Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 3

Welcome back to my countdown of the 60 Best Movie Instrumental Themes. In my opinion of course. To look back at numbers 60 to 46, click here, and for 45 to 31, click here.

Once again, guidelines. These are full instrumental pieces, no lyrics, save for potentially a choir, that were written directly for a film. Let me know what you think of these beautiful babies!

30. Promontory – Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman

This is the kind of theme you want for dashing through forests, cutting down your enemies, and saving the woman you love. The main refrain of “Promontory,” and the entire score of The Last of the Mohicans, is actually taken from the Scottish song, “The Gael.” It definitely gives the piece an ancient sort of feel, with bagpipes and strings provide the main propulsion of the song, while orchestra adds sweeping textures. Violins and drums swell and recede throughout the song, but the main refrain continues on and on throughout its runtime, giving it a tireless, driving, and focused feel that is both romantic and adventurous.

29. Peppy and George – Ludovic Bource

After many ups and downs, The Artist ends in joyous, old school fashion. George Valentine is saved from a destroyed career and nearly life-ending depression by Peppy and their film-finishing dance is both the means to his salvation and a perfect representation of his character’s rebirth. You can feel their happiness and they dance their feet off. “Peppy and George” is unabashedly happy, ending the film on a note that puts a smile on your face.

28. Time – Hans Zimmer

Christopher Nolan’s Inception ends with nearly no words for the last five minutes, but with Zimmer’s “Time” scoring the finale, why would you want anything else pouring into your ears? After journeying through mind-bending dreamscapes and complex heists, our hero’s journey ends on a purely emotional note that is all about closure and acceptance. Swelling strings, pounding horns, and pulsating drums all drive us toward the end, only to be undercut with a quiet piano near the end. And that final, ambiguous note. It’s enough to take your breath away.

27. Flight – Hans Zimmer

Zimmer made a smart move when he crafted Superman’s new theme for Man of Steel, he went the opposite route of John Williams’ and his unmistakable theme for 1979’s Superman. “Flight” is still majestic, but it has a dark sense of gravitas. It’s almost struggling to reach those heights, much like The Man of Tomorrow himself in this film. That single electric guitar ringing out an ascending note signals the most recognizable piece of the theme before the score kicks into full gear. But once it gets going, it goes all out. Drums pound, the orchestra swells along with the guitar, and a full choir belts out the distinctive notes. It is chill inducing, inspiring, and extremely badass.

26. Romantic Flight – John Powell

This is such a peaceful, beautiful, and sweet score for a very romantic scene. How to Train Your Dragon is a thrilling movie, but it’s also very focused on friendship and love. Like the scene it scores, Powell’s “Romantic Flight” is full of romance, but is still soft and elegant. The single fiddle that opens the piece is already extremely moving, but once it transitions into a full orchestra, it becomes absolutely brilliant. Hiccup and Astrid bond in a short but gorgeous flight through the pastel-colored skies on the back of Toothless, and the score really punches in the emotion and wonder you are meant to feel. It’s one of the most memorable tracks from a score filled with awe-inspiring music.

25. Concerning Hobbits – Howard Shore

It’s the sweetest, most innocent sounding theme from The Lord of the Rings, and it should be, too. The hobbits live a simple, fun life that is not concerned with war or power or rings. While it starts off The Fellowship of the Ringis a sweet and simple manner, it is later used to symbolize the innocence lost by Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin throughout their journey. By the end of The Return of the King, it’s a powerful example of how Frodo can never truly return to his former life. What starts a being purely happy becomes bittersweet.

24. Han Solo and The Princess – John Williams

This is a deft mix between romance and menace. Of course, so is much of The Empire Strikes Back as a whole. Han Solo and Princess Leia’s romance is both star crossed and seemingly doomed. The first half of “Han Solo and The Princess” is a light, romantic piece that quickly makes an impression as the two characters begin to fall in love. It’s the blueprint for all of Williams’ romantic themes throughout the Star Wars trilogy. The second half crashes in without warning – The Empire has arrived! It’s everything you want from both sides of what makes the Star Wars scores so great.

23. The Batman Theme – Danny Elfman

Until The Dark Knight Trilogy, this was the piece of music that audiences far and wide associated with Batman. Danny Elfman’s score is dark and mysterious while still feeling heroic. It feels like the opposite of John Williams’ “Superman Theme,” which is soaring and majestic. Instead, this feels like the proper theme for a man who cloaks himself in shadows and the shape of a bloodsucking creature of the night. No matter how many themes might be created for The Caped Crusader, this one will always have special meaning for fans.

22. Star Trek Main Theme – Jerry Goldsmith

There have been a lot of different Star Trek themes over the years, ranging from show to show and film to film, but none of them top the original movie’s theme for me. The “Star Trek Main Theme” really feels like adventure and exploration. It’s bold, but not over the top. It’s inspiring, but also low key at points. Goldsmith really made leaps and bounds over the theme for the original television series once Star Trek went to the big screen. This feels like the way you should score a story like Star Trek, and it has informed the way both movies and TV shows in the series have been scored ever since.

21. Blade Runner (End Titles) – Vangelis

Could Blade Runner end on a more perfect note than a quick cut to black and Vangelis’ “Blade Runner (End Titles)” kicking in as the credits begin to roll? Vangelis’ synth is at its most frenetic. While most of the film’s score is played cool and mysterious, the master composer decides to finally kick things into high gear once the movie is actually over. Pounding bass drums, twinkling chimes, cascading bells, and a plaintive synth all combine to make “Blade Runner (End Titles)” a dark, intense, and beautiful piece of music. The film’s resolution is both satisfying and frustrating, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen to Deckard and Rachael now that they are on the run. Their future is uncertain, but this piece brings images of chases, danger, and near-misses that will never actually be seen.

20. Derezzed – Daft Punk

This is probably the most Daft Punk-like of all of the TRON: Legacy score. There’s not a bit of orchestra in sight and it’s frenetically layered pieces of electronica make it feel equal parts action score and club music. Which is perfect, since it plays over a hardcore hand-to-hand fight scene on dance floor of a club and Daft Punk themselves are spinning the song. “Derezzed” is tightly wound, with its signature rhythm swirling around and around as the pitch goes up and down, at times glitching out and at others sinking down below the surface. It’s dizzying, electrifying, and propulsive.

19. Corynorhinus – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

This is the best of both world’s when it comes to the themes present in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Howard’s quiet and introspective piano work and Zimmer’s bold orchestral focus combine to showcase both sides of the score as well as Bruce Wayne’s personality. Howard provides a great deal of introspection and a sense of loss to the beginning of “Corynorhinus,” tying in the themes of Bruce Wayne’s childhood for scenes dealing with the burnt down Wayne Manor. Once he film cuts to Batman meeting with Gordon by the Bat Signal, Zimmer’s orchestration for the new Batman theme subtle blends in until it takes over. It’s dark and cold, but also triumphant, ending the film on an incredibly strong note.

18. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade End Credits – John Williams

This is a bit of a cheat, since it includes so many different pieces from throughout the film. But Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade has so much fantastic music it would be criminal to not recognize it. In fact, this may be the score that made me start to become interested in film scores many years ago. “End Credits” actually starts at the emotional resolution of the film, blossoming as Indy and his father reconcile completely and then turning into the triumphant Raiders theme as they ride off into the sunset. From there we get the various themes from throughout the film, including the thrilling “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” and “Brother of the Cruciform Sword.” It’s bold, it’s soaring, it’s emotional, and it’s an amazing resolution to the film and the original three films as a whole.

17. Transformation – Alan Menken

The emotional climax of Beauty and the Beast is a powerful and beautiful moment that mixes sadness and joy at the same time. While it’s the resolution of an hour and a half of deeply investing in the lead characters, it is also because of Menken’s “Transformation.” What starts as a mournful score for the death of the Beast quietly yet quickly transitions into something magical and eventually triumphant. “Transformation” runs the gamut of emotions, making it all the sweeter when it ends on such a joyous and bright note as the choir belts out the chorus from the film’s main theme. Happily ever after, indeed.

16. Harvey Two-Face – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

This is the musical version of a fall from grace. Like Harvey Dent himself, “Harvey Two-Face” begins like a shining white knight, with glimmering strings and heroic horns. But halfway through, the score falls into darkness. Horns begin to show signs of darkness until they become foreboding and menacing, propelled forward by rolling drums. But all the while, it maintains a sense of poignancy and sadness, fitting for a man whose decent into madness is as terrifying as it is sympathetic.

And that brings us to the end of Part 3 of this very long, very intensive list. But it’s been a lot of fun so far! Click here for the next entry, where we get into the songs that absolutely slay me.


3 thoughts on “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 3

  1. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 5 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 4 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  3. Pingback: Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 2 – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

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