HomeAll ListsStaff Profiles

Top 10 Instrumental Movie Scores


In order for a film to reach the highest level of commercial and international success it must have a good soundtrack.  Whether it be a compilation of classic songs or an original musical composition, ever since the beginning of contemporary film making music has been used to accentuate the most famous movie scenes.  I have collected a list of some of the greatest instrumental movie themes.

10. Enya - Book of Days

Movie Soundtrack - Far and Away

Enya is an Irish singer, instrumentalist, and composer.  She has a unique sound, mixing voice-layering and folk melodies to make incredible music.  She is Ireland’s best selling single vocal artist and is behind only U2 in record sales.  Far and Away is a 1992 adventure film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The movie tells the story of two Irish immigrants seeking their fortune in 1890s America. 

The musical score from this film is outstanding.  Predominately written by mastermind John Williams, it features an Irish based musical angle.  The specific song that I have selected is Enya’s Book of Days.  The original composition was in Gaelic, but an English version was later released. 

9. Vangelis - Chariots of Fire

Movie Soundtrack - Chariots of Fire

Vangelis is a Greek composer with a progressive and neo classic musical style.  He has written music for the movies Blade Runner and 1492: Conquest of Paradise, but is internationally known for his work on the picture Chariots of Fire.  The British film was released in 1981 and tells the true story of two athletes preparing for the 1924 Summer Olympics.  Harold Abrahams was a Jewish man who overcame anti-Semitism and class prejudice to win the 100 metre race against the “Flying Scotsman,” Eric Liddell. 

Vangelis composition gave Chariots of Fire an inspirational musical theme.  It succeeded in giving the film an international underdog feeling.  Still today this music gives hope to people who have overcome obstacles to succeed in their ultimate goals.  In May 1982 this song reached #1 on U.S. charts, #12 in the UK and in Japan was the biggest selling single of 1981.  To date, this tune remains the only song by a Greek artist to top the U.S. charts.

8. Alan Silvestri - Forrest Gump Suite

Movie Soundtrack - Forrest Gump

Alan Silvestri is an academy award nominated film score composer.  He is well known for his numerous collaborations with director Robert Zemeckis.  He created the music for films including Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future trilogy, Cast Away, The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Forrest Gump.  Forrest Gump was released in 1994 and tells the story of a man and his epic journey through life.  

The movie stars Tom Hanks and won a total of six Academy Awards.  Forrest Gump made $677 million dollars worldwide during its theatrical release.  The soundtrack is exceptional, consisting of mainly hit music from the 1960’s.  Alan Silvestri’s musical composition was well recieved.  It is a rather somber piece and is used in the film during emotional scenes.

7. Steve Stevens & Harold Faltermeyer 
Top Gun Anthem

Movie Soundtrack - Top Gun

Steve Stevens is an American guitarist and songwriter.  Stevens’s solo career never really took off, but he is an in-demand session guitarist.  He is incredibly talented and has played behind some of the biggest names in music, most notably Billy Idol and Vince Neil.  Top Gun is a film that was released in 1986 and follows Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a young Naval aviator who aspires to be the best pilot in the U.S. force. 

The movie made $350 million worldwide and set home-video sales records.  The Top Gun Anthem was performed by Stevens on guitar and Harold Faltermeyer on the piano.  The composition is unique with its blend of these instruments.  The song won the 1987 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

6. John Williams - Jurassic Park Theme

Movie Soundtrack - Jurassic Park

John Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist.  He has won five Academy Awards and created many of the world’s most famous film scores.  Williams has worked on all but two of Steven Spielberg’s movies.  Recently he has also composed music for the Olympic Games, NBC Nightly News, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  He might be the most successful and renowned musical composer alive today. 

Jurassic Park is a Steven Spielberg film that was released in 1993.  It is based on a Michael Creighton novel and tells the story of the Island Isla Nublar, where scientists have learned to clone dinosaurs.  The Jurassic Park theme is used throughout the film during important sequences.  Just listening to it makes you want to take an adventure to the lost Island.

5. John Williams - Hedwig’s Theme

Movie Soundtrack - Harry Potter Films

John Williams composed and conducted the Harry Potter theme.  Harry Potter is the title character of J.K. Rowlings fantasy series.  The story revolves around seven years in the life of Potter, who realizes that he is a wizard on his eleventh birthday.  Williams score was first featured in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and has subsequently been used in all the films.  It was nominated for the Academy Award in 2002, but lost out to Howard Shore and the Lord of the Rings musical theme. 

The piano collaboration paints the picture of the mysterious and unknown, which embodies the Potter movies.  It has a majestic feel that helps bring the viewer into the world of magic.  This version that I have added is performed by the famous French pianist Richard Clayderman.  Hedwig’s Theme has achieved significant pop culture status of late and is featured in many forms of multimedia.  It will only continue to grow as the last Harry Potter movies are released.

4. James Horner - Braveheart Theme

Movie Soundtrack - Braveheart

James Horner is an American composer of orchestral and film music.  He is extremely successful and has created the music for hits such as Star Trek II, Cocoon, Aliens, Willow, Glory, A Beautiful Mind, and TitanicBraveheart is a 1995 historical drama that tells the tale of William Wallace, a famous Scottish man who came to the forefront of the First War of Scottish Independence.  The movie won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson. 

The music Horner created for this film is astounding.  Using his traditional orchestral style he highlights the bag pipes in this endeavor, blending various kinds of Irish themes and sound.  The music for the film was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.  The music will help transport you into the wide open hills of Ireland.

3. Clint Mansell - Lux Aeterna

Movie Soundtrack - Requiem for a Dream

Clint Mansell is an English musician and composer.  He was originally the lead singer and guitarist of the band Pop Will Eat Itself, but broke into the world of film scoring in 1996 with the movie Pi.  Requiem for a Dream is a movie that was released in 2000.  The film depicts different forms of addiction, which leads the title characters into a downward spiral of desperation.  The film has some disturbing images and has been praised for its realism.  Mansell is probably the least known artist on this list, but he has gained an extensive cult following over the years.  

The music for the film was performed by the Kronos Quartet.  Mansell's unique style mixes an extensive arrangement of string instruments.  Kronos is a string quartet that features two violins, a viola, and a cello.  This title work has been given the name Lux Aeterna and is famous for using string instruments to create a cold and discomforting sound.  Lux Aeterna has achieved a certain amount of mainstream success over the years and has been used in various forms of media.

2. John Williams - Somewhere in my Memory

Movie Soundtrack - Home Alone

John Williams created the music for the 1990 comedy Home Alone.  The movie tells the story of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister who is left behind when his family visits Paris.  Home Alone grossed $478 million at the internatinal box office.  The soundtrack is one of the best holiday records ever written.  Be sure to listen past the 1:30 mark in the video because that is when the tune gets good.

1. James Horner - Hymn to the Sea

Movie Soundtrack - Titanic

James Horner makes his second appearance on the list with his composition of the theme to the movie Titanic.  Director James Cameron originally intended for Enya to compose the music, but when she declined he insisted Horner do it.  James Horner created the work with Enya’s style in mind and Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjeb performed the wordless vocals on the soundtrack.  Horner also co-wrote the equally impressive song My Heart Will Go On which was performed by Celine Dion. 

Originally, Cameron did not want to use a vocal during the film’s ending credits, but when Horner presented Dion’s recording of My Heart Will Go On things quickly changed.  James Horner won two Academy Awards for his work on the film.  The soundtrack became the highest-selling primarily orchestral film score ever made.  The movie Titanic is the second highest grossing film in history bringing in an incredible $1.8 billion worldwide.  The film was an amazing collaboration of writing, direction, and music.


Emmanuel - April 12, 2010
Poor collection; Original scores like James Horner's in A beautiful mind; John William's in Schindler's list; Hans Zimmers mixed tunes in Gladiator; Michael Giachhino's light classical in Up; Clint Eastwoods Japanese light mix in Letters form Iwo Jima; To analyse this effectively look out for how the scores capture the mood of the film, the feeling it leaves you after the film ends ( it should put in you a visual recreation in your thoughts even after the film ends) and ofcourse the more diificult scores are those that combine various tunes i.e. so much other instruments like light bands,trombone  etc and not just light classicals that thomas newmann and Michael Giacchino is so fond of.

Bryan - April 14, 2010
Thanks for the good suggestions.  I have included some of your choices.

Michael Giacchino - Up Theme

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard - Gladiator Theme

John Williams - Schindler's List Theme

Features violin player Itzhak Perlman

Rachel - April 14, 2010
What about the Jaws theme?

Alice - August 31, 2010

I think the best soundtrack of all time is Kissing You from Romeo and Juliet.

Copyright The List Blog - Top 10, All Rights Reserved, Posted May 6, 2009