Music can elevate an image in such a capacity that the footage can seem to have a life of its own. As much as visuals can move us, the sounds layered on top make the pictures breathe, and when we think of great films, it’s not just the memorable shots that linger in our minds, it’s the music that came along with them. Hans Zimmer is one of cinema’s most accomplished and talented composers, from the trickling rings of Blade Runner 2049‘s OST, to the commanding space operatics of Interstellar—this list contains ten of his (recent) most moving works.
“Time” from Inception
Named after the film’s central narrative crux, “Time” is a slowly building wave of movement. The soft piano keys start and finish the composition after an intense, against the clock, middle—which matches the film ending’s serenity perfectly.
“What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving The World?” from Man of Steel
Zimmer’s cathartic composition that sprawls over Superman’s first flight helps make it the best sequence in the entire film. As Clark discovers his true nature and begins to feel the extent of his powers being magnified by earth’s atmosphere, his cape flows in the freezing air, and he looks to the sky. The sun glimmers against his skin, and the snow on the ground begins to rise. When he takes to the skies the explosive score lifts in a moment of pure triumph.
“Beautiful Lie” from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
“A Beautiful Lie” (also credited to Junkie XL) can be considered a theme that encapsulates the loneliness of a young Bruce Wayne. Its opening thunders with tragedy—the death of his parents. What follows builds and evolves into strokes of discovery and awakening, and the finale is the pivotal rebirth of everything Bruce was and is about to become. The track cascades and seems to flow downwards like water trickling down rocks until it reaches a natural end where the sunlight begins to peek through again, with operatic vocals bookending the transformation into Batman’s psyche.
“No Time for Caution” from Interstellar
Time is a theme that has been present in so many of Zimmer’s scores, and in “No Time for Caution” the high intensity sounds tick away. During the scene, Cooper—an astronaut scouting distant planets that might be suitable for habitation—is fighting for his life against another astronaut who has been stranded on the world. Cooper is fighting for the future of all humanity, for the lives of his children who still have so many years to live. He battles a man fighting for his own selfish version of time, someone who has misused the valuable resource and has fallen victim to its brutality. The desperation and high stakes in Zimmer’s accompanying music are masterful.
“The Oil” from Dunkirk
Zimmer’s Dunkirk score is a feat that makes use of the technical knowledge implemented in Christopher Nolan’s war film, and it is heart pounding. “The Oil” is a nightmare, making use of Shepard tones and piercing, intense, percussion that put us in the black-stained water with the soldiers.
“Mesa” from Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve’s sequel captivated hearts last year with its expansion on the original’s heavy themes and existentialism. Set in a futuristic, cyber punk, L.A, Ryan Gosling’s K. charts the skies in his ship with a determination—while the music booms, grows, and mutates through the loud speakers (they should be loud). “Mesa” , by both Zimmer and Wallfisch, is nothing short of a blast that introduces the tones and cinematics of BR 2049 and has the power to freeze you on the spot with its aches and firing cylinders.
“Why Do We Fall?” From The Dark Knight Rises
Zimmer’s working relationship with Nolan is a match made in heaven. His grand sense of scale and Nolan’s epic staging go hand in hand in adding an elusiveness and great power to the legend of The Dark Knight.
“Dream is Collapsing” from Inception
In Inception, the idea of world building is taken to new heights. It’s not just the filmmakers creating places and people, the characters have the ability to construct their own realities and psychosocial mines—all of which can fall apart like a house of cards. “Dream is Collapsing” provides the crumbling call to action in the form of its strings and fast pace.
“S.T.A.Y” from Interstellar
In a moment of transcendence, the melodically patterned outcries of “S.T.A.Y” reach across space/time, reaching for a connection, for forgiveness, and for the opportunity to go back. The blimps in the music are close enough together to occupy the same space but far enough apart to accentuate the distance and longing Cooper feels watching his children grow up star systems away.
“Tears in the Rain” from Blade Runner 2049
Picking up directly from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, “Tears in the Rain” is a dewy, misty call-back that merges identifying markers of the two films. The drippy sounding pings reverberate and are covered with a blanket of the creaky, drawn out tones that are so easily traced back to these wonders of the science fiction genre.
Please note that these are purely personal picks, and that choosing 10 pieces, out of a shit ton of great ones, is a hard job that comes down to individual taste.
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Hello, I am a Scottish filmmaker who enjoys writing about movies and reading comics! You can follow me on Twitter @_trudiegraham or on Instagram @tru.die