18 Famous Movie Composers and Their Masterpieces

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We can all agree that a great soundtrack to a TV series or film makes any show great. And these 20 famous movie composers have created soundtracks that are as memorable and iconic as the movies. In this article, we’ll talk about these movie composers and their most famous film scores. 

Hans Zimmer

photo of famous composer Hans Zimmer

If there’s an artist who’s dominated 21st-century film music, it’s Hans Zimmer. He has scored over 150 films, such as pirates of the Caribbean, Interstellar, Inception, and James Bond’s No Time to Die. Zimmer uses ahead-of-the-curve production methods involving virtual instruments and digital audio workstations. 

Famous Compositions 

  • The Lion King
  • Gladiator
  • The Dark Knight
  • Inception
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Wonder Woman

Nino Rota

Giovanni Nino Rota was a famous Italian composer of the 1940s and 50s. He won several awards, including a BAFTA, an Academy, Grammy, and a Golden Globe. His most notable masterpieces included films such as:

Famous Compositions:

  • The Godfather
  • Flesh Will Surrender (1947)
  • The Wonderful Adventures of Guerrin Meschino (1951)
  • A Dog’s Life (1950)

John Williams

photo of John Williams conducting on stage.

 With 52 Academy Awards nominations and 25 Grammy Awards, a few famous movie composers come close to John Williams. Williams has scored several hit movies, including top blockbusters such as Superman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. Many of his scores come from his longtime partnership with renowned director Steven Spielberg, which involves over thirty films. His skill in the film industry has won him several Academy Awards for Best Music (Original Score), BAFTA Awards for Best Original Score, and the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Star Wars 
  • Jaws
  • Superman
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneHarry Potter
  • Indiana Jones 
  • Jurassic Park

James Horner

Photo of movie composer Jame Shorner

 American-born James Horner started as a concert hall composer but soon became one of the most famous movie composers of his time. His breakthrough came in 1982 in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. Horner’s greatest masterpiece came from the Celtic-inspired melody score of Titanic. His unique soundtrack played a significant role in its phenomenal success, which had him win two Oscars. The composer has also scored for movies such as The Mask of Zorro, Avatar, Braveheart, and Aliens. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Avatar 
  • Titanic 
  • The Mask of Zorro

John Barry

James Bond films may be one of the most successful films in history, but a huge part of its success owes to John Barry. He’s the person behind its famous theme, which has functioned as the motif of this franchise. This has made Barry one of the most successful film composers, winning four Grammys and Five Academy awards. Other films he has scored include The Lion in Winter, Born Free, Somewhere in Time, and Midnight Cowboy. 

Famous Compositions 

  • James Bond
  • The Lion in Winter 
  • Somewhere in Time 
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Out of Africa
  • Dances With Wolves
  • Chaplin

Maurice Jarre

Photo of film composer, Maurice Jarre

French composer Maurice Jarre became one of the most famous movie composers with only 16 movie soundtracks. This came from his collaborations with legendary British director David Lean. However, there are other accomplishments for soundtracks in blockbusters, such as Ghost and Witness, Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, and Cybelle. Some notable awards he has won include the 1986 Honorary Cesar, several Academy Awards for Best Music (Original Score), and 1986 and two BAFTA Awards for Best Original Score. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Lawrence of Arabia 
  • Ghost 
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • Witness

Jerry Goldsmith

Photo of Jerry Goldsmith on stage

 American-born Jerry Goldsmith was a music composer and conductor who played a huge role in Hollywood’s success between the 70s and 90s. His fame started from his scores in the CBS TV series Climax, Playhouse 90, and Twilight Zone. He has also played a part in Total Recall, Star Trek: Nemesis and The Next Generation, Gremlins, Papillion, and Planet of the Apes. 

Goldsmith won several awards, including Saturn Award for Best Music, an Academy Award, and BMI Film Music Award. 

Famous Compositions

  • Star Trek: First Contact 
  • Congo 
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Planet of the Apes 

Thomas Newman

Photo of Thomas Newman, a famous composer

Thomas Newman has provided one of the most iconic soundtracks of the 20th and 21st centuries. He combines piano motifs, intimate melodies, and minimalism to showcase emotions. Newman has scored several movies, including Finding Nemo, Skyfall, American Beauty, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Wall-E, and Road to Perdition. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Skyfall 
  • Wall-E 
  • 1917 
  • The Help

Alfred Newman

Alfred Newman‘s career spanned over forty years until his demise in 1970 at 69. Over these years, Alfred Newman has played a significant part in the creation of original music for films. Like other famous composers, Newman won many prestigious awards, such as Academy and Grammy awards, for scoring films such as King and I, Call Me Madam, and Camelot. 

Famous Compositions 

  • V for Vendetta 
  • All About Eve
  • The King and I

Max Steiner

Movie composer Max Steiner writing on a music sheet.

 Austrian-born Max Steiner was the composer of renowned gems, such as Gone with the Wind, King Kong, Casablanca, and The Informer. His contribution to The Informer won him the first Oscar citation by Motion Picture Arts and Science. He has also won a Golden Globe, three Academy Awards, and an International Award for Best Score. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Gone with the Wind 
  • King Kong 
  • Casablanca 
  • The Searchers

Rachel Portman

British Composer Rachel Portman is the first female music composer to win an Academy Award. Her Academy Award for Best Score came from her composition in Emma, 1996. Apart from Emma, other famous works include The Duchess, Mona Lisa Smile, and The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Famous Compositions 

  • Emma 
  • Mona Lisa Smile 
  • The Cider House Rules
  • Chocolat 

Ennio Morricone

Ai Ennio Morricone

The late Italian composer Ennio Morricone is one of the most famous film composers ever, thanks to his wide range of musical styles. Some movies showcasing his compositions include 1966 Hawks and the Sparrows, The Battle of Algiers, The Good, the bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and many more.  

Famous Compositions 

  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  • Once Upon a Time in the West 
  • The Mission

Bernard Hermann

Ai Bernard Hermann

Alfred Hitchcock’s fame in thrillers comes from the immersive contribution of Bernard Hermann. His compositions create tension and release, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. His scoring in these and other films have won him the 1942 Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score) and the 1977 BAFTA Award for Best Original Score. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Psycho
  • Vertigo
  • Citizen Kane
  • Taxi Driver

Alan Silvestri

photo of Alan Silvestri speaking on stage.

If you’re a Marvel’s Avengers franchise fan, you’ve come across Alan Silvestri. He’s responsible for iconic soundtracks featured in one of the most profitable films in Hollywood’s history. His compositions include a unifying voice and stylistic diversity that create an unmistakable rhythmic melody. Besides scoring the Avengers franchise, Alan Silvestri has scored other famous films, such as Back to the Future Trilogy, Pinocchio, Beowulf, and The Polar Express. This has amassed several awards, including two Emmy awards, three Grammys, and Two Oscars. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Back to the Future
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Avengers
  • Ready Player One

Howard Shore

Photo of film composer Howard Shore

The music genius behind The Lord of the Rings series is Howard Shore. His first composition was for the 1979 film The Brood, produced by David Cronenberg. Since then, he has scored all the films by David Cronenberg apart from The Dead Zone of 1983. He’s also behind 1991’s Silence of the Lambs soundtrack that led to his first BAFTA nomination and Academy Awards. He has also contributed to The Lord of the Rings. 

Famous Compositions 

  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Hobbit
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  •  Hugo

Joe Hisaishi

Photo of Studio Ghible composer Joe Hisaishi holding a microphone on stage

Joe Hisaishi has written one of the most memorable movie scores that have made Studio Ghibli famous. Since the early 80s, he has scored over 100 films, including a masterful contribution to animations such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away. These have bagged him several awards and accolades, including Japan Prize for Outstanding Achievement, Mainichi Film Award for Best Music, and Asian Film Award for Best Original Music. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Spirited Away 
  • Howl’s Moving Castle

A.R Rahman

Ai A.r Rahman

A.R. Rahman is one of the most famous film composers from Bollywood. Most of his work comes from Indian films, with the most impressive scores coming through 2011’s Rockstar, Tamasha, Highway, and Rang De Basanti. He has also featured in British drama films through 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. 

Famous Composition 

  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Rockstar
  • Tamasha

Danny Elfman

Ai Danny Elfman

American composer Danny Elfman set his name as one of the most famous composers with over 100 scores. His vast contribution spans different movie genres, including comedies like Men in Black, superhero flicks like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and animations like The Simpsons. 

Famous Compositions 

  • Batman
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Spider-Man


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