Movie Music: 20 Great Pieces

For me, one of most important and enjoyable parts of a film is oftentimes the score. A great score can make an otherwise mediocre film good, just as a bland score can bring the quality of a great film down. My first rule when creating this list: the musical piece should not quite have iconic status – at least not in the sense that it would be recognized by the average, everyday person who doesn’t have a passion for cinema. This definition, of course, is vague and highly debatable, so I simply used my best judgment. When I say “iconic,” I’m thinking your Raiders March, your Good Bad Ugly, your Lawrence of Arabia iconic. These are twenty pieces that really stuck with me and helped pull me into the world that the filmmaker was creating.

Take a look, listen through, and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

1. The Third Man Theme

Composer: Anton Karas
Film: The Third Man (1949)

2. Martha’s Dream

Composers: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Film: The Proposition (2005)

3. Promentory

Composers: Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman
Film: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

4. Man With a Harmonica

Composer: Ennio Morricone
Film: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

5. The Hero’s Hallway

Composer: Brian Tyler
Film: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

6. You’re So Cool

Composer: Hans Zimmer
Film: True Romance (1993)

7. Apertura

Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
Film: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

8. For a Few Dollars More

Composer: Ennio Morricone
Film: For a Few Dollars More (1965)

9. What Must Be Done

Composers: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Film: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

10. Kanada’s Death, Pt. 2 (Adagio In D Minor)

Composer: John Murphy
Film: Sunshine (2007)

11. In the House – In a Heartbeat

Composer: John Murphy
Film: 28 Days Later… 2002

12. Road to Perdition

Composer: Thomas Newman
Film: Road to Perdition (2002)

13. One More Kiss Dear

Composer: Vangelis
Film: Blade Runner (1982)

14. Tree of Life

Composer: Clint Mansell
Film: The Fountain (2006)

15. Cops or Criminals

Composer: Howard Shore
Film: The Departed (2006)

16. Intermezzo

Composer: Pietro Mascagni
Film: Raging Bull (1980)

17. John Merrick And Psalm

Composer: John Morris
Film: The Elephant Man (1980)

18. Emily’s Theme

Composer: Nathan Johnson
Film: Brick (2005)

19. Truman Sleeps

Composers: Philip Glass
Film: The Truman Show (1998)

20. To Be Forgiven

Composer: James Newton Howard
Film: The Lookout (2007)

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Well its official, I'm watching true romance again

Ingólfur Hall

"You're So Cool" is just about the best song in any movie, ever. God I love this song.



Steve Bland

Some great tunes from some great movies. I loved Nick Cave's work on The Proposition.

Marina Antunes

Some of my favourite composers made the list as did some of my fave pieces. I love Trevor Jones' THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. That score is all sorts of wonderfulness.

Here are some others:

Michael Giacchino's "End Credits" from LET ME IN –

Phillip Glass' The Illusionist theme –

Julie Delpy's "Dominic" from THE COUNTESS score – (a taste)

Elliot Gondenthal's "Libera me" from INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE –

OK. I'm done for now.

David Brook

I'll forgive your criminal exclusion of Bernard Herrmann simply because of the inclusion of Man With a Harmonica and the volume of Nick Cave in there.

Two awesome posts by the way (this and the 'cool list'). I need to pull my finger out and finally do the martial arts extravaganza I keep promising I'll do.

Jandy Hardesty

I'm pretty sure I fell in love with True Romance the exact second that theme started playing.

Also, is that "In the House" bit from 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later? Feels like I just heard it, and since I just watched Weeks a few days ago…


Jandy, it's in both.

Jandy Hardesty

Ah, that would explain it, then. Thanks for the clarification!

Kurt Halfyard

Isn't the Zimmer True Romance score just a whitewash of the Badlands score?

Jay C.

It's actually not score. It's a piece called "Gassenhauer" by classical composer Carl Orff.

Kurt Halfyard

Dare to compare. The musical piece is certainly used in Badlands like score though!

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Jandy Hardesty

Well, True Romance lifted a bunch of stuff from Badlands. Like the dreamy, poetic voiceover.

Jay C.

Yes, the piece is in Badlands but it isn't score. It's like saying Wagner's Das Rheingold: Vorspiel is score in The New World. It's sort of semantics but I think it's a distinction worth noting. The piece did not originate in Badlands although it's re-shaping in True Romance is a direct reference to Badlands of course.

While we're at it, 'Truman Sleeps' is composed by Philip Glass. The Truman Show soundtrack was split down the middle between works by Glass and works by Burkhard Dallwitz.

Kurt Halfyard

Yea, on further consideration, much of True Romance is appropriating from that sub-genre, and Badlands is one of the best examples of it, so why not. I've no issue there…I just confuse the music in those two films constantly!

Tom Clift

Amazing list! Listening to these choices while my city is battered with a biblical level storm has been awesome.

I'm an especially big fan of Clint Mansells work on The Fountain. Assuming his very iconic Requiem for a Dream score is out of consideration for a list like this, there are some really excellent pieces from his work on the Moon soundtrack from last year.


Mansell fangirl here. Love THE FOUNTAIN score. It's all I listened to for weeks after seeing the film.


Some great choices, and you've made me want to check out a few new soundtracks that had either passed by me I've never even heard of. The Proposition in particular, Martha's Dream is amazing. You've also opened my eyes to Nick Cave, never knew he did soundtracks.

I disagree with a few choices, unfortunately. I think the Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor) is a lot nicer. Contains more tension and to me is a lot more memorable. I'd say that Tree of Life isn't one of Mansell's best, but there again, Moon is my favourite soundtrack of his, and I don't like Lux Aeterna that much either. Sacrifice from Moon is probably my favourite of his. I'd also say that Ecstasy of Gold is my favourite Ennio Morricone track, although the ones you've picked are still great.

I can't agree more with In the House – In a Heartbeat though, stunning song. Most of the others are new to me, so thanks for introducing me to some great music 😀

Just quickly, sad to see that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross didn't make it on here the The Social Network soundtrack.

Bob Turnbull

Holy cow was I impressed by the score in Social Network. It truly raises the entire film a few notches up.

And The Fountain gives me goosebumps – but when you mix Mansell with Mogwai and Kronos Quartet, how the hell could you possibly go wrong?

The music from "Lady Vengeance" is another fave (I know Kurt will back me up here), though I'm not sure it would count as a "score". Still, it's one of the reasons why I rank that movie higher than its two brothers.