With this weekend’s release of Gone Girl, director David Fincher has once again showcased the unsettling sounds of award-winning composers Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (above). Ever since 2010’s The Social Network, the duo have become a fixture of Fincher’s work. The duo’s deceptively minimal sound, with subtle motifs barely hiding cold electronic undercurrents, is remarkably well-suited for Fincher’s trademark visual aesthetic, in which every smile and doorway can take on an air of menace if the camera lingers long enough. While he has worked with a number of composers before—most notably Howard Shore—Fincher has found a sonic soulmate in Ross and Reznor’s scoring.
But what about the other great director/composer relationships in Hollywood history? What other composers have had their music strongly associated with a director’s work, so much so that you can’t picture a film without hearing the score?
Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone: Sergio Leone’s work redefined the Old West in the pop-culture consciousness, thanks in part to Clint Eastwood’s performance in the director’s Dollars trilogy. While composer Ennio Morricone was (and remains) a versatile Hollywood fixture, nothing he’s done has been quite as memetic as his work with Leone, defining the look and sound of the Spaghetti Western. It’s one that endures to this day, waiting to be conjured up in its entirety with a single five-note whistle.
Steven Spielberg and John Williams: Probably the most recognizable director/composer team in the history of cinema, Spielberg and Williams have staked out a place that’s all their own. Masters of iconography, their frequent collaborations are often instant classics, from the simple dun-DUN of Jaws to the uplifting strings of E.T.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood: Like Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson had worked with other composers, but it wasn’t until his 2007 masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, that the acclaimed director found a musical collaborator that perfectly complemented his singular voice. Jonny Greenwood’s challenging, untraditional scoring is now a regular part of Anderson’s oeuvre—and although the director is quite spare with music, when he does choose to use it, the result is often spectacular.
Tim Burton and Danny Elfman: Tim Burton’s best work takes the strange and makes it personal, finding ways to connect with audiences through weirdness. His frequent collaborator Danny Elfman is a big part of that, injecting just the right amount of bombast and whimsey for their modern-day fairy tales. However, like Burton, Elfman has such a well-defined style that it’s easy to accuse him of phoning things in on his weaker moments.
Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer: As fun as it is to reduce their shared history to a single joke, few people have defined the scope and scale of blockbuster movies in the 2010s like Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer. Nolan’s unique brand of cerebral pop cinema consists of dozens of moving parts working towards moments of staggering bigness, and Zimmer’s busy electro-symphonic sound keeps the gears turning until everything comes crashing together.
Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann: The master of suspense, and the man whose music was there waiting for us when the master finally decided it was time to collect on our dread.
The Coen brothers and Carter Burwell: Few filmmakers exhibit the kind of versatility that the Coen Brothers pull off with ease, but what’s really interesting is that for almost all of their films, they’ve collaborated with the same composer: Carter Burwell. The only exceptions are O Brother, Where Art Thou and Inside Llewyn Davis, two films that were very much about music.
Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini: Both Hollywood giants of the 1960s, Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini collaborated on a number of enduring classics, like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther series.
John Lasseter and Randy Newman: While John Lasseter hasn’t directed every Pixar movie and Randy Newman hasn’t scored them all, it’s remarkable how much of the studio’s identity is tied up in Lasseter’s Toy Story and Newman’s friendly crooning of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Everything you need to know about Pixar is neatly encapsulated in the film—and they would go on to do it again and again.
David Lean and Maurice Jarre: Like a few other collaborations on this list, David Lean and Maurice Jarre first worked together on a career peak—1962’s Lawrence of Arabia—and then continued to collaborate with each other for the remainder of their careers. Although Lean wouldn’t direct many more films, they included Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India.
Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman: Sam Mendes makes beautiful movies (get it?). While composer Thomas Newman works with many other filmmakers, he does his most memorable, contemplative work when paired with Mendes.
Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri: While Robert Zemeckis would get caught up in a strange fascination with motion-capture animation, one thing remained consistent throughout his career—his frequent collaboration with composer Alan Silvestri. Silvestri did much of his defining work on a stretch of classic films with Zemeckis from Back to the Future to Forrest Gump.