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The 20 Best Sci-fi Movie Soundtracks of All Time

10 June 2016 | Features, Other Lists | by Brian Gregory

Kubrickian films

Science fiction is a genre that has produced many innovative and classic film scores. From the introduction of the theremin, to startling orchestration, the analogue synth soundtracks of the 70’s and the electronica of recent years, Sci-Fi has it all.

Of course this is a very subjective topic for soundtrack aficionados and I have left out John Williams’ incredible Star Wars scores due to me (as well as lack of space) pedantically choosing to class them as Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction. So, here I look at my personal 20 greatest Science-Fiction musical masterpieces.

 

20. Mysterious Island (1961) by Bernard Herrmann

Civil War refugees are trapped on an island with giant crabs, bees, a chicken and Captain Nemo! It’s a marvellous fantasy adventure to which Bernard Herrmann adds a sweeping, majestic score. One of the many highlights being his orchestral representation of the giant bee. Utterly magical.

Fondly remembered for its fantastic Ray HarryHausen stop-motion, Mysterious Island also boasts one of Herrman’s finest scores (and that is saying something). His music is wonderful throughout, a superlative film soundtrack of the highest standards. Who in 2016 would even attempt (or be capable) of such compositional complexity for a kids’ sci-fi film?

 

19. Silent Running (1973) by Peter Shickele (also featuring Joan Baez)

This very moving, unforgettable space story benefitted from a mixture of both marvellous scoring from Peter Schickele and the ethereal folk voice of Joan Baez.

Schickele composed two main theme songs (with Diane Lampert) which were performed by Joan Baez. I have always loved the juxtaposition of Baez’s beautiful, haunting, flower power vocals with the hi-tech science-fiction on screen. For me, it perfectly represents the natural world that Freeman Lowell (the film’s central character and botanist) is trying desperately to save from greedy corporate interests, while orbiting the planet Saturn in giant geodesic domes.

Schickele’s orchestration (largely rhythmically) evokes both the beauty of nature and the foolishness of man, creating action, mystery and suspense effortlessly. The sensitive melodies for the film’s three charming robots (Huey, Louie and Dewey) tug at the hardest of heart-strings. A shame that he didn’t complete more scores.

 

18. Predator (1987) by Alan Silvestri

One listen to the exciting cues on this masterpiece will have you whipping out your copy of the film to watch again. Silvestri’s music brilliantly provides themes for both the Predator itself and its prey (the commandos). The whole score is a symphonic powerhouse, full of timpani, blasting horns and driving, military rhythms. A full on sensory assault!

Silvestri himself ran into problems during the completion of the film, when his carefully mapped out cues suffered the fate of so many scores-the dreaded unplanned cuts and edits. His planned themes often ended up cut and misplaced throughout the film. Yet, despite this, the power of the music stands out and wins through. The Predator soundtrack is a resounding, adrenaline filled success.

 

17. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) by Bernard Herrmann

Not only are Bernard Herrmann film scores wonderfully effective when heard in the film that they are scoring but they are also, more often than not, supremely moving and evocative pieces of music in their own right. Herrmann’s score for the legendary science fiction classic The Day The Earth Stood Still is no exception.

Incorporating the theremin (two theremins actually, one high and one low) along with harp, piano, electric violin, percussion, brass and a Wurlitzer organ, this score is an incredibly innovative work. A work that is vivid, colourful, awe-inspiring and gripping. It set the benchmark for all future science fiction soundtracks to follow.

 

16. Forbidden Planet (1956) by Bebe and Louis Barron

Forbidden Planet is an astoundingly original and unique soundtrack for its time, produced by electronic pioneers Bebe and Louis Barron, using hand-crafted circuitry in the days before the use of synthesisers (and even the acknowledgement of the existence of ‘electronic music’). Indeed, this is widely seen as the first all electronic film-score.

The revolutionary new sounds created by The Barrons stunned film audiences of the day and the score for Forbidden Planet remains a must hear for all sci-fi film fans. It’s a milestone of electronic film music that remains hugely influential and very listenable.

 

15. The Black Hole (1979) by John Barry

The Black Hole is an underrated Disney sci-fi from the late 70’s. A touch too dark for kids, it performed poorly at the box office and is now best remembered for John Barry’s masterful score.

Soaringly lyrical, Barry’s often rhythmic score has lost none of its dark mystery. It’s an exciting, often romantic work, full of stirring strings and captivating horns. The whole piece is unmistakeably John Barry but with nods to the science-fiction genre that he was now working in. He brought his Bond scoring experiences and adapted them flawlessly into creating a compelling and timeless soundtrack for The Black Hole.

 

14. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) by Jerry Goldsmith

Gene Roddenberry personally asked Jerry Goldsmith to compose the theme for the first Star Trek motion picture, a task that Goldsmith described as the hardest challenge he ever faced. Re-inventing a franchise with a completely new theme was no easy task, yet Goldsmith came up with a fantastic, catchy fanfare that would prove to be instantly memorable and also prove popular enough to be re-used (with minor alterations) as the theme tune to the TV series Star Trek-The Next Generation years later (again at Roddenberry’s insistence).

As well as the main theme, Goldsmith created many marvellously mysterious and creative soundscapes for the film, such as his Klingon Battle Theme, which was also re-used in future Trek film Projects. Start Trek-The Motion picture earned him his 11th Oscar nomination.

 

13. Planet Of The Apes (1968) by Jerry Goldsmith

This score has achieved legendary status amongst soundtrack fans and quite rightly so. The main title itself is a work of wonder, with random percussion, flutes, piano bursts and sudden, whooshing horns. The whole score is jam-packed with eccentric, fresh and creative ideas.

Exciting cues such as Crash Landing feature groaning strings and exciting trumpets, while the action cue of No Escape gradually builds to a thrilling climax as astronaut Taylor is captured on screen. Goldsmith pulls out all the stops throughout, including a Brazilian drum head created to mimic ape sounds and stainless steel mixing bowls from his own kitchen! Many thought that these sounds were electronically created but the use of organic instruments work superbly and serve to make this remarkable music even more timeless. The Planet Of The Apes score of 1968 is essential.

 

12. Mad Max 2 (1982) by Brian May

A post-apocalyptic masterwork from Brian May (not of Queen!). The soundtrack for Mad Max 2 is a wonderfully intense score with motifs perfectly assigned to each main character and a relentless, action packed, thunderingly innovative selection of music throughout.

It’s a moody work that compliments the barren and hostile imagery perfectly, with May informing scene after scene via his varied cues. In comparison to the bland and forgettable Fury Road score of recent times, May’s efforts become richer with each passing year.

 

11. Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan (1982) by James Horner

Horner’s score for Wrath Of Khan is a successful work of intense drama and heavy emotion. On top of the dramatic elements, the score is eerie and ominous. Not only does it capture the relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock but it also tells the film’s story in musical form.

The action cues feature aggressive percussion and pizzicato, with delightful swirling strings. Kirk and The Enterprise are represented melodically, while Spock has more than a touch of melancholy to his themes. Horner’s music (complete with plenty of horns) really compliments director Nick Meyer’s nautical inspirations for the Enterprises battles with Khan’s ship.

 

 

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  • No score music by Edward Artmiev for Solaris or Stalker? BOO!!!!

    • Alain

      I expected the Stalker soundtrack to be in there – as i scrolled I thought ‘Great it’ll be number 1’.

      • Brian Gregory

        Also a great score!

    • Brian Gregory

      A great score-but only room for 20.

      • Yeah but those are essential in terms of the music in the sci-fi genre.

        • Brian Gregory

          It’s all subjective-I’d argue that these 20 are essential too.

          • Yeah but w/o those scores from those 2 Tarkovsky films. Your list is meaningless.

          • Brian Gregory

            No, that is just your opinion. Make your own list. These are my personal favourites, as made crystal clear in the introduction. Not a definitive list and no list with Herrmann, Barry, et al is ‘meaningless’ unless you have a lack of knowledge of film scores.

          • Then you’ve could’ve clarified it or make at least a honorable mention. Otherwise, your list is bullshit.

          • Brian Gregory

            What a sad individual you are. Pointless trying to explain to such a person. I doubt you know most of these,aren’t willing to listen to them and can’t even be bothered to read the article, acting like a petulant child. ”I can’t believe______ (fill in blank space) is not there! Blah blah blah” I tried to be reasonable but I’ll leave you to your ignorance,

          • Oh shut up you moron. You probably haven’t seen either of those films. Therefore, your list is still bullshit.

          • frank mango

            you’re bullshit. and annoying. make you’re own site and shut the fuck up for once

          • What the fuck do you think this is: http://thevoid99.blogspot.com/?zx=e257f3d2468499a2

  • Phil Rosenthal

    no starwars?!

    • Brian Gregory

      INTRO-Of course this is a very subjective topic for soundtrack aficionados and I have left out John Williams’ incredible Star Wars scores due to me (as well as lack of space) pedantically choosing to class them as Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction. So, here I look at my personal 20 greatest Science-Fiction musical masterpieces.

  • Paul O’Connor

    with you PHIL…. what the ? how can Star Wars be left out ????? THE most iconic sci-fi soundtrack E V E R and not including stolen music like 2001: A Space Odyssey

    • Brian Gregory

      INTRO-Of course this is a very subjective topic for soundtrack aficionados and I have left out John Williams’ incredible Star Wars scores due to me (as well as lack of space) pedantically choosing to class them as Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction. So, here I look at my personal 20 greatest Science-Fiction musical masterpieces.

      • D Train

        It’s debatable as to whether or not Star Wars is sci-fi, I think it’s universally accepted to be just that. The argument that it is “space fantasy” or “space opera” is a joke as both of those monikers are easily nestled as sub-genres in sci-fi. C’mon! Weak.

        • Brian Gregory

          So why is it ‘debatable’?

          • D Train

            It’s debatable because if someone presents a convincing argument I’ll entertain it. Seems silly to me that a film that opens with a shot of deep space, a space ship and then introduces 2 robots is suddenly not considered SF.

          • Brian Gregory

            The best label for Star Wars may be “science fantasy,” a subgenre that blends elements of sci-fi and the supernatural. The force and the soap -opera elements tend to put it in that subgenre but I agree, it could fit into sci-fi in many ways too. I find that all the mainstream magazines/sites have discussed SW to death and as I only had 20 spaces, wanted to shine a light on lesser known masterworks too.

  • Interstellar?

    • D Train

      Ugh. Garbage film.

      • I’m not a fan of the film myself, but soundtrack there is amazing

        • Brian Gregory

          ‘Amazing’ is thrown about very carelessly nowadays, I’d say it’s okay.

  • Mortimer

    ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ should be in Top 5 easily. Goldsmith’s masterpiece.

  • Guido Von M

    I would add Blade Runner with the soundtrack of Vangelis. Important absence from this list.

  • tsinasky

    blade runner absent? and the soviet sci-fi movie?ridiculous

    • Brian Gregory

      Why is it ridiculous? It’s clearly stated in the introduction that this is a personal top 20. ‘The Soviet Movie’? I think you mean Solaris, one of the finest films ever made.

  • SpaceCrawler

    Logan’s Run (Jerry Goldsmith), The Omega Man (Ron Grainer) should be in here, too. And The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann) is probably one of the best of all time. Should be listed higher.

  • D Train

    The only John Carpenter film on here is the only film where he didn’t do the score? Weak. No love for They Live, Escape from New York or Starman? For shame! And no Clockwork Orange? Gilliam’s Brazil? Alphaville?
    This list is a strong premise but incomplete, imo. Lots of good selections but some glaring omissions. Maybe next time.

    • Brian Gregory

      It’s clearly stated that this is a personal, subjective list, not definitive! I love all of those scores that you mention and own every single one on vintyl and on CD. There was only room for 20.

  • Vlamyr Rojas C

    Blade Runner. Hardware.

  • CaseX

    It wouldn’t be Taste of Cinema if they didn’t mention “Under the Skin” at least weekly. I’m starting to think they produced the film or something.

    • BK207

      LOL sooo true

  • Bifrost Bigfoot

    Where is The Fountain ? This list sucks.

  • Unkle Dee

    Terminator 1984

  • James Walter

    Great list, surprised by the lack of Cliff Martinez’s 2002 Solaris

  • Luka Mina

    BOOOOOOOOOOOO! NO JURASSIC PARK! BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Veronica Clarke

    Interesting list. I enjoyed seeing Wrath of Khan on here – I used to have a record of the soundtrack when I was younger, and always loved it.

  • Webster

    It should be noted that music from Howard Hanson’s brilliant Symphony No. 2 (The Romantic) is used to marvelous effect in The Alien as well…