Best Film Scores of the Decade

I've always thought it was interesting how composers crafted original music pieces for each of their respective films. Most of the time (99.9%, let's say), audience emotional reactions depend on the kind of mood the music sets.

I can't even think of a Disney film that didn't use an overwhelming music score to suggest when things turned for the good, or when we were supposed to feel really sad.

Just as was the case with the posters, the trailers and the songs, good scores don't necessarily show up in good films. Sometimes, as is the case with some of the featured titles below, the scores can really lend themselves to the narrative, and films that might otherwise be unwatchable at least have solid music to compensate for their lack of excellence in other areas.

#10. Malena (2000, Ennio Morricone)

I don't suspect most people have heard of this film. It's a foreign feature from Italy that didn't exactly break box office records, nor did it appeal to all critics. Had it not received an Oscar nomination for its score, I probably would not have heard of it either. But I decided to go through all the nominees from that year, and that's when I discovered Morricone's score. It's a very good bit of music to a decent film, fluctuating from deeply somber (which accounts for the majority of the soundtrack) to sort of bouncy and light (like the one shown above).

Best Tracks: "Passeggiata in paese," "Nella casa," "Malena (Titoli di coda)," "Bisbigli della gente," "Momenti difficili"




#9. The Dark Knight (2008, Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard)

The score Zimmer & Howard did for Batman Begins was good, but it doesn't come close to what they did in the sequel. A lot of action-adventure soundtracks might be good for a little bit of an adrenaline rush every once in a while, but they typically wear off after a while. This one hasn't, and I doubt it will anytime soon. It does get your energy level up, but at the same time, there are many tracks here that combine big, thunderous movements with softer, quieter ones.

Best Tracks: "Why So Serious?," "Like a Dog Chasing Cars," "Agent of Chaos," "Watch the World Burn," "A Watchful Guardian"




#8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, John Williams)

I've enjoyed all of the scores to the Harry Potter films, but Azkaban was (and still is) far and away the best one. Not too surprising that a compliation of tracks from John Williams (i.e. the best living film composer in the world) would stick out as exceptional, but it's kind of amazing that, despite his very long and successful career, he still has the ability to surprise you with what he can accomplish.

Best Tracks: "Buckbeak's Flight," "A Window to the Past," "Secrets of the Castle," "Hagrid the Professor," "Mischief Managed!"




#7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Tan Dun)

Personally, I never quite felt like this film lived up to the hype it had accumulated at the time. Sure, it was cool to see people flying through the air while they performed some difficult martial arts moves, but for the most part, I was kind of bored watching the film. The music, however, deserved the acclaim and awards it got.

Best Tracks: "The Eternal Vow," "Night Fight," "Silk Road," "Through the Bamboo Forest," "Farewell"






#6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)

Cave and Ellis didn't get much in the way of recognition when it came to awards branches honoring film scores in 2007, and I have no idea why. For the alternative, thinking-man's western, they created a delicate, pensive score that fit perfectly with the film. It's a shame more people didn't take notice at the time.

Best Tracks: "Rather Lovely Thing," "Song for Jesse," "What Must Be Done," "Destined for Great Things," "Song for Bob"




#5. Up (2009, Michael Giacchiano)

Over the last few years, composer Michael Giacchiano has been Disney's go-to man for orchestrating music scores, and there's a reason for that: he's good at what he does. Although he delivered some pretty great tracks for the war game Medal of Honor: Frontline, the television series Lost, and last year's Ratatouille, Up may be his crowning achievement, producing pieces that seamlessly mix the comedic with the melancholy.

Best Tracks: "We're in the Club Now," "Married Life," "Carl Goes Up," "Stuff We Did," "The Ellie Badge"




#4. Gladiator (2000, Hans Zimmer)

I was thirteen when I first saw this. I didn't know much about good movies at the time, and I knew even less about soundtracks and scores. But even then, I remember the music in the film stuck out, not just because, at times, it seemed like it was performed on a grand scale, but because of how it would switch from epic to almost angelic in a short period of time. It's a great piece of music, and definitely one of Zimmer's best works.

Best Tracks: "The Battle," "Earth," "Strength and Honor," "Am I Not Merciful?," "Now We Are Free"




#3. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004, Gustavo Santaolalla)

Ironically, Santaolalla ended up winning two consecutive Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Babel, yet he wasn't even nominated for what has to be his best collection of music to date. Motorcycle Diaires is a pretty complete soundtrack, starting off with a piece that sucks you in before wavering between tracks that either make you want to dance or just lie on your bed and not think about anything. It also includes a song so perfectly orchestrated, mere adjectives don't seem to do it justice.

Best Tracks: "Apertura," "Chichina," "La Muerte de la Poderosa," "Lima," "De Usahia a la Quiaca"




#2. The Fountain (2006, Clint Mansell)

The film may not have been to everyone's liking (and I'll say for my part, I had no idea what was going on), but the movie did have two things going for it that didn't disappoint: the visuals, and the music. The cinematography was exquisite, and the score has been the highlight of Clint Mansell's career. It's brooding and haunting, not to mention very elegant.

Best Tracks: "The Last Man," "Tree of Life," "First Snow," "Death is the Road to Awe," "Together We Will Live Forever"




#1. The Village (2004, James Newton Howard)

M. Night Shyamalan's films may have gotten progressively more convoluted and ridiculous, but his frequent collaborator, James Newton Howard, has not missed a beat. He's been a busy composer in the past decade, seemingly showing up everywhere either by himself or partnered up with another music heavyweight. This score, however, stands as his best work, with not a single bad track in its makeup.

Best Tracks: "Noah Visits," "What Are You Asking Me?," "Will You Help Me?," "I Cannot See His Color," "The Gravel Road"

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Comments 16 comments

Tara 6 years ago

The Fountain was excellent - as a movie and as a soundtrack.

I like HP score but I prefer HP5, which is from different composer and I liked it more. I would personally add LOTR to this list. It was a great soundtrack.

Thresher 6 years ago

To this I would add The Truman Show. Can it get any better than Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass?

mandawg9 profile image

mandawg9 6 years ago Author

Yeah, LOTR was on the cusp, but I just the other ones were better. I loved HP5, too. I initially wrote that it was my second favorite, but I deleted it.

I don't remember the score to The Truman Show, but this list was just about stuff from the year 2000 and up.

Acting 6 years ago

Dark Knight soundtrack is great and I would also add other movie soundtracks such as that of Keith which was an independent film.

Mauser 6 years ago

I really love soundtracks, its rare that you can find music to go with your mood.

LChristiane profile image

LChristiane 6 years ago from Florida

LOVE this hub....I have most of these Cd's awesome :) 6 years ago

I too love Hans Zimmer, but I noticed something rather disturbing recently. I saw Sherlock Holmes in theatres and couldn't help noticing that violin solo in the scene with the major explosion at the docks (called "Not in Blood, but in Bond" on the cd) sounds an awful lot like "Auschwitz-Birkenau" from John William's score to Schindler's List. Okay so it's not exact, and if it truly was an immitation, I doubt Zimmer would have left it in the same key, but still... Spooky. And what with the recent Oscar nomination, I really need someone to restore my faith in Hans Zimmer, I don't want to keep doubting him... any thoughts?

mandawg9 profile image

mandawg9 6 years ago Author


I've noticed well-known composers "borrowing" before. The most obvious example I can think of is Jerry Goldsmith's (Oscar-nominated) score to L.A. Confidential. The track "The Victor" is almost exactly the same as the suite to Leonard Bernstein's music from "On the Waterfront." I haven't heard anyone talk about it before, but it sounded like a blatant copy and paste score.

As far as Zimmer goes, I haven't heard the entire soundtrack to Sherlock Holems, though I do like "Discombobulate." I thought he did a good job with Frost/Nixonm, and I think he and James Newton Howard make a great team when it comes to the revamped Batman franchise.

alvin 5 years ago

Nice selection! I, too, will definitely include The Fountain, The Village and HP3 on my top 10 on the past decade. I would also include Howard Shore's LOTR Trilogy, Philip Glass' The Hours and Dario Marianelli's Atonement.

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James E. 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

I enjoyed LOTR Soundtrack and even the newest Star Trek Soundtrack. Very great pieces! Though I understand that 17 months ago roughly when this was posted Star Trek's newest movie wasn't released.

Ikki 4 years ago

Could you tell me the name of the score of the first piece of music in this video?

Nareem 4 years ago

Wow, some of these I never heard before ergo never seen the movies they were made for. Thank you for sharing!

Just finished listening to Clint Mansell's piece for The Fountain and I proved myself wrong about film scores - you don't have to watch the movie for the score to affect you.

Would the piece have affected me even more if I heard it for the first time during The Fountain? And if the pictures in the film didn't match the score, would that have tarnished the pieces' purity? Maybe I'll never know :)

But according to the Author, The Fountain was not to everybody's liking. Using this case as an example, I've come to a general conclusion for now: That a film and its score are two separate and unique entities, born with the same intention. One may stand on its on in greatness regardless of the failings of the other (within reason). But should they both be failures, miserably so shall they fail. And if they both bask in greatness harmoniously, than so shall they combine to become a single masterpiece. For no film is complete without its score and a score written to nothing is like shooting an arrow while wearing a blindfold.

Nareem 4 years ago

You can also look at it as the relationship between a man and a woman...

"A woman is the soundtrack to every man's life".

Danny 4 years ago

Have to agree with the Village as #1. I love the movie a lot, and the soundtrack is one of the biggest reasons why. I would say it probably is my favorite soundtrack of all time.

mandawg9 profile image

mandawg9 4 years ago Author

@Danny, yeah, the score is pretty impressive. The movie itself was much better than I expected. The marketing for it was all wrong.

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Michael DiPietro 18 months ago from Bellmore, NY

I always found it interesting with how scores are interpreted as being "traditional". By that, I mean using these vast symphonies with an over saturation of strings because that is what conveys so much emotion on its own. I don't want to say it is a crutch, because that would being doing a disservice to the wonderful works that have been created. But one of my favorite soundtracks is "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" because of how unorthodox the compositions are created and how they move through the film. The soundtrack is a prime example of how to compliment the film's progression in an original fashion while not over-saturating it.

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