Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The 10 Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes

The truth is, I feel any of the ten remaining movie themes in my list of forty could very well own the top spot. That's because all ten have managed to take a life of their own beyond the films for which they were written. Many of us may not have even watched the movies themselves, but may have encountered references to the music in other movies, TV shows, parodies and jokes, or even ringtones.

A last note. In this entire list, I have also decided to drop out movie themes that began initially as TV themes, no matter how iconic they now are.  Samples would be the PETER GUNN TV theme which became popular in the movie BLUES BROTHERS, or even music from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which really was a TV series first.

So here you have it, the final ten in what I believe are the 40 most iconic movie themes the world has heard. I am certain I have forgotten about others which deserve to be here. Maybe you can remind be about them. Right now, I already have a few....

Meanwhile, to hear the tracks listed below, click here: MY TOP 10 MUSIC THEMES OF ALL TIME

#10 JAWS (John Williams)
He did it for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND with five notes.  But for JAWS, John Williams created a most recognizable musical signature with just 2. Hum these notes to anyone with increasing volume and tempo, and they will easily associate the tune with dangerous waters. So far in his career, Williams has been nominated for an Oscar, a whopping 45 times. JAWS gave him his first win (in 1975).

#9 ENTER THE DRAGON (Lalo Shifrin)
For this first American-produced martial arts film, Lalo Schifrin infused to his groovy pop jazz theme, the use of traditional Chinese instruments to give the soundtrack a distinct local flavor. He is also credited for first employing a technique we now know as sampling, when he integrated Bruce Lee's actual screams into the music. I can still hear my brother Jig mimicking the shrieks during the 70s! Many have since covered the movie's main theme, and one is included in the game, Dance Dance Revolution. Incidentally, Shifrin is the man behind the music of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

#8 PSYCHO (Bernard Herrmann)
The success of PSYCHO's famous shower scene is attributed greatly to Bernard Herrmann's screeching strings which sent chills to viewers' spines everywhere. In an interview in 1971, Herrmann said he purposely used a string section alone because he felt he needed to complement a black and white film with a "black and white" sound--a string ensemble would give only one basic tone color. The American Film Institute names Herrmann's work as the fourth best score of all time, even if it was snubbed at the Oscars in 1960.

#7 CHARIOTS OF FIRE (Vangelis)
Play the music and images of Lydia de Vega and other athletes racing in slow-mo come to mind. Greek composer Vangelis is the man behind the music that has been used countless times in sporting events, and has been parodied in slow-mo sequences in such movies as Mr. Mom, Happy Gilmore, Bruce Almighty, and Madagascar. The track reached #1 in Billboard's Hot 100 though Vangelis was accused of plagiarizing the work of a fellow Greek composer. Vangelis won in a court of law. He also beat Dave Grusin's ON GOLDEN POND at the Oscar's.

#6 ROCKY (Bill Conti)
I confess. With my parents in 1976, I sneaked into Diamond theater in Cubao, a small tape recorder so I could record Bill Conti's music. ROCKY's main theme was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Song (though there are hardly any lyrics), losing out, however, to A STAR IS BORN's "Evergreen." Nonetheless, it peaked at #1 in Billboard's Hot 100 in 1977.  Known also as GONNA FLY NOW, the main theme is closely associated with sports training montages. 
#5 THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (Ennio Morricone)
Here's another signature motif, this time from 5-time Oscar nominee Ennio Morricone. The repeating 2 notes in the melody are designed to resemble the sound of a howling coyote. This plus gunshots, whistling and yodeling throughout the soundtrack give this spaghetti western an indelible attitude. Not many in this day and age probably remember Clint Eastwood's movie, but the music has remained timeless. It's insane Morricone was not nominated for this work. On the other hand, it crazier he hasn't won an Academy Award.

#4 THE PINK PANTHER (Henry Mancini)
One of the most recognized and enjoyed pieces of music ever, THE PINK PANTHER's main theme defines the cool beatnik attitude of the 60s with its loungey, brassy jazz feel. Henry Mancini won 3 Grammy Awards for the tune though his soundtrack lost to MARY POPPINS at the Oscars. The music has been used in the movie CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, and a task to be accompished in the board game CRANIUM is to hum the "Pink Panther Theme."

#3 STAR WARS (John Williams)
The American Film Institute has voted John Williams's music for STAR WARS as the best soundtrack of all time. The work is often credited as heralding the revival of grand symphonic scores in the 70s and reviving the use of leitmotif, a musical phrase to identify a character, place, relationship, mood, or other element of film. STAR WARS became among the most popular soundtracks of all time, mirroring the cult following that the film eventually enjoyed. The music won a Academy Award, beating out Williams's other work, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

#2 JAMES BOND (Monty Norman)
Though a lot of JAMES BOND music has been written through the years, the most iconic is the "James Bond Theme" introduced in the film DR. NO in 1962. Composer Monty Norman was more known for his musicals, but accepted the project when he was invited to travel with the crew to Jamaica. John Barry (OUT OF AFRICA, SOMEWHERE IN TIME), who arranged Norman's music and eventually scored other Bond movies himself, was not credited for his contribution in DR. NO. Some have suggested that Barry created the popular theme, and the argument has been a subject of 2 court cases.

#1 THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Elmer Bernstein)
The brave and noble main theme from the movie is a Western masterpiece from musical giant Elmer Bernstein, who borrows from Mexican strains and rhythms to define the film's soundtrack. Berstein lost the Oscar to Ernest Gold's EXODUS in 1960, but his work is listed as #8 in the American Film Institue's best original scores of all time. While by itself, the soundtrack is a force to reckon with, it quickly created a life of its own as the most memorable advertising hook of all time and an international  pops concert staple, thus its iconic status.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list -- it helped in preparing a trivia question.