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.