Best Movie Soundtracks and Composers

When I was five, I began figuring out how to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the upright piano.  My mom then heard me play “Memory” from the musical “Cats,” and deemed me a musical genius from that point on.  She sent me to piano lessons, and I played the flute for a couple years in middle school.

Throughout my love-hate relationship with music and piano, it became both a source of peace and stress.  I practiced hours a day before competitions, and my mom and my piano teacher were both one of those strict tiger moms who disciplined me hardcore:  piano and I shared many moments of tears and breakdowns where I wanted to quit.

There is one aspect of music that never failed to cause me grief though, and that was listening to soundtracks.  There is something about the magical realm where my love for film meets music, and deciphering how the composer creates a memorable, distinctive theme that belonged to no other but the movie and its message.  When you hear it, within seconds you know right away it’s Jaws, or Star Wars.

That said, here is a list of the classics and some of my personal favorites.

The legendary John Williams (who often writes the music of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas)

  • Jaws 1975 –   ominous half step, two-note motif
  • Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 – heroic, cheeky trumpet, orchestra, brass, percussion
  • Star Wars 1997-2015 – opening theme – fanfare, welcoming, march
    • +Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) – dark, march of impending doom
    • +Across the Stars (Love theme between Anakin and Padme)-opening by oboe solo accompanied by orchestra: somber, romantic, minor key. Repeated by orchestra, harp
  •  Harry Potter (Hedwig’s theme) 2001-2011 – beginning mysterious triangle (?) theme in minor key, repeated by orchestra.
  • The Patriot 2000 – calm, higher range violin takes melody in counts of 3, legato, slight celtic sound with orchestral back up
  • Jurassic Park 1993 – 2015

Hans Zimmer – experimenting with unconventional ways of producing abstract, ambient sounds (Christopher Nolan)

  • Inception 2010 – brave, wandering, and dreamy, soft timpani with cautious orchestra. Complemented with higher guitar string two-note repeat.  Ebb and flow.
  • Interstellar 2014 – dream-like, piano-organ combination with experimental sounds with woodwind and choral elements.
  • Gladiator  2000 –
    • + “Honor Him” timpani, orchestra, minor key, noble.
    • +”Now We Are Free”

James Horner – (James Cameron) classic, hopeful, hopeless romantic, emotional.   R.I.P.

  • Titanic 1997 “My Heart Will Go On” sung by Celine Dion – originally orchestral, but became vocal; beginning flute trill
  • Avatar 2009 “I See You” sung by Leona Lewis
  • Troy 2004
  • A Beautiful Mind 2002

Ennio Morricone 

  • The Mission 1986 “Gabriel’s Oboe” – hopeful, beautiful, calm; oboe theme also in vocal, cello versions
  • Others:  The Hateful Eight, The Best Offer, other Italian movies

Nino Rota – 

  • The Godfather soundtrack series  1972-1990   – wistful, somber, threatening, sustained melody

Klaus Badelt – 

A. R. Rahman – (Danny Boyle) eccentric, vibrant amalgamation of Asian with European, electronic and acoustics

  • Slumdog Millionaire  2008 – “Jai Ho”- rhythmic, pulsating, blend of Indian Bollywood, Spanish, and other elements
  • 127 Hours  2011 – with Dido- “If I Rise- gentle, ethereal vocal accompanied with quiet rhythm and guitar strumming
    • +”Funeral” – Band of Horses

Mark Isham –

  • Life as a House  2001 No Reservations 2007   –“Building a Family” – homey, piano with oboe, strings

Cinematic Orchestra 



John Lunn – 

  • Downton Abbey 2010-2015 – “Did I Make the Most of Loving You”

Bear McCreary – 

  • Walking Dead 2010-current theme – anxiety-ridden, unsettling, orchestra rifts, distortion, apocalypse sounding
    • +”Mercy of the Living”

Ramin Djawadi –


And of course, I got to give a celebratory shout-out to the amazing Asian films, especially those that have blossomed in recent years, such as the Taiwanese movie industry!  It all began with the movie that revived it all, Cape No. 7. We also can’t forget the wonderful Joe Hisaishi, who has written so many for the Japanese films, particularly legendary Hayao Miyizaki animations in Studio Ghibli.

  1. Cape No. 7 2008 – “Love Letters”

Joe Hisaishi has his own category:

  1. Kikujiro 1999 – “Summer”
  2. Howl’s Moving Castle 2004 – charming, waltz-like, spiral-y strings with piano
  3. Other notables:  Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away,  Castle in the Sky Laputa


Happy listening!!!  Let me know which ones are your favorites and if I missed any 🙂





Images: Likeable vs. Genuinely Good People

Paul: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.  –Hotel Rwanda 

We’re often taught to cut the negative out of our lives, hence this quote made total sense that the privileged who can afford to, would turn it off.  Just like that.  Everyone seems to give off the illusion of a luxurious, carpe diem life on social media, in terms of instagram, facebook, and twitter, but we all know that’s not true: we just like showing off the highlights.  I do know some people who actually are kind of air-headed and live in their own bubble of privileged happiness, traveling a lot and always partying, and in person too always carefree in comparison to others.  We ask the question, what if we were all honest, and put up pictures of our difficult times as well?  I think once in awhile, it’s okay.  Just like how once in awhile, if a kid sprained their ankle and it sucked for a brief couple of months, we’d all rally around and help them out.  But permanently?  That’s a different story.  Nobody wants to be reminded even more at every corner, every profile, every page, of the negative.  In many ways, we prefer to live in our own projections of a happy world, and that’s the beauty of immersing yourself in film:  escapism.  It just might be too much to handle to sit down for a moment and really reflect and absorb all the shit that is going on at any second in the world, somewhere, to someone.

When I met people who I felt were selfish or weren’t doing well, I would be tempted to cut them out, but then I would pause and think about wanting to be saved and given a helping hand, and a second chance from others to stick around and care.

There were a lot of things I experienced for the first time in college.  Most of it were social aspects.  It was the first time I really had to force myself to venture out of my comfort zone and approach other people, realizing that it was a bit of a sink-or-swim situation:   if I did not try, I would simply go through four years a forever loner.

As I encountered many strangers, I wanted eagerly to be friends with everyone.  I was in for a rude awakening, and my first mistake was in believing that everyone thinks the same way that I do.  Some people smiled a lot and seemed “nice.”  Others seemed a bit less approachable and kept to themselves, or were way too sassy, outspoken, or different for me to handle.

What I learned though, was that there is a HUGE difference in the make up of one’s character.  Likeable people are the friendly, popular ones that everyone enjoys taking pictures with, has a generally good impression of, who get the most Facebook “likes,” and who everyone seems to gravitate towards.  But genuinely good people may come off cynical or even rude, but they will never actually bear to screw you over where and when it matters.

But everything is a contradiction:  we’re taught that money can’t buy happiness, and yet we always want more- we live in a consumeristic society.  What is the true balance of having ambition versus learning to be satisfied with our status in life?  How do we know when to try to help others versus what we owe to ourselves?  Because sometimes being a true good person is not giving when you have enough, but sacrificing your own so that others can have at all.

What I do know is  that life should be spent either being productive and the beauty of learning is that it is never-ending growth. And I don’t mean productivity in terms of just studying, or making money, but also filling the rest of the time up in adding to your happiness or learning.  So much to learn.  Take advantage of the opportunities, wake up and really see, breathe, recognize it all, and have the courage to put it in action and actually grasp it.  So much easier said than done though, right?

I’d like to believe that I am the one giving others the benefit of the doubt, but over time I grew more pessimistic and less likely to risk what little I preserved for myself.  Energy, optimism, encouragement, whatever it was.  To be completely realistic, there will always be people who might waste away your precious energy, but does that mean we should just stop giving and reject their needs?  Hard to determine.