Famous Movie Composers You Didn’t Know From Your Favorite Movies

Discover the influence that famous movie composers had on cinematic history that you may not have known about. Find out more about the composers who wrote the music for your favorite movies.

famous movie composers

A good movie theme brings back memories of your first time watching the film and gives warm fuzzy nostalgia feelings. A great movie soundtrack is a story unto itself and can be the saving grace of a mediocre film. It helps a great film transcend to being a classic.

But what about those tireless composers working behind the scenes to bring these movies to life with music? Directors are touted as the driving force behind the movie and rightly so. On the other hand, music is one of the most significant parts of a movie.

We all know about John Williams and Hans Zimmer and their contributions to your favorite movies. But what about the lesser-known composers who have worked on some of the most beloved films in history? Let’s take a look at the most famous movie composers in the music world and their impact on cinema culture.

Danny Elfman

famous movie composers Danny Elfman

Some of you may know who Danny Elfman is. He’s worked with Tim Burton and wrote the iconic Batman theme from the first feature film of the Caped Crusader. But his musical credentials extend far beyond composing for Burton’s movies and even composing itself.

Elfman seems to have a knack for evoking the epic scale of a comic book movie. He is the composer of the biggest franchises belonging to both members of the “Big Two,” (DC and Marvel).

He composed the score for 2002’s hit Spiderman, which arguably led to the creation of the entire MCU.


Elfman also helped score the second Avenger’s movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

But Danny Elfman is no one trick pony churning out themes for heroes in spandex and capes. His experience and talent cover a broad spectrum. He was a founding member of the band Oingo Boingo which toured for decades and worked on new wave films. He was the vocalist for the band and helped develop his singing talent. Also, it allowed him the opportunity to inject his own performances into some of the movie scores he wrote.

For example, Elfman wrote the score for A Nightmare Before Christmas which was the best part of cult classic film. He also was the singing voice of Jack Skellington, the protagonist. Elfman sang every one of Jack’s songs himself and provided the voices for several other characters in Burton’s films. It includes Bojangles from Corpse Bride and Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

His work isn’t even limited to the silver screen, either. Danny Elfman also has some music credits for some of the most beloved TV shows in history. His most iconic, perhaps, is The Simpsons theme. With that theme to his name, it just about guarantees that anyone could recreate Elfman’s famous works from memory. His music is everywhere.

Alan Silvestri

famous movie composers Alan Silvestri

If you’re looking to score a movie that will be an instant classic, Alan Silvestri is your man. Indeed his name is not popular, but we are familiar with his brilliant music scores.

His range is almost mind-boggling. He can create scores for fun romantic adventures like Romancing the Stone and Overboard. His works also include the goofy music for silly kid’s movies like the infamous E.T. rip-off Mac. Followed by Me and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and adventure music for classics like the Back to the Future trilogy.

One might think that his skills are confined to family-friendly flicks and lighter fare, but one would be wrong. He’s also scored some of the most action-packed, gritty and thrilling films ever made.

Silvestri wrote the music for the action/sci-fi masterpiece Predator. As well as one of the best films from internet legend Chuck Norris: The Delta Force.

And this is just barely scratching the surface. Silvestri has also done the music for Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. His works also include comedy romps like Grumpy Old Men and Father of the Bride. He’s almost fearless in how prolific he is, and is still making hit scores to this day. Most recently he has written the music for the much anticipated Steven Spielberg film, Ready Player One.

If you ask someone to name their top films, Alan Silvestri composed the music for at least one of them. Despite being relatively unknown, he has been one of the most influential composers ever to make music for Hollywood. Followed by John Williams or the next composer on our list.

Ennio Morricone

famous movie composers Ennio Morricone

Many people know the name Ennio Morricone, but they also don’t know why. He is a legend among not just famous movie composers. But composers of all kinds and his name carries a lot of weight. Probably his most famous work is from the film The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The list includes the classic spaghetti western from Sergio Leone.

But his work spreads far beyond just that film. Indeed, it even encompasses the other movies in that trilogy.

Morricone also worked with Tarantino on many other of his films, besides The Hateful Eight. He has a habit of selecting directors that he likes and working with them for extended periods of time. He has worked in this way with Leone, Tarantino, DePalma and many of the greatest European directors.

Some of Morricone’s lesser known but influential work includes composing for:

  • The Thing
  • The Exorcist
  • La Cage Aux Folles
  • The Untouchables
  • Mission to Mars
  • Hamlet

Everyone from Radiohead to Gnarles Barkley to Metallica and the Ramones has cited Ennio Morricone as an influence. Some may have remixed or covered his work. Indeed he is one of the most influential and famous movie composers of the modern era. He is also one of the most respected and revered music composers of the 20th century.

Basil Poledouris

famous movie composers Basil Poledouris

If you are a male over the age of 30, chances are Basil Poledouris is one of our favorite composers. He wrote the scores of the most beloved action, adventure and testosterone-packed epic movies in the history of cinema.

This is not to say that people who are not males over 30 don’t enjoy its music. However, it’s impossible to join a conversation with people without it inevitably turned to one of the movies Poledouris scored. His breakout work was for the same movie that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, Conan the Barbarian.

Basil Poledouris wrote the scores for action classics like Starship Troopers, Red Dawn, Quigley Down Under, Robocop, and Robocop 3. Fantasy adventure is also right up his alley with credits for Flesh and Blood, Conan the Destroyer, The Blue Lagoon, and the classic thriller The Hunt for Red October.

Now, why does Poledouris deserve a spot on this list if he just did a bunch of dudebro classics?

Well, the late great Poledouris was able to shift gears. He went all the way to the other end of the spectrum and produce quality memorable scores. He made the music for both Free Willy films as well as Lassie. Besides family-friendly movies, he also did work on comedies such as Hot Shots!: Part Deux and the cult classic John Waters film Serial Mom.

Since Poledouris passed away in 2006 relatively young at just 61 from cancer, he is not well known to the younger audience. However, to the last generation, Poledouris helped the 80’s action movie become a world-defining cultural force.

Famous Movie Composers: Bringing the Emotion

If a composer has done his job right, you didn’t even notice the soundtrack. It was there, pulling your emotions, suspending your disbelief and putting you right where the director wanted you to be. However, it did all of this subtly; easing you into it so that it felt natural or second nature. A great soundtrack makes a good movie great and a great movie legendary, all without drawing attention to itself.

Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, composers are treated much in the same way. They are the relatively unsung heroes who can make or break a film or cement its place in history. You often don’t notice them, but they are there, completing your cinematic experience. We do have some awards for the famous movie composers of our favorite films. However, it is nice to go in depth with their contributions and recognize their role in shaping popular culture.

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