Movie Soundtrack Recommendations

A friend just e-mailed me to ask me about a comment he heard me make at the last New Attitude Conference. I mentioned that I frequently listen to soundtracks when I’m studying, reading, or writing, and he was wondering which ones I have. I enjoy soundtracks because they don’t have words and if I haven’t seen the movie (which is often) I can make my own associations. They also enable me to  thank God for the gift of common grace which enables unbelievers to write music that expresses in some small degree the beauty and creativity of God.

As I’m in the process of writing my book, I’m listening to music a lot these days. Since Christmas is approaching, I thought I might make some recommendations for  potential gifts or for your own Christmas list.

First a disclaimer, or maybe an explanation. "Soundtracks" is a broad genre. People like soundtracks for different reasons. So, before I make my recommendations, here are some of the features I don’t enjoy in soundtracks:

1. incessant variety so there’s no sense of coherency to the score
2. an entire score with no song longer than 90 seconds
3. primarily dark or moody music (I thought Lord of the Rings fell into this category)
4. too much music composed for fight or chase scenes, tense moments, chaotic situations, or otherwise wild and crazy scenes in the film
5. vocals with words
6. no clear melodies

On the other hand, here are some elements I look for:

1. beautiful melodies
2. creative arrangements
3. variety in instrumentation
4. beautiful melodies (worth saying twice)

Here are ten of my favorites, in no particular order:

Flyboys (Trevor Rabin) – beautiful, grand and majestic. Lush orchestrations.
Tuck Everlasting (William Ross) – folksy at times, more organic. One of the most peaceful songs I’ve ever heard is "Winnie and Tuck"
Amistad (John Williams) – dark at times, contains some choral stuff, but it’s in another language and wonderfully joyful. "The Long Road to Justice" contains one of the most hauntingly beautiful trumpet solos I’ve heard.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Thomas Newman) – great variety, creative string arrangements combined with synthesizer sequencing. "The Letter that Never Came" is simple, beautiful, and moving.
Rudy (Jerry Goldsmith) – a little short, a little repetitious, but stunningly beautiful melodies.
Cinderella Man (Thomas Newman) – Newman is very gifted with strings and moving melodies. This CD contains a number of jazz tunes from the 30’s. I leave them off my I-tunes. This is a movie I’ve seen and recommend, especially for the example of marital commitment between Jim Braddock and his wife.
Dreamer (John Debney) – The main theme is repeated throughout, but again, it’s beautiful and worth hearing a number of times. A Bethany Dillon song is included at the end.
Little Women (Thomas Newman) – Vintage Thomas Newman. Very enjoyable soundtrack.
Pride and Prejudice (Dario Marianelli) – classically influenced, piano and strings throughout, nice variety. "The Secret Life of Daydreams" is beautiful.
Searching for Bobby Fisher (James Horner) – This is one of my favorite family movies (for kids 11 and older) and the music is excellent.

Well, I have more, but I trust that’s enough to get you started. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section.

22 Responses to Movie Soundtrack Recommendations

  1. Paul Hayes December 12, 2006 at 5:54 PM #

    I enjoy the soundtracks of Composer/Arrangers: John Williams(many), James Horner(many),Randy Newman (comically inventive), Ennio Morricone (the Mission, Untouchables, many others)He’s very emotional and atmospheric, John Barry-(High Road to China, Dances w/Wolves)I love his use of strings and the way he juxtaposes themes.

  2. Scott Zeller December 12, 2006 at 6:05 PM #

    Finding Neverland and Schindler’s List!

  3. Bob Kauflin December 12, 2006 at 7:31 PM #

    Now I realize I have to be more specific.

    If you make a recommendation let us know what it is you like about a particular soundtrack. So Paul, good job, especially using the phrase “juxtaposes themes.” Even if we don’t know what you’re talking about, it sounds informative.

    Scott, we need more info!

  4. matt blick December 12, 2006 at 8:14 PM #

    I really like Klaus Badelt’s score for Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl, though obviously for background music to write a book to Bob it would be no good, due to the amount of swashbuckling going on, but he has some beautiful & stirring themes. Unfortunately the production (IMHO) is poor, the orchestration sounding more like well programmed sequencers than a real orchestra (which I think it is).
    Also John Williams I think is a master of leitmotif film music – from the period jazz on ‘catch me if you can’ to epic stuff like “duel of the fates” (Star Wars I) and Battle of the Heroes (Star Wars III). Again good music to have a sword fight to (which is how I normally relax!)
    Disney’s Beauty & the Beast by Alan Menken & Howard Ashman has some amazingly clever writing both lyrically & musically (especially “Belle” “Gaston” & “Something There”).

    I’m really enjoying working through the mp3’s of the worshipGod 2006 conference by the way.

  5. Jeff Locke December 12, 2006 at 9:13 PM #

    The soundtrack to the movie “Amelie” is one of my all-time favorites. It was written by a French composer named Yann Tiersen whose imagination and sense of humor comes through beautifully in his music. I highly recommend it.

  6. Scott Zeller December 12, 2006 at 9:17 PM #


    Finding Neverland – Mellow and following score. Fits the storybook nature of the film very well and makes for excellent evening background music.

    Schindler’s List – To me this is John Williams best. It is much more classical then the epic Indiana Jones and Star Wars themes. Violin takes the lead with some desperate and haunting music.

    That’s my best at more info!

    (And everybody knows that Axel F and the Ghostbusters Theme are the two greatest compositions in American history)


  7. Chris Hubbs December 12, 2006 at 10:59 PM #

    I second the Schindler’s List soundtrack. Maybe John Williams’ best complete soundtrack. Beautiful violin work by Itzakh Perlman.

    Another favorite is Somewhere In Time by John Barry. Very peaceful orchestral stuff, and he artfully weaves Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini into it towards the end. The movie, by the way, is totally forgettable; the soundtrack is not.

  8. Kyle December 13, 2006 at 9:49 AM #

    One of my favorite film score writers is James Newton Howard. An excellent example of his fine writing can be found in Mel Gibson’s “Signs.” This is certainly not music for meditation and relaxation, but it’s brilliant all the same. He creates a simple three-note motif (a wonderfully dissonant one), develops a theme around said motif, and then plays with it all through the film. It’s exciting to see how you will hear the motif emerge in varying moods and tones throughout the film.

  9. Adam December 13, 2006 at 4:24 PM #

    I really like the soundtrack to Master and Commander. Great movie too.

  10. Rich December 14, 2006 at 11:11 AM #

    “The Natural” by Randy Newman, 1984.

    Melodies, melodies, melodies… and Aaron Copland ripoffs!

  11. Danielle December 14, 2006 at 11:34 AM #

    I love soundtracks so it’s hard to pick but I’ll just mention one here. I love The Mission soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The most beautiful and haunting themes are “Gabriel’s Oboe” and “The Mission.” Besides just checking out the regular The Mission soundtrack, there’s another version called Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone, which includes scores from The Mission among other pieces Morricone has written, all played by Yo-Yo Ma, of course.

  12. Drew December 14, 2006 at 3:17 PM #

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned “Glory.” The soundtrack is enriched by the Harlem Boys Choir, and is a distinct favorite. I also like a lot of the soundtrack to “Geronimo” – a few tracks feature a throat singer. I enjoy a few pieces of odd piano work on “Sneakers” and “The Firm,” but it’s a good bit of dissonant pounding at times. I’m always looking for a good ethnic soundtrack like “The Gospel of John” or “The Passion.” I’d love to find some ethnic Latin or Arabic sountrack music. Any ideas? Anyone heard the soundtrack for “Black Hawk Down?”

  13. T.Newbell December 14, 2006 at 3:41 PM #

    Thinking of soundtracks reminded me of a worship seminar I went to where Mark Altrogge was speaking at my church. He reminded us of what a gift music is and how God has graciously given us music- all kinds of music. God has been so kind to allow us to enjoy music and different sounds and styles. Thanks for the reminder Bob!

  14. Paul Martin December 14, 2006 at 4:22 PM #

    How did you all miss Mark Knopfler?! “The Princess Bride” is a wonderful soundtrack – simple, pleasant and easy to work when playing. It also makes for nice soundtracks on your home movies. And Knopfler’s other work on “Local Hero” is still my fave of all soundtracks. Knopfler has a compilation disc out called “Screenplaying” that highlights a bunch of his work. Very nice!
    I have lost the recording, but I used to love listening to the “Kindergarten Cop” soundtrack – was that James Newton Howard?

  15. Drew December 14, 2006 at 5:11 PM #

    Paul –

    Yikes! All I remember from the Princess Bride soundtrack is the hard-on-the-ears 80’s synth horn pad during the “chase scene.” Guess I’ll have to review the tapes…

  16. Julie December 14, 2006 at 7:20 PM #

    Has anyone heard the soundtrack of Liberty! The American Experience, a six-part series on PBS? The soundtrack features Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and James Taylor…and it’s beautiful! Check it out…

  17. Cap Stewart December 19, 2006 at 9:26 AM #

    First, while we can refer to these albums as soundtracks (which is certainly valid), some might get them confused with those song compilation CD’s that are “inspired by” a motion picture. There is, however, quite a difference. Instrumental soundtracks (i.e., film scores) are a gift from God. Song compilation soundtracks, on the other hand, are a direct result of the Fall. Having established that, here are a few of my favorite scores.

    Edward Scissorhands. I have a soft spot for choral work, especially the ethereal beauty of boys’ choirs. This CD is the epitome of such music and composer Danny Elfman is THE MAN when it comes to utilizing boys choirs (the opening cue in Batman Returns and the finale in The Family Man are two other examples).

    The Mask of Zorro. James Horner goes flamenco. He is often accused of being a self-plagiarizing hack—consider the use of the infamous four-note motif to represent the bad guy in almost EVERY STINKING MOVIE he’s ever scored (okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic)—but he’s still quite an amazing composer. He went into uncharted territory (for him, at least) for this score and came up with some amazing themes and orchestrations.

    The Peacemaker. What can I say? I love a good action score and I love composer Hans Zimmer. This movie contains one of the best third acts in action film history (just my opinion—but it’s true) and the pounding rhythms and use of electronics mirror the film’s intensity. Very enjoyable action themes throughout.

    Other notable/random cues from films that I especially enjoy include the following:

    * The burning bush theme from The Prince of Egypt (yes, with a boys choir)

    * The theme for Kong and Anne in King Kong (2005) by James Newton Howard (hauntingly beautiful piano melody)

    * The main theme from Titanic (so sue me)

    * James Newton Howard’s contemplative theme for Batman in Batman Begins (mournful and emotional string melody with piano accompaniment)

    * The opening sequence cue for The Rock by Hans Zimmer (thematically-driven action music at its finest)

    * The main theme from Jurassic Park by John Williams (because it was the first film score I ever owned)

    I could keep going (for days, in fact), but I guess that’s good for now.

  18. Trevor December 19, 2006 at 1:00 PM #

    Thanks for the great list everyone, I am always looking for a great list. I’m Canadian, and I am surprised that no one mentioned possibly my favorite, which I assume is an American Classic: A River Runs Through It? Can anything take you to nature like this soundtrack? Also, many mentions of James Newton Howard, but no mention of Emperor’s Club soundtrack. A Beautiful Mind and speaking of the person who talked about ethnic flavoured soundtracks, how about the Jazz flavoured Finding Forrester soundtrack?

  19. jeff December 19, 2006 at 3:12 PM #

    I have a huge library of movie scores, so it’s hard to think of my favorites. However, some in my playlist for reading/studying/background music are:

    Sommersby by Danny Elfman – A truly beautiful score from the compser who became famous for his “oompa-oompa-oompa” music for Batman, Simpsons, Pee Wee, etc. Sommersby is a period movie and the music is lush and gorgeous.

    Little Women by Thomas Newman – Another uplifting score with lots of low, lush strings supporting moving melodies from french horns and high strings. Much of the movie is set during Christmas time, so you have a smattering of that joyful season mixed in. And can you believe that there is a recording of “For the beauty of the earrth” sung by Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst et.?

    The Rocketeer by James Horner – A fun adventure of a score. You’d recognize the main theme if you heard it, as it’s been used for countless movie trailers.

    Wyatt Earp by James Newton Howard – Kevin Costner seems to get the best out of his composers (i.e. Dances with Wolves, The Postman). James Newton captures all the elements that make a great western score: Adventure, freedom, honor. Plus there is a great love theme that always makes me want to see the movie again.

    Avalon by Randy Newman – This score and Awakenings are my favorites from Randy Newman. Avalon is out of print but check ebay. This score if pure americana. It has that bittersweet flavor for which Newman is famous, but the discovery and gratitude of an American immigrant family comes through. This is a great movie too!

  20. Paul Hayes December 20, 2006 at 2:23 PM #

    Danielle mentioned the Yo Yo Ma album that features Morricone’s music. This album has many of his pieces and is lushly evocative, hauntingly beautiful.
    The string arrangements are elegant. This album has been for me a great background for devotions, worship planning and prayer.

  21. Ron Lusk December 21, 2006 at 9:48 AM #
    • Out of Africa: I first heard this the day after my mother’s funeral, watching the darkness fall over Los Angeles from the hillside house of a former English teacher. He had had a stroke, and didn’t say much—if anything—but his wife and I had tea and talked sparsely and quietly.

      Years later, we would use the music as background while doing a presentation on our mission trips to South Africa. It brought tears to my eyes to hear the music and see (again) the people and places we’d served.

    • Much Ado About Nothing: brings back memories of the first time I saw Benedick prancing in joy through the fountain, and thought, “This is a taste of Adam crying out, ‘This is bone of my bone! Flesh of my flesh!'”
  22. Vanessa Carlson August 26, 2009 at 11:40 PM #

    Finding Neverland

    Tuck Everlasting


    Legends of the Fall-amazing beauty

    Don Juan de Marco

    Pirates of the Caribbean

    Haven’t yet seen Schindler’s Liszt.

    But the one soundtrack that I would definitely not recommend would have to be Lord of the Rings- the animated versions.

    Yeowch! If you like music, you have to stay away from those ones. :)

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