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The History of Film Soundtracks

How Important is Music in Film?
In this investigation I will be researching and aiming to find how how important music really is to a
Film. I will use reliable websites such as IMDB, Warner Bros. and sony.
I have started my research by looking at the correlation between the best films (by general opinion
and approximate data) and the best film soundtracks (also by general opinion and approximate

The best films of all time:
• 1. The Godfather
• 2. The Shawshank
• 3. Schindlers List
• 4. Raging Bull
• 5. Casablanca
• 6. One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest
• 7. Gone With the Wind

The best film scores of all time:
• 1. The Good, the Bad and the
• 2. The Godfather
• 3. Dr No
• 4. For a Few Dollars More
• 5. A Fistfull of Dollars
• 6. Werckmeisrer Harmonies
• 7. Hachi
• 8. Scarface

The best composers of all time:
• 1. Bernard Herrmann
• 2. John Williams
• 3. Ennio Morricone
• 4. John Barry
• 5. Elmer Bernstein
• 6. Maurice Jarre
• 7. Max Steiner
• 8. Jerry Goldsmith
• 9. Hans Zimmer

According to IMDB:
The Godfather was rated as the best film of all time, the main theme was composed by Nino Rota,
who didn't appear of IMDB’s list of the best composers of all time. It also appeared on IMDB’s list
of the best film scores of all time, ranking at number 2. The Shawshank Redmeption placed 2nd, its
score was written and composed by Thomas Newman. He also didn't appear on the list of best
composers, although this was only on one site, it is likely he will appear on different lists on
alternative sites. Schindler’s List came 3rd, the music was written and composed by John Williams
who cam 2nd on the best composers list. Pietro Mascagni composed half of the music for Raging
Bull, a 1980 film by Martin Scorsese. Dooley Wilson composed the music for the 1942 film
Casablanca. He did not appear in the top ten of any of the other lists and neither did the film. One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was composed by Jack Nitzsche. Like the previous film and
composer, they are not in the top ten of either list. The soundtrack for Gone With the Wind was
composed by Max Steiner who appeared 7th on the list of best composers, he also composed
some music for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bernard Herrmann composed the music for
Citizen Kane, he was ranked 1st on the list of greatest composers. The Wizard of Oz soundtrack
consists of mainly Judy Garland and Ken Darby.
Generic and Recognisable Soundtracks
Some soundtracks are far more recognisable than others, there are some that everyone knows,
even if they haven't seen the film. Theme songs for films like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘India Jones’ are very
well known and easily recognisable for many reasons. Firstly because of the popularity of the film
franchise, some people may argue that the soundtrack helps considerably with the popularity.

According to Games Radar the 10 most iconic film theme tunes go as follows:
• The Lord of The Rings
• Chariots of Fire
• Superman (1978)
• Back to The Future
• Jurassic Park
• Jaws
• Inception
• Suspiria
• Dawn of The Dead
• The Great Escape
I instantly recognised seven of these themes, the others I have not heard, mainly because they are
from older films. I conducted a survey on SurveyMonkey asking several questions about film
soundtracks. I asked a range of questions, some multiple choice, some with written answers to
allow a various range of answers. The results are as follows:
What is the most recognisable film score from this list?
Star Wars (0)
ET (0)
Jurassic Park (4)
How important is a films soundtrack?
Very important (3)
Quite important (1)
Not important at all (0)
Order these film composers in order of how much you know about them:
Hans Zimmer 1st
John Williams 2nd
Ennio Morricone 3rd
What are your favourite film soundtracks?
Favourites: Inception, Harry Potter, Harry Potter.
Second Favourite: The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Interstellar
Third Favourite: Interstellar, Inception, Shrek
What films had the worst soundtracks?
Worst: Sharknado, Alvin and The Chipmunks, Sharknado

Second Worst: Sharknado 2, Alvin and The Chipmunks 4, Sharknado 2
Third worst: Sharknado 3, Alvin and The Chipmunks 1, Sharknado 3
Do you pay close attention to film soundtracks?
Yes: (1)
Kind of: (3)
If films had no music do you think it would have the same effect?
Definitely: (0)
Maybe: (0)
No: (4)
Would you listen to film music for leisure as though it were a normal song?
Yes: (1)
Depends: (1)
No: (2)
This information shows that the general opinion is that soundtracks are important and that they are
a vital part of any films success.
Directors and Soundtracks
Some film directors appreciate the importance of film scores, or music in film in general, even if it
wasn't composed for the feature. Some of these directors are completely underrated and some are
well known for it. In this part I will be investigating the way these directors think towards music.
Quentin Tarantino
Probably most well known for his 1994 film ‘Pulp Fiction’, Quentin Tarantino has, at several times,
expressed the necessity and his passion for good music in film. The Tarantino Collection is a
tracklist put together of all his best music in his films. It comes with a booklet about the tracks,
including an interview with him.
In the interview Tarantino states:

“One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or
when I have an idea for a film is, I go through my record collection and just start
playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the
movie. Then, ‘boom,’ eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs, or one song in
particular, ‘Oh, this will be a great opening credit song.’”
We all know the opening music to Pulp Fiction, ‘Misirlou’ by Dick Dale. This is an iconic piece that
instantly reminds you of the conversation between Ringo and Yolanda, better known as ‘Pumpkin’
and ‘Honeybunny’. This scene obviously reminds you of the music, and vice versa. This is instantly
followed by the song ‘Jungle Boogie’ by Kool & the Gang. This is another iconic piece which
immediately reminds you what a pilot is and what they call a Quarter Pounder in France. I didn't

write it there but I'm sure you heard John Travolta say ‘A
Royale with cheese’. Yet again, a powerful piece of evidence
that shows how important music in film really is, even if it is
only about a burger.

The memorable ‘Ear scene’ in Reservoir Dogs is accompanied by the hit song ‘Stuck in The Middle
With You’ by Stealer’s Wheel. In The Tarantino Collection he mentions the fact that a film can
change the perception of a song altogether, he asks:

“when you do it right and you hit it right then the effect is you can never really hear
this song again without thinking about that image from the movie”?
And that’s the power a director has, if used properly. To utilise the song effectively essentially
brands it as your own and almost acts as a sort of advertisement. Hearing ‘Stuck in The Middle
With You’ or ‘Son of A Preacher Man’ places the imagine of Vic Vega holding that bloody ear or
Vince Vega walking into the house of Mia Wallace, absolutely baffled.
I’m sure that right now you have a sudden urge to listen to one of these songs or maybe even
watch Pulp Fiction, I don't blame you, that’s the power of music in film.
Stanley Kubrick
Arguably one of the greatest directors of all time, known for his unique and controversial films, the
memories from his movies go hand in hand with artists such as Beethoven and Johann Strauss II.
The use of music from Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange is widely known although it actually
contains more music from Rossini than Beethoven. Still, it brings back several memorable
moments from the film which are probably not suitable to mention, hence the movies ban for 27
years between its release in 1972 and Stanley Kubrick’s death in 1999.
2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick and was the first
film of its kind. It was so advanced and credited for being incredibly realistic when it came to
aspects of space travel. Some parts have minimal dialect and only music playing, used to create an
ambiguous atmosphere, as that was generally the point of most of the film. It does this by creating
suspense and leaving it to the imagination of the viewer. With the music sort of creating an
inception in the viewers mind, it is something which would have been almost impossible without the
pieces of music. The infamous scene of the monkey hitting the carcass of some sort of animal with
a bone is accompanied by a piece called ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ by Richard Strauss. This is a
very famous piece of music used in various other films to emphasise the current situation,

reenforcing the idea of music used within imagery in film. It has been used in films like ‘Wall E
(2008)’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)’, and ‘Zoolander (2001)’. It is generally used to
show a sort of accomplishment or turning point in the film, in ‘Wall E’ it is used when the captain
realises they can return to earth, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ where Willy Wonka first
teleports the chocolate bar and ‘Zoolander’ where they begin to hit the computer like apes. It is
preset imagery, the director does not need to place a new piece of music in this part
because ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ already places the necessary image in the
viewers head.
The famous conversation between ‘Dave’ and ‘Hal 9000’ is the truly most
memorable part of this movie, showing the power and danger of artificial

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan is, in my opinion, the greatest screenwriter and director in the history of film. He
has written, directed and produced astounding films such as Interstellar, Inception, and The Dark
Knight Trilogy. These films have all had soundtracks written for them by Hans Zimmer, who is also
my favourite composer.
This film required a very different style to what Hans Zimmer usually produces. The soundtrack
prominently features instruments such as an organ and several types of synthesiser. The electronic
sound produced by the organ fits perfectly into the theme of space and the unknown. If listened to
carefully, you can hear the inspiration taken from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It is a very similar film
in terms of themes, such as space exploration, moments of extreme ambiguity and artificial
intelligence. The film takes a lot of emotion and effects from the ‘eternal abyss of space’.
This is heavily emphasised through the soundtrack and necessary in scenes such as the module
travelling through the wormhole, ‘Mountains’ and ‘No Time for Caution’. The huge crescendo in
‘Mountains’ perfectly fits the moment of seeing that 500ft wave towering above the module. The
suspense is built up throughout the beginning of the piece. The whole scene focuses on Time
Dilation, the idea that time can be slowed down or sped up due to incredibly strong gravitational
In the scene, the gravity is so powerful on that planet that spending only an hour on its surface is
the equivalent to 7 years on earth. This means that they are very conscious of time and must be
quick. The audience is subconsciously made aware of the theme of time by the use of a ‘ticking’
sound in this part of the score. The BPM of the track is 96, it is quite a slow track with just over a
second between each beat, or tick, making it sound even more like a clock.

The Dark Knight Trilogy
To most people, the only Batman film theme is the one by Danny Elfman for the 1989 Batman,
starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Hans Zimmer undoubtedly
matched and exceeded expectations with his theme for ‘Batman Begins (2005)’, ‘The Dark Knight
(2008), and ‘The Dark Knight Rises (2012)’. He matched Christopher Nolans dark take on the
trilogy by making the soundtrack sound sinister and intimidating. The Joker’s theme alone is merely
two notes held. They are made to sound slightly metallic, rough, and as though they are being
scratched. The main theme was recorded on a cello but other parts included violin and piano
strings being scratched by a razor blade. Bane’s theme includes chants, this creates powerful
imagery seeing as he spent a lot of time in a prison called ‘The Pit’, an underground hold where
hundreds of prisoners are held in awful conditions. The pain of the prisoners is heard in the chants,
as if to emphasise the injustice.
The entire soundtrack has a various mix of emotions but generally expresses a lot of this through
darkness and fear. The whole thing sounds sinister and scary but promotes the idea of triumph and
justice. The strings play generally low and ominous melodies while the brass plays the outstanding
notes, like a light shining through the darkness, as though to emphasise Batman in the corrupt and
evil city of Gotham. The use of timpani is overpowering and captivating and fits perfectly with the
other instruments.
Overall this is one of my favourite soundtracks as it fits so well with the film and clearly took a lot of
time, effort, and thought.


This is by far my favourite film and soundtrack of all time. Christopher Nolan’s 2010 ‘Sci-fi heist
thriller’ included an all star cast including the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Joseph
Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. The soundtrack is composed by Hans Zimmer, who has done the
soundtracks for many other Christopher Nolan films, such as the ones previously mentioned.
The film focuses on the ability of the human mind, mainly the subconscious. It constantly jumps
between dreams and reality, aiming to provide the viewer with a thought provoking experience,
hence the name ‘Inception’ which means:

“an act, process, or instance of beginning”

This is generally talking about an idea, the beginning of an idea in the viewers mind. To understand
the film completely it requires full, non-stop attention. This means that the music in the background
may not be noticed as much as and it would in another film. Nonetheless it is still subconsciously
recognised by your mind, you are able to understand the soundtrack as it fits so incredibly well with
the themes.
The ‘Dream Collapsing’ score is a perfect example. Even just by listening to it I'm sure you would
be able to distinguish the point where the dream collapses, no visual aid needed. This is one of the
best pieces in the soundtrack and compliments the actual scene, which produces and breath
taking experience.
The best piece of the whole soundtrack is the main theme ‘Time’. This is my favourite piece of
music ever composed. It is a relatively simple piece consisting of only 4 chords but it creates such
a powerful image. It begins very gentle and quiet, then slowly builds up in texture and dynamics.
The first instruments heard are a piano and timpani. After a few bars a cello and violins are heard,
the timpani becomes increasingly powerful. An electric guitar is heard for a small portion of the
piece which works very well with the orchestral ensemble. It continues to rise until its peak where
all instruments are playing together and french horns are heard, these are the most prominent
instruments in that section. They are impossible to miss. The piece is a vary of different emotions.
It sounds sad and melancholy at first but becomes almost angry and hateful towards the middle.
The middle section sounds slightly more joyful with a definite triumphant feeling. I cannot express
how much this compliments the featured scene or the entire film. The scene shows Dom Cobb
(Leonardo DiCaprio) going home to his children after a few years of being unable to see them. He
has just pulled off a job that he wasn't sure he was able to do, neither was his team. Failing to
complete the job would have resulted in his incarceration and possibly death. This is why the piece
begins depressing and becomes happier and triumphant. Though the end scene shows him at his
home greeting his children for the first time in around two years. He spins his totem (a small object
which shows whether he is dreaming or awake, if it keeps spinning he is in a dream, if it topples he
is awake). He does not take much notice of the spinning top although the camera is slowly panning
towards it, making it the main focus of the shot. The totem continues to spin until the screen goes
to black. This is why ‘Time’ remains slightly sad throughout the entire piece, because although he
is home, there is a chance it is not reality. The piece becomes slower and more gentle towards the
end to signify the end of his journey, although, a large crescendo of all instruments is heard just
before the piece ends. What this signifies is not clear, though some people claim it means it is not
completely over. It is just the general ambiguous nature of the entire film.

I noticed something in the piece that cannot be a coincidence, the piece is called ‘Time’ and the
entire film covers the theme of time. I set a BPM counter on the song and it turns out its BPM is
actually 126.
This means that the first and third beat (the most recognisable beat in any 4/4 time signature) are
1.05 seconds part. The .05 is
practically unrecognisable so
it sounds as though they are
a second apart, showing that
time is literally significant and
relevant to the piece ‘Time’.

This clearly shows a strong connection between the music and the film. Hans Zimmer was told the
basic theme and delivered an incredible contribution to the world of soundtracks.

The question I asked at the beginning was “The History of Film Soundtracks: How Important is
Music in Film?” Throughout my investigation the general opinion was that music is very important
in the world of film. In fact there were no negative opinions towards music in film.
Whether it be prewritten songs or scores specifically composed, music is the lifeblood of film,
absolutely imperative to a successful movie, which leads to the final question that no one really
knows the answer to. Will music in film ever become outdated?