Top 10 Film Scores for Beginner Listeners

Top 10 Film Scores for Beginner Listeners

I’ve been listening to film scores in earnest for several years now. I can rattle off facts about films and details about their scores and composers that stagger most of my friends. But I forget the fact that not everyone is familiar to the music behind our favorite movies, so my passionate rants usually end up receiving blank stares. Whenever this happens, I suggesting some places to start listening, based on my own experience. Most people like to listen to music that is engaging and keeps their attention, which, unless you are a fan of classical music, is hard to do without lyrics. But at the same time, some of the most emotional scores include some portions that are harder to follow along with on the first go.

(I have avoided scores by John Williams, not because he’s not a good composer – he’s absolutely amazing! – but because he’s the one composer most people will recognize, having scored so many universally recognized films – Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and E.T., just to name a few)

So keeping that in mind, drawing from a huge list of popular movies and attempting some diversity between composers (though, seriously, almost anything by Hans Zimmer is great for a new listener) here are my top 10 choices for film scores to listen to if you have never listened to one before, along with some honorable mentions:

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1: The Lion King (1994) by Hans Zimmer

 

The Lion King is a classic, more than any other score in this list. I know very few people who have not seen this movie, and even fewer who wouldn’t recognize the music. Many people know that Elton John did most of the songs for this movie, but Hans Zimmer won an Academy Award for the score, though he initially didn’t want to score it because he didn’t like musicals or children’s films. But he accepted the job so that he could take his young daughter to the premiere, and later found that the death of Mufasa in the film helped him emotionally deal with the death of his own father (Daily Mail, 2017). The way Zimmer transfers from the cinematic drama of the major action scenes to the absolutely gorgeous African choir section makes this one of my absolute favorite scores.

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2: National Treasure by Trevor Rabin

 

I have loved this movie since I was a kid, and when I became interested in film scores, I went back and listened to the score and realized just how memorable this score is. Try listening to tracks like “Preparation Montage” and “Foot Chase” – Trevor Rabin has a rock background (trevorrabin.net, n.d.) and you can really hear that in this score. Then listen to the more orchestral, moving tracks like “Ben” and “Treasure” and you’ll realize why I love this score so much. Additionally, it’s under an hour long, so it won’t take as long as other scores to listen to the whole thing.

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3: Up by Michael Giacchino

 

This is one of the sweetest and best Pixar movies out there, in my opinion. Michael Giacchino’s talent and feel for the heart of a movie really comes out in his Pixar scores. The track “Married Life”, is my personal favorite, because it was written for that heartbreaking montage at the beginning that made even critics cry. Ellie’s theme is really the highlight and the main idea of the entire movie, and this is one of the best places to hear it. Another good track is “Stuff We Did”, which features Ellie’s theme in a much more subdued and sorrowful light as you remember all the things that Carl and Ellie were going to do together that never happened. This score captures the highs and lows of the story perfectly, and is great to listen if you’re feeling relaxed.

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4: The Avengers (2012) by Alan Silvestri

 

How could I not put The Avengers in here? This score was one of the first scores I bought for myself when I was first getting into film scores a few years ago. It’s so iconic, and every track brings something new and exciting that really helps you remember without half trying what was going on in that scene. Take “Red Ledger”, for example – the conversation between Loki and Black Widow. It’s almost hard to tell who wins in that quiet battle of words – Natasha’s dark Russian theme weaves around Loki’s mysterious alien one so well that halfway through the track you aren’t sure which is which anymore. And one of my other favorites, “One Way Trip”, you can hear the moment that Tony disappears into the wormhole, and the tiny, one-time motif that plays when the Hulk snatches him out of the sky and saves his life.

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5: Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone

 

This score is exciting because I actually didn’t learn about it until I was watching Hans Zimmer’s Masterclass on film scoring. Zimmer said that Once Upon a Time in the West was one the very first movie he ever saw, and that Ennio Morricone was one of his greatest influences (The Telegraph, 2012). So I went and listened to this score and was absolutely fascinated because I could hear so many of Hans’ scores in this music! So much of Hans Zimmer’s style is adapted directly from Morricone’s music and it’s amazing to listen to the similarities. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

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6: Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken

 

This takes me back into my early childhood, one of the first themes to stick in my memory. I chose the newer version of this score because Alan Menken expanded and broadened the themes from the original animated version, but otherwise kept them the same (Billboard, 2017). So basically, it’s the same music, there’s just more of it. This theme is just so memorable and gorgeous I couldn’t not put it on this list. So lyrical and evocative – doesn’t the music make you want to go watch the movie again?

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7: Thor (2011) by Patrick Doyle

 

This was the other score I bought for myself when I first got into film scores, being a hardcore Marvel fan. I love this score in particular, because, out of all the other Marvel scores, this one has a very lyrical, Shakespearian feel to it. Patrick Doyle works with director Kenneth Branagh a lot (ClassicFM, 2018), and you can hear that Doyle knew exactly what Branagh wanted for this score. It’s so gentle and yet so impactful it really deserves its place on this list. Check out “The Compound” and listen to Thor breaking into the SHIELD compound to retrieve his hammer, only to find out he can’t lift it, or “Letting Go”, at the very end, when Loki falls into the wormhole.

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9: Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman

 

I am ashamed to say I have not actually seen this movie yet. But ask anyone who knows their film scores will mention this as a top Danny Elfman score (Filmtracks, 2016). In my own experience, having listened to the score without seeing the movie, I feel that the music is self-explanatory. No, I don’t know what goes on in this story – but I can guess based on the emotion I hear in the music. Ups and downs, action and emotion – that’s all captured within this score. And of course, the Ice Dance track. Amazing!

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8: August Rush by Mark Mancina

 

This is a lesser known movie than all the others on this list. I watched it a few years ago with my family and was not wowed by the storyline, but I was blown away by the music. This particular track kind of encompasses the main character’s entire journey through the movie, a young boy attempting to find his parents by following the music in his head. You can hear the noise of the traffic in New York City, the guitar that earned him money on a street corner, and the voice of the girl who became his friend and support. Using unconventional instruments and a creative composing style, Mark Mancina has definitely nailed it with this score.

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10: Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) by Harry Gregson-Williams

 

This score is special to me. It was the first score I ever listened to – at ten years old – and I was fascinated from the very start. One of my most favorite tracks, “Evacuating London” is kind of a transition track between WWII London and a little house in the country and a magical world waiting in a wardrobe. It’s moving and relaxing and really wakes up your imagination in a way that not much else can. And this track, “The Battle”, is so amazingly evocative of the images in the story. Close your eyes when listening to it and imagine the battlefield of the movie. Do like I did and assign different characters to different instruments, and try to pinpoint the exact moment when the White Witch stabs Edmund and it goes into slow motion. It’s sure to send shivers of pleasure down your back!

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Some honorable mentions I want to include are the scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Howard Shore, which is gorgeous but also so incredibly long that a beginner listener might give up after a few tracks. If you stick it out, though, it’s worth it. So many motifs! I could go on and on. Also, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies by Hans Zimmer and Geoff Zanelli have some amazing music. These are easy to listen to but I couldn’t just pick one movie to put in the list as they are all equally action-packed and evocative. And lastly, I have always loved the score for The Polar Express by Alan Silvestri. The only problem with that is that the official score only has three orchestral tracks alongside the rest of the songs from the movie, so there’s not too much there to listen to. But go ahead and listen to them, please!

If you listen to all the scores on this list, you are well on your way to being a better informed moviegoer than all of your friends! I would encourage you to incorporate film music into your regular playlists as it will help you connect with your favorite movies and also broaden your knowledge of how music works to tell a story.

Sources:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-4469138/Hans-Zimmer-composed-Lion-King-soundtrack-daughter.html

https://www.trevorrabin.net/Bio.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/classic-movies/9413230/Hans-Zimmer-on-Ennio-Morricones-score-for-Once-Upon-a-Time-in-the-West.html

https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7728552/alan-menken-new-music-beauty-and-the-beast-movie-interview

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/periods-genres/film-tv/director-composer-partnerships/henry-v-branagh/

Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 of 2 (SPOILERS!!)

Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 of 2 (SPOILERS!!)

It’s time to talk about it. I apologize that it has taken me so long to write this post – I’ve had a lot of life stuff and basic procrastination in the way. I will cover major fan theories and Avengers 4 rumors in a future post once I have more time. It’s been plenty of time since Avengers: Infinity War came out, and you’ve had more than enough time to watch the movie. So I’m going to go ahead and dive right into what happened in the movie, including BIG GIANT SPOILERS (don’t say I didn’t warn you), breakdowns, and some of the major new fan theories that have been popping up on social media.

This review is meant for those readers already familiar with the Marvel Universe, so I will not be introducing characters or explaining their backstories, unless I’m specifically drawing attention to them. If you are only a casual fan or haven’t seen all the movies, heads up, this might be a little too geeky for you.

Here we go. If you’ve read this far and haven’t seen the movie, you have no one but yourself to blame.

Here’s a summary of the movie, in case you were in denial and trying to forget – Thanos has been on the hunt for the six Infinity Stones – power (purple), space (blue), reality (red), soul (orange), time (green), and mind (yellow). His goal is to use them in his newly created Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half the universe in order to balance out the remaining population and create peace and prosperity. Throughout the course of the movie, he obtains each of these stones, leaving our beloved characters dead in his wake as they try to stop him.

At the beginning, he has already been to Xandar and collected the Power stone. Then he encounters Thor’s ship and takes the Tesseract (Space stone) from Loki, killing him and Heimdall in the process. He then collects the Reality stone from Knowhere, killing the Collector, and kidnapping Gamora, who has come with Drax and Mantis to stop him.

She takes him to Vormir, where he kills her in order to win the Soul stone, then travels to his home planet, Titan, to get the Time stone from Doctor Strange, who ended up there with Tony, Peter Parker, Peter Quill, Mantis, and Drax. He is almost defeated by the six of them, when Nebula shows up and demands to know where Gamora is. When Quill finds out Gamora is dead, he punches Thanos and they lose their chance of taking the Gauntlet. Strange eventually gives up the Time stone in exchange for Tony’s life, and Thanos travels to Earth to collect the Mind stone, which is embedded in Vision’s forehead.

 

Thanos and the Black Order attack Wakanda, which is defended by Cap, Bucky, T’Challa, Black Widow, Okoye, M’Baku, Falcon, Rhodey, and later Groot, and Rocket, and Thor (who’s wielding a cool new battle-axe he got in Nidavellir), while Wanda protects Vision as Shuri tries to separate him from the stone without killing him. But Wanda ends up having to destroy the stone while it’s still in Vision’s forehead, succeeding and killing him just as she can’t withstand Thanos any longer. Thanos uses the TIme stone to reverse time and take the stone anyway. He snaps his fingers and wipes out half of all existence despite having Thor’s battle-axe in his chest.

Half of all the remaining Avengers crumble to dust, and Thanos retires to a secluded place to watch the sunset. In the post-credits scene, Agent Hill and Nick Fury also crumble, but not before Fury sends an SOS to Captain Marvel.

Whew! This movie was packed! You should have seen how long my first draft of this summary was! All right, let’s dive in and see how much sense we can make of this thing.

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First off – I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED!!!!

Let’s take stock:

Before the snap: Heimdall, Loki, The Collector, Gamora, and Vision.

After the snap: Bucky, T’Challa, Sam, Groot, Wanda, Drax, Mantis, Peter Quill, Doctor Strange, Peter Parker, Agent Hill, and Nick Fury.

Just looking at that list makes me want to cry. But the directors let us know that we should pay more attention to who survived when it comes to theorizing about the next movie- so let’s also take a look at that list: We still have all six original Avengers (unless Hawkeye didn’t make it, which is unlikely, but more on that later) plus Rhodey, Rocket, Nebula, Okoye, and M’Baku. We can also probably safely assume for the moment that Shuri and Wong are still alive, since they were not shown after the snap. Ant-Man survived (spoiler alert for Ant-Man and the Wasp) but in the end credits scene it is revealed that neither Hope van Dyne (Wasp) or Hank Pym did.

Morality Debates on a Heroic Scale

One of the first things I noticed in this movie (besides the grotesquely unnecessary number of deaths) was the overarching theme presented by the Russos in their storytelling. This theme is the moral dilemma that Thanos thrives off of – sacrifice an individual, or the universe. Starting with Thor and Loki, then Peter Quill and Gamora, Gamora and Thanos, Tony and Strange, Wanda and Vision, and Vision and Cap. Though some characters actively try to oppose this dilemma (Cap’s “We don’t trade lives”), the trade ends up happening anyway, one way or the other. It’s interesting to note which characters sacrifice their loved one or the individual they are protecting to save the universe and which characters choose to save the individual above all else. I think this tells us a lot about the characters’ motives and worldviews

 Of the six sacrifices in this movie, three are made one direction, three in the other (hmm, perfectly balanced. Coincidence? I think not!). Loki, Doctor Strange, and Vision choose to protect the individual (Thor, Tony, and Cap respectively) to the detriment of the universe, and Quill, Thanos, and Wanda decide the universe is more important, and sacrifice the individual (Gamora, Gamora, and Vision, respectively). Poor Gamora.

Where’s Hawkeye?

Going into the theater when I first went to see the movie on April 26th, I was excited to see my favorite Avenger with a whole new look and story – Hawkeye. But the further the movie progressed, the more confused I got. Where was he? When he didn’t show up by the post credits scene, I was definitely bewildered, disappointed, and most of all worried.

I had looked it up before the showing. Jeremy Renner was listed in the cast. I’d been seeing set pictures of him sporting a cool new mohawk. And yet, I had been deceived. My guess is that IMDB just put everyone in the cast list so that no one would be able to guess what would happen. And I’m betting that the list for Avengers 4 is doing the same thing.

If Hawkeye wasn’t in this movie, what’s going to happen to him in Avengers 4? The directors have confirmed that characters who got less screen time in IW will get more in Avengers 4, and the characters that got more screen time will be in the background. This means, in my estimation, that characters like Gamora, Banner, and Thor will fade a little while other characters like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Captain America will get more attention. Right now, the “Untitled Avengers Movie” cast list on IMDB includes characters that are supposed to be dead but I’m less inclined to believe them this time around.

 

I’ve got a couple of theories (and worrying premonitions) about Hawkeye, but because they’re theories, they’ll have to wait until the next post. But suffice it to say, my favorite Avenger had better get some good action in the next movie because I totally thought he was going to be in Infinity War.

 

Looking Ahead to Avengers 4

There was a bunch more I was going to say on this movie, but I’ve already procrastinated enough on getting this out. So let’s take a final look at what happened in this movie that will probably affect A4. I will also be including information from Ant-Man and the Wasp since you should have had enough time to see that movie, too, by now. (If you haven’t yet, go watch it, then come back and read this part). I’ll also mention some theories at what will happen in Captain Marvel, which comes out next March, that also might affect the fourth Avengers movie.

1. The Avengers Who Survived

I think one of the most obvious things about which characters survived is that almost all of them are very important, established characters with strong backgrounds. And I think it’s rather suspicious that the Russos, in choosing who Thanos should *randomly* kill with the Snap, decided to keep all six original Avengers alive. Sure, half of all the named characters died, but it’s a very uneven half. We do have characters with important backstories that are now dead (Loki, Gamora, Strange, and Peter Parker specifically), but on the whole, I don’t think this setup is as “perfectly balanced” as we were led to believe. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Coming Full Circle

One of the best ways to finish a story is by bringing it back to where it all started. Where did it all start? The Avengers. That’s what Infinity War has been teasing, even from the first trailer: “There was an idea….”. Having all six original Avengers left is very telling, especially given Strange’s sudden willingness to save Tony’s life at the cost of the time stone. Remember, this is the guy who just saw 4 million different futures. Something he saw told him that Tony was too important to die then on Titan. I totally expected Tony and/or Steve to die in this movie, but there is obviously a reason they are both still alive. Their character arcs are finished – all they have left to do is complete their story. That means that the Russos have a conscious plan for their characters and whatever it is they will do in the next movie will complete their stories once and for all.

Conclusion

Well, that’s the end of this exorbitantly long blog post that said a ton and not much at the same time. I hope to write a future post detailing some of the theories regarding Infinity War, Avengers 4, and Captain Marvel, which could be a whole series in itself. I might even write separate posts for each one. I mean, with the “Hulk Was Actually Loki in Disguise” theory, the time travel theory for A4, and the introduction of the Skrulls, it could be a really long discussion. But it’s one I’m excited to have in the future, and I hope you’ll enjoy it with me!

If you missed the first part of my post, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (NO SPOILERS), go ahead and read that now.