The 20 Best Film Scores of The 21st Century (So Far)

14. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

Quentin Tarantion’s latest film is one of his most controversial. While there are some merits everybody can agree on, such as the stunning cinematography and some of the performances, many other factors of the film like the writing are much discussed, since quite many people think it’s not quite on the level of his usual scripts.

If there is one thing, that nobody has complained about at all though it has to be Ennio Morricone’s dazzling score. Considered to be Morricone’s comeback to scoring films “The Hateful Eight” wasn’t supposed to be fully scored by him. He offered to write some tracks for Tarantino, but after reading the script felt inspired and just wrote the entire score. The result is wonderful, albeit not what one would expect when hearing that Morricone scored a western.

The music bares almost no resemblance to his scores for Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s and sounds much more like a horror soundtrack. In fact some tracks from his original score for “The Thing” were utilized in the film. The music is slow and brooding, building tension higher and higher. It’s really an amazing score and a major comeback from one of the greatest film composers to have ever lived.


13. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

“The Social Network” is already often being referred to as the “Citizen Kane” for millenials. There is no doubt, that the film already has left a lasting impact, and it is probable to stand the test of time.

The story about Mark Zuckerberg founding Facebook is definitely intriguing, superbly acted and Fincher’s direction is spot on as usual. This film also started one of the most exciting collaborations in cinema right now: David Fincher’s work with Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. They composed his film’s soundtracks since “The Social Network”, and while they have only been composing memorable scores for his films, this one is still their best.

One of the first “modern” sounding scores to be awarded by the Academy, it wonderfully accompanies the film, pacing forward when needed, but also underlining a more vulnerable side to Zuckerberg, which the movie barely shows explicitly. It’s beautiful and tender, scary and energetic, it elevates an already strong film, to what will become a modern classic.


12. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

Carter Burwell has been around for a while, and has been composing wonderful soundtracks for just as long. So it’s no wonder, that he has shifted through all kinds of styles in his lengthy career.

When approaching “Carol”, Burwell decided on a sound, that resembles many of Philip Glass’s pieces. While there has been some criticism of this, barely anyone can deny the beauty of this score, and how well it complements the film. “Carol” is a tender and subdued love story set in the 1950s influenced by the style of Douglas Sirk.

Shot beautifully, the emotions of the characters are mostly kept brooding under the surface. The two elements that have to therefore communicate these feelings to the audience are the subtle acting and Burwell’s beautiful score.

The score is quiet and tender, especially when the piano sets in, but at the same time the strings provide an outlet for the character’s wild and confusing feelings. The score is also exceptionally beautiful, which of course helps.


11. Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

If there was one word only to describe “Under The Skin”’s score it would have to be haunting. Mica Levi truly composed an odd score, for a very strange scion fiction film. Jonathan Glazer’s film is centered around Scarlett Johannson as an alien, who seduces and kidnaps men. That’s about as much of a plot synopsis that you’ll get for this film.

It really lives of its surreal atmosphere and mood, and a big part of that is certainly owed to Mica Levi’s score. Filled with screeching strings, that eerily find their way into the viewer’s mind, to remain there for days, the score for “Under The Skin” really is – jus as its main character – alien. It’s hard to even imagine that there has ever been a score, that sounded like this in the history of film.


10. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Arcade Fire has already been a staple of indie and alternative rock since they 2004 album “Funeral” and since Spike Jonze had shot a short film with them for 2010s album “The Suburbs” it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, that they would join forces for Jonze’s next feature film.

His collaboration with Karen O on his last film “Where The Wild Things Are” had already brought out a wonderful score, that is certainly also recommended, but for “Her” Arcade Fire truly knocked it out of the park. They used a more restrained style than their usual music for this score, not using their usual towering crescendos of music and instead composed a very quiet score, sometimes only remaining on a single piano, other times on soft electronic sounds.

At parts the score is very sweet and helps realistically selling a love story between a lonely man and an operating system. Yet it also has its deeply sad moments, beautifully conveying the loneliness lying in the eyes of Joaquin Phoenix.


9. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

Before 2002 Paul Thomas Anderson had made some wonderful films, but had always clearly worn his influences on his sleeve. Then came “Punch-Drunk Love” and since then he has been creating a cinema, that really is quite uniquely his own. When trying to pinpoint the influences for this film, people are usually very helpless, pointing to Jacques Tati, and partially Robert Altman. Yet non of these can truly bring a point of reference for Anderson’s quirky romance.

Just like the film, the score by Jon Brion is unique too. Brion had already scored Anderson’s “Magnolia” and went on to provide some of the most memorable score in the last years, for films like “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” and “Synechdoche New York”. Yet his truly unique style, also started her in 2002 with “Punch Drunk Love”.

While the score echoes some of these probable influences (using themes from Altman’s “Popeye” and a sound design so meticulous it could truly stem from a Tati film), it’s truly Brion’s style that shines through all the way.

Romantic strings, Hawaiian guitars, a harmonium and sometimes just odd sounds, instrumentations and percussions all mixed together create a world, that makes this romance awkwardly tense and feel slightly off in many moments, yet it also makes us feel that heart racing sensation of falling in love.


8. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

After “Punch-Drunk Love” Paul Thomas Anderson made a film, that felt completely different: “There Will Be Blood” is epic in scope and almost completely devoid of humor, let alone quirk. Yet just like for his last film the score for this film delivered a complete revelation. “There Will Be Blood” was Anderson’s first collaboration with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

While known as a remarkable guitarist, barely anyone knew about his serious skills when it came to composing scores for films. The score for “There Will Be Blood” isn’t what one would expect for this type of film. An almost western of mythical proportion, its score sounds almost otherworldly.

Even Anderson himself was perplexed when Greenwood showed him some of the compositions he intended for the film, but the results speak for themselves. Eery strings sounding a bit like a horror score convey the dark depths of Daniel Plainview’s sociopathic mind and a set piece in which Plainview’s son gets injured while oil shoots into the air is perfectly set to Greenwood’s insane percussions, pushing forward Plainview as he runs towards his boy.