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What are the 25 best film scores?

We asked listeners to tell us their favorite film scores. Dim the lights, grab some popcorn and read on for their top 25 selections in movie music.

1. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series (Howard Shore, 2000-04)

Peter Jackson’s grand trilogy deserved an equally monumental score, and Shore delivered an operatic work that is notable for its sheer length, the variety of musical styles and multitude of themes. He spent nearly four years writing the music, about as long as it takes to watch the movies (we kid!). Here’s the “Shire” theme.

2. ‘Star Wars’ (John Williams, 1977)

The American Film Institute lists it as the world’s most recognizable film score of all time; and who doesn’t get chills from the opening fanfare? You might prefer the lushness of “Princess Leia’s Theme” or the goofiness of “Cantina Band,” but that main title might be among the most indelible music in all of movies.

3. ‘The Mission’ (Ennio Morricone, 1986)

Morricone used liturgical music, Spanish guitars and native drums to capture the varied cultures that figure in this 18th-century story. And, of course, there’s the woodwind of “Gabriel’s Oboe,” the score’s main theme.

4. ‘Schindler's List’ (John Williams, 1993)

The haunting, violin-powered “Theme from Schindler’s List” might be most well-known as the accompaniment for many a figure skating routine, an incongruous image to associate with Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust-themed film. Listen to Itzhak Perlman (who has been outspoken about the violin’s importance in the internment camps) play it.

5. ‘Dances With Wolves’ (John Barry, 1990)

The sweeping strings evoke the wide western plain where Lt. John Dunbar is posted after the Civil War. Barry, who persuaded director and star Kevin Costner that an intimate approach was needed, listened to Native American music for inspiration while composing — some of which made it into the score. And there are bagpipes! Listen to the “John Dunbar Theme.”

6. ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (Maurice Jarre, 1965)

Jarre avoided using Russian folk music for this score, opting instead for Russian “flavor” through the balalaika. As for that famous tune: Director David Lean allegedly rejected Jarre’s first few attempts at a love melody, finally ordering him to a mountain retreat with his girlfriend for romantic inspiration. Out of that interlude came “Lara’s Theme,” as achingly lovely as Julie Christie.

7. ‘Out of Africa’ (John Barry, 1985)

The film is long and some would say excessively navel-gazing, but the score is atypically short (about 35 minutes, including a Mozart clarinet concerto and a popular song from the period-appropriate 1910s). Even in its brevity it manages to convey the emotional breadth of the doomed romance. The soaring “Flying Over Africa” lifts the characters, and the listeners.

8. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (Maurice Jarre, 1962)

The producers reportedly considered a multitude of composers — including Malcolm Arnold, William Walton, Aram Khachaturian, Benjamin Britten and Richard Rodgers (whose early draft David Lean called “rubbish”) — before landing on the young Jarre, who already had been hired to orchestrate Rodgers’ score. Here’s the tune, “Theme from Lawrence of Arabia,” that sealed the deal.

9. ‘Harry Potter’ series (John Williams/Alexandre Desplat, 2001-11)

Williams composed the scores for only the first three films, but several of his melodies (including the main “Hedwig’s Theme,” heard in all eight movies) were incorporated throughout the franchise. Among Desplat’s contributions to the last two installments was a new theme for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. But who are we kidding, “Hedwig” is Harry Potter.

10. ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ (John Williams, 1997)

A showcase for cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the score includes a few Tibetan embellishments, but it’s mainly good, old Williams schmaltz. Ma’s exquisite performance in this main theme is enhanced by the delicate piano that introduces the melody and the horns that usher in the climax at 5:17.

11. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (Elmer Bernstein, 1960)

Is there a more, um, magnificent theme for a western? You can almost smell the gun smoke and hear the horses in Bernstein’s masterful use of rousing strings and syncopated horns in the iconic main title. The propulsive score is a necessary tonic to the film’s slow-moving action, and indeed, Bernstein said, “I remember being very excited when I found that opening rhythm. It was like a surge of energy.”

12. ‘Chariots of Fire’ (Vangelis, 1981)

Director Hugh Hudson resolved not to use a traditional orchestral score for this 1924-set drama, instead choosing electronic composer Vangelis to lend the film a modern sensibility and exuberance. The resulting synthesizer-driven music is a fine complement to the ambient national anthems, Gilbert and Sullivan snippets and English hymns. Cue the slo-mo!

13. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (John Williams, 1981)

Williams offered Steven Spielberg two melodies for Indiana Jones’ main theme, which at the director’s behest he combined into the now-familiar trumpet fanfare with a strings-and-horn bridge. Notable too is the segue from the sublimely romantic “Marion’s Theme” to the screeching strings and ominous low horns of “The Crate,” evoking the villains of the 1930s serials the film emulates. Grab your whip for “The Raiders March.”

14. ‘Gone With the Wind’ (Max Steiner, 1939)

The grandeur of Steiner’s score instantly conjures the old South, for good or ill. Producer David O. Selznick insisted he incorporate contemporaneous music, including Stephen Foster tunes and “Dixie,” to anchor the film in the Civil War era. But it’s this romantic and magisterial melody that puts you on the lawn at Tara.

15. ‘South Pacific’ (Richard Rodgers, 1958)

The only musical on this list, it spawned the showtune classics “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and, perhaps most famously, “Some Enchanted Evening.” But the most enchanting of the bunch just might be “This Nearly Was Mine.” Listen to Giorgio Tozzi’s gorgeous bass, dubbing for actor Rossano Brazzi.

16. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series (Klaus Badelt/Hans Zimmer/Geoff Zanelli, 2003-17)

Products of Zimmer’s Remote Control film score company, these soundtracks sound like a sampler from any number of action movies. But they are fun! The bombastic anthems, rollicking chanteys and thundering choruses offer a pleasurable assault on the senses. Here’s Zimmer’s organ-infused “The Kraken” from Dead Man’s Chest.

17. ‘Jurassic Park’ (John Williams, 1993)

With the film’s signature theme, Williams sought to capture the “awesome beauty and sublimity of the dinosaurs in nature,” which he accomplished admirably. But as we know, things don’t stay pastoral for long in this world. For the most harrowing scenes (kids in the kitchen!) he borrowed his own technique from Jaws — the menacing four-note sequence that ups the intensity to 11. Let’s lower our stress level with that main theme.

18. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (Dario Marianelli, 2005)

Beethoven’s early piano sonatas became “a point of reference” for this elegant score, Marianelli has said, and the gentle, romantic tone is in good hands with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Before filming began, Marianelli composed several pieces for the actors to play onscreen, which helped inform the rest of the music. “Dawn” opens the film.

19. ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (Erich Korngold, 1938)

Korngold originally turned down this project because, as an opera composer, he thought it had too much action! But the Nazis’ invasion of his home country of Austria compelled him to remain in the United States and stick to it, with fortuitous results. The swashbuckling score, with its Wagnerian flourishes and regal splendor, propelled Korngold to the top ranks of movie composers. “March of the Merry Men” puts a fine sword point on it.

20. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Elmer Bernstein, 1962)

The Magnificent Seven composer took a far different approach to this tender story, grounding it in “the magic of a child’s world” with the high registers of the piano, flute, bells and harp. That nostalgic music-box quality, contrasted with this dark and foreboding “Ewell’s Hatred,” perfectly expresses the tensions of the 1930s South.

21. ‘Breakfast at Tiffany's’ (Henry Mancini, 1961)

You had us at “Moon River,” Henry. Legend has it that star Audrey Hepburn saved this classic from being cut by the producers, who called it “dead weight.” The melody (in infinite variations) weaves itself in and out of Mancini’s jazzy, lounge-inflected score, providing a poignant counterpart. Here is Hepburn’s version.

22. ‘Apollo 13’ (James Horner, 1995)

The patriotic drum cadence and trumpet fanfare that open the main title give way to a more reverent melody that speaks to the lofty goals of space exploration, before “Master Alarm” ratchets up the anxiety with heart-pounding drums and horn crescendos. You can see the sweat on Tom Hanks’ brow! Breathe a sigh of relief with the triumphant “Re-Entry and Splashdown.”

23. ‘Ben Hur’ (Miklos Rozsa, 1959)

In this massive score (befitting a 212-minute epic), Rosza carved out distinct themes for each group — Roman (strident and percussive), Macedonian (sinister and disquieting), Jewish (melancholy and minor key) and Christian (stirring and major key). The classic chariot race has no musical accompaniment, but listen to the triumphant “Parade of the Charioteers.”

24. ‘Last of the Mohicans’ (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, 1992)

Director Michael Mann changed his mind on the music so many times that original composer Jones’ electronic score had to be refashioned for traditional orchestra at the 11th hour, with Edelman brought in to augment minor scenes. Mann was so besotted with Scottish folkie Dougie MacLean’s “The Gael” that he requested it be adapted into the main theme, “Promentory.” His instincts were right, as its hypnotic fiddle befits the Gaelic influence on early American music.

25. ‘North by Northwest’ (Bernard Herrmann, 1959)

You’ll never look at Mount Rushmore again without hearing Herrmann’s distinctly nonmelodic but dynamic score, one of seven he composed for Alfred Hitchcock. He used the Spanish fandango with its heavy reliance on percussion (castanets and even hand-clapping) for the clashing rhythms that set the tone for the chaos thrust upon unwitting adman Roger Thornhill.

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