In honor of tonight’s Grammy Awards, Turner Classic Movies has released a list of what they consider to be the 15 Most Influential Film Soundtracks. Four out of the fifteen films are scifi flicks including soundtracks by groundbreaking composers Bernard Herrmann and John Williams.
“It is nearly impossible to think of certain films without remembering their music scores. Casablanca, Laura, An Affair to Remember, The Magnificent Seven – the list is endless,” said TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne. “Our list celebrates the most memorable and groundbreaking soundtracks, the ones which took the art of film music to new levels and made the most lasting impact on the world of movies.”
Chart-topping rock artist Rob Thomas said music contributes to film by developing a scene. “There is a certain beauty in laying a musical bed and how it builds itself into the scene, creating a lasting moment,” Thomas said. He also film music has had an influence on the concert hall. “Classical presentations that people listen to will always include Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. But as generations grow older, there will also be John Williams and Danny Elfman.”
In selecting the 15 Most Influential Film Soundtracks, several aspects were considered, including the impact they have had on how music is used onscreen to tell a story and on the methodology of song selection. Their influence is also defined by their impact on pop culture.
Here are the scifi films that made TCM’s list of 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks, listed in chronological order:
King Kong (1933) – Composer: Max Steiner
Historians disagree over who wrote the first fully symphonic film score, but most credit Max Steiner for either the 1932 Polynesian romance Bird of Paradise or the legendary King Kong. Certainly the latter film established Steiner as one of Hollywood’s top composers and demonstrated how much an original score could enhance a film’s emotional hold on its audience. When penny-pinching executives at RKO insisted Steiner score the film with stock music, the film’s co-director, Merian C. Cooper, reached into his own pocket to provide $50,000 for the score.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Eerie and haunting, the score Bernard Herrmann created for The Day the Earth Stood Still set the style for future science fiction films, from It Came From Outer Space (1953) to Blade Runner (1982). Although Miklos Rozsa in Spellbound (1945) introduced Hollywood to the electronic instrument known as the Theremin, Herrmann was the first to use it to create an all-electronic score. He did so by combining two Theremins with electronic organs, vibraphones and amplified strings, among other instruments. The jarring sounds perfectly captured the anxieties underlying this tale of a UFO landing in the middle of Washington, D.C. Herrmann also recorded on multiple tracks, long before stereophonic sound was widely used in Hollywood. He even played some cues backwards to create an unearthly masterpiece.
Psycho (1960) – Composer: Bernard Herrmann (not really scifi, but come on. . . )
It seems only natural that one of the most iconic sequences in film history – the shower scene from Psycho – should be accompanied by one of the screen’s most iconic musical cues. Bernard Herrmann’s screeching violins have taken on a life of their own in the years since they heralded Marion Crane’s death. Like John Williams’ Jaws theme, they have become an instant signifier of menace, quoted in everything from Psycho’s many imitations to episodes of The Simpsons. Originally, director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to use a jazz score and show the shower scene in silence. Herrmann showed him a better way to generate suspense, impressing the master so much that Hitchcock doubled the composer’s salary. Later, Hitchcock said, “Thirty-three percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Musical Consultant: Patrick Moore; Music Editor: Frank J. Urioste
Rockets revolve in space to the tune of Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” waltz; light streams reflect on an astronaut’s helmet as he plummets through space to the otherworldly music of Gyorgy Ligeti; the sun, moon and Earth align perfectly to the thundering brass of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. These are some of the most famous weddings of visuals and music in film history, and they happened by accident. Stanley Kubrick had commissioned a score for his 2001: A Space Odyssey from Alex North, with whom he worked on 1960’s Spartacus. But during filming, the director used classical recordings to set the mood, then incorporated them for a scratch track when MGM’s executives requested a sample reel. The results were so spectacular that Kubrick decided to use a new type of film score composed entirely of commercial recordings of classical music. With 2001’s success, the classical score became a cinema staple, something Kubrick himself would return to for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975).
Star Wars (1977) – Composer: John Williams
Before John Williams signed on for Star Wars, director George Lucas was planning to use classical music in the fashion of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But when Lucas’ friend Steven Spielberg convinced him to go with Williams, the composer gave him a rich blend of familiar musical styles, with a title theme inspired by Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s intro to King’s Row (1942) and leitmotifs inspired by Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Holst and even Benny Goodman (the model for the Cantina Band). The result went on to be voted the greatest score of all time by members of the American Film Institute. Thanks to Star Wars, movie-going was once again a feast for the ears, paving the way for more lush, romantic scores from the likes of James Horner (Titanic), Ennio Morricone (The Mission) and Williams himself (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List).
Other film soundtracks on the list include Shaft, Saturday Night Fever, Goldfinger and The Graduate.
What’s your favorite movie soundtrack? We have quite a collection at our house but we’re always looking for new CDs to add to the rotation.