Bain’s Top 10 Composers / Pieces of Film Music

I’m following in the footsteps of Charles, Nate & Pez (a.k.a. Drew) in writing about their favourite ten pieces of music from films, using the interesting rule of only one track per composer. If you haven’t already checked out their articles, they can be found here…


Anyway, on with my own list, in no particular order…


John Williams – ‘Opening Titles’ from STAR WARS (from all main films in the series)

Of all the composers on this list the easiest one to select was John Williams. However, it was then most difficult to pick just one single piece of music from his amazing catalogue. I was certain it would be something from Star Wars and I considered lots of pieces ranging from the bombastic to the sinister to the magical. For all their other flaws, the Star Wars Prequels had some brilliant music in them too. At the end of the day however the single piece of music that gets me more pumped up than anything else is that triumphant and epic opening blast which accompanies the main title and opening crawl.



Howard Shore – ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’ from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


Just like Star Wars, I knew immediately that I was going to include something from Howard Shire and The Lord of the Rings on this list. There are so many fantastic pieces of music within the epic trilogy and I very nearly selected something with the majestic and proud Gondor theme in it. However, the piece of music that really hits me hardest is the magical ‘Breaking of the Fellowship’ from the end of the first film which is both uplifting and heart-wrenching. Listening to this now takes me back to that first experience of seeing this film and how much it impacted upon me (especially given how much of a disaster it could have been…). This epic track covers a range of beats and emotions, from Sam and Frodo reunion and resolve in the face of their huge task while contrasting perfectly with Aragon, Gimli and Legolas’ more gung-ho preparations to ‘Hunt some Orc.’



Alan Silvestri – ‘Main Theme’ from Back to the Future


I can’t really say too much about this except that this theme absolutely rocks and it’s pure punch-the-air joy and excitement. The music perfectly captures the mood of the films as well which are some of the most entertaining ever made. I’ve actually tried to watch the BTTF films a few times with the audio commentary on, hoping to hear some interesting anecdotes and stories, but had to switch back to the ‘normal’ version every time because I’m missing the fantastic dialogue and music too much…



John Barry – ‘Main Theme’ from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service


This is possibly the only choice on my list which is from a film which I’m not really a big fan of. There’s actually a lot to love in ‘OHMMS’ but the whole thing it dragged down by George Lazenby’s performance and the fact its cliff-hanger ending was never properly followed-up on. However, that’s another topic, this point here is that this is a great, bombastic piece of music. I know that I’d be including something from the James Bond series in this list, and that it would probably be by John Barry, but after some careful consideration and leaving aside my attachment to certain films this is my favourite piece of orchestrated music from the series.



Maurice Jarre – ‘Main Theme’ from Lawrence of Arabia


The oldest piece of music on this list from the oldest film – I still feel that Lawrence of Arabia holds up perfectly today and is an absolute masterpiece. That isn’t really relevant to the score itself of course, but thankfully that is likewise magnificent and absolutely epic – somehow it feels impossible nowadays not to see a vast desert without imagine this sweeping, iconic theme playing.


Also, a bit of it showed up in The Spy Who Loved Me, so if you prefer James Bond to T.E. Lawrence you can enjoy it there.



Shigeru Umebayashi – ‘Lovers’ from House of Flying Daggers


I think this may be the only ‘romantic’ theme on this list and it is one tinged with melancholy as suits the world and themes of House of Flying Daggers. A beautiful piece of music that is used multiple times throughout the film – in my opinion this is the best version of it.



Tan Dun – ‘Love in Distance’ from Hero


Continuing the Chinese theme for the moment and next-up I’m picking a piece of music from one of my favourite films of all time. This is pretty much a repeat of the Main or ‘Overture’ theme of Hero, only played a little more slowly and sadly while losing the drums. In fact 75% of the soundtrack is essentially the same theme to be honest with variations. However, when the piece of music is this good that’s not a bad thing!



James Wong – ‘Wong Fei-Hong’s Theme’ from Once Upon a Time in China


More music from the world of Chinese (well, Hong Kong) cinema. However, this piece isn’t romantic or melancholy or anything like that. This is purely adrenaline pumping, chest-pounding, bombastic awesomeness but with a distinct Chinese flavour. I know very few of the lyrics or what they mean but helpfully the video I found has them written out phonetically so you can sing along. In my humble opinion no piece of music could inspire a human being more to become an elite kung fu master.



Chan Kwong-Wing – ‘Goodbye Master, goodbye’ from Infernal Affairs


The last of my selections from Chinese / Hong Kong cinema – this is a piece of music that has absolutely no subtlety to it at all, driving home the emotion with full force. It possibly straddles the borders of being too on-the-nose or melodramatic but if you can go with it then I find the piece to be extremely haunting and impactful. There are a few variations on this piece, the most interesting of which is a reprise towards the end of the film which is much darker and more sinister.



Michael Nyman – ‘The Departure’ from Gatacca


This is another piece of music I would describe as ‘epic’ – this is a slow and haunting piece which is ultimately incredibly uplifting and beautiful. To me Gatacca is one of the most powerful and inspirational films I’ve ever seen and the music plays a huge part in that, avoiding every becoming cheesy or overly emotionally and hitting the perfect tone.





Unknown composer – ‘Theme of Dol Bride Mask’ (?) from Blood of Dragon Peril


So this is actually, secretly, probably, the best piece of music in all of cinema history. Unfortunately I have no idea who composed it or it’s true name… or where it originally came from since it probably wasn’t orchestrated for Blood of Dragon Peril, which is a badly-dubbed, dodgily edited (but totally awesome) 70’s kung fu movie. I haven’t actually been able to find the piece of music ‘isolated’ from the film but fortunately the whole movie is up on youtube and the link above takes you just a few seconds before when it starts.


If anybody knows what this piece of music actually is please let me know!!!

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