The 20 Greatest Director-Composer Teams in Cinema History

14. Michael Powell and Brian Easdale

While Michael Powell’s legacy has grown exponentially since his time, his main composer Brian Easdale has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten. Easdale wrote the music for Powell and his frequent directing partner Emeric Pressburger’s many classic technicolor films from the 1940s through the next couple decades.

Powell and Pressburger, frequently called “The Archers,” typically made very emotional, visually stunning films with high thrills and romance. Although much about their films were innovative and ahead of their time, there remained a classic British essence in the movies. Similarly, Easdale’s scores captured the popular romantic style while adding newer elements wherever necessary.

The first film they made together was the Himalayan drama Black Narcissus about the sexual frustration of nuns in the areas sinful air, in which the dynamic lighting and sets paired impressively with Easedale’s religious, passionate soundtrack.

In Gone to Earth they combined pastoral settings with English folk tunes and in the controversial Peeping Tom the perverted, voyeuristic themes were magnified by the challenging, intense music. Their greatest group effort, however, was the gorgeously surreal ballet drama The Red Shoes, featuring an original ballet by Easdale which won him an Academy Award.


13. David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti

From Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti put out some of the most original and unique films of all time. Lynch’s films have always been known for their bizarreness and absurdity, from the mutant baby in Eraserhead to the insane cast of characters in Wild at Heart.

They also, time after time, explore the theme of the facade of society and the darkness that hides just underneath. He is a filmmaker who does not restrict himself to feature films, attempting many television shows, stage productions and more experimental projects as well. Much of the success of Lynch’s works, however, come from the incredibly unsettling atmosphere, which comes not only from the cinematography and scenes but also from the musical score.

The scores for Lynch’s movies are comprised of both classic oldies songs and Badalamenti’s original soundtracks. In both Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, the music is a combination of the songs of artists like Roy Orbison and a score that weaves comfort with more disturbing sounds. This mirrors the films’ mixture of shallow and happy tones with the darker interiors.

In Mulholland Drive they created a much more sinister vibe and in The Straight Story they created a less bizarre film with a more standard score. Their greatest collaboration, winning them many awards and a Grammy for Badalamenti, was the TV show Twin Peaks about a murder in a small town, whose themes ong became a hit and is due for a third season in the next couple years.


12. Tim Burton and Danny Elfman

Tim Burton is one of the most iconic filmmakers of our time, with most of his movies being instantly distinguishable from their tone and design, not to mention Johnny Depp in a bizarre role. Usually dark, and always quirky, Burton’s projects are typically fantastical in spirit and plot, and even when the finished film is not a masterpiece, the environment is still brilliantly envisioned.

One of the defining factors of Burton’s films, however, is not his filmmaking but the scores by Danny Elfman, who has written the music for all but two of the director’s movies; Ed Wood, because the two were quarreling, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, because it is based on a musical by Stephen Sondheim.

The two began their partnership when Burton needed a soundtrack for his debut feature film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Being huge fans Elfman’s band “Oingo Boingo,” Burton and his star Paul Reubens approached him to score the film, leading to the start of a very fruitful team.

Elfman’s iconic theme to Batman helped portray the comic-book epicness of Gotham City, working greatly with Burton’s ambitious and enormous set of the city. Some other exceptional collaborations between the two are Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride and many others.


11. Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi

Hayao Miyazaki is one of greatest animated filmmakers of all time, winning worldwide acclaim for his heart-warming, magical tales. With animators at Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki created a unique style of art, which can portray any combination of wonder, fright, excitement, mysticism and much more.

Not only are his frames complex and multi-layered, but the thematic content of his stories are not always cut and dry Like many animated features, there are some morals to the story, but they are sometimes conflicting and the moral truth is more ambiguous. Much of the magical effect of Miyazaki’s movies, however, are due to the expressive musical soundtracks by the composer Joe Hisaishi.

Hisaishi is one of the most accomplished modern Japanese composers and, outside of his many collaborations with Miyazaki, is noted for his diverse expanse of musical style, from romanticism to minimalism, as well as a terrific collaboration with another Japanese director, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano.

The partnership between the director and the composer began with Miyazaki’s second film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and they went on to work together for all of his films since. His lush, evocative scores relate the carefree wonderment of the animations, while also conveying some of the deeper, more serious, themes and motifs.


10. David Lean and Maurice Jarre

David Lean is one of the defining great film directors of Britain, accomplished in many styles and genres, but known especially for his massive epics. He made a relatively small number of films throughout his 40 year career, especially when compared to many of his peers on this list, but Lean made every one of them count.

He first found success with the gorgeous romance film Brief Encounter, followed by two phenomenally bleak adaptations of works by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Finally, In the 1950s and 60s Lean took the cinematic world by a storm with three consecutive epic masterpieces, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

Of course, these epic films required epic scores to accompany their long stories and themes, which is where Maurice Jarre came in. The two teamed up midway through Lean’s career during Lawrence of Arabia, but they made up for lost time by creating some of the awe inspiring films and soundtracks and teaming up for every subsequent film Lean made.

The Academy Award winning score for Lawrence made for probably their greatest collaboration, but all the rest of their efforts are also terrific, including A Passage to India and Ryan’s Daughter, with their scores ranking among the best of all time.


9. Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini

Blake Edwards is one of the great comedy legends of Hollywood, best known for his collaborations with actor Peter Sellers. Many of his projects, such as The Pink Panther series, have become some of the most legendary comedies in movie history.

There are many aspects of these films that make them memorable, from the hilarious performances to the goofy slapstick gags, but the film’s all also feature catchy jazz scores by the great Henry Mancini; some of which are more famous than the films they come from. Mancini was a talented musician turned composer, starting his way into the film industry as a composer for Universal where he worked on over 100 pictures.

Their partnership began when Mancini left the studio and started composing more unique scores, one of which was the famous “Peter Gunn Theme” which was commissioned by Edwards. They loved working with each other and together created such memorable comedies as A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther films and The Party.

Arguably their most enduring work, however, is the Audrey Hepburn led romance Breakfast at Tiffany’s whose legacy continues to grow, and the film’s main theme song “Moon River” which won Mancini an Academy Award for Best Song.


8. Akira Kurosawa and Fumio Hayasaka

This cinematic team features one of the most famous directors on this list and one of the most underrated and unknown composers on this list. Kurosawa is one of, if not, the most acclaimed and influential filmmaker of Japanese cinema. His films were simultaneously revolutionary in breadth, narrative and style, causing international remakes of some of his films, including Seven Samurai and Yojimbo as the western classics The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

Much of the style and atmosphere of these classics set in Feudal Japan is due, however, not only to the art direction and plot, but to the distinctive soundtrack by Hayasaka which contributed much more than accompaniment.

As soon as Hayasaka and Kurosawa met, they connected on a deep artistic level, both learning and contributing to each others craft. Hayasaka would sometimes give recommendations to the visual aspects of the film and Kurosawa would utilize the music to a higher degree, using it not only to convey changes in tone, but the overall thematic elements as well.

Due to Hayasaka’s early death, the two only collaborated on a handful of films, but their results became some of the greatest works of Japanese cinema, including Seven Samurai, Ikiru and Rashomon. Some of Hayasaka’s musical students like Masaru Sato and Toru Takemitsu went on to score some of Kurosawa’s later masterpieces, carrying on his legacy.