Musical scores make up large parts of just about every cinematic blockbuster. While some will run through popular music tracks, the movies that really want to invoke an emotional response from its audience turn to the most creative composers in the world. While the pieces that they create are somewhat different from the big names from the early centuries, the greatest works are very fitting of the visuals. As such, after seeing the scene and hearing the score, it’s impossible to experience one without conjuring images or sounds of the other. It can be argued that many of the greatest moments in cinema – at least, in modern cinema – would have lacked their impetus without the right composer on board. Here, we’re looking at what helped to create some of the most outstanding pieces of music for contemporary entertainment, from the biggest box office hits to TV’s finest.
The culmination of 11 years of story
Hollywood has long been a driver of explosive yet classical music in movies, thus the recent Hollywood Choirs virtual choir program. With the Academy Awards – and most other major awards ceremonies – holding ‘Best Original Score’ in high esteem, the power of music to create glorious moments in Hollywood movies has long been recognised. However, that’s not to say that those not even considered for an Oscar don’t deploy thunderous scores to make perfect movie moments. It may not be the classiest use of the art form, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has certainly set the standard at the box office. Having started in 2008, the much-hyped conclusion to the 22-movie Infinity Saga has one ultimate climactic scene, for which Alan Silvestri was tasked with creating the score.
The composer says that he was on-set and tried several approaches before finally landing on Portals. Instead of introducing each legendary character individually, he went with an ever-building track to give the sense of them all rallying before diving into the final battle. To achieve the record-breaking $2.8 billion global box office, the star-studded Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame movie will have seen repeat viewers, with the one part that sticks in every fan’s mind being the Silvestri’s now-iconic score.
Preparing you for 73 episodes of fantasy adventure
In 2007, HBO commenced development of a big-money, but very daring new series. Unlike much of what had come before, it would be based on a series of novels that deeply explored all sorts of adult themes, but within a fantasy setting. As such, the massive company needed a captivating theme from the top of the show, which would turn out being called the Game of Thrones Theme. A very well-know piece now, it was created by Ramin Djawadi, who decided to drive home the dark side of the show by using a cello for the theme. All TV series need a great soundtrack to keep people coming back each week, with Stranger Things being a prime example of this.
Still, the Game of Thrones Theme went further, with its blend of high and low notes throughout perfectly setting up viewers for skulduggery unravelling in each episode. It ended up becoming one of the most recognisable aspects of the piece and a must-have for anything Thrones-based. On Soundcloud, the piece has been played over 484,000 times in six years of availability, and on YouTube, the 14 April 2019 track on the official GameofThrones channel pulled in over 11.8 million views. Even the official online game of the show plays the score in the intro and its variations throughout the gameplay, reinforcing the imagery of the well-known houses of Westeros in a form of entertainment distinct from the original format – an online casino game. HBO’s gem may have gone out with a whimper, but any fans who hear the theme can’t help but get excited again.
Capturing the darkness that people didn’t want to see
The blockbuster comic-book movie Joker became quite a divisive piece of art in 2019, particularly in the United States. Some saw it as overhyped, some as a mirror being held up to the nation’s society, others as potentially incendiary. Whichever side of the fence people sat on, the consensus was that, as a character study, it was a brilliant, particularly due to the performance of Joaquin Phoenix.
What truly drove home the grit and despair in this unique supervillain origin story was the score from now-Oscar-winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. Only 37-years-old, the Icelandic creative was asked to start putting together a score based on the script alone, long before filming had begun. In an interview with The Guardian, she says that, while working with her cello, she eventually struck the perfect note that reflected the character. Later, the piece was played for the actor, giving him the means to initiate the character’s transformation through some improvised interpretive dance. It was a powerful movie focussing on a character that society may rather leave ignored, with Guðnadóttir’s music perfectly setting the tone for the story.
Much of contemporary entertainment aligns itself closer to modern technology and even popular music, but it’s clear that big-hitting, classical scores are the ones that have the most significant impact on audiences.