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June 25th, 2018

Music To My Ears: The Use Of Score In Film

When I was younger I used to be obsessed with music. I was buying CD’s every single weekend, listening to it constantly at a blaring level in my room while playing videogames. I was also a band geek in high school, so it came as a surprise to me that the use of a musical score in films was never a prominent factor in my enjoyment of a movie, until recently.

It’s been quite a few years wince my glory days playing trombone in my high school band and in the modern ITunes age I only buy a song here and there, so my music awareness and knowledge isn’t quite what it used to be. All that considered I have had a growing interest in the use of a musical score in movies. With my love for film and a long dormant interest in music, the marriage of the two is almost like falling in love all over again, figuratively speaking.

Musical scores in film obviously isn’t a new thing, but for many moviegoers the score is the last thing they notice, especially in movies where the bullets and blood is flying around on screen in spades. As much as I’ve enjoyed rediscovering the art of music in movies, I can only hope to inspire the same type of admiration in someone else. When you combine two art forms like music and film and it’s done with kill, the result can make a drama more emotional, action more exciting, and horror even scarier. The opposite can also be true, because if a score doesn’t fit the tone of the film the end result can make the film suffer, making the experience awkward and unremarkable. It should also be mentioned that a prominent score doesn’t always have to factor in your enjoyment; it’s simply a vehicle that if you choose to ride can open new doors in terms of taking your movie viewing to another level.

A musical score in a film is also subject to each individual’s particular taste. What one person hates another is likely to love; such ideals are what make movies so divisive and topical. Rather the music is very simplistic and taking a minimal approach or if it is used in a complex and compelling way, there are people on both sides of the fence and adhering to their own opinions, and even some that teeter on both sides. The variety of tastes and opinions spark interesting conversations and debates between all types of moviegoers, adding deeper layers to the top of cinema around the world.

As the years go by scores often evolve with the times. Often the score comes to define the decades that they come from and are emulated in modern films looking to capture the same energy and vibe from that time period. Older horror film carry lots of synthesized tones like the sharp consistent ting in films like HALLOWEEN, or the unmistakable orchestra from a film like JAWS. However, the more things change the more they stay the same. Lots of modern day scores use the same tools the older films had at their disposal, but nowadays we have tools and technology to clean the audio and tweak the sound ever so slightly. Some movies just use songs from today’s artists to layer in the background of scenes or in the beginning and end credits. Lots of modern day horror films want to emulate the style of decades earlier and try to clone the sound and tone of those films all with varying degrees of success.

Years removed from my involvement and interest in music, I can hardly say that my taste in film scores are overly refined or even fully developed, but the resurgence of late has helped me take even more enjoyment out of the movie watching experience than I used to. I prefer the use of an orchestra or composed pieces of music as opposed to plucking songs from the radio to play behind dialogue then turned to a blaring level when the scene transitions. Using songs from today’s artists isn’t always a bad decision; it works well for comedies and fun horror movies, but harms serious dramas, action and horror films that aim to be taken seriously.

To a more season moviegoer that has studied and appreciated musical scores in movies for years, my stance on the subject might seem uninformed and pedestrian, but everyone has to start somewhere. As I mentioned tastes change and evolve as quickly as the years and styles of music do. To finalize my thoughts I’d like to list some of my favorite scores as of late and scores for some older movies that I still enjoy today.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK: I’m a fan of Nine Inch Nails, and the score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK was co-written by Trent Reznor. The score is somber, dark and lively at all the right times, which fits perfectly with the tone of the film.

INCEPTION: The scope of the soundtrack perfectly syncs with that of the film. It’s epic and grand in scale, accenting the action sequences as well as emotional weight of specific scenes.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: The score added so much to the surprise of the film. It involves you in the adventure and excitement of the fantastic flying sequences, while also adding to the emotional depth later on in the film. It’s not very often I want to stand and cheer when the credits start rolling, but I nearly couldn’t help myself here.

STAR TREK: What seems to be a common theme in my enjoyment of scores continues here. The mixture of sound effects and fantasy elements of the film make the score stand out as fun and exciting.

THE DARK KNIGHT: When THE DARK KNIGHT was released in 2008, I was aware of how the music was making me enjoy scenes like the beginning bang heist and leading up to the Joker crashing the fund raiser but at first I wrote it off. Every time I revisit it, the score stands out more and more, I kick myself for not appreciating it more when it was released.

JURASSIC PARK: The film stands out as one of my favorites of that time period. The theme always gives me goosebumps to this day. As a film so near and dear to me through my younger years, it will always rank right up towards the top with its epic theme.

JAWS: The theme music is iconic and unforgettable. Nearly everyone has been exposed to it, so obviously it has to be in the forefront of scores over the years, even if the sequels did all they could to water down the legend.

STAR WARS: one last score that is likely to be universally known, even if people deny it in fear of being labeled as a nerd. I however, see no shame in standing tall and humming the STAR WARS theme in a crowded place, even if just to see the looks on people’s faces while you do it.


  1. Fidelio1985

    Hello there, very good article, in my opinion, many thanks!
    I also agree with your list there, very much. Esp. Jurassic Park.
    And although it is nearly impossible to make such a list without leaving out countless other incredible scores, i just wanted to add Goldenthal´s “Final Fantasy” (an outsandig piece of modern classical music, IMO) an the score of “The Fountain” by Mansell.
    Many Greetings!

  2. Vistashow1000

    I disagree with The Dark knight. In fact the only thing it suffered from was a mediocre score. If it had had a theme crowded soundtrack like John Williams writes, it could’ve been a classic. Other than the score it was pretty much perfect though. It was the score that let it down. Sadly.

  3. Anonymous

    This is an ear-opener. I’ll have to pay closer attention to the music in the movies from now, starting with The Social Network. I’ve just seen The Town, and the music there is a perfect fit for what could be the best picture of the year, very exciting. Eat Pray Love uses a Neil Young song to great effect and there are a lot of goodies in the soundtrack.

    • CinemaChris

      Great reading :) Any idea the title of the vocal / song as credits are rolling in “The Town “.As far as my ears are concerned,it may have landed on the cutting room floor. Any help is appreciated !!
      Thanks in advance,

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