Movie Poll: Who’s Your Favorite Film Score Composer?

Movie Film Composer

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  • Noel Bjorndahl

    My favourite film composer is Victor Young, followed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

  • Toby Martin II

    A poll on film composers… without John Barry’s
    “Dances With Wolves”????

  • Bill Pentland

    You’re not paying much attention to current soundtrack composers, are you? Thomas Newman has composed some of the more memorable, haunting melodies in his numerous film and tv scores. There are many out there now who are really very good and they are prolific, meaning they work – a lot.


    It was hard between MAX STEINER (also did BOGIE/BACALL “key Largo) amoung others. He did an excellent job with GWTW considering the time element he had to work with; however, Dimitri Tiomkin was great doing so many, but after being blacklisted – we will never know just how many he did. I am surprised FRANX WAXMAN was not listed, having been nominated for 12 awards, (Ex. Rebecca, Rear Window, Sunset Blvd, Casablanca), as well as ANDRE PREVIN (who sould also turn out a great score). But, the list is good, and I had to vote for TIOMKIN (Mr.Smith Goes to WA, “Giant”,etc.). He had 179 movie credits. Waxman had around 170, having taken out 20 years for the LA INtls Music Festival. (pre the Wikipedia) ANYWAY….all were good, and having a degree in music, I know how hard it must be to do so many good movies in such a short time. (Both WAXMAN and TIOMKIN were among 12 compowers (or was it 9 – don’t quote me), who were awarded postage stamps in 1999. GREAT LIST, though. I don’t think HW makes scores like they used to – and I think this list proves it!


    PS: Though I love Lucas and the first (or should I saw IV, V and VI “STAR WARS” movies, I think his music is too “commercial” and often sounds the same. Sorry Mr.Lucas, but I still love you films and B.Burtt is an excellent efx sound editor.

  • Anonymous.

    Where’s John Barry? Where’s Miklos Rosza?

  • Gary Cahall

    Barry, Korngold, Newman and Waxman were all considered, folks, but we try to keep these polls to 10 choices, and we always try to balance the generations to avoid skewing too old or too young.
    Susan, those 1999 stamps you mention were actually a set of six: the honorees were Herrmann, Korngold, Alfred Newman, Steiner, Tiomkin and Waxman. You can read about them and Hollywood’s postal history at



  • mike jaral

    my favorite was the magnificent seven, but so many left off. dragnet, the errol flynn movies, like robin hood, and don juan. my wife likes an affair to remember(to soapy)even zorro, or zorro the gay blade. to many to pick from. all were great.

  • Hank Zangara

    Yes, John Williams always seems to hit the right note, but his best scores are deliberately derivative in tone, meant to evoke classic movie adventure themes of the past, as in Star Wars, Raiders, Jurassic Park, etc.

    But Bernard Herrmann’s best work is original, and daringly experimental. His “string sting” in Psycho is almost cliche now, but at the time, it was just as shocking as Hitchcock’s visuals. Nothing like that had ever been done in film scoring. For that, and the umpteen other films where his music made the picture jump off the screen, he was far and away the best.

  • Al Nasberg

    I gotta go with DUKE ELLINGTON for “Anatomy of a Murder.” What an amazing score!

  • Susan Peran

    There are so many wonderful scorers and song writers from classic films. Many of them named here are my favorites, but there are incredibly talented composers whose work help to create themes without which many films would not impact our imaginations: James Horner (Titanic, The Perfect Storm, Avatar, Cocoon), Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Main, The Lion King), Marvin Hamlisch (The Way We Were, Ordinary People, The Sting, Sophie’s Choice), Marc Shaiman (The American President, When Harry Met Sally, Sleeping in Seattle), Randy Newman (Parenthood, The Natural, Toy Story I-3, Alan Sylvestri ( Forrest Gump, Father of the Bride I & 2, Cast Away), and so many more credits for each of these composers. This list omits many other composers whose works make film the art form that defines generations. Mentioning all is a wonderful dilemma, for we certainly enjoy an embarrassment of riches. Bless them all!

  • Susan Peran

    One more thing. If you ever wonder why there are often 2-10 people who stay to watch all of the credits that play at the end of a theater run of a movie, I’ll tell you that we stay to pay tribute to the names of talented people whose hard work made our experience so enriched. And we stay to listen to the music that made each film so memorable. WOW they are special!

  • Ken A

    Yes to Barry, Rosza and Alfred Newman…but I did vote for Elmer Bernstein, though not for the film listed. His score for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was truly Magnificent!

  • Jim W

    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Basil Poledouris (Robocop,Quigly down Under, Hunt for Red October. Oh and by the way, Basil Poledouris did the score for Lonesome Dove and won the Emmy for it.

  • Betsy

    I agree with Martin. Where is John Barry? Dances with Wolves and don’t forget Out of Africa and so many others?????

  • Carolyn

    How could you leave out John Barry?…From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and all those great James Bond Themes ,plus Out of Africa! Body Heat! Midnight Cowboy! Dances With Wolves! Somewhere in Time and so many more.

  • William Sommerwerck

    Bernard Herrmann was and is an class by himself. Everyone else is second-rate — though there are some great second-rates… Goldsmith and Bernstein, in particular.

    Steiner and Mancini shouldn’t even be on the list. Composers such as Williams and Elfman produced their best work early in their careers, and have seriously declined.

  • Marjorie

    Maurice Jarre

  • Susan

    @William – Elmer Bernstein was second rate?!?!?!!
    You must be touched!

    If he wrote no other score in his entire life, his contribution to the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird will go down in history as one of the most intuitive, poignant and miraculous scores EVER composed.
    Herrmann was in a class by himself and snobs usually gravitate towards his music because he wrote very sophisticated music. That said, a great composer in the movies KNOWS what the movie needs and supplies that in notes.

    For example:
    The Mission, Casualties of War – Ennio Morricone
    The Cowboys, Schindler’s List – John Williams (to remind the person above he doesn’t just crank out Star Wars)
    All This and Heaven Too & Now, Voyager – Max Steiner
    Glory, Braveheart – James Horner
    Fools Rush In, Forrest Gump – Alan Silvestri
    Rudy, Patton – Jerry Goldsmith
    Somewhere in Time, The Lion in Winter – John Barry
    Milagro Beanfield War, On Golden Pond – Dave Grusin
    The Ten Commandments, True Grit – Elmer Bernstein

    I could go on & on (Roza, Newman (both), Waxman) but the thing all of these movies have in common is that the composer imbued them with something special that wasn’t there until the SCORE WAS.

  • Susan

    btw, William… I’m not forgetting you said he was a “great second-rate” composer ;)

  • Clay Robinson

    For those of you who might be more familar with e composers (whose film music has in many cases become classics) I would like to nominate Victor Young (The Uninvited) Bronislaw Keper(Invitation and Green Dolphin Street) and of course, Johnny Mercer (The Americanization of Emily).

  • Clay Robinson

    As for film scores I think my favorite is Dr Zivago –Marice Jarre– I believe he may have composed the music for Lawrence of Arabia (I’m not sure).

  • K C

    Wow! It is hard to believe no one has listed Michel Legrand!

  • Antone

    If your question had been who’s the best film score composer, I would have refrained. The score composer is seldom a decisive factor in my opinion of a movie. The good ones blend seamlessly with the film mood. The ones that stand out are those that clash with what’s happening on-screen [e.g. Morricone's G B & U--sounds like a bad slapstick comedy].

    My favorites are Duke Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder [love jazz]; various dead composers in Fantasia; & Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times [what a bargain--director, star, screenwriter, composer, producer, special effects coordinator, costume designer for the price of one].

  • Jean N

    Where is John Barry?

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