10 Best Movies Scored By Hans Zimmer
Film composer Hans Zimmer is something of a workhorse. In less than three and a half decades in Hollywood, he has scored more than a hundred films and produced nearly 50 scores more. He has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards in the realm of film score—though he has only won once, for The Lion King. There is scant a genre he has not worked within. He shies away from none, composing for mass-market movies and independent fare alike. His skill is as clear in an animated film as a prestige drama. He can score Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and turn around and compose for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Indeed, he has earned the acclaim he’s received—and then some. Here are ten of the best films for which he has given a musical underpinning.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is undoubtedly moving. The film is adapted from the diary of Solomon Northup, a free African American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Zimmer’s score works in tandem with the film as a whole, provoking an emotional response from the viewer.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Thelma and Louise is directed by Ridley Scott and shows two women (Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis) on the run from the law. It is as thrilling as the description sounds but has a soul nearly unmatched by other films of the genre. Two strong female leads make the film something of an anomaly — even for the late 20th century. As a result, it is all the more culturally valuable. Round it out with emotional compositions by Zimmer, and it is certainly a film worthy of note.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
After a two-decade absence from the film industry, Terrence Malick came hot out of the gate with The Thin Red Line. The film has a huge cast and tells a grand, sprawling story of various fictional characters in the Guadalcanal Campaign during the Second World War. Zimmer’s score is tense and gripping — fitting for such a brutal campaign in a deadly war.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own illustrates the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. Its mostly-female cast (including Geena Davis and Madonna) must break social barriers and draw an initially-apathetic crowd in this funny, albeit somewhat saccharine, film. Zimmer provides a score that is airy yet strong and firm.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Looking back on the franchise so far, John Woo’s initial sequel to Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible is certainly the black sheep. The film is characteristically more volatile and explosive than its cohorts. Nonetheless, the continuing adventures of Tom Cruise’s Agent Ethan Hunt here set to the tune of Zimmer’s work is an enjoyable watch — if not the absolute best the series has to offer.
The Lion King (1994)
If The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast hinted at a renaissance for Disney animation, The Lion King set it in stone. The film became an instant classic and earned nearly a billion dollars at the box office. The tale of lions-doing-Hamlet features stunning hand-drawn animation — the kind they don’t make all that much anymore. But for all its other strengths, the film would be incomplete without the musical stylings of Zimmer and Elton John.
Days of Thunder (1990)
The late Tony Scott—who also directed Top Gun—returns to a similar egotistical-young-hotshot-with-a-need-for-speed narrative with the Tom Cruise-led Days of Thunder. Cruise and Scott trade jet planes for race cars in the film, which performed strongly at the box office even if audiences and critics alike were and continue to be split. One thing is undeniable, though — Zimmer’s work in the film has a very strong, of-its-time sound.
Ridley Scott, director of the science fiction horror Alien, the futuristic neo-noir Blade Runner and the underrated Napoleonic period film The Duellists once again looked back in time for his surprise late-career hit Gladiator. Russell Crowe stuns as the eponymous military general who is sold into slavery by a jealous prince (Joaquin Phoenix). The musical backbone provided to the film by Zimmer is integral to the impressive film.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to Ridley Scott’s neo-noir film Blade Runner is sleek and stylish. The production design is impressive, cleaner and less grimy than the future imagined by Scott. The film has a lot of good ideas, even if it drags for a decent chunk of its runtime. However, the high point of the film may very well be Zimmer’s score. It is at some points light and subtle, while other times deep and heavy and rumbling. Both sneak their way into the audience’s collective soul.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk may very well be his best film to date. It is assuredly his most empathetic. His portrayal of the unceremonious deaths of those on the front lines begs the question of what the value of one life is over another. It is engrossing from start to finish, even if he can’t help but force some obnoxious tinkering with the chronology of the film. Zimmer, for his part, brings his A-game too.
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