Whether consciously or subconsciously, it’s undeniable that musical melodies have meaning to us all, especially melodies and themes in film music. Almost anyone can hum John Williams’ Star Wars main title theme. In a slightly different way, most anyone will recognise Alan Silvestri’s main theme from Back to the Future when they hear its striking first three notes.
Alan Silvestri is perhaps second only to John Williams in his ability to craft melodies and scores that deeply resonate with and affect audiences. Silvestri’s scores are impeccable in their ability to subconsciously tug at our emotions. It’s no wonder that a popular album release of Alan Silvestri’s film music is titled “Voyages: The Film Music Journeys of Alan Silvestri”. His compositions truly take the listener to other worlds and cause listeners to feel they are embarking on the same adventures as their on-screen counterparts.
Silvestri is an American composer with rock, jazz, and percussion roots who was educated at Berklee College of Music. His background and education provide him with an impeccable ability to compose music for films versed in Americana, or the glory days of the United States of America. In other words, his heroic brass themes, poignant, heartwarming string and woodwind harmonies, and bombastic and affecting action music have flawlessly underscored films like Back to the Future, Cast Away, and Avengers Assemble. Silvestri also has a well known and ongoing collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis. This duo has been extremely successful, producing films such as Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, and Contact.
With that in mind, selecting and ranking the top ten film scores of Alan Silvestri was not an easy task, as there was plenty of marvellous music to choose from. Here is my ranking, based on sheer creativity, the ability of the score to blend and enhance its respective film, and the film and score’s lasting impact on the film and film music communities.
10. Predator (1987)
For a film about a brutal alien mercenary hunting human soldiers in South America, Silvestri composed a driving, militaristic, and highly kinetic score. There are really only two motifs in the score: a jolting string motif for the Predator, and percussive rhythms for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character and his team. The Predator’s motif is present in moments of terror when it appears or is near, and is short and jolting before fading into the jungle, just like the Predator does. The music associated with the team of soldiers is driving and percussive, perfectly representative of running and being hunted in a jungle. Silvestri won the Saturn Award for Best Music and the BMI Film Music Award for this score, which is a clear portrait of his top-notch action music.
9. The Abyss (1989)
The score for The Abyss is without a doubt the best and most refined ethereal composition from Alan Silvestri. Spiritual and ominous choruses are periodically joined by chilling strings as a team investigates a submarine that was lost in the deepest portion of the ocean under mysterious circumstances. This score, like its film counterpart, is quite unique and unexpected in Silvestri’s catalogue. Silvestri’s decision to use high-voiced strings, chorus, and woodwinds to accompany the team as they navigate the endless, unearthly depths of the ocean played out unerringly in the film.
8. Father of the Bride (1991)
Father of the Bride chronicles a father’s struggle to let go of his beloved daughter in the time leading up to her wedding. Steve Martin plays the conflicted father, and Martin Short portrays the quirky wedding planner in a remake of a 1950s classic. From sweeping strings accompanying the traditional “Here Comes The Bride” melody to sweet, catchy jazz, this score heartwarmingly embodies the quintessential American tale of bride, her father, and the journey to her wedding. Silvestri won the BMI Film Music award for this score as well.
7. Romancing the Stone (1984)
In his first collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis, Silvestri let loose an interesting and jazzy take on the archaeological adventure score. In direct contrast to the likes of an Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider score, the score for Romancing the Stone is wholly representative of a 1980s flamboyant journey of an ordinary woman to save her sister. Plenty of cowbell, foot-tapping piano, and jazz saxophone join Kathleen Turner’s romantic-adventure writer turned real-life hero on her journey. She is joined by a brazen mercenary (Michael Douglas), and together they set out on a rescue mission that also entails a priceless gem. Silvestri’s score fits the time period so well, and gives the film a lighthearted and wholly delectable tone.
6. Night at the Museum (series) (2006-2014)
The scores for Night at the Museum and the subsequent series utilise french horn and strings to hauntingly herald the return of dangerous artefacts and important figures from time past. The music is made truly epic through the addition of ominous chorus sections and Silvestri’s signature brass-filled action music. On the flip side of the scores, Silvestri flawlessly inserts his emotive touch to accompany scenes of deep friendship and family values. The spirit of these films is effectively driven home with the help of Silvestri’s scores.
5. Cast Away (2000)
For one of the most famous Zemeckis-Silvestri collaborations, Alan Silvestri composed a stirringly simple score for one of the most heart-wrenching films of the last two decades. Though the score is short in overall length, it is filled with affecting woodwind motifs supported by sweeping strings. It is also only cued in the last third of the film, when Tom Hanks’ character leaves the island he has been stranded on and must face the reality of the life he let behind. The score is heavily affecting in the moving final moments of the film. Silvestri was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for this film, and also won the BMI Film Music Award for the score.
4. Contact (1997)
Mankind’s search for life beyond earth is a timeless theme in film. Robert Zemeckis crafted a deeply psychological and thought-provoking film that does a unique and impassioned job of answering the question of what would happen if we were to come into contact with extraterrestrial life. Silvestri scored the film with heart rending piano and woodwind melodies that are simple and intense, but segue into driving and exciting brass and strings effortlessly. This score and film combine to absorb and captivate the human mind.
3. Avengers Assemble (2012)
Working on the basis of his excellent compositions for Captain America: The First Avenger, Silvestri infused some of his rock roots into this percussive, exciting, and unforgettable score. Silvestri’s trademark thematic brass and thick, sweeping strings fill the score, aided by some fantastic percussion. His theme for the Avengers is easily among some of the most iconic superhero music ever written, in my opinion. The five note motif that the theme is based upon occurs mostly in the brass, and signifies the unity of the Avenger so very well. There is a reason that his super theme is associated with the Avengers both in marketing and with viewers, and its no surprise he’s on board to compose the score both Avengers: Infinity War films. You now know who to thank for that courageous five note brass theme you’ll hear in every Avengers: Infinity War trailer and the eventual film.
2. Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump is a film about a unique man who is lucky enough to experience many meaningful periods and events in American history. Silvestri composed one of his most undeniably “American” scores to accompany the story, filled with majestic strings and woodwinds, and bold brass. Touching piano and strings underscore Forrest’s uncommon character and innocence. As he triumphs in the many escapades of his life, whether it’s playing football, captaining a shrimp boat, or fighting in Vietnam, Silvestri’s score marches along with valiant brass, percussion, and strings to satisfyingly triumph with him.
1. Back to the Future (series) (1985-1990)
One of the best films ever made, with an even better score to go along with it. Rumor has it that after hearing Silvestri’s jazzy Romancing the Stone score, executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted a more “symphonic” score for the Back to the Future films. Rumor also has it that Silvestri did not enjoy being called “chicken”, and what followed would be one of Silvestri’s first fully symphonic scores and a timeless (pun intended) icon of 1980s pop culture. An instantly memorable three note motif is the basis of the main theme of the score, and its brassy first statement is later built upon and developed by the strings, woodwinds, and piano to accompany both heartwarming scenes and some of the most suspenseful action scenes in all of film. The score seamlessly transitions between percussive, intense action music and stirring, sweeping music accompanying the human elements of the film. Interspersed in the film are multiple relevant pop cues, but the orchestra often takes over the underscoring duties from those cues to directly communicate the strong emotions onscreen. This grand and bombastic, yet poignant score contains some of the most heroic and sweet music of Alan Silvestri’s career. The score is also absolutely perfectly cued in the film. It’s Silvestri’s very best in my opinion, and on top of that deserves to be viewed as one of the best film scores of all time.
Many of Alan Silvestri’s film scores could be tossed together to accompany any grand American adventure and the product would fit superbly. Silvestri has amassed an impressive and genuinely masterful career composing for some of the most entertaining and gratifying films of the last forty years. The films on this list are among the most beloved of all time, thanks in large part to the contributions of Alan Silvestri.
If you love any of the films mentioned above, be sure and check out the scores associated with them. I guarantee you’ll enjoy them nearly as much as the films themselves, if not more.
Silvestri’s next project is a collaboration with Steven Spielberg, the highly anticipated Ready Player One. It goes without saying that Spielberg picked the best possible composer for a film about 1980s nostalgia.
Do you agree with my list? Let us know!