The music in a movie is something that’s not always appreciated. Yes, filmgoers are all aware that movies have scores, but not everyone pays attention to them. They remember how important the music is when they’re humming songs from Star Wars or Jurassic Park, but the comprehensive score of a film is unfortunately easy to ignore.
Like every year, there have been plenty of noteworthy original scores in 2016. Like every year, there were far more than ten films with great scores. In order to keep things brief and concise, only ten movies will be included.
There were so many movies with so many great musical arrangements. So do yourself a favor and really listen to what you may believe is background noise. The music in a film is a key aspect in creating a consistent tone. Not to mention, it’s great to leave a movie humming a new song you discover.
10. Cliff Martinez – The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest has to be the most polarizing movie of the year. Some have called it a profound look at the vanity of youth while others have called it a vapid showcase of bright lights and pseudo-intellectual nonsense.
Regardless of how the overall movie has been received, Cliff Martinez’s trippy score has earned continuous praise. Martinez, a frequent Refn collaborator, refuses to have his signature synth-heavy sound go unnoticed. The hypnotic blend of electronic sound is frequently the center of attention. Martinez’s score isn’t background noise as much as it is a necessary part of helping set the film’s tone.
Each of the 23 tracks has a part to play when it comes to setting the mood in Refn’s introspective piece of arthouse horror. The title track is a quietly haunting introduction to the world that has been created, “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Famous” is a somber and otherworldly look into Jesse’s psyche, and “Are We Having A Party” helps amps up the intensity during the chaotic final act. The songs all add to Nicolas Winding Refn’s vision, and as a result, they never feel meaningless.
It would be unfair to say that the music functions only as some type of distraction. Martinez has created the perfect companion piece to this unusual creation. The original score for The Neon Demon is just as surreal and eerie as the film itself. Cliff Martinez has done an exemplary job of putting together an atmospheric soundtrack that feels right at home in the most recent brainchild of Nicolas Winding Refn.
Highlights: Neon Demon, Don’t Forget Me When I’m Famous, Messenger Walks Among Us
9. Michael Giacchino – Doctor Strange
Marvel movies have never been well known for their music. The music is never outright horrendous, but it’s also frequently forgettable. Michael Giacchino’s score for Doctor Strange sits right alongside Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger score as the best of the franchise. That’s likely because it’s the perfect combination of blockbuster music and more psychedelic and experimental tracks.
Giacchino isn’t above generic blockbuster music. In fact, that’s usually his forte. He’s scored Star Trek, Mission Impossible III, John Carter, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, after all. The difference between him and the more in-your-face composers is that he knows how to achieve a balance.
Doctor Strange certainly has its share of songs that sound are both forgettable and familiar, but it also has plenty of hypnotic tracks that go well with the movie’s inherent eccentricity. “Reading is Fundamental” is a great example of a track that fits right in with the psychedelic aspects of the film.
Though it sounds as if the inclusion of epic action movie music is a huge flaw, it’s really not anything worthy of too much criticism. This is a Marvel movie after all, so the inclusion of grand orchestral pieces is sort of a given.
Had this been a less skilled composer, maybe there would be something to complain about, but Giacchino knows what he’s doing. His expertise when it comes to crafting this sort of music is evident from the first track to the last. Doctor Strange has the perfect mix of music that allows it separate itself from a crowded genre.
Highlights: Ancient Sorcerer’s Secret, Inside the Mirror Dimension, The Master of the Mystic End Credits
8. James Newton Howard – Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
James Newton Howard is no stranger to scoring big summer movies. The eight time Academy Award nominee was responsible for the scores in King Kong, The Dark Knight, and The Hunger Games series.
Even so, the Harry Potter universe is filled with vibrant and memorable pieces of music. Hedwig’s Theme by John Williams is a legendary piece of cinematic music at this point. So despite his history, he still had some big shoes to fill. Luckily, his score for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ranks among the best in the Harry Potter series.
Howard smartly incorporates the classic Harry Potter sound while also adding his own spin on things. The title track, appropriately named Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, starts by sampling Hedwig’s Theme, but the music that follows is something new entirely. Howard follows with a booming and intense assortment of sounds that make you feel happy to return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
The upbeat fantasy sound is also perfect for casual listening. The score is the perfect fit for the movie, but it’s actually a great collection of songs regardless. The songs are begging to be played in the background during other activities. They’re energetic enough to keep your interest, but calm enough to keep you from getting distracted. The fact that it’s enchanting both on and offscreen is why it’s such a monumental achievement.
Highlights: Main Title – Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them,The Erumpent, A Man and His Beasts
7. Dario Marianelli – Kubo & The Two Strings
Kubo & The Two Strings is a movie about a magical instrument, so hopes were high regarding the musical score that would accompany the film, especially since animated movies are well known for their music. Unfortunately, Marianelli’s previous collaboration with Laika was a lackluster effort from the esteemed composer. It turns out that this was not a sign of a career going downhill, but rather a small misstep.
“The Impossible Waves” transports you into Kubo’s world and the subsequent tracks continue to keep your attention. Marianell infuses his music with the passion that was severely lacking in The Boxtrolls. Kubo & The Two Strings is a visually dazzling movie with a heart of gold, and the music represents the same level of quality.
The culturally eclectic mix of songs is exactly what Kubo needed to further distinguish itself from other animated films. Considering the movie is unlike any animated films that have come along in years, the similarly unique music is great to hear.
Out of every animated movie released this year, Kubo & The Two Strings has the best OST. Outclassing Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kubo succeeded because it’s obvious how much work was put into making music that would dazzle viewers. Marianelli’s commitment is evident immediately after the first song starts playing. His aim was to please, and he did a terrific job.
Highlights: The Impossible Waves, Meet the Sisters!, Monkey’s Story
6. Mark Korven – The Witch
It’s easy to appreciate horror movie scores. Since the use of sound is such an important part of building tension in horror movies, the OST is frequently hard to ignore. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that a number of different horror films barely missed the cut this time around. Don’t Breathe, Green Room, and Ouija: Origin of Evil all had scores worth talking about. Unfortunately for them, they had nothing on Mark Korven’s unsettling score for The Witch.
The music in 2016’s most critically acclaimed horror movie is what nightmares are made of. From the opening song all the way through to the very end, Korven’s music is designed to crank up tension and keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Witch isn’t a traditionally scary movie as much as it is an unsettling one, and the same can be said about the score. Small touches like quiet whispering and distant screeches in “A Witch Stole Same” powerfully evoke a sense of dread. Meanwhile, “Witch’s Coven” takes a less subtle approach to creeping you out.
The only thing stopping The Witch from sitting at a high position on this list is the lack of period appropriate songs. The Witch’s period setting is one of its strongest assets, and it’s a shame that the score has a tendency to feel a bit too modern.
However, it becomes less of an issue when you realize how skillfully done the entire score is. When it comes to scoring a movie, being period appropriate isn’t as important as skillfully creating music that fits the tone of the movie. Korven succeeds in that regard, which is why overall, his score is a success.
Highlights: What Went We, A Witch Stole Sam, The Goat & The Mayhem