Hum These Songs: 5 Of the Best Film Scores Ever Recorded

Saturday, November 19 by John Coon

A key to making a movie linger in a person's mind long after leaving the theater is to create memorable film scores. Some movies like "Star Wars" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are instantly identifiable through the their main theme. Those tunes bring to life memories of scenes, characters and dialogue that lay dormant only moments before. Five scores stand out in this fashion as an extension of what the film that inspired them is all about.

"Star Wars" – When the first of the six “Star Wars” movies debuted in theaters, it revolutionized the industry in so many ways. Special effects began to be done on a grander scale and summer blockbusters became the norm for major studios. Star Wars succeeded by borrowing elements from science fiction serials of the 1930s and 40s. One of these elements was a sweeping score by John Williams that featured motifs and cues associated with specific characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The score was good enough to snare an Academy Award and set benchmark for movie scores into the 21st Century.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" – The film that introduced us to globe-trotting archeologis Indiana Jones does what good adventure films do. It gives a rousing score that is as energetic as the adventures portrayed on screen. When the main Indiana Jones theme kicks into gear, it is the signal that he is going to save the day. Williams shows his range with the score in evoking the pain Indy feels when he thinks Marion has died in the exploding truck or the foreboding doom awaiting the Nazis when they open the Ark of the Covenant.

"The Godfather"- Francis Ford Coppola does a masterful job in setting up Michael Corleone as a tragic figure through evoking the mood of destiny and tragedy with a moving score. The love between Michael and eventual wife Kay is captured with the movie's famous love theme and it underscores and foreshadows the heartache and tragedy brought on by Michael's corruption that will eventually destroy their union. “The Godfather” is powerful mainly because the score serves as a reflection of how the family business consumes Michael like his father Vito before him.

"Psycho" – One thing that made this precursor to modern slasher films so effective is that Alfred Hitchcock decided to set a creepy and sinister mood with a foreboding score. The cues that play as Norman Bates stabs Marion Crane to death in the shower actually feel like stabbing motions in musical form. It showed that the right music can play a pivotal role in building suspense and evoking terror within a movie.

"Lawrence of Arabia" – If you want to do an epic film, you need an epic score to match. In just six weeks, Maurice Jarre came up with a sweeping score that proved his worth as a composer. Jarre was a virtual unknown before the film, but his ability to intricately time each cue with the scenes on screen earned him an Academy Award. Potentially boring scenes like the march across the Arabian desert take on a grander meaning because the epic music is able to bestow extra importance on it.