Welcome back, friends, to the final installment. If you missed Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3, please click away and check them out at your convenience. That said, let’s finish this up!
There is no soft intro to “Run Free” – Zimmer begins the propulsive movement in the first second of the cue. Almost like hoofbeats thundering across the frontier. I adore the main identity introduced here – one he would mature later as a love theme in “Winter’s Tale.” The cue increases exponentially in excitement as it goes along – look at the left turn it takes around 2:25. All in all, this is Zimmer working at the peak of his inspirational powers.
Bias Check: I was a staff writer on DreamWorks Animation’s sequel series “Spirit Riding Free” for its first eight seasons.
Co-Composed by Steve Jablonsky
Okay, I think we can all agree that the naming process of this album was… uh… not the most ideal. This is why I believe it’s less discussed than the other two scores for the Christopher Nolan trilogy – it’s more difficult to talk about names like “Antrozous” and “Corynorhinus” without wasting time looking up the score. And yet one cannot ignore that this adrenaline-pumping work (co-composed mainly with James Newton Howard) set the template for Zimmer’s collaborations with Nolan, and most of his future action work for the next decade.
Co-Composed by James Newton Howard, Ramin Djawadi and Mel Wesson
It’s not often that one would call a cue “hysterical,” but that is what we have here. It’s as if Zimmer took all of his major recurring action score techniques and threw them into a blender set on high. In other words, “Budget Meeting” is a lot, but in all the right ways. From the choir to the bass to the drums to the everything, the entire nine minutes feels like one protracted musical climax.
Co-Composed by Nick Glennie-Smith and Rupert Gregson-Williams
Though there are many highlights from the Robert Langdon trilogy, “Angels & Demons” represents the best score of the three, and the best mash-up of Zimmer’s rock sensibilities and his love for classical music. “160 BPM” has both in spades, pitching an insane choir of what I can only imagine are demon priests against his trademark drums and electronics. You finish the cue sweaty, exhausted… and exhilarated.
Co-Composed by Lorne Balfe and Atli Orvarsson
One of the high points of Zimmer’s romance writing (a genre he sadly seems to have abandoned since “Winter’s Tale”), “Maestro” is one of those goosebump-inducing cues that makes you smile and reach for “repeat.” The soft cooing of the female vocalists has rarely mixed better with strings. Bonus points for the fact that the cue (and film itself) have increased in popularity over the past 12 years – it seems to have entered the zeitgeist in a way few other cues do. It’s now a mainstay at weddings and anniversary parties.
Also, “The Holiday” was my first Zimmer album, so there is that.
Co-Composed by Lorne Balfe, Heitor Pereira, Henry Jackman, Imogen Heap, Atli Orvarsson and Reyland Allison
There are two kinds of Hans Zimmer fans: those that count “Beyond Rangoon” as one of their very favorite scores by the maestro, and those who have not heard it yet. The John Boorman film is barely remembered, but the music? It has persevered, remaining one of his most highly regarded works. This finale cue represents Zimmer at the height of his creative powers, deftly mixing horror, suspense and the awesomeness of the culture & landscape without allowing one aspect to overwhelm the rest. It’s a nearly impossible task, and yet here we are.
There is a reason there are three cues from DreamWorks Animation projects in the top 25 – it is one of the most viable, creative partnerships ever between a creator and studio. Not since the Golden days of Hollywood have we seen such a pairing. “Love,” which was written by master orchestrator and composer Conrad Pope, is a true highlight. He takes the main theme of the film and layers it over and over, until we get a stunning piece of film music you would never guess comes from something called “The Boss Baby.” I cried the first time I listened to it.
Co-Composed by Steve Mazzaro and Conrad Pope
Though the content of “The Last Samurai” film hasn’t aged well, Zimmer’s exquisite score has only gotten better as the years pass. A beautiful ode to the music of Japan, Zimmer utilizes many instruments primarily used there to create a tragic, almost Shakespearean mood, never more gorgeously rendered than in “A Small Measure of Peace.” You can tell the work was very personal for him, and the results speak for themselves.
Co-Composed by Blake Neely, Geoff Zanelli and Trevor Morris
In 1995, “Crimson Tide” changed film music forever… and in 1997 Zimmer created its spiritual sequel in all but name. “The Peacemaker” is all blunt force trauma – deftly carrying over all the style and execution that made “Crimson Tide” groundbreaking. It doesn’t break new ground, but then again it doesn’t have to… there’s something to be said for an action and suspense score that simply embodies those feelings entirely. As will become normal the closer we get to the top, there are many cues here that could have been chosen, so I’m going with “Peacemaker” because it functions as an attractive summation of all the major ideas within the score.
Co-Composed by Gavin Greenaway and Harry Gregson-Williams
This astonishing nine-and-a-half minute “Finale” cue isn’t just content with reprising the classic William Tell Overture that is so famously identified with the title character. No, it then warps and reconceives the theme (after a straightforward presentation at the outset) and then begins rolling in the major ideas of Zimmer’s score for good measure. In many ways, it perfectly represents the meshing of the classic and the modern… and how both can coexist within the same outstanding piece of music.
Co-Composed by Geoff Zanelli, Rupert Gregson-Williams, Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, Jasha Klebe, Lorne Balfe and Jack White
Though I have little love for the “Inferno” score as a whole, and frankly think its mediocrity robbed us of one of the best film score trilogies of all time, I will nevertheless bow down to the excellence of “Life Must Have Its Mysteries.” Within these magical four minutes are the most outstanding rendition of Zimmer’s iconic “Chevaliers de Sangreal” theme. So beautiful is this iteration that it may lift the listener out of his or her chair with joy at the way Zimmer carefully enhances and toys with the original theme. Unmissable stuff.
Co-Composed by Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, Richard Harvey, Michael Tuler and Paul Mounsey
Speaking of the best film score trilogies of all time, whoever would have thought that “Kung Fu Panda” would be one of them? And yet here we are. Co-Composed with John Powell for the first two parts and Lorne Balfe for the third, these movies represent Zimmer at his most exotic and playful. For me, it doesn’t get better than “Oogway Ascends” – a cue that, while only two minutes long, is just about as perfect as film music gets.
Co-Composed by John Powell and Henry Jackman
The scores for the live-action Disney remakes have been wholly outstanding – though they have been most interesting in that in certain cases they allow the composer of the original score to reinterpret and update their own work. Alan Menken did it with “Beauty & the Beast” and “Aladdin,” managing to one-up his original in both cases. And now Zimmer has done the same here. Though “Stampede” follows the same basic structure of the classic cue, Zimmer has rolled up his sleeves to make it sound bigger… more epic… more everything.
Co-Composed by Lebo M, Steve Mazzaro and David Fleming
The fact that “No Time For Caution” – one of the best Zimmer composed cues of all time – was not available on the original release of “Interstellar” is still cause for frustration by many fans. In fact, the entire release, with hidden cues only available if you scour different distributors, remains ludicrous, greedy, and something thankfully not repeated since. As to the music itself? Brilliant. Here is the best rendition of the ideas that Zimmer was exploring with the project – the organ, the slow build, the layers upon layers. It all clicks, it all works, and its brilliance is almost otherworldly (okay, I need to stop now).
Though an argument could be made for the love theme in film up next on the list, for me the most beautiful romantic theme Zimmer ever penned was the central one for “Pearl Harbor.” Harkening back to the Golden Age of film scoring, this feels like something Alfred Newman or Miklos Rozsa could have penned back in the day. It feels eternal, ageless and hits you right in the heart. The tender piano! The aching violin! Michael Bay’s abortive film didn’t deserve this lovely melody, but I’m so happy it exists.
Co-Composed by Klaus Badelt, Steve Jablonsky, James S. Levine, Geoff Zanelli and Fiachra Trench
This ten-minute monster of a cue serves as the climax to the original “Pirates” trilogy, and its high point. Nearly every major theme and idea Zimmer had conjured gets a nod here, and the rendition of the franchise’s love theme also gets a spectacular display for good measure. But to me, this cue – and the score itself – represents another climax and moment of transition for the maestro itself. With it, Zimmer takes all his sounds, statements and trademarks of his career, many tracing all the way back to “Crimson Tide” and brings them back for one victory lap. Though there are exceptions, after this Zimmer would alter his voice – leaning more toward ‘80s Vangelis (“Dark Phoenix,” “Interstellar”) or experimental (“Inferno,” “Dunkirk”). It’s a beautiful goodbye and glorious reminder of what he can achieve at the height of his action prowess.
Co-Composed by Geoff Zanelli, Lorne Balfe, Henry Jackman, Nick Glennie-Smith, Tom Gire, Atli Orvarsson and John Sponsler
Without “Driving Miss Daisy,” there would be no Hans Zimmer as we know him. A low-budget, entirely synthetic affair, it is grounded by a catchy main theme that one could argue Zimmer has never quite topped. Actually, I take that back. It doesn’t ground anything… it lifted the movie… and Zimmer’s career… into the stratosphere. This final cue represents five minutes of pure magic – and the best rendition of that theme – one that has become even more popular than the film it supports. This is the type of feel-great music that touches your soul – it’s simple, lovely and gorgeously rendered.
As far as cues of relentless action, both within Zimmer’s career and within all film scores, you can’t do much better than “Burn It All.” Produced just as Zimmer was perfecting the sound that would represent his Remote Control Productions, there is not a wasted breath or note in these five minutes. Bold, loud and with distinct, well-used electronic manipulations… it breaks out the children’s choir just when you think it can’t get any more tense. In here, you can feel the sounds that he would mature fully in his other iconic scores like his three “Pirates” films, “Gladiator,” “King Arthur” – even the Robert Langdon trilogy.
This incredible mini-opera was composed by Patrick Cassidy and used in the film when Hannibal Lecter and one of his soon-to-be victims attend a performance together. An adaptation of Dante’s “La Vita Nuova,” it builds beautifully to almost heavenly proportions. The entire “Hannibal” score is one of Zimmer’s greatest, and yet its release perhaps the most infuriating his career, right along with the lack of expanded release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and the lack of any release of “The Preacher’s Wife.” Several cues are mixed with Anthony Hopkins’ voice reciting random lines, many of which are not from the film. Indeed, even this cue has it – stop the recording before the last twenty seconds, I beg of you. Still, the quality speaks for itself – this is some of the best music composed this century. It has so entered the zeitgeist that even the “Hannibal” television series used it for impact in its first season finale.
Co-Composed by Patrick Cassidy, Klaus Badlet, Jim Dooley, Nick Glennie-Smith, Steve Jablonsky, Geoff Zanelli and Clay Duncan
It would be remiss of me to not take a moment during this countdown to praise all of the fabulous Co-Composers and collaborators the maestro has worked with throughout his career. Many of the moments on this list, including this and the previous cue, would not have been possible without their input. Here Zimmer teamed up with two of his most important muses: Klaus Badlet and Lisa Gerrard. Indeed, beyond composing, Gerrard’s voice is the one we hear singing throughout the transcendent four minutes. I encourage you to look back down the countdown to see how much of an impact they had – “Pirates,” “The Bible,” “Mission: Impossible 2” “Invincible”… Zimmer knows how to surround himself with the best and brightest.
As to the music itself, the words Gerrard is singing aren’t actually a language, but that doesn’t make the feelings and emotion it invokes any less impactful. I love the instrumentation and uplift invoked here after a difficult score of battle cues and explosive action – the film revitalized director Ridley Scott’s career, made an A-lister of Russell Crowe… and gave us one of the best scores of all time.
Co-Composed with Lisa Gerrard, Klaus Badlet, Nick Glennie-Smith and Jeff Rona
If you asked me what single cue made the most impact in Zimmer’s career, my answer would be “Journey to the Line.” Not only is it one of his most brilliant single works, but it has been used endlessly (endlessly!) in temp tracking and trailers to this day. Hell, Zimmer himself would create variations on the cue in his famous “Time” from “Inception” and less successfully in “Solomon” from “12 Years a Slave.” It would be rude of me to call out other composers for using the music because it is more likely the fault of the directors for insisting on its inclusion, but a quick Google search would show you if you are curious.
Regardless, there is a reason for its popularity… it is awesome. You’ve got that ticking clock which Zimmer loves so much at the opening, building slowly and slowly over the course of its nine-minute runtime into something of great power. Though it seems simple and straightforward on the surface, it’s deceptively so… its movement speaks to your very soul, washing over you and sweeping you away with its power.
Co-Composed by Klaus Badelt and John Powell
For these top three scores, nearly any cue from them could have easily found its way onto this Top 100 list, so figuring out which one best represented the work has been… uh… weirdly stressful. At least I got to cheat a little bit with “The Lion King” because I included “Stampede” from the remake a little further down the ranking. It’s kind of shocking that the maestro has only won one Oscar – for this score – but at least it’s for one of the greatest works of his career and one of the best scores for an animated feature period.
I chose “Kings of the Past” because I think it’s the best cue across all the various album releases, but also because it moves me every time I listen to it. The strings strike something deep inside me, and the soft cooing of the choir during the second half only underlines the beauty contained herein. It’s the last time I’ll mention this (because we are almost out of cues), but here we have yet another example that the music of Africa inspires the maestro more than any other … and every time he uses it, you walk away with a great score.
Co-Composed by Nick Glennie-Smith and Mark Mancina. Choir arranged by Lebo M
And here we are. At the score that changed everything. There was adventure music before “Crimson Tide,” and then there was adventure music after “Crimson Tide.” Not only did it win a Grammy Award, but it was instantaneously a smash hit among score fans and everyone who mattered in Hollywood. Testosterone is the name of the game, and the music has the impact of a sledgehammer to the chest. It’s got everything that would become a hallmark of Zimmer’s methods – deep male choir, electronic enhancements of percussion and those strings… oh those strings. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer would love it so much that he would begin a long-lasting relationship with Zimmer, using him or his Remote Control studios for blockbuster after blockbuster, often booting the original composer after he or she failed to properly emulate the maestro’s sound.
And for decades, that sound has been the prominent one in action. But while lesser composers can copy the methodology, they lack Zimmer’s talent at composing amazing themes. I chose “Roll Tide” as the highlight from the album because it gives the listener the fullest overview of all the amazing theme work Zimmer accomplished with this masterpiece, and hearing the entire seven minute cue is one of the most exhilarating experiences someone who loves music can have. Bonus points for the beautiful segue into “Eternal Father Strong to Save” at the end.
Co-Composed by Nick Glennie-Smith
While my head was telling me that “Crimson Tide” was the obvious number one pick, my heart kept telling me otherwise. In the end, I decided to follow the latter. If you’ve never heard “Chariot Race” before, that’s because you have the regular edition – the cue only exists on a special “Collector’s Edition” that was available at Wal Mart and is mostly filled with songs. But it is essential Zimmer and, for me, the best cue of his entire career. In other words, you need to track it down pronto if you have never heard it before.
I need to break down the reasons for this choice. First, why “The Prince of Egypt” and secondly why this cue in particular. As to the first, whatever your belief in a higher power may be, it is clear that this project unlocked something in Zimmer we have never seen before or since from him. His inspiration is clear in every note of music, and the themes he conjured here have never been topped – my favorite being the primary one for God himself. It’s music you will never forget once you hear it… music that will stay with you and haunt you for the rest of your life. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Secondly, why this cue? For awhile, I was going to go with “Red Sea” and then “Burning Bush” became the favorite, but in the end nothing topped “Chariot Race.” The six-minute masterwork is divided into two distinct three-minute sections.
The first is the actual chariot race in the film, a blockbuster of a playful action cue that plays to all of Zimmer’s strengths. It’s pure adrenaline, building quickly and a joy to listen. Alone this cue would have probably made it to my top 15.
But then we have the second three minutes, which is the finale of the movie. Within it are all the major themes of the film (including instrumental versions of the “Deliver Us” song), culminating with the transcendent God theme that ends the cue with an explosion of musical bliss.
It’s a testament to Zimmer’s compositional excellence, his unmatched theme creation and the beauty of his melodies, all wrapped together. That’s why I chose it as the best cue in his filmography.
Film music… scratch that… music doesn’t get better.
Co-Composed by Harry Gregson Williams, Rupert Gregson-Williams and Klaus Badelt. Songs by Stephen Schwartz.
But what about you? What is your favorite piece of music from the maestro? Hit me up in the comments and let’s talk about all the reasons we love Hans Zimmer.