Best John Williams’ scores: from Jaws to Jurassic Park
When the conductor's baton becomes a magic wand, these are the best John Williams' scores.
John Williams has elevated the movie score more than any other composer. His timeless themes are synonymous with some of the most famous scenes ever, as these best John Williams' scores showcase.
He brought us the unseen terror in Jaws, the sinister march that accompanies Darth Vader’s footsteps, Indy triumphantly averting danger, the Christmas spirit in Home Alone, and the true magic of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
On February 10, two days after his 88th birthday, Williams will contend for an Oscar for the 52nd time: Best Original Score for The Rise of Skywalker, his last ever composition for a Star Wars movie.
He has received more Oscar nominations than any living person, trailing only Walt Disney's 59 noms. Seeya Silvestri, adios Elfman and later Zzzzzimmer. Williams is the GOAT and these are his ten best movie scores. Do you agree? Get voting below.
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Best John Williams' scores
1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The best compositions from the Oscar-winning A New Hope are joined by iconic all-time greats like The Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme and the unforgettable Han Solo and The Princess piece, which accompanies their first loving embrace on the Falcon. Like so much of Williams' best work, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra when recording this score.
2. Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981)
Let’s play a quick association game. Picture Indiana Jones, then tell us the first thing that comes into your head. It’s the Raiders March theme song, isn’t it? The rambunctious track, like so many others, has become inseparable from the franchise lifted upon its shoulders. Like the film itself, it screams action and adventure.
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
What would these Spielberg epics be without these instantly-identifiable scores? Well, the unmemorable Bridge of Spies, Ready Player One and The Colour Purple, to name the only three. The Theme From Jurassic Park is another one of those orchestral compositions you can sing along with (if “duh-dirr duh-dirr, d-d-diiiir di der der derrrr” counts as singing) and relive the fear, the wonder, the excitement and the white knuckle thrill ride of our first excursion to Ilsar Nublar.
4. Jaws (1975)
“John Williams has made our movie more adventurous and gripping than I ever thought possible,” wrote Spielberg in 1975. This orchestral incarnation of impending doom can, in essence, be played by anyone who can find the low E and F keys on a piano, and it handily covered that Spielberg didn’t want to show too much of the film's silly mechanical shark. After revisiting the soundtrack for this list, we’re still not sure whether it’s safe to go back in the water.
5. Superman (1978)
If, as a little kid, you didn't pretend to fly around the living room humming the triumphant theme to Superman, there’s a chance you were doing childhood all wrong. The film’s iconic title credits begin softly with the rolling thunder of timpani, before building to that familiar fanfare of trumpets and horns (effectively speaking out the word “Su-Per-Man!”). It still gives us goosebumps to this day. Legend has it that during the recording, director Richard Donner yelled “Genius! Fantastic!” and ruined the first take.
6. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Could you ever imagine E.T. and Elliot soaring across the moon without the goosebumps-inducing crescendo of Williams’ iconic theme? Us neither. Director Steven Spielberg was so in love the score he broke convention and edited the final chase scene around composition. It was a worthy winner of the best original score at the 1983 Academy Awards and a legit contender for best of all time.
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Williams' last trip to Hogwarts is regarded by fans as the best of his three Harry Potter scores. As the books/films take a darker, more sinister turn, Williams showcases a little more range. The title Hedwig’s Theme (which is every bit as iconic as the Star Wars title track to those of a certain age/persuasion) is joined by stunning pieces like A Window To The Past and Buckbeak’s Fight.
8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Unless you’re part of a niche Star Wars internet sub-culture, the series' prequels seem short on redeeming qualities. John Williams’ soundtrack, specifically, the Duel of The Fates piece from The Phantom Menace, is one of them. The epic light saber duel between Qui-Gon Jinn, the young Obi-Wan Kenobi and the menacing Darth Maul is Episode I’s high point, and Williams’ operatic companion piece dials the drama up to 11.
9. Home Alone (1990)
Williams’ score helped transform this low-budget (and low expectation) festive comedy into a quintessential Christmas treat. In 2018, the Houston Symphony’s Grammy-winning audio engineer Brad Sayles surmised it beautifully: “In Star Wars, Williams blasts the main theme at the beginning, but for Home Alone, he slowly unveils it throughout the film. This is the genius of John Williams. He works backwards, carefully interweaving the theme into other cues until we finally realise what the film is about.”
10. Hook (1991)
Spielberg’s star-studded, well-meaning take on what would happen if Peter Pan (Robin Williams) ever grew up hit more than a few bum notes, but John Williams held up his end with a typically magical score befitting J.M. Barrie’s Never Never Land. To this day, few can pinpoint what went wrong with Hook (incredible cast, huge budget, foolproof concept), but once more Williams’ music lifts the film beyond the sum of its parts.