Perhaps the greatest film composer of his time, John Williams has composed more than 75 film scores. Williams has a way of simplifying an entire movie score, theme, or character into a few powerful measures. When we see one Indiana Jones poster or shark attack, we think of William’s accompanying music before it plays. With two notes he created a villain, and with a simple chorus he makes galaxies far, far away and fantastic worlds seem like our own backyard.
When Disney bought Star Wars in 2012, many fans were skeptical about a new trilogy, but everyone agreed that if Disney were going to make new movies, John Williams should write the score. The Academy nominated him for a whopping 52 Oscars (making him the most nominated person alive), awarding him five. Williams not only stirs emotion with his work, he is a master storyteller. While listening to its soundtracks, you can’t help but imagine the characters, images or conflicts that would appear on the screen. While we won’t attempt to rank all 75 of his composed works, here are some of John Williams’ best.
8 Far away
Ron Howard’s nostalgic film about the Oklahoma landrush received mixed reviews, but the score is undeniably a work of art. In Far away the daughter of a wealthy landlord and a struggling potato farmer move from Ireland to America in search of their own land. Williams captures the excitement, risk and hope of the immigrants of the late 1800s. He fantastically fuses the musical identities of the two different countries into one all-encompassing score. The beautifully scored pairing with breathtaking cinematography gives viewers a new appreciation for the Midwest and an often overlooked piece of history.
ET the alien follows a story about a suburban boy who befriends an alien. ‘Williams’ score for this film gives a typical California neighborhood an otherworldly feel. According to Movie Music UK, John Williams creatively rubbed a symbol with a super ball to create the strange sounds of the aliens. The score perfectly embodies several of the film’s villains, heroes, and aliens by giving each of them a motif that feels like their character. According to the same site, Williams captures ET’s character with a lone bellboy who portrays the isolation he feels alone on Earth. Williams’ understanding of character ties this classic film in a neat arc.
6 Jurassic Park
Dinosaurs are often seen for their aggressive nature. After all, a Tyrannosaurus Rex would be an unstoppable opponent in combat. However, Williams changed many of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park in lovable and majestic creatures with only his wonderful music. The main theme for Jurassic Park promotes compassion for nature and creatures. But when things go wrong, he and the director have no problem reminding us of the dangers of dinosaurs, despite their magnificence. In this film, Williams gave us a new perspective on an ancient symbol.
5 Raiders of the Lost Ark
History isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but John Williams’ score brings life to the ancient historical artifacts Raiders of the Lost Ark† Indiana Jones’ journey to discover treasures before they fall into the wrong hands is rarely dull. That’s partly due to the energy William’s music brings to the film. He helps us feel connected to both the characters and history, with Williams once again striking the perfect balance between tender emotions and epic suspense. Not to mention, Indiana’s motif is probably one of the most famous in movie history.
4 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What does magic sound like? Thanks to John Williams, we may know the answer. Williams’ celesta gives “Hedwig’s Theme” a bell-like magical sound, and the full orchestra adds a power and majesty that reflects the setting. In the score for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, he transports us to the world beyond our wildest dreams. The whimsical music of Harry Potter helps viewers stay immersed in the fantastic world, whatever they see there.
It took John Williams only two notes to create the most exciting and iconic movie song of all time. Everyone recognizes Jaws‘Duh-Duh’ sound without ever having to watch the movie; iIt has become a cultural symbol in the United States that is ingrained in the poplexicon. John Williams explained the thought process behind it: jawsscored herself in a 2012 interview with Limelight magazine. “I just started playing with motifs that could be spread in the orchestra, and decided what I thought was the most powerful, that is, the simplest,” he said. “Like most ideas, they are often the most persuasive.”
2 Schindler’s List
The tragedy of the events of World War II still haunts many. Somehow Williams captures both the haunting sadness and lingering optimism of some concentration camp survivors in the score for Schindler’s List† His score starts softly but builds up into a strong, impetuous and beautiful melody. Who knew that a song could make us feel powerful and powerless at the same time? It almost challenges the listeners to respond.
1 Star Wars: A New Hope
Williams’ epic soundtrack for the Star Wars universe is almost as iconic as the franchise itself. When we think of Star Wars, we think of the music. Williams broke new ground with this soundtrack. Most sci-fi movies of the 1980s used synthesizers and other electronic instruments to make the space as alienating and strange as possible. William’s soundtrack for Star Wars: A New Hope did just the opposite. He brought in familiar sounds and emotional cues that made viewers feel right at home on every spaceship or planet in the film. He helps us deal with the heroes and fear the villains in the far galaxy. Williams’ contributions didn’t stop there – he continued to work on Star Wars movies until 2019, now the baton has passed to Kevin Kiner. He has big shoes (and orchestra pits) to fill.
The Star Wars franchise has consistently released new episodes since 1977, so how do they all stack up?
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