Top 10 Movie Themes

by Eric Melin on May 18, 2010

in Top 10s

Today’s Top 10 list comes from Scene-Stealers sitegoer Nick Clohessy from London. It’s a list of his personal favorite Top 10 Movie Themes and he’s gone so far as to locate each one so you can have a taste yourself. If you have a Top 10 you’d like to contribute, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com. Here’s Nick:

Just to clarify, I have not included pop music that was used in films (we have a Top 10 uses of Pop Songs in Movies list right here) or songs that were sung by the characters (like “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King”). I have only included pieces that are part of the score. Before we get to number 1, here are a few honorary mentions that didn’t quite make the top 10: “E.T Main Theme” by John William, “Batman Main Theme” by Danny Elfman, “Back to the Future Main Theme” by Alan Silvestri, “Psycho Theme” by Bernard Hermann, “Lord of the Rings” score by Howard Shore, and I haven’t included Nico Rota’s score from The Godfather, since he sections of it were taken from Eduardo De Filippo’s score from “Fortunella.”

10. “He’s a Pirate” by Hans Zimmer from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy (2003-2007)


I just love this piece of music. It is such a long ways away from the old image of pirate music, with sea shanties and a squeeze box. Zimmer takes us in a new direction and succeeds in splendid fashion.

9.”Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield from “The Exorcist” (1973)


There is something haunting about this piece of music. I first heard it before I saw “The Exorcist,” and even then I found it disturbing. Having seen the film, I find it impossible to hear without thinking about the silhouette of the priest standing under the street light with light pouring out of Regan’s window. An iconic image and an iconic piece of music.

8. “Hedwig’s Theme” by John Williams from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone” (2001)


This piece of music is magical! *Pauses for laughs* OK, enough crap jokes. But this music is wonderfully childlike. It captures the imagination and paints pictures more vivid than many composers can dream of.

7. “Dead Already” by Thomas Newman from “American Beauty” (1999)


This is one of the most original pieces of music in this list, since is is composed mainly for the percussion section of the orchestra. Is it both beautiful and somewhat haunting at the same time. Newman’s forefront use of the Vibraphone is a thing to behold.

6. “Jurassic Park Main Theme” by John Williams from “Jurassic Park” (1993)


Beautiful. That is the only word I can think of that is fitting to describe this theme. I guess it helps that “Jurassic Park” was released in the week of my 7th birthday and that as a child I was a dinosaur nut. I loved this film and I loved this piece of music. John Williams had managed to compose a piece of music that was fit the sheer awe-inspiring dinosaurs that Steven Spielberg had created.

5. “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Theme” by Ennio Morricone from “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” (1966)


Rhythmic drumming, whistling, woodwind, an electric guitar, chanting, yodeling, brass … this theme utilizes every type of sound you can think of to make an epic theme. This may be the oldest film on this list, but it is also the best known piece of music to ever to come from a Western.

4. “The Raiders March” by John Williams from The Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981-1989)


(I refuse to count that 4th film as an Indy film.) Iconic is the one word that best describes this theme. It’s also heroic, fun, bold, strong … but it has it’s tender moments too. Great theme for a great character. Another example of John Williams using the whole orchestra.

3. “Star Wars Main Theme” by John Williams from the “Star Wars” saga (1977-2005)


How could I not include this? Utilizing the entire orchestra, Williams once again creates a grand piece of music befitting a truly epic film series. Does anyone else think of a royal parade when they hear that brass section at the start?

2. “Dueling Banjos” by Arthur Smith, Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel from “Deliverance” (1972)


Without this little piece of brilliance, “Deliverance” would just be a film about hillbillies committing gay rape in the woods. With this piece of music, it’s about hillbillies committing gay rape in the woods AND a terrific musical performance. This upbeat piece of music doesn’t really set the scene for the unpleasantness later in the film, but it does bring a smile to people’s faces.

1. “Jaws Main Theme” by John Williams from “Jaws” (1975)


Here is a piece of music that simply creates suspense. The idea of alternating E and F is brilliant in it’s simplicity. Williams has managed to create a piece of music that sounds like it is slowly approaching you. The fact that Spielberg originally thought the music was a joke from Williams just goes to show that even a genius like Spielberg can make mistakes. And in my mind, it is the best piece film music ever written.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sean May 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

Great list, I loved hearing all the songs again. I have always been a big fan of listining to the sound tracks of movies. Happy to see Batman get an honorable mention, but said to see that Halloween & Superman didn’t make the cut.

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2 sean May 18, 2010 at 9:16 am

I meant to type “sad to see” instead of “Said to say”

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3 Reed May 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

Good list. I prefer the theme from “For A Few Dollars More” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLXQltR7vUQ) to “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” but it’s probably better to include the famous one for the list.

Some that would make my Top Ten:
Conan the Barbarian: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZY2mRG5mzg (be patient – music kicks in at 1:08)
Rosemary’s Baby: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFB8TYG8Vx8
Theme from Shaft: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAa5rP64YbQ
(edges out “Superfly” and “Trouble Man”, two more excellent choices)
And for the minimal option, “Brokeback Mountain” beats out “American Beauty” for me, even if it’s way more obvious: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjSTiUgsEpU

Anyway, like I said, nice work!

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4 Stig May 18, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Here are some others that are good

Sherlock Holmes (Discombobulate)
The Simpsons Movie (Main Theme by Green Day)
Toy Story (You Got a Friend in Me)

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5 Xavier May 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

One of mine would have to be clint mansell’s death is the road to awe

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6 Kenny May 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Pretty standard stuff.

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7 Nathan Victor May 19, 2010 at 12:33 am

I freaking love The Good, The Bad & The Ugly theme! It may be the most played theme throughout a film, (no idea here) and it’s thrilling through the end. I like the male chorus variation where the volume really ramps up the most.

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8 Dave May 19, 2010 at 8:25 am

Great list! Actually, if you look at a lot of the trashier movies Morricone scored in the 60′s and 70′s, you’d find he stole a good 80% of them. If you’re into Morricone, you should check out my Spaghetti Western Concept Rap album, called “Showdown at the BK Corral.” It’s basically a Spaghetti Western over 9 tracks – very influenced by Morricone. I’d love to hear what you think of it! You can download it for free at sunsetparkriders.com

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9 Eric Melin May 19, 2010 at 11:45 am

I have to agree with Xavier. I love Mansell’s score to The Fountain.

And, Reed, although the blaxpoitation film themes are pop songs and not orchestral scores, they are soooooo sweet. In fact, that might be a great topic for another Top 10 list!

I’m no Morricone expert, but you guys are clearly fans. Maybe someone should do a list of Top 10 Most Sampled Morricone Pieces…

I also have to agree with Sean–this list has some pretty standard picks on it, but its a testament to the scores themselves that I enjoyed hearing most of them again. I have to disagree on the Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Pirates themes, though. They don’t have that hooky immediacy that the other themes have…

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10 Oliver May 23, 2010 at 8:04 am

Ummm… how about anything from Jon Brion, possibly one of the greatest non-veteran film composers working today.

Try listening to any of his themes from either:
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqyGDHmo1ok
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE
MAGNOLIA

You guys went for only the obvious ones

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11 Eric Melin May 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Oliver- Great idea. Brion is one of the best nu-original score guys working today. Maybe you should do an alternate Top 10…

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12 Oliver May 30, 2010 at 6:02 am

Thanks Eric, I hope I wasn’t coming across as abrasive or attacking, I guess thats just the mindset of internet fanboys lol.

As you suggested, here is my Top Ten (in no particular order):

1. Jaws – John Williams (http://tinyurl.com/6mx2lj)
2. Gattaca – Michael Nyman (http://tinyurl.com/2aem6yy)
3. Twisted Nerve – Bernard Herrmann (http://tinyurl.com/dceaak)
4. Vivre Sa Vie – Michel Legrand (http://tinyurl.com/26b8ryy)
5. There Will Be Blood – Jonny Greenwood (http://tinyurl.com/2e4snxh)
6. Punch-Drunk Love – Jon Brion (http://tinyurl.com/27dwqcs)
7. Ocean’s Thirteen – David Holmes ()
8. Super Fly – Curtis Mayfield ()
9. E.T. – John Williams ()
10. Sunset Blvd. – Franz Waxman ()

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13 dinsdale June 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Others that could take a couple of those (5)
John Williams spots in my opinion:

The Magnificent Seven (main theme) – Elmer Bernstein

Psycho – Bernard Herrmann

Vertigo – Bernard Herrmann

The Trouble With Harry – Bernard Herrmann

Concerning Hobbits – Howard Shore

Fellowship Theme – Howard Shore

…also Williams’ Superman theme > Harry Potter or Jurassic Park.

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14 Eric Melin June 4, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Oliver and dinsdale-

All great suggestions! Hermann is always amazing (although I’ve never seen/heard “Twisted Nerve”) and I actually own and listen to There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Ocean’s 13, Superfly, Vertigo, and Taxi Driver!

Plus: Superman! I think that theme is on the same level as the most recognizable out there….

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15 dinsdale June 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Thanks Eric, and if you’ve seen Kill Bill vol#1
you’ve heard a snippet of Twisted Nerve…it was
the whistling theme reused in the hospital scene.

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16 3324 June 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

John Barry’s James Bond Theme

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17 Jack's Tattoos July 13, 2010 at 8:58 pm

a movie theme makes it a billion trillion guillion times better.

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18 Zaphod September 4, 2010 at 10:01 am

“The piano” theme, so beautiful:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSC9GprSEbg

Thanks for the list!

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19 Silly Banana July 26, 2012 at 2:22 am

These are great! But shocked to see that the Man in the Iron Mask soundtrack wasn’t listed. Give it a listen!

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20 Silly Banana July 26, 2012 at 2:24 am

These are all great! But I’m shocked to see that the “Man In the Iron Mask” soundtrack didn’t make it. Give it a listen!

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