The thing about John Williams’ career as a composer for film and television and beyond is that after over 75 different projects, there aren’t any real misses. This list of his best movie scores literally could have been 25 or 30 entries long; his resume is simply packed with iconic themes which have already proven their ability to stand the test of time.
During a panel at the TCA Summer 2021 Press Tour, Williams reflected on what it takes to actually create these unforgettable pieces of music: “These little signals and simple themes representing characters are things that I have to work on very hard to kind of forge them, remake them, try what eventually seems like simple, inevitable, inescapable. As simple as they are, they are tricky to find. When they feel right, they do communicate in a very short time, which is very important in film music. We can feel it.”
For literally decades, he’s done just that (often for director Steven Spielberg, but every once in a while for someone else).
As Williams celebrates his 90th birthday today (February 8th), we’re looking back on his musical legacy, including his compositions for Jaws, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and of course Star Wars.
Below are the ten most iconic scores created by John Williams, with literally dozens more coming in at 11th place.
— Liz Shannon Miller
10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The challenge of creating the music which literally brings two civilizations together is no easy task, and Williams said, during that aforementioned TCA press tour panel, that he wrote “about 300 examples of motifs based on five notes, and finally I said to Steven, ‘This is probably as far as I can go without starting again with five single notes played with no metric definition between any of them.’ We finally settled on the notes that we have.”
But it’s not just the way that these five notes work together to create a literally universal language that makes Close Encounters stand out as a score, it’s the way that Williams threads them into a glorious conversation with the stars. — L.S.M.
09. Schindler’s List (1993)
In an interview with Today in 2005, Williams said that when he first saw Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust tale, he told Spielberg, “‘You need a better composer than I am for this film.’ He said to me, ‘I know. But they’re all dead!'”
Williams still managed to prove that he was more than up to the task. Williams won his fifth Oscar for the soundtrack to this film, featuring Itzhak Perlman on the violin and some beautiful subtle work, delicate and heartfelt stirrings of hope which brilliantly underline the horrors of humanity being depicted. — L.S.M.