The movie soundtrack is a vital part of any film. Whether it's a main theme or an underscore, a film's composer will bring his own unique style to a particular scene to help give the audience a desired emotion. It could be sadness, fear, suspense or excitement.
We all have our own favourite film composers. Many would argue John Williams is the greatest ever film composer, and they wouldn't be that wrong. He has created some of most iconic movie themes, from Star Wars to Superman and Indiana Jones. But there's also some incredible compositions from other composers, such as Danny Elfman, Trevor Rabin, James Horner, James Newton Howard, Michael Giacchino, Alan Silvestri, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Don Davies, David Arnold, Lalo Schifrin and Jerry Goldsmith, just to name even a few!
It almost feels unfair to only share six compositions with such a diverse and amazing choice of music to choose from. As a result, to curate this list, I selected six compositions that I personally have an emotional connection with. These pieces are to be listened to with your eyes closed in a dark room, letting the sound of the music penetrate your thoughts and create your own versions of the scenes these are originally from.
Howard Shore - The Fellowship of the Ring "The Bridge of Khazad-dum"
The main theme to the Fellowship of the Ring is contained in a large part of this track and it features moments of epic battle themes also. This song appears in the film when the Fellowship are attacked by Orcs and Goblins in the Mines of Moria, and they have to escape across the Bridge of Kazad-dum. The operatic chanting with heavy drums builds until about the 3min 40 mark when suddenly the main theme comes back in to an obvious triumphant moment as they survive the collapsing bridge.
And then suddenly the drums and trumpets stops and choral cry rings... Gandalf has faced the Balrog. We all know what happens next. Fly you fools!
John Williams - Raiders of the Lost Ark "Truck Chase"
Even though the accompanying video for this entry on the list is the actual scene itself, it's quite amazing to listen with your eyes closed and realise how little the sound effects actually add to the scene. The music of the Raiders of the Lost Ark truck chase scene drives the entire incredible sequence forward. As with The Lord of the Rings, the main 'Raiders' theme eventuates the hero moments such as Indy arriving on the horse. This is perhaps one of my favourite John Williams compositions (despite loving nearly everything he has done.) For every moment Indy successfully dispatches one of his Nazi enemies, a short burst of his theme can be heard. But then once the Nazis get one back over him, we change to a more threatening 'march' theme.
The musical scoring successfully ties together the quality stunt work and exceptional direction and cinematography. The main 'Raiders' theme no doubt helped make Indiana Jones one of cinema's greatest icons.
Hans Zimmer - Interstellar "Main Theme"
Interstellar's soundtrack was perhaps the biggest surprise of the film itself, even though Hans Zimmer has composed some of the most intense music put to film. (He also features twice on this list). Some intense music scores he has composed in the past include Man of Steel, The Dark Knight theme, Inception (another personal favourite, but not included on this list) and Gladiator.
I've posted the entire soundtrack for your listening pleasure, because it's intense from start to finish. What I think is so special about this score is in the way it grabs you and flings you across the universe. The cycling cosmic sounds and the growing repeated chords of the Grand Organ, capture the possible feeling of stars flying past and reaching close to the speed of light.
Junkie XL - Mad Max Fury Road "Brothers in Arms"
I first heard of Junkie XL when he helped bring Elvis back to life with the infamous "A little less conversation" remix. However I was not aware of his film scores until after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything about the film was big, and the soundtrack did not stray from that mantra. The drum hits with such force and intensity which are then accented even more with a huge sounding horns section. There are moments when all we hear are massive drums, and this is maintained for quite some time. In a behind the scenes video for Mad Max, Tom Holkenborg a.k.a Junkie XL perfectly described his soundtrack as an over-the-top rock opera.
Hans Zimmer - Backdraft "Show me your Firetrucks"
This is the second mention of Hans Zimmer on this list, and rightly so. His style of music is always loud and proud and constantly builds to huge crescendos that get the heart pumping. This track from the soundtrack of the firefighting action thriller Backdraft, captures a triumphant hero march with big drums and thundering horns. The scene this music is used in is a long tracking shot of the film's hero Stephen Baldwin riding into the 'sunrise' on his fire engine. It's quite an emotional and powerful scene as the hero has accepted his calling as a firefighter and the music helps drive those feelings.
Danny Elfman - Mission: Impossible "Zoom"
Danny Elfman has had a long established relationship with Tim Burton that resulted in scores for pretty much every one of his films include Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhand and Corpse Bride. Danny Elfman has also been responsible for soundtrack scores for Men in Black, Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, Sam Raimi's Spiderman and most recently on Avengers: Age of Ultron which he co-composed with Brian Tyler. His scores have such a diverse range in melody and sound, but if I was to argue for my favourite film music moment it would be in his first Mission: Impossible film score.
In the final scene of the film, Tom Cruise ends up on the top of a bullet train, attaches a helicopter to the roof, and ends up dragging it into a underwater tunnel. It is the biggest action piece in the film thats been slowly building after a whole series of unexpected twists. Capturing the intense speed of the bullet train and drawing on the "ratatatat" sound of the train tracks, the first two minutes of the track builds to crescendo. Then next stage of the scene builds again as the train and the helicopter enter the tunnel together.
Then at the 3:28mins, the big transition moment. The string section hits an array of octaves that lead into a trumpeting announcement from the horns section. Heroically he jumps from the moving bullet train to the flying helicopter inside the tunnel. I like to call this moment, "When Tom Cruise became Tom Cruise." (Yes, Top Gun was ten years prior, but this was the first big Tom Cruise moment that we now only expect from Tom Cruise movies.)
It sounds all very ridiculous and very mission quite impossible, but thanks to Danny Elfman's transition moment it becomes a hugely exciting character moment. His choice to follow the transition with the classic Mission: Impossible theme makes the moment even more triumphant and heroic. As iconic theme hits its final big note, the helicopter explodes spectacularly and Tom Cruise survives another day at the office.
Even twenty years later the sequence does not feel dated and a lot has to do with the music, keeping the audience thrilled through the scene. As a result, it remains as one my favourite film music moments ever.
What other great bits of heart pumping film music have been missed? Share your favourites in the comments below!
Daniel Sanguineti is a Australian Film Producer and Writer, who tutors film and media at the University of Canberra and the Canberra Institute of Technology. He is on twitter @DanSanguineti.