Skip to content

Dr. Deal Hudson on the 100 Best Film Soundtracks.

By Deal W. Hudson
12/27/2012 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (

Or, Here Is Where You Find the Greatest Classical Music After Classical Music Went Wrong

It's not too far-fetched to say that film music has been the 'classical music' for far more listeners than the music played symphony halls around the world for the past fifty years. The time has come to claim to not merely admit it, but to celebrate the music and musicians who have continued to minister to the human ear, and the human heart. 

Film composer John Williams conducts his music to 'Star Wars' with a full symphony orchestra.

Film composer John Williams conducts his music to 'Star Wars' with a full symphony orchestra.


By Deal W. Hudson
Catholic Online (
12/27/2012 (5 years ago)

Published in Music

Keywords: best soundtracks, best film music, 100 best, film scores, Dr Deal Hudson

P>WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Going to the trouble of making a list such as this may seem trivial to some, but, in fact, the tradition of musical scoring for cinema should be considered the 'classical music' you've liked but didn't know it was 'classical.'

Let me explain.  I will assume you, like I, enjoy an immediately rapport with great film music, that the main themes to movies like 'Jurassic Park,' 'Gone With the Wind,' and 'Lawrence of Arabia,' I will assume you find them 'beautiful' and that, if you have given it any thought, that you know they are composed for and played by a full symphony orchestra.  In other words, the same orchestra that plays Beethoven at Carnegie Hall on Friday night may be in the studio the next day recording the next John Williams soundtrack. 

Let's go even further: Not only does the film composer employ all the potencies of the modern symphony orchestra, and often vocal soloists and a chorus, the composer draws upon the entire development of Western music (and sometimes non-Western) in creating a 90 to 120 musical narrative to accompany the action and dialogue on the screen. 

But here there's an even more important point to make: At the very time that film music was emerging as a developed art form, the mainstream of classical music took a wrong turn towards atonal and twelve-tone compositions.  The late Romantic musical tradition, as represented by Mahler, Bruckner, and Richard Strauss, was carried forward by film composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman,  Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Herrmann.  Both Korngold and Rozsa had been established classical composers before arriving in Hollywood, so they literally embodied the bridge I am describing. 

As chronicled superbly in Robert R. Reilly's Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (Morley 2002), the rejection of traditional tonality dominated the concert hall well into the 1980s before composers like George Rochberg and David Del Tredici began to realize the mistake.

If my argument holds, the list below represents a classical music tradition that never broke with the development of tonality in the Western music tradition.  In other words, an appreciation for film music is, necessarily, an appreciation for 'classical music,' that is, music reflecting the legacy of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, and Strauss.
As Robert Reilly shows, there were many American composers who never took that atonal turn, such as David Diamond, Paul Creston, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Nicolas Flagello, but for decades their compositions were rarely played or even mentioned in surveys of contemporary music. Conductors like Gerard Schwartz and Leonard Slatkin have been at the forefront of rediscovering their music as well as other composers who refused the break with tonality.

It's not too far-fetched to say that film music has been the 'classical music' for far more listeners than the music played symphony halls around the world for the past fifty years. The time has come to claim to not merely admit it, but to celebrate the music and musicians who have continued to minister to the human ear, and the human heart.  

-1.  City Lights, Charles Chaplin (1931)
-2.  King Kong, Max Steiner (1933)
-3.    She, Max Steiner (1935)
-4.    Modern Times, Charles Chaplin (1936)
-5.    The Charge of the Light Brigade, Max Steiner (1936)
-6.    Anthony Adverse, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1936)
-7.    Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev (1938)
-8.    Gone With the Wind, Max Steiner (1939)
-9.    Sea Hawk, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1940)
-10.    Thief of Bagdad, Miklos Rozsa (1940)
-11.    49th Parallel, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1941)
-12.    Citizen Kane, Bernard Herrmann (1941)
-13.    The Uninvited, Victor Young (1941)
-14.    That Hamilton Woman, Miklos Rozsa (1941)
-15.    Now, Voyager, Max Steiner (1942)
-16.    Kings Row, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1942)
-17.    The Song of Bernadette, Alfred Newman (1943)
-18.    Mr. Skeffington, Franz Waxman (1944)
-19.    Henry V, William Walton (1944)
-20.    Laura, David Raksin (1944)
-21.    Spellbound, Miklos Rozsa (1945)
-22.    Forever Amber, David Raksin (1947)
-23.    Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Bernard Herrmann (1947)
-24.    Red River, Dimitri Tiomkin (1948)
-25.    Scott of the Antarctic, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1948)
-26.    The Red Pony, Aaron Copland (1949)
-27.    The Heiress, Aaron Copland (1949)
-28.    All About Eve, Alfred Newman (1950)
-29.    Quo Vadis, Miklos Rozsa (1951)
-30.    A Christmas Carol, Richard Addinsell (1951)
-31.    A Place in the Sun, Franz Waxman (1951)
-32.    Scaramouche, Victor Young (1952)   
-33.    The Bad and the Beautiful, David Raksin (1952)
-34.    High Noon, Dimitri Tiomkin (1952)
-35.    The Quiet Man, Victor Young (1952)
-36.    Shane, Victor Young (1953)
-37.    I Vitelloni, Nino Rota (1953)
-38.    Around the World in 80 Days, Victor Young (1954)
-39. Prince Valiant, Franz Waxman (1954)
-40. On the Waterfront, Leonard Bernstein (1954)
-41. Richard lll, William Walton (1955)
-42. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Alfred Newman (1955)
-43. Night of the Hunter, Walter Schumann (1955)
-44. Diane, Miklos Rozsa (1956)   
-45. Peyton Place, Franz Waxman (1957)
-46. Raintree County, Johnny Green (1957)
-47. The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Malcolm Arnold (1957)
-48. Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann (1958)
-49. Ben Hur, Miklos Rozsa (1959)
-50. North by Northwest, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-51. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-52. The Nun's Story, Franz Waxman (1959)
-53. The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Bernstein (1960)
-54. Exodus, Ernest Gold (1960)
-55. Psycho, Bernard Herrmann. (1960)
-56. The Alamo, Dimitri Tiomkin (1960)
-57. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Henry Mancini (1961)
-58. King of Kings, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-59. El Cid, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-60. Lawrence of Arabia, Maurice Jarre (1962)
-61. To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein (1962)
-62. Taras Bulba, Franz Waxman (1962)
-63. The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini (1963)
-64. Charade, Henry Mancini (1963)
-65. The Leopard, Nino Rota (1963)
-66. Goldfinger, John Barry (1964)
-67. The Fall of the Roman Empire, Dimitri Tiomkin (1964)
-68. Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre (1965)
-69. Sylvia, David Raksin (1965)
-70. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Alfred Newman (1965)
-71. A Man and a Woman, Francis Lai (1966)
-72. Sand Pebbles, Jerry Goldsmith (1966) 
-73. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ennio Morricone (1966)
-74. Casino Royale, Burt Bacharach (1967)
-75. Two for the Road, Henry Mancini (1967)
-76. Far from the Madding Crowd, Richard Rodney Bennett (1967)
-77. The Lion in Winter, John Barry (1968)
-78. Romeo and Juliet, Nino Rota (1968)
-79. David Copperfield, Malcolm Arnold (1969)
-80. Anne of a Thousand Days, Georges Delerue (1969)
-81. True Grit, Elmer Bernstein (1969)
-82. Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Miklos Rozsa (1970)   
-83. The Last Valley, John Barry (1971)
-84. The Godfather, Nino Rota (1972)
-85.    Lady Caroline Lamb, Richard Rodney Bennett (1972)
-86.    Antony and Cleopatra, John Scott (1972)
-87.    The Wind and the Lion, Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
-88.    Jaws, John Williams (1975)
-89.    Superman, John Williams (1978)   
-90.    Death on the Nile, Nino Rota (1978)
-91.    A Little Romance, Georges Delerue (1979)
-92.    Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams (1980)
-93.    Somewhere in Time, John Barry (1980)
-94.    Body Heat, John Barry (1981)
-95.    Krull, James Horner (1983)
-96.    Once Upon a Time in America, Ennio Morricone (1984)
-97.    Splash, Lee Holdridge (1984)
-98.    Out of Africa, John Barry (1985)
-99.    The Mission, Ennio Morricone (1986)
-100.    Untouchables, Ennio Morricone (1987)
-101.    Cinema Paradiso, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-102.    Time of Destiny, Ennio Morricone (1988)  
-103.    A Summer Story, Georges Delerue (1988) 
-104.    Born on the Fourth of July, John Williams (1989)
-105.    Henry V, Patrick Doyle (1989)
-106.    Glory, James Horner (1989)
-107.    Dances With Wolves, John Barry (1990)
-108.    Dracula, Wojciech Kilar (1992)
-109.    Gettysburg, Randy Edelman (1993)
-110.    Jurassic Park, John Williams (1993)
-111.    The Age of Innocence, Elmer Bernstein (1993)
-112.    Sense and Sensibility, Patrick Doyle (1995)
-113.    Apollo 13, James Horner (1995)
-114.    Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein (2002)

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.


'Help Give every Student and Teacher FREE resources for a world-class Moral Catholic Education'

Copyright 2018 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for APRIL 2018
For those who have Responsibility in Economic Matters.
That economists may have the courage to reject any economy of exclusion and know how to open new paths.


More Music

Talented Dominican Sisters stir emotions with chart-topping Christmas album Watch

Image of Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have also appeared on games shows on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Among other things, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have been known to appear on game shows and to chat with Oprah ... continue reading

One of the world's greatest composers was also a Catholic priest Watch

Image of Vivaldi was not just a legendary composer, he was also a priest.

While Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" echoes in concert halls and elevators around the world, for some, his greatest masterpieces are not ... continue reading

What's this priest doing at a popular music festival? Watch

Image of Fr. Jenuwine, parochial vicar at St. Apollinaris Parish in Napa, California had been trying to brainstorm creative ways to reach out to young adults.

What's a good way to reach a lot of young people all at once? Napa, Calif. (CNA/EWTN News) - Plant yourself at an entrance of a popular ... continue reading

U2 lead singer, Bono powerfully endorses critical Psalms message Watch

Image of Bono thinks Christian artists need to be way more honest.

It's no secret U2 lead vocalist, Bono loves the Bible, but he has again come forwrd to openly express again how much he truly loves the ... continue reading

Amazing love song medley mashes up the greatest love songs from the 60s to now just in time for Valentine's Day Watch

Image of David Osmond, Ashley Hess and Eric Thayne in their love song medley YouTube video.

Five talented musicians take you on a fun time-trip with their love song medley that takes songs from different decades in their viral ... continue reading

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.