My Favorite Film Scores

It’s been two weeks since I experienced it in the theater, and I still can’t get Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk out of my mind.  It’s the best film of 2018 and one of the best of the decade, by the way.  I encourage you to see it in a theater with someone you love and then tell everyone you love about it.

One of the big reasons it continues to haunt me is Nicholas Britell’s extraordinary score.  The themes he created (especially “Eros” and “PTSD” and “Hypertension”) ear-wormed their way into the ever-present background music of my mind, and when they work their way to the forefront…Barry Jenkins’ images, James Baldwin’s characters, the performances, and most importantly, the feelings all come rushing back.  When I first heard “Eros” in the theater in the context of a poignant love scene, I instantly thought, “This might be one of the best film scores of all time.”  Then there was “PTSD” like a hammering heart building up to a panic attack in the background of that scene where Fonny’s friend, fresh from prison, slowly reveals his thoughts on his brief stint in prison and the worst part of it…the fear.  It’s echoed later in “Hypertension” when a racist cop harasses Fonny and Tish outside an Italian market.  You feel the fear not just through the characters, but through Britell’s music.  I knew right then, indeed, Britell had composed something for the ages.

My favorite film scores often mirror (and elevate) my favorite films.  They can’t be extracted from the context of the film they help breathe deeper life into.  When I hear the music in my head, images and feelings from those beloved films rush through me.  Memories from my life at the time I first saw the film, or from ensuing years where thoughts of the film or revisits punctuated pain, joy, and transitions often mix with the memories of the film.  All of it forming a rich tapestry or sound and images and feelings.

Britell’s amazing work got me thinking about those other film’s whose music routinely haunts me…the original scores I sometimes find myself conjuring during the strangest of times, in the middle of the day staring out a window, walking down a long hallway in a cavernous office building, while lying awake at night in the twilight before sleep, those transportive film themes that continue to bring me brief moments of reverie, peace, and deep thought.

Listed in chronological order from oldest to newest…my favorite film scores appear below.  I welcome you to share your own in the comments form.

  • The Third Man – Anton Karas
  • Vertigo – Bernard Herrmann
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Elmer Bernstein
  • Paris, Texas – Ry Cooder
  • The Piano – Michael Nyman
  • Fargo – Carter Burwell
  • The English Patient – Gabriel Yared
  • Birth – Alexandre Desplat
  • There Will Be Blood – Jonny Greenwood
  • Phantom Thread – Jonny Greenwood
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell

Written by D. H. Schleicher


  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Piano, The English Patient and There Will be Blood would definitely be on my list too. I would add Drive (2011), The Way We Were, Badlands, Ulee’s Gold, Forrest Gump and The Godfather to it as well. Nice list and interesting topic.

    • Drive is an interesting one…I can’t seperate the original pieces from the previously produced tracks. But yeah, it’s a good one for sure! The Forrest Gump music is still heartwarming and iconic (or ear-conic? LOL) depsite the film not holding up very well. And well The Godfather…yeah no doubt.

      • You know, I’m one of those Forrest Gump apologists. Was it the best movie of 1994? No. It’s not in the top 10 movies of that year, in my opinion, but it would be in the low end of my top 25. Woody Allen’s Zelig–similar in its core trope–is a much, much better film. And, of course, so is the fabulous “Being There”.

  2. Great blog and wonderful list. The Piano has a gorgeous soundtrack, I love Michael Nyman. Some of my favourite film scores from recent years are Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score for The Revenant, Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin’s score for Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Dario Marianelli’s score for Jane Eyre. I also think the score for Requiem For A Dream does a wonderful job of escalating the film’s tension and sense of tragedy. I find myself listening to film scores more and more these days, they transport me right back into the film’s world.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I agree will all of your mentions – all great scores that fit perfectly with the tone of the films (and that Requim for a Dream theme – whoa, totally sends my heart racing to panic!)

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