The Movies and the Music: Oscar-winning film scores of the '70s

'Jaws' poster artUniversal

February 03, 2017

As our decade-by-decade look at Oscar-winning film music continues, we're looking at scores from the 1970s: when the modern summer blockbuster was invented. Catch up with our looks at Oscar-winning scores of the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s — and for highlights from every decade, listen to Lynne Warfel's three-hour special on the Movies and the Music.

1971: Frances Lai, Love Story (not a musical); the Beatles, Let It Be (original or adaptation)

This year, George C. Scott became the first actor ever to reject an Oscar. The Academy Awards were "a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons," said Scott in rejecting his Oscar for Patton. The Beatles also didn't show up to accept their Oscar for Let It Be, but they allowed host Quincy Jones to accept on their behalf. French composer Frances Lai did walk onstage, gladly, to accept his Oscar for Love Story, one of the most famously schmaltzy scores in film history. Recorded by Andy Williams, the film's theme became "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story," a top-ten single.

1972: Michel Legrand, Summer of '42 (drama); John Williams, Fiddler on the roof (original song score or adaptation)

France went back-to-back as Lai's Oscar was followed by a win for Summer of '42 composer Michel Legrand. It was his second of three Academy Awards, the first being for the song "The Windmills of Your Mind" from 1968's Thomas Crown Affair (he lost that year's scoring award to John Barry's Lion in Winter). Also this year, John Williams won his first Oscar, for adapting Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof to the big screen. Little could anyone have guessed he would become a dominant force in film music for the next quarter-century.

1973: Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Rasch, and Larry Russell, Limelight (dramatic); Ralph Burns, Cabaret (adaptation)

That's right: Charlie Chaplin won an Oscar in 1973 — for a film he'd made 20 years previously, made eligible when it screened in Los Angeles for the first time in 1972. Even stranger, it would prove to be the film legend's only competitive Academy Award win, although he'd already by that point received two honorary awards. Ralph Burns took the adapted-score award for his work on Cabaret, which won Best Director for Bob Fosse (and two acting awards, for Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey) but lost Best Picture to The Godfather.

1974: Marvin Hamlisch, The Way We Were (drama); Marvin Hamlisch, The Sting (adaptation)

In Oscar history, this year's ceremonies are best remembered for the streaker who ran across the stage, prompting host David Niven to quip, "Probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings."

It was also, however, the year that Marvin Hamlisch double-dipped in the Best Score categories — winning for two movies that both starred Robert Redford. Best Picture winner The Sting earned a statuette for Hamlisch's adaptations of ragtime numbers like "The Entertainer," an unlikely top five hit; and Hamlisch also won Best Original Dramatic Score for the Streisand-Redford romance The Way We Were.

1975: Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, The Godfather Part II (drama); Nelson Riddle, The Great Gatsby (adaptation)

The Godfather Part II earned twice as many Oscars as the first installment, and one of the upgrades was a win for Rota, whose first Godfather score had its nomination revoked after it was discovered he'd used similar music in a 1958 comedy. (His cowriter, Carmine Coppola, was the director's father.) Riddle, who was legendary for his work arranging Sinatra's orchestras, took the adapted-score Oscar for his interpretations of Jazz Age classics in The Great Gatsby, as once again the presence of Redford ensured Best Score gold.

1976: John Williams, Jaws (original score); Leonard Rosenman, Barry Lyndon (adaptation)

John Williams's Jaws score wasn't his most influential, but it's right up there with Star Wars in being his most iconic. The ominously sawing strings were inextricable from the impact of the film, which is widely regarded as the first "summer blockbuster": the movie that demonstrated what lucre was to be made in event movies, marking the beginning of the end of the auteur as Hollywood darling. In the adapted-score category, Leonard Rosenman won for knitting several classical compositions into a soundscape for Stanley Kubrick's glacially-paced costume drama.

1977: Jerry Goldsmith, The Omen (original); Leonard Rosenman, Bound for Glory (adapted)

Rocky won Best Picture this year, but its composer Bill Conti — who would go on to be musical director of the Academy Awards ceremony for a record 19 times — wasn't even nominated for the score, easily his most recognizable work. (He would later win for The Right Stuff.) Instead, Jerry Goldsmith won the only Oscar of his career: for his creepy Omen score. Leonard Rosenman took the adapted-score award for the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory.

1978: John Williams, Star Wars (original); Jonathan Tunick, A Little Night Music (adapted)

The 50th Academy Awards featured Bob Hope's final hosting gig and a big win for composer John Williams, who took the richly-deserved Oscar for what might be the single most influential film score in history. Star Wars lost Best Picture to Annie Hall (this was still the '70s, after all), but the Academy couldn't deny the impact of Williams's powerful and melodic score. After this, Williams was enshrined as the most famous film composer of all time, eventually to become America's favorite composer bar none. In the adapted-score category, Jonathan Tunick won the only Oscar to go to the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music.

1979: Giorgio Moroder, Midnight Express (original); Joe Renzetti, The Buddy Holly Story (adapted)

John Williams (Superman), Ennio Morricone (Days of Heaven), Jerry Goldsmith (The Boys from Brazil), and Dave Grusin (Heaven Can Wait) all lost out to disco king Giorgio Moroder, who proved that dancefloor-ready synths could be used to score a prison drama in Midnight Express. (In fairness, the score has aged better than the movie.) Joe Renzetti took the adapted-score award for The Buddy Holly Story, one of the all-time great music biopics.

1980: Georges Delerue, A Little Romance (original); Ralph Burns, All That Jazz (adapted or song score)

The Oscars for films released in 1979 were presented on April 14, 1980, with host Johnny Carson joking towards the end of the long telecast that Jimmy Carter was negotiating for the guests' release from the ceremony. The films honored that night were a real twilight-of-the-70s selection: Kramer vs. Kramer (Best Picture and more), Norma Rae (Best Actress for Sally Field), Being There (Best Supporting Actor for Melvyn Douglas, who was 71 years older than his competing nominee Justin Henry from Kramer vs. Kramer). Best Original Score went to French composer Georges Delerue for the Paris-set A Little Romance, and Burns took the adapted-score Oscar for the Fosse flick All That Jazz.