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The Five Most Iconic Music Scores

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Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar simultaneously awed, bewildered, and broke the hearts of audiences on its cinematic release in 2014. Hans Zimmer, inextricable as he is from Nolan’s directorial oeuvre, is on career-defining form – with a soundtrack brimming with the sounds of wonder, awe and loss. Bombastic organs take centre stage, supported by emphatic strings and, in standout piece ‘Mountains’, shored up by the simple, brutal, devastating ticking of a clock. Zimmer’s soundtrack is woven into the film’s narrative, just as well as it accurately describes and accentuates the sublime visuals from start to finish.

Joker

Joker, the 2019 villain origin story that divided critics and took audiences by storm, is a masterpiece of tension, taking obvious cues from such classics as Taxi Driver. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is subtle and yet unsettling, providing the perfect accompaniment to Todd Phillips’ study of inequality, mental illness and the descent into villainy: ambient, implacable, at times even dissonant. A standout moment in the score is the bathroom scene, where Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dances to a string-led dirge; Guðnadóttir’s use of the experimental electro-acoustic Halldorophone – a cello-like instrument that utilises feedback to activate its strings – sets the scene perfectly. 

The Lion King

Hans Zimmer enters this list once again, with his Oscar-winning soundtrack to 1994’s magical Disney animation The Lion King. The songs are ubiquitous, with children and adults alike able to flawlessly sing along to such classics as ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ at a moment’s notice. Soundtracks such as these certainly re-popularised the sale of official soundtracks, with scores even available on vinyl for home sing-a-longs.

Harry Potter

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You need only hear the first three seconds of ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ to understand the placement of Harry Potter on this list. John William’s masterful solo arrangement sets the tone for a franchise spanning over a decade – a fragile celesta, singing a sinister fairytale as the camera explores a suburban street in the middle of the night. This motif goes down in history as one of the most recognisable score motifs in modern film history, and by its own virtue justifies Harry Potter’s place. 

Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson’s inimitable Lord of the Rings trilogy is just as equally a global phenomenon as it is an impressive body of work. A huge world, with thousands of years of lore, dreamt up by the incomparable mind of J. R. R. Tolkien, lovingly and elegantly rendered into film. Howard Shore’s sweeping scores more than live up to the film’s pedigree, themselves responsible for tears in the eyes of millions of fans. From the lilting flute of ‘Concerning Hobbits’, through the funereal folk of ‘Edge of Night’ to the earth-shattering ‘The End of All Things’, Shore has complete control of the mood and of his audience. A masterclass in score writing, and home to some of the most familiar motifs in cinema.