My 10 Favorite Hans Zimmer Scores
Hans Zimmer needs no introduction. The man is a living legend. Backdraft. The Dark Knight trilogy. The Thin Red Line. Zimmer has produced some of the most iconic scores of the modern era and even ushered in a new wave of electronic film music that has since been knocked off countless times. Yet, with each film, Zimmer always manages to craft something extraordinary. And while no list can ever do him justice, I decided to go ahead and write one anyway.
Without further ado, these are my Top 10 favorite Hans Zimmer film scores. Feel free to list yours in the comments below!
The Thin Red Line
Zimmer’s masterwork is mostly known for the astonishing “Journey to the Line” composition that has been used in any number of trailers since its release 22 years ago. And yet, believe it or not, the soundtrack is actually so much more than this one track. Such is the stunning nature of Zimmer’s score that La-La Land Records saw fit to release a massive 4-CD anniversary edition that allows the listener to fully appreciate the composer’s work in its entirety. Zimmer has said that he labored for nearly two years on Terrence Malick’s acclaimed masterpiece and that the experienced re-shaped the way he approached film scores. The Thin Red Line marked the moment Hans Zimmer became Hans Zimmer. You can order a copy of the movie here!
I’m placing Backdraft near the top of the list for purely selfish reasons. This was my introduction to Zimmer’s world. I remember waiting in line for the Backdraft ride at Universal Studios Hollywood as a wee lad in the early ’90s before the attraction was replaced by Transformers: The Ride. As I zipped around the line procession, I heard Zimmer’s main theme blast over the loudspeakers — and man, what a moment. So captivated was I by its heroic melody that I flocked to the nearest CD Warehouse (which, it turns out, was located on the Universal CityWalk) and found the score used for $5. From that moment on, I was hooked.
As a side, it is interesting to hear certain ideas in Backdraft that Zimmer would later explore. I mean, you can hear the Batman theme throughout the mannequin warehouse fire sequence, which makes the listen all the more interesting. Sadly, we have yet to receive the score in its entirety, save for on YouTube. Can we rectify this, people? You can order a copy of the movie here!
Man of Steel
Hans Zimmer’s score for Man of Steel is pure magic. Rather than reiterate John Williams’ classic theme from Superman: The Movie, Zimmer went in a completely different direction and in so doing crafted one of the more memorable action scores of the modern age. Comprised mostly of drums, louder drums and a little brass, Man of Steel’s soundtrack is loud, enormous, and absolutely incredible. I listened to Zimmer perform Superman’s theme live in concert when he visited Las Vegas during his Hans Zimmer Live tour and let me tell you, I have never again geeked out to the level I geeked out during that moment. It was amazing.
At the risk of sounding like Bill Walton, Man of Steel is a masterclass in action music and somehow remains vastly underappreciated for its ingenuity. You can order a copy of the movie here!
The Dark Knight
Rather than go the traditional route for his first superhero score, Batman Begins, Zimmer opted for something much different. Collaborating with James Newton Howard, the soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s kickoff to his beloved Dark Knight saga was a smashing success. A riveting, propulsive, atmospheric score that doesn’t feature on this list for one very specific reason: The Dark Knight was better.
That brilliant Joker theme — created by striking razors on a piano wire — opens the soundtrack on a mischievous even diabolical note that never subsides throughout the film’s duration. Batman’s own rising motif, accompanied by the sound of flapping wings, itself a more classically composed bit of music that contrasts nicely to the Joker’s theme, remains a truly haunting, powerful bit of score that stands as one of the best superhero compositions of the modern age. You can order a copy of the movie here!
I received the soundtrack to Crimson Tide as a birthday present way back in 1996. I was too young to see the movie (according to my parents) so I had no idea what the score sounded like but asked for it all the same because, well, Zimmer. And while a majority of the soundtrack is comprised mostly of electronic noises and such, the main theme to Tony Scott’s terrific submarine action flick starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman remains legendary. Take note of Zimmer’s use of the male choir, which became a staple of his throughout the 90s. You can order a copy of the movie here!
Black Hawk Down
Zimmer brought the creative heft for Ridley Scott’s fantastic war drama and created a unique score packed to the brim with a variety of instruments both electronic and traditional. The main theme is both glorious and heartbreaking; the action rhythms appropriately chaotic. At first listen, the wild structure of Black Hawk Down may leave the listener a tad overwhelmed, as it did me, but that’s purely by design. Zimmer and his team create motifs for both the American and Somalia forces that seem to battle one another for supremacy on the soundtrack; and it works wonders in the film. You can order a copy of the movie here!
The Lion King
Zimmer won his first and only Academy Award for Disney’s powerful animated blockbuster, The Lion King, and rightfully so. While the songs are good, Zimmer’s composition and glorious use of “Lebo M” Morake’s vocals lend the film an incredible power, what with its sweeping themes, and driving African choir. The Lion King remains, perhaps, the greatest animated score of all time — so good, they brought back Zimmer to re-do the music in the 2019 remake. You can order a copy of the movie here!
What we do in life, echoes in eternity. So, it goes for Gladiator, Zimmer’s exciting action masterpiece that introduced the world to Lisa Gerrard. The talented vocalist supplies Ridley Scott’s epic with a formidable dose of the ethereal, leading to one of the more popular musical compositions of the modern age in the tracks, “Elysium” and “Now We Are Free.” You can order a copy of the movie here!
Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End
While Klaus Badelt is credited for scoring Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Zimmer took the series reins from that point on — well, at least through On Stranger Tides — and crafted one helluva two-parter. Dead Man’s Chest takes the cake because it’s just so much damned fun what with its bouncy themes and that rock-centric Kraken theme. At World’s End is more dramatic, thanks in part to its epic love theme that probably deserved to be in a better movie, but no less fun, especially when Zimmer cuts loose with the track, “I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time.” You can order a copy of the movie here!
Zimmer’s third collaboration with Christopher Nolan resulted in one of the decade’s most memorable scores. The pounding brass, itself a play on Édith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which serves a pivotal role in the film, and the use of guitar, as played by Johnny Marr, lends the score a qausi-Bond style that, when mixed with Zimmer’s propulsive orchestrations, is nothing short of spectacular. You can order a copy of the movie here!