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Five of the best Film Composers in Hollywood

Updated on December 30, 2010

Film music is one of those things that a lot of people don't really pay attention to, but it can really help to make the difference between an emotionally flat movie, and one which causes all sorts of emotions to bubble up within you.

Whether you are a newbie to the wonderful world of film music, or a vetran, I hope you'll enjoy perusing this list of my top five film composers.

Alan Silvestri

New York-born, Alan Silvestri (b 1950) has an impressive filmography spanning from 1972 to the present day, and is behind memorable tracks like in the movies: Back to the Future (1985, 1989, 1990), Forrest Gump (1994), Contact (1997), Cast Away (2000), The Polar Express (2004), Van Helsing (2004), Beowulf (2007), Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009), amongst many others.

His 1984 project with director Robert Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone was his first big break, quickly followed by his legendery role in helping to make Back to the Future the classic that it is.

I think it is no coincidence that Silvestri was part of so many great movies, notably Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Cast Away. I really do think he is a big part of what made them great.

His efforts have been justly recognised in the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Grammy Awards for his music in Forrest Gump and Polar Express.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer (b 1957) has been gracing our ears since 1982, with his first movie gig for the film "Moonlighting". This German genius has since been a part of well over 100 films including Oscar-nominated Rain Man (1988), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Green Card (1990), Thelma & Louise (1991), The Lion King (1994), As Good as it Gets (1997), Pearl Harbor (2001), The Last Samuri (2003), and perhaps most famously Gladiator (2000) and Pirates of the Caribbean (2006, 2007). Most recently he made the music for the brilliant movie, Inception (2010) and is currently working on tracks for the continuing Dark Knight series amongst others. He is even taking his first ever venture into the world of Bollywood, helping make the music for the film Ra.One which is to be released in 2011.

German-born Zimmer first started his musical career by playing with keyboards and synthesizers, and his first rise to mini-fame was in his early 20s when he played with the band "The Buggles". Very soon after, he began his venture into the world of film music - and the rest is history!

Zimmer's beautiful pieces have been recognized in many awards ceremonies over the decades, amongst which he has received 8 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, 7 Grammy awards, 4 BAFTAs and 1 Emmy. A great achiever indeed!

John Williams

New York-born, John Williams (b 1932), son of a jazz drummer, is truly one of cinema's legends, helping to make the magic in classics like E.T, Indiana Jones, Home Alone, Star Wars Jurrasic Park, and the Harry Potter films. He often works together with Steven Speilberg and has in fact composed music for almost every single film directed by Speilberg, bar a mere handful. Although it's hard to give a favourite, I would say that his lesser known soundtrack for the movie Hook is my personal John Williams favourite.

Williams is wonderfully skilled and trumps Zimmer with his long list of awards, amongst which are 21 Grammys! Although to be fair, he has been around for longer..

He is currently working on music for The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, to be released in 2011.

James Newton Howard

LA-born James Newton Howard (b 1951), like many of these great film composers, has over 100 projects to his name, including some absolutely thrilling tracks from movies like The Prince of Tides (1991), Water World (1995), and perhaps most famously he teemed with director M. Night Shyamalan in some of his films like Signs (2002), The Village (2004), and Lady in the Water (2006). One of my personal favourite scores by James Newton Howard is his work for King Kong (2005) and Blood Diamond (2006).

He is currently working on several new film scores, including The Dark Knight Rises, together with Hans Zimmer, which will be released in 2012.

Fun fact about Howard: In his younger years Howard toured with Elton John as his keyboardist.

James Horner

No Top 5 List of great film composers would be complete without James Horner (b 1953).

Two of the movies that Horner is perhaps the most famous for are Titanic and Avatar, since these are two epically high grossing films. My personal favourite soundtracks by Horner are the ones to Legends of the Fall, Willow, The Rocketeer and A Beautiful Mind. Pure beauty.

Other fantastic film composers aside from these top 5

Other film composers of note who would fit into a top 20 list include:

  • Rachel Portman
  • Randy Newman
  • Danny Elfman
  • Alexandre Desplat
  • Harry Gregson-Williams
  • Howard Shore
  • Jerry Goldsmith
  • John Debney
  • John Powell
  • Klaus Badelt
  • Joe Hisaishi
  • Philip Glass
  • Thomas Newman
  • Zbigniew Preisner
  • Michael Nyman
  • David Arnold

If you're a fan of film music be sure to check them out! They are all phenomenal in their own ways.

Related articles

What does your taste in music say about your personality?


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Steve Jablonsky ?

    • Arren123 profile image


      6 years ago from UK

      Super hub, without film music, film would feel very different indeed, voted up and awesome :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Those were the exact ones i wouldve put in the top 5! Almost had a heart attack though when i read Agvulpes comment, that is, until i realized John Williams is still alive and kickin lol

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      How adout Danny Elfman?

    • agvulpes profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Great list of composers. Although some names that don't come readily to mind!

      I believe that only a few days ago John Williams passed away. This is a sad loss for all movie lovers :-(


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