Who are Some Famous Modern Film Composers?

Jessica Ellis

One of the most important components of a film is its music. The score for the movie can heighten emotion and tension when good, but completely destroy the atmosphere when poor. Film scoring has become an art in its own right, with the very best modern film composers understanding the comparative value of the music and the medium, and being able to enhance the world of the film with their work.

Composer John Williams has earned five Academy Awards.
Composer John Williams has earned five Academy Awards.

Possibly the best known modern film composer is John Williams. Renowned for his ability to create iconic themes, Williams is responsible for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Superman and Jurassic Park among many others. His work is known as dynamic and particularly powerful in its use of brass instrument sections. His six-decade career has garnered him five Academy Awards and 45 additional Oscar nominations.

A film composer writes music, including soundtracks and incidental scores, for motion pictures.
A film composer writes music, including soundtracks and incidental scores, for motion pictures.

The Newman family is a dynastic presence in Hollywood film production, spanning several generations. Two modern film composers, cousins Randy and Thomas Newman, are often cited as among the greatest of the modern era. Randy Newman’s career stretches back to the 1960s, when he worked as a singer/songwriter. Noted for his distinctive singing voice and abilities as a lyricist, Randy Newman has found great success in scoring children’s films, most notably the early works of Pixar Animation Studio. Randy famously received 15 Oscar nominations for composition and songs without a win, until his losing streak was broken in 2001 by an Academy Award for Best Song going to “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters Inc..

Thomas Newman hit the composition scene in 1994, with double Oscar nominations for his scores to Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption. His distinctive use of lyrical percussive instruments such as piano and marimba led to a Grammy Award for American Beauty. Following the work of his cousin Randy, Thomas Newman has composed scores for two Pixar films, Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Similarly unlucky at the Oscars, Newman has had eight Academy Award nominations and no wins.

Not all film composers walk away from awards shows empty-handed; Alan Menken has received eight Oscars, most for his work on Disney animated films. Frequently collaborating with other film composers such as Tim Rice and Stephen Schwartz, Menken is known for his phenomenal work in reviving the Disney animated feature. In 1989, 1991 and 1992, he won both Original Score and Original Song Oscars for his work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

Some critics consider film composers to be lesser artists than those who compose purely for their own projects. But the collaborative effort involved in film composition takes extreme patience, empathy and understanding. The world of modern film composers seems crowded with brilliance, to the benefit of the films and the audience. The next time you find yourself getting teary eyed at a beautiful piece of music in a movie, or feel excitement building inside you when Indiana Jones’ theme begins, take a moment after the film is over and watch the credits, to honor the work of the film composer.

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Discussion Comments


Mutsy- I agree with you. I love all of the Toy Story movies. The music makes me happy at some points and sad at others.

The music really adds so much value to the movie that I would say that the music composition is almost as important as the characters themselves.


Excellent article- I just want to add that Randy Newman scored the movie for Toy Story. In fact he was involved in the entire trilogy. His music really makes the characters come alive.

In Toy Story when the audience hears the song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” the audience automatically understands the connection between Buzz Lightyear and Woody, the main characters and why they are friends.

Likewise in Toy Story 2, when Emily decides that she no longer want to play with Jesse her doll of many years, the audience hears the song “When Somebody Loved Me” sung by Sarah Mc Laughlin, and it really makes the audience feel incredible empathy for Jesse the toy doll that is no longer wanted.

These movies display powerful emotions with the use of music and really set the standard for music composition in films today.

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