5 Great Contemporary Composers

Considering how much emotion music conjures, original scores have the ability to make or break a film – yet the work often goes strangely underappreciated. With that in mind, I decided to make a note of my five of my favourite composers (to make it a bit easier for myself I tried to stick to contemporary composers who are still churning out great original scores, as opposed to, say, the Bernard Herrmann’s of the world).

1. Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

Well…obviously, right? Hans Zimmer has his share of haters, but I think that’s more to do with how popular he is than how good his scores are. Being a film composer has never exactly drawn much fame, but he’s somehow gone and done it, and I think that automatically flips on the hate switch for some people.

But Zimmer is, quite frankly, a masterful composer. Since the 80s he’s been cracking out the most brilliant, thumping, moving scores, and trying to list his entire catalogue would be like trying to remember every Stephen King book. Remember that heart-pumping end to Inception? All that tension and emotion was at least half down to Zimmer.

Notable work: The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception (okay, every Nolan film), Pirates Of The Caribbean, Man Of Steel, True Romance, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 12 Years A Slave, Rush, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Face/Off.

Best work: It’s a really difficult choice, but I think his Interstellar score just ousts everything else with its grand, operatic, overwhelming majesty.

2. Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

If I made a horror movie tomorrow, I’d want Joseph Bishara to score it. I first became aware of him when I saw Insidious at the cinema – the moment those anarchic strings ripped us out of our comfort zone, I knew I was in for something frightening…and that the music would play a big part. The guy just knows how to make us tick, how to capture the atmosphere and fill us with dread.

He was also, obviously, just born to just be terrifying: as well as composing he enjoys a bit of acting, playing the demons in Insidious and Annabelle and that goddamn lurking witch Bathsheba in The Conjuring.

Notable work: Insidious 1-3, The Conjuring, Annabelle, Dark Skies, The Other Side Of The Door.

Best work: The piercing staccato string of Insidious are terrifying, but nothing quite captures the overwhelming sense of evil and foreboding more than The Conjuring’s main theme.

3. Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone

Almost cheating, but not really. Morricone isn’t much on an active composer these days, apart from, you know, that Oscar he just bagged for The Hateful Eight. Since I can technically list him in a ‘contemporary’ list, he’s simply too good to overlook. Morricone shaped the landscape of film score composition, and gave the world one of its most iconic themes of all time. Wahowaaah…wah waah wahhh. If you’re not getting the hint, it’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

Notable work: A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly,  Once Upon A Time In The West, Cinema Paradiso, The Thing, Once Upon A Time In America, The Untouchables. 

Best work: It should probably be The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, but I’m actually going to go with The Hateful Eight because it was just so wonderfully different (and it ties in well with the whole contemporary thing). Tarantino’s film is all about not trusting its characters, and this score immediately filled us with deep distrust and dread. As Tarantino himself said, it’s more of a horror score.

4. John Williams

John Williams

John Williams certainly has Hans Zimmer levels of fame – his soundtracks have framed so many of our most beloved classics over the years (mostly made by Spielberg). He inspired hope with Jurassic Park, he made us cry with Saving Private Ryan, he terrified us with Jaws, and he made perhaps the most recognised film score of all time with Star Wars. In other words, he’s a flippin’ genius.

Notable work: Jurassic Park, E.T., Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, Jaws.

Best work: Almost impossible to choose. Literally almost impossible. But I think, just, Indiana Jones is the best. The end of The Last Crusade, over this track…all kinds of perfection.

5. Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman’s scores can be a little bit on the schmaltzy side at times – so much so that I was reluctant to list him in the top five – but I feel he makes up for it with his best work. Some of his compositions are just lovely.

Notable work: American Beauty, Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, Spectre, Bridge Of Spies, Wall-E, The Green Mile, Scent Of A Woman.

Best work: Finding Nemo, with out a doubt. The title track, ‘Nemo Egg’, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

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  • Bailey May 22, 2016 at 2:00 am:

    I agree with basically all of these! Yes, yes, and yes! Though I probably would’ve replaced Joseph Birasha with James Newton Howard personally. I just adore all of Howard’s work. Great post!

    • Eddy Gardiner May 22, 2016 at 11:12 am:

      Yeah, he’s a good choice – I wanted to put Howard Shore somewhere in there too!

  • Jhaneel May 23, 2016 at 5:23 pm:

    Wow! I sadly never pay attention to the composers for films, even when I do appreciate the soundtrack. This is a great reminder about how the music often makes the film and I’m definitely going down a YouTube rabbithole now..

  • the scribbling writer May 23, 2016 at 5:48 pm:

    yes, totally agree with you! Great post!!

  • Benjamin Ngiam June 20, 2016 at 5:44 pm:

    Ahh music soundtracks are often underappreciated in movies! Not every movie reviewers talks about nor give credit to the scores as often as they should so I’m glad to see that you do give them the credit they are due! Awesome 😉

    Your pal


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