.

Film Scores can be defined as original music or background sounds that are exclusively written to support and complement a film. They’re a vital ingredient of a film’s soundtrack, containing various sound effects that consist of orchestral, instrumental, and even choir pieces called cue notes. These cues are aimed to begin and end at specific points in time throughout the duration of a film, in order to intensify and build up the dramatic narrative and emotional impact of a particular scene.

Iconic film scores supplement a storyline without digging a hole too deep into the ideas of what the film is about, it challenges the genre of the film without labelling it with a fixed identity, but most importantly, it magnifies the voices of the actors and actresses without spoiling the outcome of the scene. Film scores are written by composers under the supervision of, or in collaboration with the director and/or producer of a film. The score of the film is usually performed by a group of musicians, which could include an orchestra band, instrumental soloist or choir vocalists, who are then recorded and edited by a sound engineer.

It is the composer’s responsibility to find the perfect balance for the film score, as some movies tend to step away from making the most of their musical resources, leaving us with incidental background music, while others over-use the film score, taking it a step too far with over-dramatic, blasting orchestral sounds which distract us from the main plot. There’s a sweet spot in between, and that’s where the right balance plays a major factor for a film score to earn its iconic title.

So without further ado, here are your top 10 iconic instrumental film scores as chosen by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and WatchMojo.

10 – Back to the Future (1985)

Kicking of the list is the dramatic, dynamic and energetic score that highlighted the excitement of this tale about a small-town Californian teenager who accidentally travels through time. Composed by Alan Silvestri, it features an orchestra of a 100 members. There is over 45-minutes of music capturing everything, from the wonder of time travel, to the fantasy, suspense and urgency of Marty McFly’s situation.

9 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

This unique and extremely original soundtrack was composed by Ennio Morricone, blending the elements that instantly became associated to the Western genre. These ranged from the use of whistling, yodelling and even gunfire. Its main theme even includes the motif of a coyote howl.

8 – The Godfather (1972)

This immediately recognisable theme for Francis Ford Coppola’s crime-family thriller was composed by Nino Rota and conducted by Carlo Savina. The film’s score, which will forever be associated with the mafia, isn’t particularly loud or exciting but will always go down history, due to the iconic status of the motion picture being widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. The instrumental score utilises instruments such as the violin, piano and the guitar.

7 – Batman (1989)

Danny Elfman who was responsible for the gothic, mysterious and energetic theme of Tim Burton’s take on the dark knight has become an iconic classic due to the film being the first instalment of Warner Bros. Batman film series. In contrast to Christian Nolan’s batman trilogy, this magnificent theme remains the one that many fans associate with Batman.

6 – Rocky (1976)

It’s impossible to not relate this theme with athleticism and personal victory. The theme composed by Bill Conti, titled Gonna Fly Now is a timeless score, as it has become a huge part of pop culture. It has turned out to be an inspiring song which is often played at sporting events and holds a special place in the heart of Philadelphians.

5 – Jurassic Park (1993)

John Williams, who worked with Steven Spielberg, is the composer of this iconic score. It’s almost impossible not to think of dinosaurs when you hear the music of this science-fiction adventure film. The composition for this dino-theme comprised a large orchestra band which included percussion, harps, baritone horns and a choir.

4 – Indiana Jones (1981)

This iconic theme for the iconic character portrayed by Harrison Ford is known as The Raiders March. This theme was also conducted by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The theme of this action film produced by George Lucas ranges from wildly adventurous to spectacularly romantic. Not so surprisingly, the soundtrack was given an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.

3 – James Bond (1962)

Since its debut in Dr. No. (1962), the main signature theme for the MI6 secret service agent can be recognised instantly. Originally written by Monty Norman but arranged by John Barry, the theme has accompanied almost every gun barrel sequence. Back in the 1960’s, surf music was very popular and the sub-genre of rock lends its style to the guitar riff of the 007 theme tune. The solo was recorded using a 1939 Clifford Essex Paragon Deluxe guitar along with five saxophones, nine brass instruments and a rhythm section.

2 – Superman (1978)

The genius behind this superhero orchestral theme is once again, John Williams. Titled the Superman March, it gave the silver age hero a heroic atmosphere bursting with excitement and gravitas. The film score was used in the four Christopher Reeve Superman films and in the 2006 film, starring Brandon Routh.

1 – Star Wars (1977)

Taking the top spot on the list is the most recognisable motif in film history. It’s no surprise that throughout this countdown, this is the work of John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra. A film score of epic and legendary proportions, it is played during the opening sequence of each of the seven Star Wars films, from 1977 to 2015, as it perfectly captures the theme of heroism and epic adventure.

Do you agree with this list of the top 10 iconic instrumental film scores? Which cinematic movie score do you consider the greatest? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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Farshad Qasim

Contributor at sounDesign
Freelance creative designer and a digital media enthusiast from Dublin, Ireland. Farshad is a qualified professional with an MSc in Marketing Communications (2012) from MMU Business School in Manchester and a BSc in Business & Management (2011) from DIT Business School in Dublin. While having an artistic personality, he is highly passionate about creative advertising, digital marketing and graphic design as he aspires to incorporate his creative skills into his line of work to build an exciting yet challenging career in the creative and digital sectors.


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