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Best movie scores of all time, according to the Oscars

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Columbia Pictures

Best movie scores of all time, according to the Oscars

The relevance of instrumental music to cinema is impossible to overstate. It could be said that music in film predates actual sound in film since live organists or phonograph recordings would often play alongside silent movies. With the emergence of talkies, instrumental film music achieved new levels of significance and dimension. No longer was the music simply driving the action or filling in for lack of sound—it was now a permanent fixture within the film itself. Thus began the golden age of film scoring.

When composer Max Steiner—aka the “father of film music”—scored original music for the 1932 RKO film “Symphony of Six Million,” it was widely considered the birth of film scores. Steiner’s score was among the first to be used non-diegetically, driving the mood and narrative from off-screen. The following year, Steiner provided the thrilling score for “King Kong,” and movie music was never quite the same. It paved the way for a tradition of iconic scores and classical composers alike, including Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa, Dimitri Tiomkin, Henry Mancini, Maurice Jarre, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, John Williams, Howard Shore, and Hans Zimmer.

Starting in 1935, the academy handed out an Oscar for best scoring. It was a category that comprised both original movie scores and adaptations of pre-existing material. At first, the music department head of the winning studio would always receive the award in addition to any credited composer. However, everything changed when the 1937 film “One Hundred Men and a Girl” won the Oscar for best scoring, despite having no credited composer. After that, the award was divided into two categories: Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. It marked the first time that the academy tinkered with film music categories, but certainly not the last.

Meanwhile, one might wonder: What’s the difference between a movie soundtrack and a movie score? The answer is that a movie score is purely instrumental, while a movie soundtrack can include both songs and instrumental music. With something like “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope”—which essentially features no songs—the soundtrack and score are the same thing. For Disney musicals or Martin Scorsese films, the soundtrack incorporates both timeless songs and instrumental music. This shouldn’t be confused with the soundtrack album, which can feature just instrumental music or just songs or a mixture of the two.

With the 92nd Academy Awards right around the corner, Stacker wanted to honor previous winners in the category of Best Original Score (or one of its variations). Using the academy’s database as a source, Stacker compiled all wins for Best Original Score at the Oscars chronologically from 1934 to 2019. Where the award was expanded into two different categories (Best Original Score and Best Scoring, or Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score), Stacker went with the best original score and best original dramatic score winners.

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Columbia Pictures

1934: One Night of Love

- Composers: Louis Silvers, Victor Schertzinger, Gus Kahn
- Director: Victor Schertzinger
- IMDb user rating: 5.7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 84 min

The first Oscar for best scoring went to this opera-themed drama, which was a box office hit in its day. Released during the early days of the sound era, it made innovative use of vertical cut recording. Director Victor Schertzinger composed the title song with lyrics by Gus Kahn.

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RKO Radio Pictures

1935: The Informer

- Composer: Max Steiner
- Director: John Ford
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 91 min

Austrian-born composer Max Steiner was a child prodigy who composed his first operetta by the age of 14, eventually making his way to Hollywood. His first Academy Award came for this 1935 drama from director John Ford, about a young Irish rebel who betrays his former comrade. Steiner composed over 300 scores throughout his career, earning 24 Oscar nominations and taking home the trophy three times.

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Warner Bros.

1936: Anthony Adverse

- Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
- Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Michael Curtiz
- IMDb user rating: 6.3
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 141 min

Like composer Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was also born in Austria and also a child prodigy. Drawing crowds as early as the age of 11, he later moved to Hollywood as the Nazis rose to power in Germany. When scoring this award-winning historical romance, Korngold cultivated an “operatic” template without arias.

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Universal Pictures

1937: One Hundred Men and a Girl

- Composer: Charles Previn
- Director: Henry Koster
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 84 min

Starring conductor Leopold Stokowski himself, this 1937 dramedy uses a score of pre-existing classical music and doesn’t credit an actual composer. Its Academy Award for best scoring went to Universal Studios Music Department head Charles Previn and sparked controversy. As a direct result, the academy created two separate awards for best music score of a dramatic picture and best scoring of a musical picture.

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Warner Bros.

1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood

- Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
- Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 97
- Runtime: 102 min

Erich Korngold only composed the music for 16 Hollywood films making his two Academy Awards even more impressive. His romantic and sweeping score for this 1938 adventure helped turn it into a critical and commercial smash. Korngold’s uniquely symphonic style on this film and others is considered a clear predecessor to the work of future composers such as John Williams.

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MGM

1939: The Wizard of Oz

- Composer: Herbert Stothart
- Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, King Vidor
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 102 min

This iconic fantasy film simply wouldn’t be the same without its signature songs and musical score. MGM composer Herbert Stothart handled the non-vocal contributions, winning his sole Academy Award for best music score. Songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg took home best original song for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

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Walt Disney Animation Studios

1940: Pinocchio

- Composers: Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith, Ned Washington
- Directors: Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 88 min

Pulling double duty, composer Leigh Harline co-wrote the original score and also wrote the song melodies for Disney’s second animated feature. Squaring off against no less than 16 competitors, Harline and his collaborators took home the Oscar gold. The movie also won best original song for “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

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William Dieterle Productions

1941: The Devil and Daniel Webster

- Composer: Bernard Herrmann
- Director: William Dieterle
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 107 min

Despite his well-earned legacy as a brilliant and unique composer, Bernard Herrmann won just a single Academy Award. It was for this classic film about a deal with the devil which was originally released under the name of “All That Money Can Buy.” Having also been nominated for his work on “Citizen Kane,” Herrmann competed against himself in the newly minted category of best music score of a dramatic or comedy picture.

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Warner Bros.

1942: Now, Voyager

- Composer: Max Steiner
- Director: Irving Rapper
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 117 min

Screen legend Bette Davis was at the height of her career when she starred in this acclaimed melodrama, set mostly aboard a cruise ship. Bringing the film’s romantic themes to life is Max Steiner’s rapturous score, which ebbs and flows like the waves. It earned the accomplished composer his second Academy Award.

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Twentieth Century Fox

1943: The Song of Bernadette

- Composer: Alfred Newman
- Director: Henry King
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 156 min

Along with Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman is widely considered one of the “godfathers of film music.” His nine Academy Awards and whopping 45 nominations put him in the upper echelons of Oscar history. Newman’s work on this 1943 drama earned him his third Academy Award, having previously won twice in the (post-1938) category of best scoring.

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Selznick International Pictures

1944: Since You Went Away

- Composer: Max Steiner
- Directors: John Cromwell, Edward F. Cline, Tay Garnett, David O. Selznick
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 177 min

Max Steiner’s original score for this war drama competed against 19 others at the Academy Awards, including one by Steiner himself. It won the film its only Oscar out of an impressive nine total nominations. He would receive multiple nominations, but this remained his third and final Oscar win.

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Selznick International Pictures

1945: Spellbound

- Composer: Miklos Rozsa
- Director: Alfred Hitchcock
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 111 min

Director Alfred Hitchcock and composer Miklós Rózsa make for a perfect pairing with this gripping psychological drama. As the story alternates between romance and paranoia, the classical score follows suit. Ironically, Rózsa later wrote in his autobiography that the two men met only twice during the entire production.

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Samuel Goldwyn Company

1946: The Best Years of Our Lives

- Composer: Hugo Friedhofer
- Director: William Wyler
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 170 min

In 1947, the academy narrowed down the playing field for best music score of a dramatic or comedy picture to just five nominees. Prolific composer Hugo Friedhofer defeated the competition with this dramatic score, which drives home a full spectrum of emotions. It was one of the film’s seven Oscars, including best picture.

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Kanin Productions

1947: A Double Life

- Composer: Miklos Rozsa
- Director: George Cukor
- IMDb user rating: 7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 104 min

Having previously tackled themes of identity and psychology at the behest of Hitchcock, Miklós Rózsa covered similar terrain for this acclaimed film noir. It earned the Hungarian-American composer his second Academy Award in just three years. Tipping his hat to both this film and its score, he later named his autobiography “A Double Life.”

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The Archers

1948: The Red Shoes

- Composer: Brian Easdale
- Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 135 min

Chronicling the exploits of a ballet company, “The Red Shoes” is filled to the brim with exceptional music and stunning choreography. Culling from his extensive background in opera and theatre, Brian Easdale became the first British composer to win an Academy Award for best music score. This was one of the numerous collaborations between Easdale and the filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

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Paramount Pictures

1949: The Heiress

- Composer: Aaron Copland
- Director: William Wyler
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 115 min

There were just three nominees for best music score in 1950, with Aaron Copland taking home the Oscar gold. It followed various nominations and honors for the composer, including a Pulitzer Prize for the ballet “Appalachian Spring.” One of the 20th century’s most celebrated and respected talents, Copland was known as the “Dean of American Composers.”

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Paramount Pictures

1950: Sunset Boulevard

- Composer: Franz Waxman
- Director: Billy Wilder
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 110 min

As early as the opening credits sequence, Franz Waxman’s pulse-pounding music sets the stage for this classic film noir. It earned him the first of two consecutive Oscars and a Golden Globe as well. He also composed the score for classic thrillers such as “Rear Window,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and “Rebecca.”

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Paramount Pictures

1951: A Place in the Sun

- Composer: Franz Waxman
- Director: George Stevens
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 122 min

A year after winning his first Oscar, Franz Waxman took home the award once again for his work on this hit drama. For over 40 years, he was the only film composer to have won back-to-back Oscars for best original score. The film itself won six Academy Awards including best director and best writing (screenplay).

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Stanley Kramer Productions

1952: High Noon

- Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin
- Director: Fred Zinnemann
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 85 min

Historian Arthur R. Jarvis Jr. credits composer Dimitri Tiomkin with saving this iconic Western, which reportedly tested poorly before the music went in. Along with best original score, Tiomkin won best original song for composing the movie’s theme song. Performed by Tex Ritter, "Do Not Forsake Me" climbed up the Country-Western charts and set an early precedent for independently marketing movie theme songs.

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MGM

1953: Lili

- Composer: Bronislau Kaper
- Director: Charles Walters
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 81 min

Polish composer Bronislau Kaper was best known for his jazz standards and Marx Brothers collaborations by the time he won an Oscar for this musical drama. Along with the movie’s score, Kaper composed the signature song "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo" with lyrics by Helen Deutsch. He would later work on films such as 1962’s "Mutiny on the Bounty" and the long-running TV series "The F.B.I."

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Wayne-Fellows Productions

1954: The High and the Mighty

- Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin
- Director: William A. Wellman
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 147 min

Shortly after winning two Oscars in a single year, Dimitri Tiomkin took home another one for his work on this 1954 disaster film. Having re-teamed with lyricist Ned Washington for the title song, he was once again nominated in the category of best original song. It was defeated by the title song from the romantic drama “Three Coins In The Fountain.”

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Twentieth Century Fox

1955: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

- Composer: Alfred Newman
- Directors: Henry King, Otto Lang
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 102 min

Composer Alfred Newman incorporated Chinese musical tropes when crafting parts of the score for this romantic drama, which takes place in Hong Kong. As the music director at Fox Studios, Newman tasked Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster with writing the movie’s title theme. When that theme became a song, it soared up the charts and won its own Academy Award.

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Michael Todd Company

1956: Around the World in 80 Days

- Composer: Victor Young
- Directors: Michael Anderson, John Farrow
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 175 min

After a string of Academy Award nominations, composer Victor Young received a posthumous Oscar for his score to this popular fantasy drama. He was also nominated for best song from another film the very same year. During his lifetime, Young was both an accomplished TV and film composer and also the musical director for a number of Bing Crosby recordings.

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Horizon Pictures (II)

1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai

- Composer: Malcolm Arnold
- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 161 min

After meeting musical hero Louis Armstrong on a family trip, Malcolm Arnold took up the trumpet at 12 and won a scholarship soon after. It paved the way for a truly prolific career, during which the British composer wrote many concertos and over 100 film scores. Arnold’s third collaboration with director David Lean resulted in his one and only Academy Award.

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Leland Hayward Productions

1958: The Old Man and the Sea

- Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin
- Directors: John Sturges, Fred Zinnemann
- IMDb user rating: 7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 86 min

Inspired by the fishing trips he used to take with director Frank Capra, Dimitri Tiomkin crafted the lush score for this Hemingway adaptation. It earned him the last of his four Academy Awards, though he would receive several subsequent nominations. Famously independent in music and business alike, Tiomkin was among the most prominent free agents of the studio system era.

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MGM

1959: Ben-Hur

- Composer: Miklos Rozsa
- Director: William Wyler
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 212 min

An epic movie deserves epic music, and seasoned composer Miklós Rózsa was up to the task. While this seminal blockbuster earned Rózsa the last of his three Academy Awards, he would continue to score several popular films for major directors. His final film score was for 1982’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” a black-and-white detective parody starring Steve Martin.

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Otto Preminger Films

1960: Exodus

- Composer: Ernest Gold
- Director: Otto Preminger
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 208 min

Child prodigy Ernest Gold fled Vienna with his family in 1938, just as the Nazis took control of Austria. He spent time in Israel when writing the award-winning score for this 1960 historical epic, about that nation’s founding. The film’s main theme was a pop hit in its own right, which has since been covered or sampled by many artists.

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Jurow-Shepherd

1961: Breakfast at Tiffany's

- Composer: Henry Mancini
- Director: Blake Edwards
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 115 min

Considered one of the best composers in film and TV history, Henry Mancini’s work on this dramedy won him Oscars for best original score and best original song. Not only did his hit composition “Moon River” also earn three Grammy Awards, but it’s since been covered by a swath of artists and bands. Mancini’s enduring partnership with director Blake Edwards also yielded iconic music for the “Pink Panther” films and the TV show “Peter Gunn.”

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Horizon Pictures (II)

1962: Lawrence of Arabia

- Composer: Maurice Jarre
- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 228 min

Another 20th-century musical titan, Maurice Jarre, completed the score for this celebrated epic on a four-week deadline. Comprising exotic melodies and galvanizing instrumentals, it won the French composer his first Oscar and also made him an international star. The film earned six additional Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.

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Woodfall Film Productions

1963: Tom Jones

- Composer: John Addison
- Director: Tony Richardson
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 129 min

British composer John Addison won both an Academy Award and a Grammy Award for his score to this acclaimed comedy. Throughout his prolific career, Addison composed the music for films such as 1977’s “A Bridge too Far” and Hitchcock’s 1966 political thriller “Torn Curtain.” No stranger to the small screen, he also took home an Emmy Award for writing the theme music to “Murder, She Wrote.”

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Walt Disney Productions

1964: Mary Poppins

- Composers: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
- Director: Robert Stevenson
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 139 min

When Walt Disney Studios needed a hit tune in the 1960s and beyond, it went to the Sherman Brothers. The pair wrote both the score for this blockbuster musical and its timeless songs, including the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee." They also composed a little ditty called "It’s a Small World (After All)" that same year, which is allegedly the most played song in music history.

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MGM

1965: Doctor Zhivago

- Composer: Maurice Jarre
- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 197 min

Collaborating with director David Lean once again, Maurice Jarre infused yet another historical epic with his lush sensibilities. Included in the score is a lyricless melody known as “Lara’s Theme,” which functions as a recurring motif. Soon after the movie’s release, “Lara’s Theme” was repurposed as a chart-topping and Grammy-winning song called “Somewhere, My Love.”

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Open Road Films (II)

1966: Born Free

- Composer: John Barry
- Directors: James Hill, Tom McGowan
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 95 min

The story of a married couple and their pet lion cub gets the sweeping score (and Oscar-winning song) it deserves, courtesy of British composer John Barry. Modern audiences might recognize Barry as the man who wrote or arranged music for 11 James Bond movies between 1963 and 1987. He claimed to have composed nearly all the iconic “James Bond Theme,” which is legally credited to Monty Norman.

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Ross Hunter Productions

1967: Thoroughly Modern Millie

- Composer: Elmer Bernstein
- Director: George Roy Hill
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 138 min

A conductor and composer of exceptional regard, Elmer Bernstein wrote some of the most memorable themes in Hollywood history. Despite several Academy Award nominations, he won just once for his work on this 1967 musical romantic comedy. Some of his best-known scores are for films such as “The Ten Commandments,” “The Great Escape,” “Heavy Metal,” and 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”

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Hayworth Productions

1968: The Lion in Winter

- Composer: John Barry
- Director: Anthony Harvey
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 134 min

While still churning out signature strings and brass for the James Bond franchise, John Barry scored this historical biopic to Oscar-winning effect. Most critics deemed both the movie and its music to be a resounding success. Critic Pauline Kael felt otherwise, saying, “John Barry’s score manages to fuse fake grandeur and humor successfully, but nothing else in the film does.”

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Campanile Productions

1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

- Composer: Burt Bacharach
- Director: George Roy Hill
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 110 min

Music legend Burt Bacharach won three Academy Awards during his career, two of which were for this seminal action dramedy. The score also won a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award, while the Oscar-winning song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in a row. Bacharach won his third Academy Award and second Golden Globe for co-writing "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" for the 1981 film “Arthur.”

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Paramount Pictures

1970: Love Story

- Composer: Francis Lai
- Director: Arthur Hiller
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 100 min

Dispensing with tender instrumentals, French composer Francis Lai sets the mood for this romantic drama. The film’s main theme earned Lai both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, propelling the movie’s soundtrack to #2 on the Billboard chart. Various artists successfully released their own version of the main theme, which went by the name “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” after lyrics were added.

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Warner Bros.

1971: Summer of '42

- Composer: Michel Legrand
- Director: Robert Mulligan
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 104 min

An international sensation by the age of 22, Michel Legrand collaborated with jazz artists such as Miles Davis and Stan Getz early in his career. After working on assorted French New Wave films, he won his first Oscar for the song "The Windmills of Your Mind" from 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.” His only Academy Award for best original score comes through this romantic drama, about a young day-dreamer and his crush.

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Charles Chaplin Productions

1972: Limelight

- Composers: Charles Chaplin, Raymond Rasch, Larry Russell
- Director: Charles Chaplin
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 137 min

A virtuosic talent, if there ever was one, Charles (aka Charlie) Chaplin wrote, produced, directed, starred in, and scored this melancholic drama. It was originally released in 1952, only to be heavily boycotted after Chaplin was accused of being un-American. Upon being re-released in 1972, it earned the legendary talent his sole Academy Award.

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Columbia Pictures

1973: The Way We Were

- Composer: Marvin Hamlisch
- Director: Sydney Pollack
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 118 min

As the composer of numerous hit songs and scores, Marvin Hamlisch has won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize. He’s also just one of 10 people to win three Academy Awards in a single night. Two of those awards were for his original work on this romantic drama, while the third was for his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for “The Sting.”

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Paramount Pictures

1974: The Godfather: Part II

- Composers: Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola
- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- IMDb user rating: 9
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 202 min

When it was discovered that Nino Rota had plagiarized himself when writing the iconic theme to 1972’s “The Godfather,” his Academy Award for that film was revoked. The second time around, he and collaborator Carmine Coppola were allowed to keep their Oscar statues. Rota composed over 150 film scores throughout his career, frequently working with Italian director Federico Fellini.

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Zanuck/Brown Productions

1975: Jaws

- Composer: John Williams
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 124 min

Possibly the most famous film composer of all time, John Williams, kicked off his career by performing with legends such as Henry Mancini and Alfred Newman. After writing or adapting a string of successful scores, he worked on this film and churned out one of history’s most recognizable riffs. With 51 Academy Award nominations, Williams is the second-most-nominated individual in Oscar history.

44/
Twentieth Century Fox

1976: The Omen

- Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
- Director: Richard Donner
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 62
- Runtime: 111 min

By the time Jerry Goldsmith won his first and only Academy Award, the honor seemed long overdue. Having previously scored everything from “Planet of the Apes” to “Chinatown” to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” Goldsmith was firmly established as one of the industry’s foremost musical talents. In addition to numerous scores, he also wrote the Universal Studios opening logo music in 1997.

45/
Lucasfilm

1977: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

- Composer: John Williams
- Director: George Lucas
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 121 min

What’s there to say about “Star Wars” music that hasn’t already been said? Taking inspiration from old swashbuckler films and their symphonic suites, Williams turned in what’s arguably the most unforgettable movie score of all time. To date, he’s received Oscar nominations for every soundtrack in the franchise.

46/
Columbia Pictures

1978: Midnight Express

- Composer: Giorgio Moroder
- Director: Alan Parker
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 59
- Runtime: 121 min

The debut film score from synth wizard Giorgio Moroder featured the international hit track “Chase” and its propulsive disco sound. Moroder otherwise took a largely atmospheric approach, occasionally veering into ambient territory. It paved the way for a string of popular soundtracks and scores from the artist for movies like “Scarface,” “American Gigolo,” “The Neverending Story,” and “Cat People.”

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Orion Pictures

1979: A Little Romance

- Composer: Georges Delerue
- Director: George Roy Hill
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 110 min

Once dubbed the “Mozart of cinema” by French newspaper Le Figaro, composer Georges Delerue wrote the scores for over 350 full-length features, TV shows, documentaries, and short films. In addition to winning an Academy Award for this romantic comedy, he was the first composer to win three consecutive César Awards. He was also named a Commander of Arts and Letters in France, achieving one of the country’s highest honors.

48/
MGM

1980: Fame

- Composer: Michael Gore
- Director: Alan Parker
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Metascore: 58
- Runtime: 134 min

Winner of two Academy Awards for this 1980 musical, composer Michael Gore is the younger brother of 1960s pop star Lesley Gore. He scored music for classic films such as “Terms of Endearment” and “Pretty in Pink.” Gore also wrote the score for a disastrous play called “Carrie: The Musical,” based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel.

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Twentieth Century Fox

1981: Chariots of Fire

- Composer: Vangelis
- Director: Hugh Hudson
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 125 min

Greek musician Vangelis was already a well-established rock and electronic artist by the time he began churning out seminal movie scores. His main theme for this 1981 sports drama sits right next to music from “Jaws” and “Star Wars” in terms of its sheer timelessness. As the official theme music of the 2012 Olympics, it was played during every medal awards ceremony.

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Universal Pictures

1982: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

- Composer: John Williams
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 115 min

Another collaboration between John Williams and Steven Spielberg resulted in yet another iconic score, this time for a beloved family film. The movie’s uplifting theme is reprised during a signature scene when Elliott and E.T. fly into the sky on a bike. Not counting upcoming releases (like “Indiana Jones 5”), Williams has written the score for 28 Spielberg films to date.

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The Ladd Company

1983: The Right Stuff

- Composer: Bill Conti
- Director: Philip Kaufman
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 193 min

Composer Bill Conti won his sole Oscar for this acclaimed adaptation, but he’ll remain forever synonymous with the “Rocky” theme music. He’s also been the musical director at the Academy Awards more than any other composer. At the 73rd Academy Awards ceremony, actress Julia Roberts unfairly scolded him for cutting her speech short (a decision made by producers).

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52/
EMI Films

1984: A Passage to India

- Composer: Maurice Jarre
- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 164 min

Working with Sir David Lean once again, Maurice Jarre turned in his third Oscar-winning score. Hoping to capture the story’s steamy subtext during key scenes, Lean asked Jarre to “write music that evokes awakening sexuality.” Ever the efficient composer, Jarre completed 45 minutes of music in just two-and-a-half weeks.

53/
Mirage Enterprises

1985: Out of Africa

- Composer: John Barry
- Director: Sydney Pollack
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 161 min

Sydney Pollack’s romantic drama won a whopping seven Academy Awards, including one for John Barry’s original score. Also featured in the film are established classical pieces and traditional African songs. On AFI’s list of The 25 Greatest Film Scores Of All Time, this one sits at #15.

54/
Little Bear

1986: Round Midnight

- Composer: Herbie Hancock
- Director: Bertrand Tavernier
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 133 min

Inspired by the story of musicians Lester Young and Bud Powell, this fictionalized biopic captures the 1950s Paris jazz scene. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock not only brings the film to life with his award-winning score. The movie features additional cameos or performances from big-name jazz artists and filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

55/
RPC

1987: The Last Emperor

- Composers: Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su
- Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 163 min

This historical epic won all nine Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including best original score. Collaborating on the music was David Byrne of the Talking Heads and Ryuichi Sakamoto of synth-pop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra. Chinese composer Cong Su, who’s also a well-known professor and lecturer on music theory, joined them.

56/
Esparza

1988: The Milagro Beanfield War

- Composer: Dave Grusin
- Director: Robert Redford
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 117 min

Throughout his career, musician Dave Grusin achieved success as both a Hollywood composer and a traditional studio artist. Besides his work on this social dramedy, he wrote instrumental music for hit films such as “The Graduate” and “The Goonies.” In 1978, Grusin co-founded the successful jazz label GRP Records.

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57/
Walt Disney Pictures

1989: The Little Mermaid

- Composer: Alan Menken
- Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 83 min

In 1989, Disney kicked off a music streak so hot that the academy eventually adopted new categories just to accommodate it. The action started with this animated classic, about a young mermaid who dreams of being human. Broadway veteran Alan Menken wrote the original score and the song music as well, winning his first two Academy Awards.

58/
Tig Productions

1990: Dances With Wolves

- Composer: John Barry
- Director: Kevin Costner
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 181 min

Having previously scored several historical epics, John Barry knew just what to bring to Kevin Costner’s magnum opus. His sweeping score helped the film become a veritable blockbuster, winning no less than seven Academy Awards. This was the composer’s fifth and final Oscar win, though he’d be nominated once again for 1992’s “Chaplin.”

59/
Walt Disney Pictures

1991: Beauty and the Beast

- Composer: Alan Menken
- Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 84 min

Along with lyricist Howard Ashman, composer Alan Menken was credited with bringing Broadway to cartoons. That trend began with “The Little Mermaid” and continued with this blockbuster follow-up, featuring many hit tunes. Once again, Menken won two Academy Awards for his respective work on the score and the songs.

60/
Walt Disney Pictures

1992: Aladdin

- Composer: Alan Menken
- Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 90 min

The Disney hit machine was back and so was Alan Menken, who snagged another two Academy Awards. Collaborator Howard Ashman passed away in 1991, so Tim Rice stepped in to complete the lyrics. It was a whole new world for Disney Studios, which had struggled through the 1970s and 1980s.

61/
Universal Pictures

1993: Schindler's List

- Composer: John Williams
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 195 min

Upon viewing early footage of this Holocaust drama, John Williams told Steven Spielberg that the director needed a better composer. Spielberg famously replied: “I know. But they’re all dead!” The rest is Oscar history.

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62/
Walt Disney Pictures

1994: The Lion King

- Composer: Hans Zimmer
- Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 88 min

One of the hottest film composers of the modern era, Hans Zimmer, has worked with everyone from Ridley Scott to Christopher Nolan. After incorporating African influences for 1988’s “A World Apart” and 1992’s “The Power of One,” he was approached by Disney to score this animated classic. Music icon Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice handled the songwriting, winning best song for “Circle of Life.”

63/
Tig Productions

1995: The Postman

- Composer: Luis Enriquez Bacalov
- Directors: Michael Radford, Massimo Troisi
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 108 min

Responding to Disney dominance, the academy divided best original score into the categories of original dramatic score and original musical or comedy score. That yielded victories for “The Postman” and “Pocahontas,” respectively. In an ironic twist of fate, Disney wouldn’t win another Academy Award for best original score until long after the rules were changed back.

64/
Miramax

1996: The English Patient

- Composer: Gabriel Yared
- Director: Anthony Minghella
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 162 min

When director Anthony Minghella needed music for his sprawling dramas, he virtually always called upon composer Gabriel Yared. Their partnership began with this award-winning romantic war film, in which a burn victim recounts his story of love and intrigue. Yared later composed an early score for the film “Troy,” writing an open letter on his website after the studio rejected his work.

65/
Twentieth Century Fox

1997: Titanic

- Composer: James Horner
- Director: James Cameron
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 194 min

Before his untimely passing in a plane crash, James Horner was the go-to composer for many major Hollywood directors. After teaming up with James Cameron on “Aliens,” the pair reunited for this record-breaking blockbuster. Horner’s signature main theme provided the foundation for “My Heart Will Go On,” which became a smash hit of its own.

66/
Melampo Cinematografica

1998: Life Is Beautiful

- Composer: Nicola Piovani
- Director: Roberto Benigni
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Metascore: 59
- Runtime: 116 min

Composer Nicola Piovani has provided the score for over 130 films, but this remains his best-known work by a long shot. In addition to winning the Oscar for best original dramatic score, it was nominated for a Grammy Award. In the best original musical or comedy score category, composer Stephen Warbeck won the Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love.”

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67/
Rhombus Media

1999: The Red Violin

- Composer: John Corigliano
- Director: François Girard
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 57
- Runtime: 130 min

With Disney’s musical hot streak cooling off, the academy returned best original score to one streamlined category. Composer John Corigliano won that very year, drawing upon the classical chaconne genre for this music-themed drama. American violinist Joshua Bell performed all of the film’s solos.

68/
Asia Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.

2000: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

- Composer: Tan Dun
- Director: Ang Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 120 min

Culling from Eastern and Western influences alike, Chinese composer Tan Dun first achieved success as the creator of avant-garde operas. His award-winning score for this martial arts masterpiece earned him international attention, paving the way for more film work. Dun is also well-known for crafting sound and melody out of organic materials, including water bowls and paper.

69/
New Line Cinema

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

- Composer: Howard Shore
- Director: Peter Jackson
- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 178 min

A truly versatile talent, Howard Shore was composing scores for David Cronenberg films while serving as music director for “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1970s. His work on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and subsequent prequels proved that he was just as adept as epic adventures as he was comedies and thrillers. For much of this massive undertaking, Shore enlisted the prestigious London Philharmonic Orchestra.

70/
Handprint Entertainment

2002: Frida

- Composer: Elliot Goldenthal
- Director: Julie Taymor
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 123 min

Composer Elliot Goldenthal worked with longtime partner and collaborator Julie Taymor when scoring this acclaimed biopic. A former student of Aaron Copland and John Corigliano, Goldenthal is known for blending various musical styles in new and clever ways. He also composed the score to Taymor’s 2010 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” as well as popular movies like “Heat” and “Interview with the Vampire.”

71/
New Line Cinema

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

- Composer: Howard Shore
- Director: Peter Jackson
- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 201 min

Peter Jackson’s beloved trilogy culminated with this expansive installment, which tied an all-time record when it won 11 Academy Awards. Howard Shore took home Oscars for both best original score and best song, having written the music for the song “Into the West.” Outdoing his previous ambitions, Shore called upon a seemingly endless slate of resources when bringing his music to life.

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72/
Miramax

2004: Finding Neverland

- Composer: Jan A. P. Kaczmarek
- Director: Marc Forster
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 106 min

Polish composer Jan A. P. Kaczmarek won an Academy Award and a National Board of Review Award for his work on Marc Forster’s fantasy biopic. True to the movie’s tone, Kaczmarek’s score retains a whimsical and child-like edge as it migrates through various classical parts. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a British Academy Film Award.

73/
Focus Features

2005: Brokeback Mountain

- Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
- Director: Ang Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 134 min

Born in Argentina, Gustavo Santaolalla was part of a seminal rock band before breaking out as a solo artist. Upon transitioning into film scores, he began collaborating with directors such as Michael Mann and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Besides winning best original score for this acclaimed drama, he won a second Oscar and a Golden Globe for the song “A Love That Will Never Grow Old.”

74/
Paramount Pictures

2006: Babel

- Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
- Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 143 min

After collaborating with Alejandro González Iñárritu on 2003’s “21 Grams,” Gustavo Santaolalla and the director re-teamed for this multi-layered drama. The two talents would reunite once again for Iñárritu’s 2010 effort “Biutiful.” Most recently, Santaolalla has worked on video games and the popular Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.”

75/
Universal Pictures

2007: Atonement

- Composer: Dario Marianelli
- Director: Joe Wright
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 123 min

Italian composer Dario Marianelli and director Joe Wright have worked together on several films, including this one from 2007. Its comprehensive and dynamic score won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. In total, Marianelli and Wright have collaborated on five films.

76/
Celador Films

2008: Slumdog Millionaire

- Composer: A.R. Rahman
- Directors: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 120 min

With his extensive knowledge of various styles and genres, Indian composer A. R. Rahman was the perfect match for this thrilling drama. He won two Academy Awards for his work on the film, including best song for “Jai Ho.” He and director Danny Boyle teamed up again two years later for the film “127 Hours.”

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77/
Pixar Animation Studios

2009: Up

- Composer: Michael Giacchino
- Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 96 min

Pixar won its first Oscar for best original score with help from composer Michael Giacchino, who’d previously worked on “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” Frequently called upon for blockbuster fare, Giacchino also writes music for popular video games and Disney theme park attractions. He most recently completed the theme music for “The Batman,” which is slated for release in 2021.

78/
Columbia Pictures

2010: The Social Network

- Composers: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
- Director: David Fincher
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 120 min

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have made such a name for themselves in film and TV that it threatens to outshine a little project called Nine Inch Nails. Infusing minimalist melodies with ominous undertones, their score for this award-winning drama reaped near-universal acclaim. The duo collaborated with director David Fincher on two more films, including 2014’s “Gone Girl.”

79/
Studio 37

2011: The Artist

- Composer: Ludovic Bource
- Director: Michel Hazanavicius
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 100 min

With its silent movie template, this Oscar-winning drama needed a virtually endless score to get its message across. Up to the task was French composer Ludovic Bource, who won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the effort. The film also features previously recorded work from other composers such as Alberto Ginastera and Bernard Herrmann.

80/
Fox 2000 Pictures

2012: Life of Pi

- Composer: Mychael Danna
- Director: Ang Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 127 min

When Mychael Danna won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his work on this film, it came preceded by over two decade’s worth of steady output. Throughout his career, Danna has composed many scores for directors Ang Lee and Atom Egoyan. He occasionally teams up with his brother Jeff, as he did for the recent CGI version of “The Addams Family.”

81/
Warner Bros.

2013: Gravity

- Composer: Steven Price
- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 91 min

Composer Steven Price cut his teeth in the music department on films like “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Batman Begins” before breaking out on his own. His big debut arrived in 2011 when he composed the score to the sci-fi comedy horror film “Attack the Block.” Just two years later, he took home an Oscar for his work on this 3D blockbuster from Alfonso Cuarón.

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82/
Fox Searchlight Pictures

2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel

- Composer: Alexandre Desplat
- Director: Wes Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 99 min

A veteran of French cinema, composer Alexandre Desplat has also worked on several British and American films. For this Wes Anderson dramedy, he delivered a predictably quirky blend of styles and sounds. The pair have collaborated on five films, including the upcoming 2020 release “The French Dispatch.”

83/
Visiona Romantica

2015: The Hateful Eight

- Composer: Ennio Morricone
- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 68
- Runtime: 168 min

After composing some of the most iconic scores in film history, Ennio Morricone won his first competitive Oscar for this Tarantino Western. He was previously nominated five times for his work on classic movies such as “Days of Heaven” and “The Untouchables.” He’s also one of just three composers with an Academy Honorary Award, which he received in 2007.

84/
Summit Entertainment

2016: La La Land

- Composer: Justin Hurwitz
- Director: Damien Chazelle
- IMDb user rating: 8
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 128 min

American composer Justin Hurwitz has written the score for every one of Damien Chazelle’s efforts, including short films. For his work on this smash-hit musical, Hurwitz won both best original score and best original song ("City of Stars”). He’s also a talented comedy writer whose credits include “The Simpsons” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

85/
DDY

2017: The Shape of Water

- Composer: Alexandre Desplat
- Director: Guillermo del Toro
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 123 min

At Guillermo del Toro’s behest, Alexandre Desplat drew inspiration from composer Georges Delerue when crafting the musical palette for this fantasy drama. He also aimed to capture the sound and the feeling of sinking into warm water, which he likens to falling in love. Besides winning best original score, the film took home Oscars for best picture, best director, and best production design.

86/
Marvel Studios

2018: Black Panther

- Composer: Ludwig Goransson
- Director: Ryan Coogler
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 134 min

Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson is one of the hottest names in the game, who continues to work across a full spectrum of mediums. He and director Ryan Coogler teamed up for the third time on this Marvel blockbuster, which welcomes viewers to Wakanda. While performing research for the music, Göransson spent a month in Senegal and even toured with the local musician Baaba Maal.

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