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20 greatest film composers

A guide to film music’s note worthiest composers

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So you bought the Titanic score for the Dion cut and now you’re hooked on Horner? Welcome to the wonderful, maddening, bottomless world of movie music. Now what? Here are 20 working composers who matter — and their finest or most popular work (hint: They’re not always the same).

LIVING LEGENDS
JOHN BARRY Forever associated with James Bond, but with a gift for emotional majesty as well. Goldfinger, Out of Africa, Somewhere in Time
ELMER BERNSTEIN The last grand link to the Golden Age. The Man With the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Age of Innocence
ENNIO MORRICONE Get beyond the spaghetti-Western themes and you’ll find a visionary romantic. Once Upon a Time in the West, The Mission, Bugsy
JERRY GOLDSMITH Still getting Oscar noms (L.A. Confidential) after 40 years. Chinatown, Under Fire, The Russia House
JOHN WILLIAMS Despite a tendency toward bombast, he’s the titan of modern movie music. Jaws, Schindler’s List, Star Wars

THE MODERN MASTERS
CARTER BURWELL Long the Coen Brothers’ secret weapon, he’s lately been branching out brilliantly. Rob Roy, Fargo, Conspiracy Theory
DANNY ELFMAN From a gimmicky ’80s rocker to dual ’97 Oscar nods — and his musical growth is even more impressive. Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Black Beauty
JAMES HORNER Film-score fans adore or detest him, but it’s hard to deny the emotional sweep of his best work. Field of Dreams, The Rocketeer, Braveheart
THOMAS NEWMAN Can get downright experimental yet still create intensely beautiful melodies. Little Women, The Shawshank Redemption, The Player
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD An eclectic, and prolific, master of propulsive moods. The Fugitive, Dave, the ER theme
MARK ISHAM A Left Coast jazzbo trumpeter specializing in shimmering New Age soundscapes. Mrs. Soffel, The Moderns, Of Mice and Men
MICHAEL KAMEN A musical schizoid, equally at home with action and delicate emotions. Lethal Weapon, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Don Juan DeMarco
RACHEL PORTMAN One of the few women scorers to find success; adept at both bounce and sweetness. The Joy Luck Club, Smoke, Emma
BASIL POLEDOURIS An action ace, but handles Americana without getting all Aaron Copland-y. Conan the Barbarian, Lonesome Dove, The Hunt for Red October
MARC SHAIMAN He’s buddy to the stars, but his engaging scores are audience favorites too. The Addams Family, Sleepless in Seattle, City Slickers
HANS ZIMMER Dishes out action-movie blat with the best and has a knack for African and Asian elements. Crimson Tide, The Lion King, Beyond Rangoon

ROCKERS & OTHER HIPOISIE
RY COODER Synthesizing roots rock and guitar twang for oddball, deeply affecting scores. The Long Riders; Paris, Texas; The End of Violence
PHILIP GLASS When his icy art-house arpeggios find the right movie, it can take your breath away. Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima, Kundun