This week marks the 85th birthday of one of the most iconic composers in film history: John Williams. Whether you’re a child of the 80s or a recent fan of his work through the Harry Potter films, John Williams likely created some of the most iconic pieces of music you’ve ever heard. Even if you aren’t aware of this maestro of cinema, his legendary scores have been leaping from the screen for over 60 years.
Over his incredible career he has won five Academy Awards for his unique takes on every genre, from sci-fi to disaster films. To celebrate the man himself we have compiled a rundown of the Top 10 John Williams themes, featuring some of his finest work you may not be aware of. Stick around to the end for our Spotify playlist, which is perfect for setting the mood while playing any of our awesome Star Wars machines.
These are just a handful of the awesome scores you can thank John Williams for:
Most of the world could recognise this intense music, even if you’ve never seen Spielberg’s notorious 1975 film about a monstrous great white shark terrorising a small New England town. Right from its first appearance in the film the slowly increasing tempo of Williams’ theme gets your heart racing, right up to the shark’s terrifying first onscreen attack.
9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The theme Williams created for this fantastic film, which was incorporated into the main theme but also used as a key plot point for communicating with aliens, will forever be ingrained into popular culture. Even though it’s used to represent mathematical language, the simple five-note theme is easily memorable yet totally timeless, in classic John Williams style.
8. Catch Me If You Can
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, Williams’ expertly-crafted theme for this crime caper - based on a true story - evokes the feel of the film in Williams’ iconic manner. Catch Me If You Can’s music may not be as catchy as some of the others on this list, but it deserves its place for giving the film its unique feel. Without the music, Steven Spielberg’s film would lose much of its impact.
7. Saving Private Ryan
Another collaboration between Spielberg and John Williams, Saving Private Ryan’s music was composed with the reverence appropriate for the source material. Managing to convey both the majesty and the horror of the events of World War II was always going to be a difficult job, but Williams pulls it off with his usual ease. Few people who have seen the Normandy landings in this film will forget them, thanks in large part to the incredible score.
6. Schindler’s List
Once again proving the range of his composing work, John Williams created an appropriate score for this sombre depiction of the struggles of the Jewish people in World War II. Williams showed with this film that he can make music for any genre of film; Schindler’s List is a far departure from the exciting adventures he previously worked on, and still totally fitting to the gravity of the story.
5. Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park was a revolution in computer-generated film technology, but also continues to capture the imagination of film fans through its incredible theme music from Williams. When the main characters see the dinosaurs for the first time and the iconic theme starts to play, Williams guaranteed a moment that will live in film history forever. From the exciting T. Rex chase to the terrifying velociraptors, every aspect of the film is enhanced by Williams’ score.
4. Harry Potter
When the beloved books made the transition to film, there was only one choice for a composer who could do justice to the source material. John Williams manages to evoke the otherworldly nature of Hogwarts with the haunting Harry Potter theme, and his incidental music adds to the mystery and excitement of this incredibly popular series of children’s films.
E.T., yet another collaboration between Williams and Spielberg, was particularly challenging to score. Williams apparently found it difficult to create music that would evoke sympathy for such a weird-looking creature, but the end result was so effective that Spielberg re-worked part of the chase scene to fit with the score. The music will have any audience on the edges of their seats, urging ET to escape.
2. Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones was created as a throwback to the adventure stories of early cinema, so Williams created a fittingly adventurous theme and score that would transport audiences to an exciting world of international escapades. The famous theme is inextricably bound to the adventures of Indy, whether he’s fleeing boulders, fighting Nazis or swinging across deadly pits of snakes.
1. Star Wars
Possibly the most famous music in all of cinema’s history, and certainly some of the most popular, the music John Williams has created for all of the Star Wars films across five decades (so far!) will probably endure forever. From the crashing brass over the opening credits, to the terrifying Imperial March for Darth Vader, to exciting pieces such as Duel of the Fates for the newer films, every part of the music is instantly memorable and arguably elevated the films to their status as classics.
We've created a Spotify Playlist compiling all of these John Williams' Soundtracks (see below) so that you can have a listen for yourself and be reminded of these classics.
So, that’s our rundown of ten of John Williams’ best works in cinema music. Whichever one is your favourite, we’re sure you’ll join us in wishing him a very happy birthday and a continuing successful career. However, with decades of creative work behind him, there are bound to be entries that you think we’ve missed from this list. That’s where you come in!
Do you think we should have included Superman or Lincoln in our top ten? Did you particularly love Fiddler on the Roof? Let us know! You can get in touch with me through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email email@example.com.