Joker: Niko Tavernise/2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. Dragon: 2019 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved. Abbey: Jaap Buitendijk/2019 Focus Features. Avengers: Film Frame/Marvel Studios 2019. 

Music of the 2020 Oscars: The Songs and Scores Most Likely to Be Nominated

History could be made in the field of best original score when the nominations for the 92nd annual Academy Awards are announced Jan. 13: If both Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel) and Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker) receive nods, it would be the first time that two female composers were nominated in the category in the same year.

In addition to Captain Marvel, two other Marvel Cinematic Universe films are contenders for best original score nominations: Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Last year, Black Panther became the first MCU film to receive a nomination -- and subsequent Oscar -- for best original score. Ahead of the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 9, the members of the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which determines the nominees for best original song and score) will announce its shortlist of 15 semifinalists on Dec. 16.

Until then, these are 25 leading candidates for best original score based on the composers’ Oscar history; the excitement generated by their projects; and early-indicator awards and nominations that the films have received.

The Aeronauts, Steven Price (Amazon): Price won in this category six years ago for Gravity.

Avengers: Endgame, Alan Silvestri (Disney): Silvestri was last nominated in this category for Forrest Gump (1994). Avengers is not only this year’s No. 1 box-office hit in the United States, it earned the biggest worldwide box-office total in history.

Captain Marvel, Pinar Toprak (Disney): Toprak is the first woman to score an MCU film.

Downton Abbey, John Lunn (Focus Features): Downton Abbey is vying to become the first film based on a TV series to be nominated in this category since 1993’s The Fugitive, scored by James Newton Howard.

Ford v Ferrari, Marco Beltrami (20th Century Fox): Beltrami was nominated in this category for 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and The Hurt Locker (2009), collaborating on the latter with Buck Sanders.

Frozen 2, Christophe Beck (Disney): Beck was surprisingly passed over for an Oscar nom for his score to the first Frozen. It did, however, bring him a Grammy nod.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Olaf from Frozen 2.

The Good Liar, Carter Burwell (Warner Bros.): Burwell has been nominated in this category twice in the last four years for Carol (2015) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). He has a second eligible score this year, Missing Link.

Harriet, Terence Blanchard (Focus Features): Blanchard received his first nomination in this category for last year’s BlacKkKlansman.

A Hidden Life, James Newton Howard (Fox Searchlight): Howard has been nominated six times in scoring categories and is looking for his first win.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, John Powell (Dreamworks): Powell was nominated for the original How to Train Your Dragon in 2010.

The Irishman, Robbie Robertson (Netflix): This is the 11th film on which Robertson has worked with director Martin Scorsese, a relationship that dates back to The Band’s 1976 film, The Last Waltz.

Jojo Rabbit, Michael Giacchino (Fox Searchlight): Giacchino has been nominated twice in this category, for Ratatouille (2007) and Up (2009), winning for the latter movie.

Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir (Warner Bros.): The Icelandic composer won an Emmy in September for her work on HBO’s Chernobyl.

The King, Nicholas Britell (Netflix): Britell has been nominated in this category in two of the last three years for Moonlight (2016) and If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).

Little Women, Alexandre Desplat (Sony/Columbia): Desplat is a 10-time nominee in this category and winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The Shape of Water (2017).

Marriage Story, Randy Newman (Netflix): Newman has yet to win in this category, despite eight scoring noms. In October, the Hollywood Film Awards named Newman top film composer for his work on the movie.

Motherless Brooklyn, Daniel Pemberton (Warner Bros.): Pemberton received Golden Globe nominations for his scores to Steve Jobs (2015) and Gold (2016).

1917, Thomas Newman (Universal): Newman has amassed 13 Oscar noms for his scores -- but no wins (yet) -- making him the living composer with the most scoring nods without a win.

Pain And Glory, Alberto Iglesias (Sony Pictures Releasing International): Iglesias is a three-time nominee in this category for The Constant Gardener (2005), The Kite Runner (2007) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).

Richard Jewell, Arturo Sandoval (Warner Bros.): The film reunites the legendary trumpeter with director Clint Eastwood after Sandoval scored Eastwood’s 2018 film, The Mule.

Spider-Man: Far From Home, Michael Giacchino (Sony): Giacchino’s second serious contender in this category following Jojo Rabbit. Far From Home is vying to become the first score from a Spider-Man film to be nominated.

JoJo Whilden/Columbia Pictures
Zendaya (left) as Michelle and Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, John Williams (Disney): Williams has received a record 46 noms in this category, including five for previous films in the Star Wars franchise.

Daisy Ridley (left) as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Toy Story 4, Randy Newman (Pixar/Disney): Newman’s eight previous noms in this category include one for the first Toy Story, released in 1995.

Us, Michael Abels (Universal): Jordan Peele wrote, directed and co-produced Us. Abels also scored Get Out, Peele’s previous film.

Waves, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (A24): Nine Inch Nails’ Reznor and Ross won in this category for The Social Network (2010). They also won a Grammy for best score soundtrack for visual media for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).


The members of the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem more dedicated than ever to rewarding fresh talent. Last year, four of the five nominated songs -- including the winner, “Shallow” from A Star Is Born -- were co-written by first-time nominees. These are 20 top contenders for best original song based on the songwriters’ Oscar history; the heat generated by their projects; early-indicator awards and nominations the films have received; and, of course, the song itself.

Brooklyn: Glen Wilson/2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. Harriet: Glen Wilson/Focus Features. Harriet: Glen Wilson/Focus Features. Godfather: Courtesy of Netflix. Frozen: 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved. 
From top: Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose in Motherless Brooklyn; Erivo (left) as Harriet Tubman and Aria Brooks as Anger in Harriet; Avant in The Black Godfather; Elsa in Frozen 2.

Speechless,”Alan Menken, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, Aladdin (Disney): Menken is a four-time winner in this category; Pasek and Paul won for “City of Stars” from La La Land. “Speechless” is performed by Naomi Scott.

I Punched Keanu Reeves,” Randall Park & Daniel M. Nakamura, Always Be My Maybe (Netflix): Park, who performs the song, co-produced and co-wrote the film, in which he stars with Ali Wong.

Letter To My Godfather,” Pharrell Williams & Chad Hugo, The Black Godfather (Netflix): Williams, who performs the song, was nominated in this category six years ago for “Happy” (Despicable Me 2) and has already been honored at the Hollywood Film Awards for “Letter.” The documentary is a profile of legendary music executive Clarence Avant.

For You My Love,” A.R. Rahman, Shellee & Rianjali, Blinded by the Light (Warner Bros.): Rahman, who also performs the song in this valentine to Bruce Springsteen, has received three best song noms, winning for “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

“One Little Soldier,” Regina Spektor, Bombshell (Lionsgate): Spektor, who performs the song in the Charlize Theron film based on sexual harassment at Fox News, received a Grammy nomination six years ago for “You’ve Got Time” for the TV series Orange Is the New Black.

I’m Standing With You,” Diane Warren, Breakthrough (20th Century Fox): Warren, a 10-time nominee in this category, hopes to score her first win with this tune, performed by Chrissy Metz, who also stars. Warren has a second eligible song, “Forward Motion” from Late Night (Amazon Studios).

“Da Bronx,” Paul Williams & Charles Fox, The Bronx, USA (HBO): Nominated three times in this category, Williams won for co-writing “Evergreen” from A Star Is Born (1976). Fox has been nominated twice before. The doc is a sociocultural history of the Bronx. Performed by Robert Klein and Donald Webber Jr.

“Beautiful Ghosts,” Taylor Swift & Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats (Universal): Performed by Francesca Hayward, reprised by Judi Dench and sung by Swift during the end credits, this is vying to become Lloyd Webber’s third song nomination. He won for “You Must Love Me” from Evita (1996) and was nominated for “Learn to Be Lonely” from The Phantom of the Opera (2004).

Don’t Call Me Angel (Charlie’s Angels),” Alma-Sofia Miettinen, Ariana Grande, Ilya Salmanzadeh, Lana Del Rey, Max Martin, Miley Cyrus, Savan Kotecha, Charlie’s Angels (Sony): Martin was nominated three years ago for “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls. No more than four songwriters can be recognized on any one song in this category, so some of the seven co-writers will be taken off if the song is nominated. Performed by Grande, Cyrus and Del Rey.

Into the Unknown,” Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Frozen 2 (Disney): The Lopezes won their first Oscar with “Let It Go” from Frozen (which, like “Unknown,” was performed by Idina Menzel). They have since picked up a second award for “Remember Me” from Coco.

Stand Up,” Joshuah Brian Campbell & Cynthia Erivo, Harriet (Focus Features): If Erivo, who also performs the song, wins an Oscar -- either for best actress or best original song -- she would become an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner). Erivo will be 33 on awards night, which would make her the youngest EGOT, a distinction currently held by Robert Lopez, who was 39.

Catchy Song,” Dillon Francis, Alaya High, Jon Lajoie & James Rushent, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Bros.): Performed by Francis featuring T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay. “Everything Is Awesome” from the first LEGO Movie was nominated in this category five years ago.

Never Too Late,” Elton John & Tim Rice, The Lion King (Disney): The two Brits won in this category 25 years ago for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the original Lion King. (John, who performs the song, may not have helped his chances when he bad-mouthed the music in the movie.)

Spirit,” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Timothy McKenzie & Ilya Salmanzadeh, The Lion King (Disney): This would be the first Oscar nom for all three writers. Beyoncé, who performs the song, is a 23-time Grammy winner and an eight-time Emmy nominee.

Daily Battles,” Thom Yorke, Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.): This would be the first Oscar nom for Yorke, who has won three Grammys with Radiohead. Performed by Yorke and Flea.

(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Rocketman (Paramount): Performed by John and Taron Egerton, who played John in the film, this would be John’s fourth nomination in this category and Taupin’s first. Remarkably, John and Taupin have shared just one Grammy nomination, for writing the 1971 soundtrack to Friends.

“The Song Of Names (Cantor Prayer),” Howard Shore, Jeffrey Caine, The Song of Names (Sony Pictures Classics): Shore won in this category for co-writing “Into the West” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Caine, who is also the film’s screenwriter, was nominated for best adapted screenplay for The Constant Gardener (2005). Performed by Daniel Mutlu.

The Ballad Of The Lonesome Cowboy,” Randy Newman, Toy Story 4 (Disney/Pixar): Newman has been nominated in this category with a song from each of the first three Toy Story films, including winning for “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. Will he keep his streak going? Performed by Chris Stapleton.

I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Randy Newman, Toy Story 4 (Disney/Pixar): Newman, who performs the tune, has been nominated 12 times in this category, winning twice.

Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” Caitlyn Smith, Mary Steenburgen & Kate York, Wild Rose (Neon): The versatile Steenburgen won a 1980 Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in Melvin and Howard. Performed by Jessie Buckley.

Additional reporting by Melinda Newman.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Billboard.