The 115 Greatest Film Composers

In no particular order
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Bernard Herrmann
Music Department, Citizen Kane
The man behind the low woodwinds that open Citizen Kane, the shrieking violins of Psycho, and the plaintive saxophone of Taxi Driver was one of the most original and distinctive composers ever to work in film. He started early, winning a composition prize at the age of 13 and founding his own orchestra at the age of 20...
Hans Zimmer
German-born composer Hans Zimmer is recognized as one of Hollywood's most innovative musical talents. He featured in the music video for The Buggles' single "Video Killed the Radio Star", which became a worldwide hit and helped usher in a new era of global entertainment as the first music video to be aired on MTV (August 1, 1981)...
Philip Glass
Music Department, The Truman Show
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Glass worked in his father's radio store and discovered music listening to the offbeat Western classical records customers didn't seem to want. He studied the violin and flute, and obtained early admission to the University of Chicago. After graduating in mathematics and philosophy...
Peer Raben
Composer, Querelle
Shirley Walker
Music Department, True Lies
Shirley Walker was born in Napa, California in 1945. She was educated at Pleasant Hill High School; attended San Francisco State College on piano scholarship; studied composition with Dr. Roger Nixon; and piano with Harald Logan of Berkeley, California. She was soloist with San Francisco Symphony while in high school; performed with various hotel, jazz & art bands in San Francisco, 1964 - 1967...
Soundtrack, Collateral
Vangelis is a composer and performer who works almost exclusively with electronic instruments. He is probably most well known for his Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks or for the tracks used in the Cosmos television series. He has been involved in many musical collaborations, most famously with Jon Anderson.
Joseph Carl Breil
Not only did Joseph compose music for movies, he was the first person to compose a score specifically for a motion picture - "Queen Elizabeth" in 1912. In addition to film music, Joseph composed for various operas - `Love Laughs at Locksmiths' 1910, `Prof. Tattle' 1913 and, `The Seventh Chord' 1913. Breil died from heart disease.
Alfred Newman
Music Department, The King and I
Thomas Newman
Music Department, WALL·E
Zbigniew Preisner
Born in Poland in 1955, Zbigniew Preisner studied philosophy and history in the university of Cracow. In his twenties he started to study music in a autodidactical way: buying records and learning to write by taking the music in parts. He started to write his own compositions. His style has always been very romantic...
John Williams
As one of the best known, awarded, and financially successful composers in US history, John Williams is as easy to recall as John Philip Sousa, Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein, illustrating why he is "America's composer" time and again. With a massive list of awards that includes over 41 Oscar nominations (five wins)...
Lalo Schifrin
Music Department, Mission: Impossible
Immensely talented, Argentinian born pianist, conductor and composer who has written over 100 scores for both television & the cinema including the memorable themes to Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Starsky and Hutch, Cool Hand Luke, and Bullitt. Schifrin has regularly worked alongside Clint Eastwood...
Michael Nyman
Composer, The Piano
Michael Nyman studied piano, harpsichord and music history with Alan Bush at the Royal Academy of Music, and musicology with Thurston Dart at King's College, London. Between 1968 and 1978 he worked as a music critic and in 1977 he founded the Campiello Band, later renamed the Michael Nyman Band. Many of his filmscores were composed for the films of Peter Greenaway...
Christopher Young
Composer, Spider-Man 3
Composer Christopher Young was born on April 28, 1957 in Red Bank, New Jersey. After graduating from Hampshire College in Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, Young went on to pursue his post-graduate studies at North Texas State University. Christopher moved to Los Angeles, California in 1980...
Alan Silvestri
Composer, Forrest Gump
In over thirty years as a film composer, Alan Silvestri has blazed an innovative trail with his exciting and melodic scores, winning the applause of Hollywood and movie audiences the world over. Born in Manhattan in 1950, Alan was first drawn to music at an early age. Beginning as a drummer, his love for instruments quickly grew to include the bassoon...
Franz Waxman
Music Department, Peyton Place
Franz Waxman (Wachsmann) pursued his dream of a career in music despite his family's misgivings. He worked for several years as a bank teller and paid for piano, harmony and composition lessons with his salary. He later moved to Berlin, where he continued his study and progress as a musician. He was able to support himself by playing and arranging for a popular German jazz band...
Victor Young
Music Department, Casino
Violinist and conductor Victor Young was a prolific composer and arranger, who worked on more than 300 film scores over a period of twenty years. He came from an impoverished, but musical background and was trained on the violin at the Warsaw Imperial Conservatory, later studying piano in Paris under the French master Isidor Philipp...
Jerry Goldsmith
Music Department, Total Recall
Born on February 10, 1929, Jerry Goldsmith studied piano with Jakob Gimpel and composition, theory, and counterpoint with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He also attended classes in film composition given by Miklós Rózsa at the Univeristy of Southern California. In 1950, he was employed as a clerk typist in the music department at CBS...
Marc Shaiman
Music Department, Hairspray
A great talent who started his career in Saturday Night Live, where he worked with colleagues like Rob Reiner or Billy Crystal. He worked for some great stage values as Eric Clapton, Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Crystal, Lauryn Hill, Jennifer Holliday, Nathan Lane, Jenifer Lewis...
Alan Menken
Music Department, Beauty and the Beast
Alan Menken born on July 22, 1949 in New Rochelle, New York, USA as Alan Irwin Menken. Composer, Actor and Artist, he is famous to working with the legendary Disney Studios since 1987. begun his career as a Composer in 1971 be composing for New York City Ballet and Jingles. He also works many works in the Cinema including as a Actor...
Nino Rota
Composer, The Godfather
Born in Milan in 1911 into a family of musicians, Nino Rota was first a student of Orefice and Pizzetti. Then, still a child, he moved to Rome where he completed his studies at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in 1929 with Alfredo Casella. In the meantime, he had become an 'enfant prodige', famous both as a composer and as an orchestra conductor...
Graeme Revell
Composer, Sin City
Graeme Revell was born in New Zealand in 1955. He was graduated from The University of Auckland with degrees in economics and politics. He is a classically trained pianist and French horn player. Revell worked for as a regional planner in Australia and Indonesia and as an orderly in an Australian psychiatric hospital...
Carter Burwell
Music Department, Fargo
Ennio Morricone
A classmate of director Sergio Leone with whom he would form one of the great director/composer partnerships (right up there with Eisenstein & Prokofiev, Hitchcock & Herrmann, Fellini & Rota), Ennio Morricone studied at Rome's Santa Cecilia Conservatory, where he specialized in trumpet. His first film scores were relatively undistinguished...
Danny Elfman
Music Department, Corpse Bride
As Danny Elfman was growing up in the Los Angeles area, he was largely unaware of his talent for composing. It wasn't until the early 1970s that Danny and his older brother Richard Elfman started a musical troupe while in Paris; the group "Mystic Knights of Oingo-Boingo" was created for Richard's directorial debut...
Mikis Theodorakis
Composer, Z
Mikis Theodorakis was born in the Greek island of Chios, in 1925. The exact same year that the other great composer of Greece was born in Xanthi, Manos Hatzidakis. He fought during the 2nd World War, and he was captured at the city of Tripoli. He was tortured, but when he was set free, he joined the partisan army of Greece named EAM...
Fabio Frizzi
Composer, Zombie
Richard Band
Composer, Re-Animator
Brother to filmmaker Charles Band and son to veteran producer Albert Band, Richard Band is often similar to other film composers like Robert O. Ragland and Lalo Schifrin. The Band family has had a history of filmmaking. Richard's brother Charles, became a known executive producer when he founded Empire Entertainment...
Dmitri Shostakovich
Soundtrack, Children of Men
Dmitri Shostakovich, one of Russian culture's most acclaimed intellectuals who was censored under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, was an internationally recognized composer whose music was in over 100 films. He was born Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich on September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia...
Pino Donaggio
Composer, Carrie
Born in Burano (Venice) in 1941, Pino Donaggio studied violin at the Conservatory of Venice and Milan. After a period of adolescent performer of classical music with the Solisti Veneti and the Soloists of Milan, in 1959 he began to devote himself to the pop music that soon led to international success...
For 25 years, Goblin has been scoring soundtracks for Italian films, mainly Giallo-style films directed by Dario Argento. The group consisted of keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, percussionist Walter Martino, bassist Fabio Pignatelli, guitarist Massimo Morante, percussionist Agostino Marangolo, and saxophone player...
John Morris
Music Department, Young Frankenstein
James Horner
Music Department, Titanic
James Horner began studying piano at the age of five, and trained at the Royal College of Music in London, England, before moving to California in the 1970s. After receiving a bachelor's degree in music at USC, he would go on to earn his master's degree at UCLA and teach music theory there. He later completed his Ph.D...
Daniel Licht
Composer, Dexter
Composer of the Emmy Award winning show, Dexter, and hugely popular video games, Silent Hill and Dishonored, one of Daniel Licht's first experiences as a musician resulted in him hanging out with Miles Davis and playing jazz with Don Cherry in New York City. Licht continued to develop as a musician by playing around the world...
Simon Boswell
Composer, Shallow Grave
Simon Boswell was born in London, UK on October 15th, 1956. He is a film composer with more than 90 films to his credit. At seventeen Simon went to Pembroke College in Cambridge to study English Literature. Already an accomplished guitarist, and whilst still at college, he was signed by Transatlantic Records in 1975...
Harry Manfredini
Composer, Friday the 13th
Film composer Harry Manfredini specialises in writing for horror films, but is also a song writer and jazz soloist. From his haunting dramatic scores for The Friday the 13th films, to his adventurous music for The Omegma Code, Harry Manfredini has established himself as a motion picture music composer of the same style as Bernard Herrmann...
Ed Tomney
Composer, Safe
Ed Tomney is a composer, synthesist and musician/artist based in New York. He has scored for feature film, dance, radio, television, theater and has performed as a multi-instrumentalist on numerous recordings and releases. His works in acoustic-art have included site-specific sound installations and performances in museums and galleries throughout the world...
Waldo de los Ríos
Pianist, composer, conductor and arranger born in Buenos Aires in 1934. He was formed at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música, studied with Alberto Ginastera and Teodoro Fuchs and gave from his very early years an avant-garde spirit to his performances. He composed music for films, including the music for the film Savage Pampas and for the TV series Curro Jiménez...
Gabriel Yared
Gabriel Yared stopped his law studies at the age of 20 to work as a professional music composer. He studied with Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ohana. He worked as a composer, orchestrator or producer for such singers as Françoise Hardy, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud and Mireille Mathieu. He made his film debut in 1980 with the score for Jean-Luc Godard's Every Man for Himself...
James Newton Howard
James Newton Howard attended the University of Southern California's music school, but dropped out to tour with Elton John, and eventually compose music for film and television. He started with Head Office in 1985. He has been nominated for eight Academy Awards. He currently is a songwriter, record producer, conductor, keyboardist, and film composer.
Ann Ronell
Soundtrack, Carol
ANN RONELL was one of the few early song writers who wrote both the words and the music, beginning in 1930 with BABY'S BIRTHDAY PARTY. That led to many "kiddie" -style tunes, such as MICKEY MOUSE AND MINNIE'S IN TOWN and IN A SILLY SYMPHONY. A graduate of prestigious Radcliffe College, she taught music...
Tyler Bates
Tyler Bates is a Los Angeles-born composer who has scored more than sixty feature films, hundreds of episodes of television, major studio video games and artist records. Bates has more than twenty commercially released film soundtrack albums, several of which debuted number one at the box-office. Bates' recent work includes Marvel's 2014 smash hit...
John Carpenter
Writer, Halloween
John Howard Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York, to mother Milton Jean (Carter) and father Howard Ralph Carpenter. His family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where his father, a professor, was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University. He attended Western Kentucky University and then USC film school in Los Angeles...
Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand is a three times Academy Award-winning French composer, conductor and pianist who composed over 200 film and television scores as well as recorded over a hundred albums of jazz, popular and classical music. He was born on February 24, 1932, in Becon-les-Bruyeres, in the Paris suburbs...
Dana Kaproff
Dana Kaproff is an award winning film composer, songwriter, and lecturer. He has scored close to 100 theatrical, cable, and television movies, as well as multiple series, mini-series, and documentaries. His credits include assignments for CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, HBO, Showtime, Paramount, Universal, and PBS...
Abel Korzeniowski
Composer, A Single Man
Born on the 18th of July, 1972, in Cracow, Poland. In 1996 graduated the instrumental studies (specialization: cello), and then in 2000 graduated with merit from the composition class of Krzysztof Penderecki at the Music Academy in Cracow. At the same Academy, in the years 1999-2000, he was an assistant at the Department of Composition...
John Barry
Music Department, Juke Box Jury
John Barry was born in York, England in 1933, and was the youngest of three children. His father, Jack, owned several local cinemas and by the age of fourteen, Barry was capable of running the projection box on his own - in particular, The Rialto in York. As he was brought up in a cinematic environment...
Gil Melle
A recording artist, song writer, jazz musician and composer, Gil Melle launched his career in the sixties. He first displayed his talent for art work and was also a regular jazz performer in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1969, Gil Melle displayed his musical talent...
Elmer Bernstein
Music Department, Cape Fear
Elmer Bernstein was educated at the Walden School and New York University. He served in the US Army Air Corps in World War II. A prolific and respected film music composer, he was a protégé of Aaron Copland, who studied music with Roger Sessions and Stefan Wolpe. Bernstein worked in various artistic endeavors...
Goran Bregovic
In the end of '70s and all through the '80s, he was the leader of the most popular Yugoslav band "Bijelo dugme" (from Sarajevo). They published more than 10 LPs, selling altogether more than 15 million copies. He was the first one to introduce "shepperd's rock" (a kind of folk-rock) into popular Yugoslav music...
George Bruns
Composer, Robin Hood
Born in Oregon in 1914, George Bruns was the son of a sawmill worker. He took music lessons as a child, becoming proficient on the piano, tuba and trombone. He attended Oregon State Agricultural College, and in order to pay tuition he played in the ROTC band. Deciding on a musical career, he left college to be a full-time musician, and was soon playing with the likes of Jack Teagarden...
Wendy Carlos
Composer, The Shining
Wendy Carlos, one of the great innovators in synthesized and electronic music, was born as Walter Carlos in Rhode Island on November 14, 1939. She underwent a sex-change operation in 1972, details of which she revealed during a surprise Playboy interview in 1979. Walter's last credited release is "Sonic Seasonings" (1972)...
Charles Chaplin
Writer, Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin, considered to be one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era, often associated with his popular "Little Tramp" character; the man with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and a funny walk...
Frank Churchill
Soundtrack, Enchanted
Academy Award-winning composer and songwriter ("Whistle While You Work", "Some Day My Prince Will Come"), and pianist, educated at the University of California. He was a pianist in film theatres, and then came to Hollywood under contract to Walt Disney. Joining ASCAP in 1938, his chief musical collaborators included Ann Ronell and Larry Morey...
George S. Clinton
George S. Clinton began his professional musical career as a songwriter, arranger, and session musician in Nashville, while earning degrees in music and drama at Middle Tennessee State University. The summer after graduation, George attended the Atlanta Pop Festival and, upon hearing Joe Cocker perform "With a Little Help from My Friends"...
Mychael Danna
Composer, Life of Pi
Mychael Danna is an Academy Award-winning film composer recognized for his evocative blending of non-western traditions with orchestral and electronic music. His highly awarded works include the Oscar-winning score for Ang Lee's Life of Pi, and his many Genie Award-winning scores for director and longtime collaborator, Atom Egoyan...
Anne Dudley
Music Department, Les Misérables
English composer and pop musician. Was a prominent member of the synthpop band The Art of Noise. Now, a critically acclaimed composer. Won an Oscar for Best Original Music or Comedy Score for work in The Full Monty. Since has composed music for more than forty films, including: The Crying Game, American History X...
Richard Einhorn
Composer, The Prowler
Modern-day classical music composer Richard Einhorn was born in 1952. In 1975 Einhorn graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, where he studied composition and electronic music with Jack Beeson, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Mario Davidovsky. In 1977 Richard produced a Meredith Monk album for Wergo Records...
Hanns Eisler
Composer, Night and Fog
Hanns Eisler was a German-Austrian-American composer and lyricist. He was known for his "Das Lied von der Moldau" ("La Chanson du Moldau", "The Song of the Moldau") used in the TV film Schweyk im zweiten Weltkrieg and also sang by Zarah Leander on TV. He did so many more songs in Hollywood, France, Austria and Germany.
Brian Eno
Soundtrack, Shutter Island
Regarded as one of the best producers and musicians in rock history, Eno started his career in 1971 with Roxy Music. The band released two albums, "Roxy Music" and "For Your Pleasure", with the two Brians in the lineup (the other one was, of course, lead singer Bryan Ferry); a conflict between the two Brians forced Eno to leave Roxy Music in 1973...
Simon Fisher-Turner
Composer, Croupier
From child actor to teenage pop idol, from self-confessed 'extreme sound freak' to acclaimed solo recording artist, Simon Fisher's career has been nothing if not varied. His early acting credits included film and TV roles from Black Beauty to The Big Sleep (re-made with Robert Mitchum). At the same time he was fronting various '70s pop acts...
Elliot Goldenthal
Composer, Heat
Elliot Goldenthal is an Academy Award-winning composer best known for his original music scores for such films as Frida and Across the Universe, among his other works. He was born on May 2, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a house-painter, and his mother was a seamstress. Young Goldenthal was fond of music and theatre...
Marvin Hamlisch
Music Department, The Spy Who Loved Me
Composer, songwriter ("Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows"), and conductor, educated at the Professional Children's School, Juilliard, and Queens College. He was the musical director for Equity Library Theatre productions, and wrote songs for Liza Minnelli and for Julius Monk's 'Upstairs at the Downstairs' revues...
Henry Mancini
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, but brought up in Pennsylvania, where he played the flute in a local band, as a youth, before sending some arrangements to Benny Goodman. Goodman offered him a job and, after serving in WWII, he joined the rearranged Glenn Miller band. In 1952, he was given a two-week assignment...
Mark Isham
Music Department, Crash
From his days as one of the pioneering icons of electronic music to his current status as a world-renowned legendary film composer, Mark Isham continues to be one of the most prolific and provocative artists on the scene. His gift for creating unforgettable melodies and his love of fresh, innovative sonic palettes have earned Isham many awards including a Grammy...
Maurice Jarre
Unlike many musicians who started to learn music while still in their childhood, Maurice Jarre was already late in his teens when he discovered music and decided to make a career in that field. Against his father's will, he enrolled at Conservatoire de Paris where he studied percussions, composition and harmonies...
Trevor Jones
Composer, Notting Hill
As a child in Cape Town, Trevor Jones lived opposite the Gem Cinema. The theater was so old and worn out that there was often a loss of the soundtrack, which caused him to realize its power. The fact that everyone in his family worked in film or the theater made it easy to get support in his career choice...
Johnny Klimek
Music Department, Cloud Atlas