Film scores and soundtracks play a critical role in the cinematic experience. Sometimes a filmmaker utilizes previously recorded material, and in many cases, film scores are written by a composer hired to produce a song for a certain scene or a soundtrack for entirety of the project. The director and music composer work together to ideally attain the perfect score, to elevate the mood of the scenes and heighten the emotion of the film.
This element of filmmaking is vital for the success of the project. There are various musical masters in the industry that are known for composing phenomenal film scores. It is not simple for composer / musician to match the tone of the film or scene, therefore the director and composer need to have a mutual understanding when doing so. Many of the most memorable and popular films have elevated the viewers’ experience by having brilliant scores. Many are so emblematic that they are easily identifiable by moviegoers.
The most visceral soundtrack of the modern era (arguably) would have to be the original score of Joker. Masterfully composed by the Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir, the score won many awards including an Oscar. The film follows the life of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). He is a mentally troubled man who, after a series of mishaps, begins to embark on a downward spiral that leads to the creation of an iconic villain (The Joker).
The score for the Joker had to reflect the dark and heavy tone, and it successfully did so. Unlike the process of many other directors, Todd Phillips gave the Icelandic musician the script of the movie, and asked her to start composing the music on the spot. This led to a very raw and despondent soundtrack. The music lurks in the background at the right time, and it was useful since it subtly revealed Arthur’s feelings without much use of dialogue. The director has mentioned that in certain scenes he gave room for Phoenix to improvise. You can see that in the bathroom dance scene, where he casually dances in front of the mirror. This space given to the actor blended with the masterfully composed songs, proved to be extremely effective and unsettling.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
The Grammy-nominated composer, Clint Mansell has written and composed scores for numerous film, but his talent and sensitivity was truly revealed in the movie Requiem for a Dream. It helped him kickstart his career as a writer / composer. It’s a movie about four Coney Islanders drug addicts, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their next fix.
The soundtrack was a breakout hit and rippled through the minds and ears of film enthusiasts for years. The piece called “Lux Aeterna” became the most iconic song of the film. It is a haunting orchestration that helps further the feeling of despair and desperation within the characters. It also sounds like it came straight out from a Halloween film. It’s an experience similar to watching a horror film. This achievement solidified the partnership between the director, Darren Aronofsky, and the British composer as they went on to work in multiple projects together.
Licorice Pizza (2021)
Set within the San Fernando Valley in the early 70s, Licorice Pizza accomplishes what many films haven’t: It transports the viewer to a specific period in time. Within the soundtrack, the choice of songs and synchronicity with the scenes couldn’t fit better. As a viewer watching this film, you feel the sensation of being young and free in a simpler time, due to this synchronicity previously mentioned.
The score features songs by David Bowie, Nina Simone, Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry and more. Besides the meticulously chosen songs, director Paul Thomas Anderson manages to achieve something beyond just entertainment. He was able to create an eclectic mix of moods within the story. It seems like there’s a song for every mood and every emotion.The songs complement the actions happening on the screen. Fundamentally, this film score adds depth to the story and to the characters causing the audience to get emotionally involved in the movie and care about the characters.
With an unforgettable and intoxicating soundtrack, Drive became one of the most stylish and slick action films of the decade. In addition to that, the songs that were picked scrupulously, fit in perfectly with this image of a gunslinger with a car. The film stars a brilliant Ryan Gosling, who plays a mysterious Hollywood stuntman— also a getaway driver.
The songs helped elevate the storytelling considerably. In fact, the sound editing for this film was even nominated for an Oscar. As the driver cruises through Los Angeles in his 1973 Chevrolet Malibu, 80s-inspired synthesized melodies play in the background, like ‘Nightcall.’ It’s an unexpected soundtrack for a movie of this kind, but the mood and tone of the film resonates perfectly with the intention of the filmmaker. It was a bold choice, and certainly worked for audiences.
Halloween is over four decades old, but it’s a bona fide classic. Regardless of the time period it was made, when talking about film scores, this movie has one of the most fitting and iconic of them all. The story takes place 15 years after Michael Myers murders his sister and escapes from a mental hospital, only to begin killing again.
Skillfully directed by the great John Carpenter, this film is suspenseful and frightening, and the haunting soundtrack definitely elevated the storytelling. Comparable to Psycho, this movie’s score was revolutionary. Interestingly, it was composed by the director himself. It is said that producers could not hire a composer for this project due to the small budget, and since John had studied music before, he did it. He also made the bold decision to use synthesizers (rarely used when scoring horror films) in order to create the dissonant theme that is incredibly unsettling throughout.
NEXT: 8 Movies With A Better Soundtrack Than Plot