John Williams is a name that almost anyone will recognise, however avid a moviegoer or musician they are. This is thanks to Williams profound ability to create separate, lush musical worlds to accompany films. A trip to the movies has been a traditional pastime for nearly one hundred years, and John Williams’ name and music have become synonymous with that thanks to his scores to films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park. When playing themes from the aforementioned scores, nearly anyone in the world will be able to tell you the film it came from and one name: John Williams.
All that being said, I have taken up the difficult task of choosing the ten best scores of John Williams and ranking them. I’ve taken into account Williams’ ability to compose for nearly every film genre in existence, and also the impact and recognisability these scores have had with the general public and film and music communities.
10. Home Alone
Combining traditional and unconventional instrumentation with Christmas carols is the perfect accompaniment for a tale set during the Christmas season. Williams also brings his thematic approach to this score and interweaves those themes with tunes of the season that we already know. Williams also composed original Christmas carols for the first and second Home Alone film scores that are among the most hauntingly beautiful of all his compositions. This score is a must-listen during the Christmas season.
While everyone does not agree about the quality of this film, what they can agree upon is the musical score’s incredible memorability. Williams’ ‘Flight to Neverland’ cue is undoubtedly joyous and brings nothing to mind but soaring above the clouds. While I’d say Hook is one of his lesser known scores, it is almost always featured in symphony orchestra film music concerts around the world.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
In his final outing as the composer for the Harry Potter franchise, John Williams culminated all of his thematic and textural work into a marvellous and magical (pun intended) score. His ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ is widely considered the theme of the franchise, and is instantly recognisable as the motif of Harry Potter’s magical world.
7. Superman: The Movie
This score contains, arguably, the greatest superhero theme of all time if not simply the most memorable. Many Americans consider that theme to be our second national anthem. Either way, this scores comprises the perfect amount of epic superhero action while also letting poignant, loving themes in as well.
6. Saving Private Ryan
Some of Williams’ best writing has come in association with historical war films. This score captures the gritty action of war, but also evokes the delicate emotions associated with war’s consequences. One of the best John Williams cues of any of his writing is ‘Hymn to the Fallen’, memorialising those lost and serving as an anthem for their loved ones.
5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
I would consider this score to be the best extraterrestrial film score of all time. Williams did not bow to the stereotypes of alien films that had come before, and instead composed a thick, sweeping score that personifies the emotions of mankind when faced with otherworldly visitors. This score also contains a five note motif (used in the film for communicating with the alien visitors) that any person you ask will recognise.
E and F. Play those two notes in succession on a piano and you can be sure someone in the room will exclaim, “Jaws!”. In one of Williams’ first collaborations with Steven Spielberg, he found a way to make all of us afraid to get in the water. His two-note motif is the essence of the suspenseful anticipation of an approaching shark, and the action music that fills in the gaps of this score is the perfect representation of the stirring emotions leading up to vanquishing the beast.
3. Jurassic Park
In another collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Williams’ composed perhaps the most versatile and beautiful score of his career. The two-note motif that begins the ‘Jurassic Park theme’ is instantly recognisable and deeply moving. In interviews, John Williams describes writing this score with the goal of crafting music that reflects the awe we have before God. This music is immaculate in association with the characters of Jurassic Park as they see resurrected dinosaurs for the first time. On the opposite end of this score is some of the best action music of Williams’ career and some near perfect musical representations of intense suspense. So to sum it up, this versatile, phenomenal score personifies human awe, terror, reverence, and happiness, all within two hours.
While Jurassic Park is my personal favourite of Williams’ scores, there are two more that I believe have had a transcendent impact on the film and music worlds that is truly invaluable.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Only slightly less universally recognisable than my number one John Williams score, Williams’ score for Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced us to fearless archaeological adventurer Indiana Jones, and aided George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in bringing the old-fashioned adventure back to the silver screen. The ‘Raiders March’ cue embodies all of the brave endeavours of our hero. Williams gorgeous score also accompanies the supreme danger of the Ark of the Covenant and the sweet love Indiana has for Marion superbly. ‘Raiders March’ and ‘Marion’s Theme’ are worthy staples in the hearts of the film and music worlds.
1. Star Wars: A New Hope
John Williams is widely credited with igniting the resurgence of symphonic classical music in film, and he solidified this trend with his incredible score to Star Wars: A New Hope. In what has been deemed his ‘space opera’, John Williams established many musical themes that would carry on for nearly fifty years. If you aren’t familiar with what Williams’ ‘Force Theme’, ‘Leia’s Theme’, or ‘Rebel Fanfare’ are, paste them into your search bar and I have no doubt you’ll recognise them. If nothing else, Williams’ ‘Star Wars Main Title’ theme is the most recognisable theme in all of film music. All in all, this score established a resurgence of the symphonic film score, complete with themes that transcend time, and space.
John Williams is one of the best film composers of all time, if not the best. His music has ignited the love of a night at the movies and the love of film music for the better. I doubt anyone does not know at least one of his musical themes. Because of that, this list was extremely difficult to compile. Do you agree with my list? Let us know!