10. Beyond Rangoon (1995)
John Boorman’s critically-acclaimed drama about a woman on a journey of self-discovery in Burma (Myanmar) may not be the first title you think of in relation to Hans Zimmer. His contribution to the film, though, remains one of his most understated and beautiful. With percussion, ethnic flutes and vocals at its heart, Zimmer’s score is a bit of a gem, surrounded as it is in his filmography by animated features, romantic comedies and high-octane blockbusters.
9. Crimson Tide (1995)
Zimmer truly pushed the envelope with this score, for Tony Scott’s submarine thriller. With it, he proved that composers could confidently move away from traditional orchestral methods of scoring and still create music of convincing enough scale and drama.
8. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
This is a huge amount of fun, and you get the sense that the composer and his friends had a blast coming up with the soundworld for this score. It’s really representative of where Zimmer was creatively at this time; collaboration is the foundation stone here. The music has a brilliant audacity about it, with its wildly cavorting rhythms, electric violin, guitars and a flavour of Eastern European folk.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End (2007)
The third film in the massively popular Pirates franchise really was the creative apogee of Zimmer’s continued work on the series – everything about the film has a grander sweep than the prior two. His familiar themes from those first two films are plundered and given even more gravitas, along with some stunning action setpieces and new thematic material. The love theme for Will and Elizabeth is a particular highlight.
6. Rain Man (1988)
Zimmer’s first Hollywood film score, for Barry Levinson’s moving drama, earned him an Oscar nomination. It was a breath of fresh air in terms of its sound, which was born of Zimmer’s inate skill with keyboards and synthesisers. Some of it is very of its time, and perhaps just a little dated, but his main theme remains a soulful triumph. This is iconic and influential music; indeed Zimmer’s sound was so imitated, it drove him to explore fresh approaches.
5. The Lion King (1994)
This triumphant film owes a huge amount to its music, and not just the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. Hans Zimmer might have been unsure about taking on a ‘kids film’ at the time, but he brought to it a gravitas and emotion that truly elevates it. It’s essentially a tragedy and the composer takes the score to operatic heights. A key component is the traditional African vocal elements, brought to life by South African musician Lebo M – with whom Zimmer worked on 1992’s The Power of One. Zimmer won an Oscar for Lion King in 1995
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
This scintillating sequel to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins made audiences rethink just what a ‘superhero’ movie could be. While the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was scene-stealing (and Oscar-winning), Zimmer’s contribution picked up on the character’s freneticism and murky sense of show. As in the first score, Zimmer was joined by composer James Newton Howard who took charge of the music for Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face.
3. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending blockbuster remains a puzzle for some viewers, and it was up to Zimmer to guide us through the movie maze. Like The Dark Knight sound design and music converge, creating an aural world that goes beyond any sense of traditional film scoring. The result is one of the composer’s most original and integral scores, with the cue ‘Time’ a bit of a masterpiece.
2. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott’s epic film about a general who becomes a slave and then one of Rome’s most prized fighters was a bit of a surprise hit when it was released. Zimmer made the most of the no-holds-barred battle sequences, unleashing his own variety of hell with massive musical strokes. Powerful for sure, but also poignant thanks to Lisa Gerrard’s vocals and some truly gorgeous tunes.
1. Interstellar (2014)
If he impressed with Inception, Hans Zimmer took it to the next level with this score for Christopher Nolan’s complex space odyssey. In a way it’s a case of less is more, as the composer dials things down, unafraid to roll at no more than a whisper. The use of pipe organ is inspired, too, its tones taking us on a mesmerising, quasi-spiritual journey. Again the boundaries of music and sound design are blurred and the result is one of the most affecting and beautiful scores the composer has ever crafted.
We named Hans Zimmer one of the greatest film composers of all time
Top image by Getty Images
About Michael Beek
Michael Beek is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He joined the team in May 2018, following ten years as a freelance film music journalist and fifteen years at St George’s Bristol – where he was everything from Box Office Supervisor to the venue’s Content & Engagement Manager.
Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of Music from the Movies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records. Also a presenter, Michael has hosted concerts and live events for Bristol Film Festival and St George’s Bristol, plus Debbie Wiseman’s ‘Music and Words from Wolf Hall’ at venues across the UK.