As Star Wars fans worldwide wish each other “May the 4th Be With You” today, Billboard is looking back on John Williams‘ indelible additions to the cinematic musical canon.
From fantasy franchises to WWII dramas, here are the prolific composer’s 10 best movie scores, ranked. And yes, only three of them come from films not directed by Steven Spielberg.
Note: In the case of franchises, we aren’t separating the films — so when talking Star Wars, we mean Williams’ work in both trilogies (but primarily the first, naturally).
10) Saving Private Ryan
One of Williams’ more somber efforts, the WWII score isn’t as dour as other composers might make it. Instead, Williams gives the music a sense of martial purpose, tired resignation and quiet glory.
9) Harry Potter
A mix of wonderment, surprise and danger, John Williams did the unthinkable with the Harry Potter music — he created his sixth iconic score for a fantasy movie franchise (the other five are below).
8) Schinder’s List
Best known for his awe-inspiring musical themes for fantasy franchises, Williams also excelled providing the more provincial, muted theme for the Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, hitting a perfect balance between heartbreaking sentiment and restraint.
Combining the gee, wow spirit of comic book adventure with a majesty befitting Krypton’s favorite (and only remaining) son, the Superman theme is like the terrestrial version of the Star Wars music.
6) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
While most composers would cook up something to dwell on the otherworldly quality of an alien-centric film, Williams chooses to emphasize the joy of adventure, friendship and imagination with this classic score.
5) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Alternately haunting, suspenseful and childlike, the Close Encounters of the Third Kind score also features the synthetic orchestral music an alien race uses to communicate with humans. Bold and memorable in its simplicity.
4) Indiana Jones
More rascally, rambunctious and devil-may-care than his work in Superman or Star Wars, the Indiana Jones theme maintains the splendor of Williams’ franchise theme music without undermining Indy’s rogue spirit.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the orchestra… Williams’ nervous, suspenseful (and endlessly-parodied) Jaws theme is second only to Psycho in the world of horror movie music (which, incidentally, was scored by Bernard Herrmann, the John Williams of his era).
2) Jurassic Park
Astonishment, joy and wonder ooze out of Williams’ theme song to the original Jurassic Park. And for a film about the delight and terror of a long-extinct species returning to present-day earth, what more could you ask for in a theme?
1) Star Wars
What else could take the top spot? While Superman or Indiana Jones could conceivably exist with different music, it’s impossible to imagine the Star Wars universe without the Imperial March, the Mos Eisley Cantina Band jazz rag, or the romantic strings that swell when Han and Leia kiss before he’s frozen in carbonite. Not to mention the epic, exciting and bombastic opening theme, which imbues the most cynical viewer with the ecstasy of childlike wonderment.