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The 20 Best Sci-fi Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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

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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  • 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.

          • john wrafter

            You are one sad individual Steven. You troll a lot and act like a spoilt brat, hurling abuse for no reason what so ever. A tiresome turd that refuses to be flushed. For me, this is a fine and interesting list, too sophisticated for your self-conscious taste buds. Ps-I saw your site, it’s cliche-ridden, by the numbers sh*te. No wonder you feel the need to rant for no apparent reason at anyone who disagrees with you.

          • Wow, who bit you in the asshole? And you call me troll?

          • 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…

  • Ruchit Negotia

    OKAY, I get this is a personal list an all but c’mon! Bladerunner’s soundtrack is unanimously considered one of the best ever! Especially for a sci fi movie!…idk for me i would put BR soundtrack in MY top 10 of all time and top 3 for sci fi.

  • Jules F. Melo Borges

    Wrath Of Khan/Horner better than Motion Picture/Goldsmith? Right…

  • ClanTechie

    Blade Runner should have been here.

  • YD Cee

    Terminator?

  • Саня Яровой

    No BLADERUNNER? ARE YOU KIDDING?

  • Cashin

    How the hell have you missed Blade Runner by Vangelis off this list? ARE YOU INSANE?

  • Cashin

    Also I might add. 22mins into 2001… Is also Aliens Sound Track music. Finding Ripley

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  • Hans Ranum

    Hard to take a Sci-Fi score list serious, if it doesn’t include “Blade Runner”, or “Star Wars” for that matter..:P…but thanks for the list anyway!