The 20 Best Sci-fi Movie Soundtracks of All Time
10. Back To The Future (1985) by Alan Silvestri
We had to wait around 25 years for the full score to be released (previous versions relied heavily on the songs from the film rather than Alan Silvestri’s efforts) but it was worth the wait. Adventurous, exciting and as memorable as the film itself, Silvestri’s score is a delight.
The classic, melodic themes still resonate inseparably from the iconic images and characters of this memorable time-travelling movie. Silvestri’s score finds room for humour while also providing a certain grandeur for the movie. He stated that his aim was to magnify the magic and thrill of time-travel that we see on screen, while maintaining the high tempo of the speeding Delorean and sense of not having any time to waste.
Also worth checking out are the unused cues from the film that are far darker than what was released.
9. The Fly (1986) by Howard Shore
Howard Shore had a long and successful collaboration with director David Cronenberg and with The Fly in 1986, created a fine science-fiction score that is still lauded to this day.
Cronenberg and Shore approached the creation of the soundtrack with the idea of it being an operatic tragedy that would be reflected in the tone and melodies of the music. They accomplished this beautifully. Cues such as The Phone Call set an ominous tone , while The Finale fully utilises The Royal London Philharmonic Orchestra to a full ensemble climax.
It’s a score full of harmonic delights and heavy brooding atmosphere, punctuated by the odd light-relief of piano and woodwind romance (such as on Particle Magazine). The Fly soundtrack is a triumph, with Shore more than achieving his aim of operatic and melodramatic substance.
8. Under The Skin (2014) by Mica Levi
Under The Skin’s tale of a mysterious female alien on Earth produced a marvellously original and suitably other-worldy score from Mica Levi. Mainly using a viola to write and record, Levi became immersed in the composition for 9 months. Using a plethora of wide-ranging influences from John Cage to euphoric club-land tunes, she created a score for our times.
The music is creepy, peculiar and at times downright sexy. It mirrors Scarlett Johansen’s mysterious, alluring alien, complimenting her perception and experiences of this strange planet named Earth. It’s a modern score that (unlike many generic attempts in modern cinema) lingers long in the memory.
7. E.T (1982) by John Williams
One of John Williams most beloved scores (for which he won his 4th Oscar) E.T offers timeless melody, innocence and wide-eyed wonder. The iconic main theme is a melodic joy, engrained in the DNA of cinematic audiences the world over. Yet, there is more to this score than the main title.
There are several superb cues in ET (eight themes). Among them, ‘The Flying Theme’ with its string orchestration stands out, hinting as it does at this alien’s magical powers and sense of freedom. Glimpsed in other cues, it appears fully in ‘The Magic of Halloween’. While ‘Wonder theme’ -full of soul-satisfying flutes- also smartly serves to book-end the score.
John Williams was at the height of his powers in the 1980’s and the E.T soundtrack is a perfect example of the master showing how it’s done.
6. Tron (1982) by Wendy Carlos
From rock to electronica, the great electronic pioneer, Wendy Carlos, produced a soundtrack to Tron that has it all. Carlos recalled that the main theme to Tron came to her in the early hours of the morning and that she furiously scribbled notes down on the notepad that she kept by her bed for both the central themes of the movie. The final main Tron theme that emerged is a beautiful example of early 80’s sequencer trance and of Carlos’s electronic expertise.
The unique digital/electronic score to Tron, featuring a MOOG and a GDS digital synthesisier, along with the sounds of the London Philarmonic Orchestra, has lasted extremely well and dated far better than film (which still remains a fantastic kids’ movie, complimented skilfully by Carlos’s score).
5. Fareinheit 451 (1966) by Bernard Herrmann
Is there nothing that Bernard Herrmann couldn’t do? His score to Fareinheit 451 is yet another triumph in a career full of them. This adaption of Ray Bradbury’s book of the same name juxtaposes the cold, inhuman world we see on screen with music of human emotion, intensity and complexity.
The opening theme is full of colourful, vibrant percussive sounds over swirling strings . It also has an air of mystery and tragedy that sets up the contrasts of image and music that embody the rest of the film. Later themes range from the highly mechanical (for book burnings) to the emotive and tragic. His music supplies hope where there seems to be none.
4. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1978) by John Williams
Director Steven Spielberg wanted a simple motif (consisting of only 5 notes) by which humanity could communicate with the aliens for his film’s dramatic final sequence. After running through hundreds of permutations, the famous 5 note riff, that is now famous world-wide and forever associated with alien-life, was settled on and also incorporated into the complex full score that Williams had created.
Aside from those 5 famous notes, the complete score offers a rich, rewarding experience. Coming hot on the heels of his incredible score for Star Wars, Close Encounters was given a powerful, contemplative treatment. It beautifully and eerily captures that sense of the unknown, a potentially ominous threat, coupled with a sense of human wonder about the cosmos and its possible inhabitants.
3. The Thing (1982) by Ennio Morricone
Minimalist, ice cold and threatening, Ennio Morricone’s score captures both the ever changing threat of ‘The Thing’ and the lonely, forbidding and forlorn Antarctic landscape on which the film is set. In fact, much of the score sounds like an authentic John Carpenter or Goblin piece, such is its electronic minimalism, which works perfectly at exaggerating the on screen tension and claustrophobia.
Morricone and Carpenter may have had an uneasy working relationship but, like the film itself, The Thing soundtrack is a classic of its genre (Morricone later used some unused pieces from this film for 2015’s Hateful Eight score).
2. Alien (1979) by Jerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith and Director Ridley Scott had a difficult relationship during the making of Alien, much of the completed score didn’t even make it into the finished film. Long-time Scott sound-editor Terry Rawlings had temped the rough cut of the film with pieces from other Goldsmith scores. Jerry did not like this way of working and there were many heated exchanges.
Aswell as an orchestra and use of rhythmic elements, Goldsmith augmented these sounds with the more unusual and unfamiliar sounds of a didgeridoo, steel drums, a shankha, a serpent and a shofar. The main title was rejected by Scott, so Goldsmith came up with another, weirder piece that he said took him only 5 minutes to compose and that everybody loved…….. except Jerry!
The ambiguous score as a whole is sweeping, claustrophobic, scary and powerful. It captures the fear of the darkness of space and of the unseen with the wonders of the universe. Alien’s soundtrack is at times both threatening and hypnotically beautiful.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by various classical composers/Gyorgy Ligeti
2001 boasts a very unusual score for a science-fiction movie in that none of the music that appears was written for the film. Alex North had composed a score but director Stanley Kubrick rejected it as not suitable. He was right. While North’s score is a fine piece of music, it sounds dated when placed over 2001’s ground-breaking visuals and heavy-weight themes.
Instead, Kubrick used established classical pieces such as Johan Strauss 11’s On The Beautiful Blue Danube-as a space waltz- and Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra for the film’s opening title ( for when the ape discovers how to use a weapon and for Bowman’s transisition into the star child.)
He also memorably used four pieces from contemporary composer Gyorgy Ligeti. With its eerie and mysterious use of dissonant chords sliding slowly around space and time, Ligeti’s Atmospheres was perfect for the pivotal Star Gate sequence. As usual, Kubrick’s judgement and selection were correct and 2001’s score greatly enhances his film’s incredible imagery and symbolism.
Author Bio: Brian Gregory is a tutor by profession, who is now making his own short films (and their soundtracks) under the name of Gregory Films. He writes for several film websites, an online Beatles group, a monthly sci-fi magazine and will shortly be published in a new book on rarely seen horror films. His favourite directors would probably be Stanley Kubrick, Alan Clarke, Andrei Tarkovsky, Roman Polanski and Sidney Lumet.
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