13 Great Nerd Movie Scores by People Other than John Williams


?The use of film scores can be polarizing for movies nerds. Some argue that scores are simply manipulative tools that toy with a viewer’s emotion; filling in for a lack of real dramatic content. But what would Star Wars be without the epic opening fanfare? What would Jaws be without that creeping cello? And what would Indiana Jones be without that theme which just screams fedoras and bullwhips!? The content would be the same but the movie as a whole would not resonate as powerfully. Classic film scores are synonymous with one man: John Williams. He’s written the most famous compositions in Hollywood and at 78 years old the man is still doing his thing. He’s got 45 Academy Award nominations under his belt, 21 Grammys in the trophy case, and if he wasn’t already happily married, Mr. Williams would certainly be drowning in vagina. There’s really nothing left to say concerning his status as Greatest of All Time. Everyone knows it. But there are some new cats out there who are biting at Williams’ heels as well as some old vets who deserve their share of recognition. Maybe you are familiar with the movie or TV show, but never gave the score much thought. Maybe you dug the score but never bothered to look up the man behind the composition. Either way, let’s take a look at some of the greatest scores not penned by the Lord Williams, from both TV and film nerdom.

13) Dracula by Philip Glass

In 1998, minimalist virtuoso Philip Glass was commissioned to compose original music for Todd Browning’s 1931 classic Dracula. Although the greatest of all Dracula films had been delivering the willies to audiences for generations, but it never had music this goddamn chilling. Glass employed string extraordinaries the Kronos Quartet to perform, and the result breathed new life into the old classic. Other memorable Glass scores include The Truman Show and The Hours (for you literature nerds).

12) Gattaca by Michael Nyman

You could choke a dozen donkeys with the resume of English composer Michael Nyman. Not just film scores, either. He’s written operas, concertos, and is an accomplished musicologist to boot. But on the score scene, he’s a heavyweight; Nyman collaborated for years with director Peter Greenaway but is perhaps best known in nerd-dom for his score to Andrew Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece Gattaca. In its own minimalist way, it’s everything haters love to hate about film scores: moving, beautiful, and repetitive. It also conjures up images of Jude Law in a wheelchair, which is a considerable bonus for some people.

11) Kill Bill by RZA

To score his two-part kung-fu epic, Quentin Tarantino enlisted Shaolin’s finest, RZA. The leader of the Wu-Tang Clan had previously scored Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore. For Kill Bill, RZA (a.k.a. Bobby Digital a.k.a. Prince Rakeem a.k.a. the Rzarector) brought his gritty NYC production to the far east and the result is a truly remarkable sound. But please ignore his awful Kill Bill-themed rap on the first soundtrack.

10) King Kong by Max Steiner

Max Steiner’s compositions pump through the veins of classic Hollywood. The Vienna-born composer is probably best known for scoring classics like Gone With the Wind and Casablanca, but you can stuff your charming leading men in a sack, because Steiner also delivered the booming soundtrack perfect for stomping T-Rex skulls, choking out giant snakes, and wooing the pants off of Fay Wray.

9) Fight Club by The Dust Brothers

It’s almost impossible to put into words what Fight Club did for 20-something males at the time of its release. The original score by the Dust Brothers accompanied these anxieties perfectly and wonderfully juxtaposed the use of the Pixies’s primal “Where Is My Mind” during the movie’s intense final scene.

8) Every Darren Aronofsky Film by Clint Mansell

It’s a collaboration made in film heaven. Former lead singer of the avant garde British group Pop Will Eat Itself, Clint Mansell is a serious force in the contemporary score world. His composition “Lux Aeterna,” originally composed for Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, seems to be the default song for movie trailers nowadays — it’s been featured in trailers for The Two Towers, The DaVinci Code, Zathura, and more (it’s even been used in commercials for the World Series). You could put this song over a video of a your grandma reading a Dean Koontz novel and it would be the most intense thing ever. But Mansell also scored Aronofsky’s Pi, The Fountain, and The Wrestler. A director with films as unique as The Fountain deserve remarkable scores and Mansell has consistently delivered. Other notable Mansell scores include Smokin’ Aces, The Hole, and Moon — for which he was tragically snubbed an Oscar nomination.


7) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

The “kids” movie that still manages to lure children in and then scar them for life was scored by composers Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, who also penned the lyrics. Thanks, fellas. “The Rowing Song,” a.k.a. “The Tunnel From Hell,” is a 2:30 minute panic attack. Is it raining? Is it snowing? I don’t know, but get me off that fucking boat.

6) Videodrome by Howard Shore

Sure, sure Howard Shore scored the freaking Lord of the Rings trilogy and that won him some Oscars. But he didn’t make this list because of that. Since 1979, Shore has composed for every David Cronenberg movie except The Dead Zone. That’s epic. His score for the 1983 classic Videodrome follows protagonist Max Renner as he descends into deeper hallucinations; the score begins with orchestral music then gradually becomes a full on assault of electronic, batshit madness. Shore will be returning to the Shire in 2011 with his score for The Hobbit. But, still, Cronenberg FTW.

5) Blade Runner by Vangelis

One of the most sought-after and bootlegged soundtracks in history, Vangelis’s score is as dark and haunting as the film itself. The combination of futuristic synthesizers and classical compositions pair perfectly with Ridley Scott’s vision of a retrofitted Los Angeles, 2019. There wasn’t an official release of the soundtrack until 1994 — 12 years after the film’s release — which led to the creation of several bootleg versions that were circulated amongst collectors and sold at conventions.

4) Masters of the Universe by Bill Conti

Love it or loathe it, the 1987 MOTU movie exists, and there’s no denying the awesome force of Bill Conti’s epic score. Conti also composed the classic scores for The Right Stuff, the Rocky series, and The Karate Kid, but his MOTU score has some serious power behind it. It sounds like there’s a bit of “Mars” by Gustav Holst that trickled into the score and it sounds very similar to the Superman theme by Williams. Regardless, it still kicks much ass.

3) Batman by Danny Elfman

For those of us coming up in the ’80s, the 1966 Batman movie and classic series starring Adam West didn’t exist in our world. It wasn’t until Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman that many of us got introduced to the Batman universe and Gotham’s dark, dripping alleys. And holy shit, what a main theme! Vivid memories of the camera tracing the bat symbol’s outline while this theme boomed through the theater’s speakers in 1989 stay with many a nerd, and thanks to Batman: The Animated Series, those thoughts remained for decades after. It was difficult to pick one Elfman piece, seeing how he also did Beetlejuice, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and The Simpsons. And, you know, every Tim Burton wank ever.

2) Flash Gordon by Queen

Queen did the soundtrack for the 1980 Flash Gordon. Queen did the soundtrack for the 1980 Flash Gordon. Queen did the soundtrack for the 1980 Flash Gordon. Trying to add anything else to this statement would only belittle the music and make me look like a bastard.

1) Everything Ever by Jerry Goldsmith

If there’s anyone who could go blow-for blow with John Williams, that man is Jerry Goldsmith. Williams may be the most well-known film composer, but it’s safe to say that Goldsmith has scored more films that are close to the nerd heart. Also, he composed arguably the most noticeable and greatest TV theme of all time: The Twilight Zone. It’s hard not to be in awe when you read his list of credits. They include Star Trek, Gremlins, Alien, Total Recall, Planet of the Apes, The Omen Trilogy, Logan’s Run, Poltergeist, the list seriously goes on and on. When Goldsmith passed away in 2004, nerd-dom lost one of its greatest composers. But what a legacy!