10 Best Movies Scored By Danny Elfman

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10 Best Movies Scored By Danny Elfman

To many, composer Danny Elfman is known as director Tim Burton’s cohort. Rightfully so — the duo did much of their best work together. Elfman scored many of Burton’s most beloved, classic films including his feature film debut Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. His compositions often feel reminiscent of a music box with a lot of twinkling percussion instruments. As well as Burton’s films, Elfman has scored films for other prominent directors including Brian De Palma and Gus Van Sant. In addition, Elfman composed the iconic theme song to The Simpsons. He has a true talent for the craft. Here are ten of the best films for which he provided the score.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

It is sometimes difficult to keep all the Mission: Impossible films straight after all these years. However, the original Brian De Palma adaptation of the show may very well be the franchise’s best, even as Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout has no doubt given it a run for its money. The espionage popcorn classic starring Tom Cruise as Agent Ethan Hunt is still as tense and thrilling today as it was then. It may very well be one of the best mass-market pictures of the 1990s. This is no small part due to Elfman’s exciting score.

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Good Will Hunting (1997)

The Gus Van Sant-directed Good Will Hunting was a gigantic smash hit. The film, written by and starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rocketed the duo to superstardom. Elfman lends his incredible skill behind the music stand to the film about a young genius from working-class roots who meets a kind-hearted therapist played by the late Robin Williams. The film has a deep soul and is an undeniable tear-jerker.

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Midnight Run (1986)

Sadly, Midnight Run does not get quite as much burn with contemporary audiences as other films on this list. That said, it is a wildly enjoyable road trip-slash-buddy cop genre film. It stars the hilarious Charles Grodin as an aviophobic mob accountant who stole millions from his boss, and the great Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter tasked with escorting him across the U.S. to Los Angeles.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuice began a pretty remarkable three-year run for director Tim Burton. The film and its two successors, Batman and Edward Scissorhands, are generally placed at the top of Burton’s work to date. Michael Keaton did such an impressive — and repulsive — job as the titular character that he was given the lead role in Burton’s next film as well. Elfman’s score for Beetlejuice is fittingly dark, yet whimsical.

Batman (1989)

Long before superheroes were released at the clip they are today, Tim Burton tried his hand at the so-called Caped Crusader. It is one of the best in the genre even today. The production design is incredible, with stark blacks up against bright neons. The film is full of impressive matte paintings and Elfman’s theme for the film is truly great.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands rounds out Burton’s most successful three consecutive years to date. Johnny Depp plays the eponymous mute with scissors for appendages who is made a local pariah because of his bizarre disability. It is a heartfelt film by Burton — and screenwriter Caroline Thompson — and features arguably Elfman’s best work to date.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

It has been often pointed out in the annals of the internet that Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day follow very similar narrative beats. They were both released in the same year and portray Earth making contact with hostile aliens. While both exciting and enjoyable films in their own right, Mars Attacks! parodies classic alien invasion films. As such, it is significantly campier and funnier than its cohort. The film is based on a line of novelty trading cards of the same name from the 1960s. It is a hilarious ensemble affair with a pitch-perfect score from Elfman.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was the directorial debut of Tim Burton and the first of many collaborations with Elfman. The film debut of Paul Reubens’ title character was a financial success. The whimsical film about a kind-hearted man trying to get his beloved bike back continues to be a cult classic today.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is widely-beloved today. The Henry Selick-directed, Tim Burton-produced film is frequently touted as one of the best stop motion animated films to date. It is also a sturdy musical and holiday genre film. Along with providing the score, Elfman also gave a singing voice to the film’s main character, Jack Skellington.

The Simpsons (1989 to Present)


Okay, in fairness, The Simpsons is a television sitcom, not a movie—though there is also The Simpsons Movie. Nonetheless, The Simpsons have massive cultural significance. At its best, it was one of the funniest shows in television history; In addition, it is the longest-running American sitcom. Elfman himself penned the groundbreaking show’s iconic theme song, the mere mention of which may get it stuck in your head.

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