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

7. In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2001)

Wong Kar Wai’s “In The Mood For Love” is a truly beautiful but deeply sad film about a love that cannot be.While this should make for a shattering movie, the characters behave so dignified in their pain, that the film isn’t only bearable, but even very rewatchable. Like for “Carol” one of the only elements of he film, that allows a true outlet of emotion is the painful beautiful score.

The film is quite obviously carried by an often reoccurring motif, that manages to never get boring, no matter how often it’s played. Yet their are other themes too, that while played much less often, are in no way inferior in beauty to the film’s main theme. In a way the soundtrack is therefore quite much like the film it accompanies: deeply sad, but also incredibly beautiful.


6. Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, 2013)

“Prince Avalanche” is certainly the dark horse on this list of soundtracks. While it did some some minor exposure the film didn’t really gain much attention and that hasn’t really changed.

What is much crazier even is that its incredible score by Explosions In The Sky hasn’t garnered much attention either, The post-rock band had already scored “Friday Night Lights” it’s their collaboration with David Wingo, who scored some of Jeff Nichols’s films that truly shines.

While Green’s film is heartfelt and sweet, it’s the score, that really gives the film its intimate beauty, while also adding a sense of awe for all things beautiful. The instrumentation is unusual for Explosions In The Sky, but really it’s rather unusual in general.

It sounds very grounded in a way and really sets you in the beauty of the woods, where you spend the entire film with these two characters. The emotions it conveys are wide ranging: it’s sad, quirky, introspective, occasionally epic, but most of all it’s magnificent.


5. Talk To Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)

Alberto Iglesias is one of the greatest composers of film scores out there right now. He has already been writing most of Almodovar’s scores for many years and is now more and more getting to write for other films too. Yet it’s always exciting to see him reunite with Almodovar, since he truly writes great scores for his films and seems to understand the director’s sensibilities very well.

The score to “Talk To Her” is a wonderfully lively one of a big part. It also carries a lot of sadness to it, but it never indulges in that and always seems to bring a certain light attitude to its pain. T

he melodies are beautiful and incorporate some obviously Spanish influences in it’s must, with flamenco guitars and castanets accompanying a score that mostly consists of string arrangements. It’s a wonderful listen and honestly one, where the melodies linger on in your head for a long time.


4. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)

Jesse James had been tackled in quite some films before, but when Andrew Dominik tackled his story in 2007 it turned out quite different than any of the other films. Maybe it was his different perspective on an American myth as an Australian that made this film much less interested in any of the historic events or even the crimes.

Instead it’s the sad story of a living legend, who falls deeper into paranoia until in the end even that can’t keep him from dying. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis composed one of the most beautiful and tragic scores to ever be played in a cinema and though the score is first and foremost very heavy on strings and sounds very melancholic they manage not to drift off into sappy territory.

Instead the sadness seems honest and earned, never does one feel cheaply manipulated by the music, or the film. The sadness just fits the Greek tragedy that happens to play in the Wild West.


3. The Lord Of The Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001 – 2003)

It would be impossible to write a list about the greatest scores of this century without including this grand score by the wonderful composer Howard Shore. While he has made many other wonderful soundtracks for directors like David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese, this here is probably his crowning achievement. But what to write about this soundtrack?

It is universally beloved, and already as classical of a score as it could possibly be. It’s constantly cited as one of the greatest side by side with classics like “The Godfather” or “Star Wars”. Plenty has been written about its use if Leitmotif and its epic scope.

How did Shore conceive such a grand work? It probably remains a mystery. But what remains is the joy of it, the wonderful melodies that it’s stacked with, the familiar feeling of The Shire, the epic sound of the battles, the uplifting song of the Rohirim and the brooding danger of Mordor. It’s a score that will truly remain and that always recalls the wonderful films that it accompanies.


2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Thomas Alfredsson, 2012)

If “Talk To Her” was an impressive score, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is truly overwhelming, even though it’s incredibly subdued. It’s a shame this is a score that barely gets mentioned among the best. It’s a superb score that wonderfully fits the mood of the film.

The film itself is all about atmosphere, while it does have a suspenseful and interesting plot, it’s the films atmosphere that truly gives it life. What is that atmosphere? It’s hard to put into words, so thankfully Iglesias’ score exists to convey the emotions.

It’s subdued, exciting, mysterious, deeply sad and much more. Including the piano, strings, electronic sounds and wood wind section, the film perfectly coneys a time and place and brings back the look of the film immediately, yet paradoxically it also manages to sound timeless.

It’s a shame the movie never got a sequel with the same creative team, since it’d be exciting to hear how Iglesias would have continued that atmosphere musically. What we ae left with is this score to cherish and appreciate.


1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

If the last score in this list was timeless, this one isn’t only that, but doesn’t really seem to inhabit a place in the universe. In that sense it’s fitting that it accompanies “The Master” because its protagonist Freddie Quell seems to have the same issue of not really being of a certain time or place.

Jonny Greenwood has yet to deliver a score that isn’t excellent, “The Master” is his crowning achievement so far. It’s much less energetic or scary than the score for “There Will Be Blood” and instead feels much more aimless and disassembled.

Yet it is these qualities, that make it such a perfect score. The film is a perfect fit for this score and it’s hard to put into words what makes Greenwood’s score so amazing. It’s just truly a unique and twistedly beautiful score and the best way to understand its merits is listening to it.

Author Bio: Sebastian Bobik was born in New York but moved to Vienna in an early age . After being dazzled by the likes of Kurosawa and Tarkovsky amongst others he decided to become a filmmaker , so far a handful of rather miserable short films stand claim to that . You can also follow his ramblings on Twitter at @SebastianBobik.