Maryann's Top 5 Emotional Instrumental Film Scores


My rules for this top 5 list were very strict: no musicals, cartoons, 'action' films, sci-fi, westerns, suspense, or sports movies.  I could easily pick 5 scores in each of those categories. This top 5 list had to be specifically for movies that have an emotional hold on me because of the FEELINGS the music gives me, not necessarily because of childhood nostalgia or their levels of excitement, though that's part of it.  The scores below, when I hear them make me want to stop everything else and exist inside  them.  We're talking scores I would walk down the aisle to, scores I want played at my funeral, scores I listen to more than any others.  Not because they're necessarily the best ones ever written.  They just hit me in a place no other scores do.  As you can see for yourself, they were all composed, or at least released, within about ten years of each other--a decade that was particularly formative in my own young life.

5) Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain) (2001) by Yann Tierson 

How many hours did I spend sitting in my college dorm rooms listening to this soundtrack?  HOW MANY HOURS?  The answer is: many.  Many, many hours.  Dear, charming film aside, Yann created some gorgeous, lovely music for it that stands all on its own.  It makes me feel hopeful, romantic, wistful, at peace with my life.  I had a difficult time trying to choose between "Comptine d'un autre été : L'après-midi" and any of the versions of "La Valse d'Amélie."

4) The Power of One (1992) by Hans Zimmer

I did not take easily to the soundtrack of The Power of One.  I saw the movie in a high school social studies class, and then promptly forgot it until my freshman year of college in Canada.  My RA had hopes to be a missionary in Africa someday, and she was obsessed with this soundtrack.  She used to kindly give me and my roommate rides back into the States for holidays and breaks, and this soundtrack was on eternal repeat in her car.  My roommate and I moaned about it at the time, as the RA would repeat trivia to us like, "Did you know the penny whistle is native to South Africa?"  We didn't know and we didn't care.  But something about this sweeping music written for South Africa lodged itself inside my heart, and I bought the soundtrack (and the movie) a year later.  To this day, it gives me incredible chills and I could listen to it forever.

It was really tough to pick one song (other favorites are "Mother Africa" and "Woza Mfana") but "The Rainmaker" is just KILLER.*  Please, please, please listen to it, and be sure to get through the lull that starts about 3 minutes in, because if you can get to 3:32 and beyond, HANS ZIMMER WILL MAKE YOUR HEART EXPLODE.  Then the soloist!  Aaaaand I'm crying.  So moving.

3) The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) by Howard Shore

I am a pretty big LOTR fan.  Not the biggest by any means, but pretty big.  When the 3 movies came out I was obsessed.  I glued pictures of my face over Liv Tyler's so it would look like I was standing next to Orlando Bloom, I got a massive scar on my right leg because I FELL trying to get my dad to come watch The Two Towers trailer, and in 2003 my sister and I attended a concert of Howard Shore conducting our local symphony in the score of the trilogy.  I am very, very excited for the Hobbit movies.  (I can't comprehend how anyone wouldn't be.)

I don't know how many times I've seen each of the films, but it would probably be embarrassing so let's leave it to mystery.  Suffice to say, I LOVE them.  And I owned all their scores on CD.  As I will say with all these movie scores, it was super hard to pick one song.  But I picked "The Lighting of the Beacons" from Return of the King because, to quote CSNY, it thrills me to the marrow.  At 1:59, my face melts off.

2) The Last of the Mohicans (1992) by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman

I didn't see this movie until many years after it's release, probably not till college.  But I knew the soundtrack.  In my high school psychology course we had to do multiple writing assignments in class.  To aid our concentration, the teacher would put on one of two soundtracks: Last of the Mohicans, and some other one.  Can you tell which score stuck?  I could have easily gone with "Main Title", "Elk Hunt", "The Kiss", "Top of the World", or "Cora."  But that's why I went with "Promontory": it's like "The Kiss" and "Main Title" combined into one song.  Its slow build is breath-taking and, let's be honest, makes me want to make out with Daniel Day Lewis, so it's gonna win out in the end.  When I think of my favorite film scores, this movie is one of the first to come to mind.  Thanks, Mr. Gasser.

1) Little Women (1994) by Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman hit it out of the park with this one.  I saw this movie in theaters with my family, and it will forever make me think of them.  We like to watch it at Christmas, as it feels like a Christmas movie.  And the score is on all my Christmas music playlists.  This music is delicious food, warm hearths, snow!, blankets and cocoa and mittens and sing-alongs and tears.  Forever my favorite score of all time.  I picked "Orchard House" but every single song is written on my heart.  Love, love, love, love this music.

Honorable Mentions: Home Alone by John Williams ("Somewhere in My Memory"--*SOBS*) Hook by John Williams ("You Are The Pan"--*SOBS*), Titanic by James Horner ("Rose"--*SOBS*), Legends of the Fall by James Horner ("The Ludlows"--*SOBS*-- maaaybe counts as a western, I DON'T CARE) Dances With Wolves by John Barry ("Buffalo Hunt"--almost definitely counts as a western--I DON'T CARE), The Man From Snowy River by Bruce Rowland ("Main Theme"--*SOBS*--possibly a western, I'm beyond caring that you care), Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre ("Main Theme"--*SOBS*)...I could go on and on.

The tears.  They are LEGION.

What are some of your favorite scores?  What did I completely forget?  And you don't have to keep to my strict parameters, unless you want to do so.

*I know what you're thinking: "But Maryann!  "The Rainmaker" has human voices in it!  That doesn't make it instrumental!  You said only instrumental songs."  And to that I say, non-diegetic voices get a pass.  If the human voices aren't characters or taking place in the narrative, I'm going to allow it.  Also, "The Rainmaker" can do whatever the hell it wants.  I will put it on every  top 5 list, no matter what rules it breaks!  Just watch me!


Linda said...

I completely agree with "Amelie" but I raise you with "American Beauty," "Edward Scissorhands,""Perfume, story of a murderer" and "Requiem for a Dream." You really MUST listen to those soundtracks, if you have not. Crazy lovely, scary, painful stuff in there.

American Beauty (plastic bag theme)

Story Time- Edward Scissorhands

Meeting Laura- Perfume

Requiem for a Dream-

I do love "Little Women" and I watch it every Thanksgiving as a tradition, and I watch the LotR trilogy every early fall (also "Dead Poet's Society"). I was a "Sam" girl myself. His loyalty and courage completely won my heart. Plus my bff at the time had a huge thing for Legolas, so he was sort of 'taken' and I wasn't allowed to like him.

jonathan edmund said...

Maryann, I so love this list! Will listen to these songs several more times (And would love to get at least one of the scores from you - see your email!).

I have not paid enough attention to scores in my life...but I'll share what I can think of.

I've been listening to Latika's Theme from the Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack nonstop lately - I don't actually like the whole soundtrack that much, but this song is epic in its beauty:

I know it's not an original score, but Chopin's Nocturne in C# minor, from The Pianist. Dear God, did this ever bring me to tears as I watched this movie.

Um, this one is TV, can I include that? It's one of the few scores that I listen to! And somehow the files got lost from my computer :( "Hands Against the Wall" by James Dooley from Pushing Daisies:

Annnd....this is TV too. The LOST soundtrack got me through such hard times throughout college! And this song...oh, my. "Life and Death" by Michael Giacchino, from LOST (There's a version that's basically the same but only on piano - I prefer this audio because of the strings, but the other version's title is "Win One for the Reaper" which is much better)
(Don't watch the corny pictures of all the people who died in LOST)

Um, um...this isn't an original score too but I was blown away by the use of Beethoven's Symphony no. 7 - II in The King's Speech!

And finally, because I really need to work on upping my repetoire of movie scores, here's a favorite video game score, because video games (especially the Final Fantasy games) were how I survived my adolescence - and don't judge, they are actually very compelling stories, like being in a 60-hour long movie. "To Zanarkand" by Nobuo Uematsu from Final Fantasy X. (I even found a real live orchestra playing it!)

P.S. I listen to The Hunger Games score all the time and was scared to share it because you weren't wild about the movie but now I'm deciding to: here's the song I listen to before bed. "We Could Go Home" by James Newton Howard from The Hunger Games.

Okay, I'm actually done! And I thought I didn't have much to add!

Maryann said...

ahhh awesome! I need to take the time to listen to these and get back to you both!

Maryann said...


I definitely liked the plastic bag theme, but I think Edward Scissorhands escapes me because I was so traumatized by it as a child, so now it just sort of creeps me out. Which is unfortunate.

I saw Perfume years ago, my roommate at the time LOVED it. I liked "Meeting Laura" more and more as I listened to it. Especially with the soloist.

I've never seen Requiem for a Dream before, but I definitely recognize the music. And scary lovely is right!


Latika's Theme is so soothing. And the Chopin is lovely, though maybe I would appreciate it more if I saw The Pianist, but I don't know if I will ever see it.

You're allowed to include anything you like, even TV shows (though I didn't allow myself to). And "Hands Against the Wall" is divine.

And "Life and Death" is what I always called "The Death Theme" from LOST. I may not have cared for the show, but this is a gorgeous piece of music to be sure.

And the Beethoven! I forgot that was used in The King's Speech, as I always associate it with The Fall. I heard this tune in my head constantly in the hospital.

No judgment about a video game score--I know they've advanced quite a bit since my Super Mario days. :) Very beautiful.

And never be scared to share something with me, whether I like it or not! I love knowing it's what you listen to before bed--made me listen to it in a completely different way. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the list.

I am probably older than most who have replied here (not that that matters) and there are so many that I cannot remember them all. One semi-recent one is from one of the movies about Columbus and it was by Enigma. I am listening to that album as I type this, and it is called "Enigma - MCMXC a.D.".

I just looked online and it says one track was used as a teaser trailer for the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise. I guess I must have just seen the trailer and assumed the song was in the movie since I never saw it.

In any case that music transports me to another dimension.