Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 5

This is it, the final five! These are my favorite film score pieces of all time. Starting with around number 10, it was hard to put these in order, but these top five songs impact me like none other.

To look back at the previous 55 (wow!) songs that I listed, visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Let me know what you think of these songs and my rankings in the comment section below. As always, I can’t list everything and I’m sure there are plenty more amazing film scores out there that I simply haven’t heard. I’m only human after all.

5. This is Berk – John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite film scores of all time. It’s mix of orchestra, fiddle, chanting, and powerful drums make it feel timeless yet ancient at the same time. And “This is Berk” is the perfect introduction, giving listeners all of the themes up front without seeming pieced together. Starting out soft, this is the musical equivalent of a roller coaster ride, shooting up to majestic peaks and diving down into powerful brass bases.

The piece is at times mysterious and dangerous, at others bold and daring, and at others romantic. It really encompasses most of the feelings of the film as a whole, without being too obvious.  This is a world filled with adventure and danger, but it’s also equal parts funny and touching. Powell knows how to balance all of these elements and “This is Berk” is a perfect example of all those elements coming together at once.

Since this is an intro to the film, the piece should help to quickly transition viewers into the world, and it does so with ease. Once the action elements are in full swing, you are in and there’s no looking back. By itself, it works perfectly, too. It’s a rousing call to adventure and courage. “This is Berk” is the type of music you’d want behind you as you march into battle, it would seem like you couldn’t fail. It’s beautiful, it’s exciting, and it’s incredibly fun.

4. The Trio – Ennio Morricone

After nearly three hours of our three main characters double-crossing and clashing with one another, it all comes down to this: a three-way Mexican standoff at the center of an army graveyard at the height of the Civil War. The winner walks away with $200,000 in stolen gold. The other two will be dead. Rather than make the climax of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly a loud and crazy shootout, director Sergio Leone builds the tension to an almost unbearable climax.

The three men slowly move into position as “The Trio” begins. Once they are locked into place, it is all furrowed glances, fingers creeping toward holstered guns, and extreme close-ups. On top of the killer cinematography, it is Morricone’s tension-filled score that really propels the scene. The piece transitions between cyclical guitar picking and rising horns for several minutes until a single trumpet blares for all its worth, rising and rising until it cuts out and transition back into quiet guitar work with piano. The deliberate back and forth perfectly illustrates the hesitancy of these gunfighters with everything on the line and it tortures the audience with tension.

There’s even a sound of gunfire that plays out, a quick look inside the minds of the three men. After several rises and falls, the tension in the score is set on an unavoidable climax. Trumpets and strings blast out until it seems like the orchestra, and the audience, simply can’t take any more. It’s a tension that that can only be punctuated by gunfire. Who lives? Who dies? You’ll have to watch my favorite film of all time to find out for yourself.

3. Blade Runner Blues – Vangelis

Blade Runner is a dark, moody, rain-slicked piece of future noir that has an unmistakeable sense of beauty to it. And a big part of the reason for the mood and artistry present throughout the whole film is Vangelis’ synth heavy, jazz-influence score. There are many great pieces, like “Love Theme” and the previously listed “End Titles,” but it is “Blade Runner Blues” that is the heart and soul of the entire score. It’s a slow, lonely track that works in beautiful tandem with the cinematography and acting on display throughout its runtime.

Like the scenes it accompanies, “Blade Runner Blues” is dark and rain soaked. An ode to loneliness in a dark and uncertain future.  The star of the film, Rick Deckard, and the synthetic humans he is hunting down, the Replicants, all lead lonely, uncertain lives. They all long for something more. It’s at this point of quiet reflection and the search for connection that “Blade Runner Blues” really brings home the true feel of this movie. This constant fizzed-out hum in the background feels like light rain, while Vangelis’ lone synthesizer keeps a plaintive, cascading melody. It seems part improvised, part carefully thought out.

There’s a sense of cold comfort throughout “Blade Runner Blues,” a companionship in loneliness. It’s an incredibly peaceful yet moody track, with nothing calling out for attention at any time. Rather, it makes a deep impression by slowly enveloping the listener. It’s a real work of art, and no one will ever be able to create such relatable yet futuristic sounds for a film again like Vangelis did on Blade Runner.

2. TRON: Legacy (End Titles) – Daft Punk

Unlike many other pieces of score on this list, Daft Punk’s “TRON: Legacy (End Titles)” isn’t trying to convey a specific emotion or underscore something specific happening on screen. What it does is close out the film on a powerful, hypnotic note, creating a stronger viewing experience and greater meaning at the end of the film. For two hours, Daft Punk creates an amazing blend of the orchestral and the electronic, and it is at its strongest right here.

Rather than blend the two elements together like a majority of the tracks for TRON: Legacy, Daft Punk decides to create a dual layering. Bass and drums punch out a driving pulse that never alters, keeping “End Titles” at a propulsive and consistent rhythm. Fizzling synth creates a swirling rhythm that rises and falls, but never disappears or loses its focus. Halfway in, vibrant strings bring the “TRON: Legacy Overture” back in, soaring above the electronic beats but never overwhelming them.

It’s a transcendent piece of music that is somewhat undefinable. It doesn’t quite fit as a typical piece of scoring, since it has no specific scenes to highlight, nor is it a full-on dance number like “Derezzed” from earlier in the film. It’s this dichotomy that makes it such an intense, creative, and memorable piece, burning into your brain by its end. Daft Punk said that they were inspired at a young age by Wendy Carlos’ score for the original TRON and that they wanted to create an end titles piece that was as memorable as Vangelis’ for Blade Runner. They outdid them both.

1. Lasiurus – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

This may be the most low key, least thematic piece of music on this entire list. But Zimmer and Howard’s “Lasiurus” for Batman Begins is dripping with dark emotion, sadness, menace, and gorgeous textures. There’s no rousing call to action, no overt emotional notes. It’s a mournful piece of orchestral work that feels as shrouded in darkness as the Caped Crusader himself. The deep, heavy emotion on display has made it my favorite piece of film score for many years.

It also features Ra’s al Ghul’s theme, probably the least recognizable and rarest played of all the character pieces from The Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s only a few rising and falling notes played on a wood wind, heard at 1:50, but it’s quite elegant. It has a sense of mystery and sadness not found in most villain themes. It also has a slight similarity to the rising two-note Batman theme, linking the two characters in spirit.

“Lasiurus” really sets the tone for what type of movie Batman Begins is, along with the rest of the trilogy. It’s not a happy, light adventure film. Instead, it deals heavily with loss, tragedy, and emotional scarring. There’s also a sense of destiny and sacrifice that informs the heroism of Batman. The scenes “Lasiurus” accompanies, flashbacks to training with Ra’s and The Dark Knight standing watchful guard over Gotham, are intimate and focused. It’s this track that helps bring the emotional heft needed at these points.

While it’s never been completely spelled out, it seems like most of the emotional and human pieces of the Batman Beginsscore were done by Howard, while Zimmer worked on the action-heavy sequences. It leads me to believe that “Lasiurus” is mostly the work of Howard, although the bits of driving Batman-related score that drift in at the end are likely from Zimmer. They help close out the score with a greater sense of purpose and a real link to Batman’s focus. We get to see Bruce’s deeply wounded heart for most of “Lasiurus,” followed by the weapon he has forged himself into by using his grief and rage.

It’s unbeatable for me.

And that’s the end of my countdown for The 60 Greatest Film Score Pieces. Crafting this list took a long time and giving justice to each piece of music on the list was quite the undertaking for me. But it was worth it! Thank you for following along and taking this epic journey with me!

Let me know what you think of my final choices, what you think got the short end of the stick, and if you have a favorite movie score piece of all time!

Honorable Mentions: Define Dancing, The Breaking of the Fellowship, Theme from Halloween, Anvil of Crom, Gone with the Wind Main Title, Reunion of Friends, Flynn Lives, Man with a Harmonica, Death of Jonathan Kent, The Magnificent Seven Theme, The Game Has Changed, Gotham’s Reckoning, Theme from Predator, Bishop’s Countdown, The Secret of NIMH Main Title, Terminator Main Title, The Great Escape Theme, Vespertilio, The Avengers Theme, Freedom Theme, All Prayed Out, Release the Kraken, The Vikings Have Their Tea, Love Theme (Can You Read My Mind)

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One thought on “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 5

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

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