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2008 RANKING: 21
AGE: 46
BIRTHPLACE: San Diego, California
BACKGROUND: Concert composer, music producer
ONGOING FILMMAKER RELATIONSHIPS: Nick Cassavetes, Anne Fletcher, Tyler Perry
FAN FAVORITE: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
TYPECAST IN: Romantic comedy, tearjerkers
1. The Proposal--163  (U.S. gross in millions) 
2. Sex and the City--152
3. Madea Goes to Jail--90
4. The Ugly Truth--88
5. Bridge to Terabithia--82 
6. The Notebook--81
7. John Q.--71
8. Step Up--65
9. Step Up 2 the Streets—58
10. Why Did I Get Married--55

While the romantic comedy genre may not be undergoing a creative renaissance, it's certainly doing gangbusters at the boxoffice, and Zigman's music is quickly becoming a mainstay of the genre. 2008's feature film version of HBO's popular Sex and the City was one of the most surprising blockbusters of the year, and in 2009 Zigman followed it with two similar projects that did unexpectedly well despite middling reviews -- The Proposal and The Ugly Truth. Zigman also continues to demonstrate one of the most important qualities of a successful film composer, the ability to inspire loyalty in directors. He scored his fourth film for Nick Cassavetes, providing refreshing musical restraint for the effective tearjerker My Sister's Keeper, and he continues to score the twice yearly film projects of Tyler Perry; not having seen any of Perry's films -- notwithstanding his cameo in Star Trek -- I can't say with any authority how much impact Zigman's scoring is allowed to have, but having a $90 million grosser like Madea Goes to Jail on his resume can only help. His most impressive recent score was for one of his least-seen films, the underrated docudrama Flash of Genius, with Greg Kinner as the inventor of alternating windshield wipers. Among his many upcoming films are another Tyler Perry project, another Nicholas Sparks-based tearjerker, and the inevitable sequel to Sex and the City.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Company Men, The Last Song, Sex and the City II, Why Did I Get Married Too


2008 RANKING: 9
AGE: 56
BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles, California
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
The Dresser, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind
RELATIONSHIPS: James Cameron, Mel Gibson, Vadim Perelman
BACKGROUND: Son of production designer Harry Horner, Royal College of Music (under Gyorgi Lygeti), U.C.L.A., student film scores, low budget features
TYPECAST IN: Adventure, Oscar bait
1. Titanic--600
2. Avatar--491 (as of 1/17/10)
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas--260
4. The Perfect Storm--182
5. Apollo 13--172
6. A Beautiful Mind--170
7. Deep Impact--140
8. Ransom--136
9. Troy--133
10. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids--130

Horner became a fan favorite scoring large scale sci-fi and fantasy adventures like Star Trek II, Krull and Aliens, and having been an A-list, steadily employed, and remarkably prolific Hollywood composer for over three decades, it's understandable that he might like to vary his palette with more intimate stories, with recent assignments like the Holocaust tearjerker The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the artsy drama The Life Before Her Eyes. However, a modest little arthouse film, an ethnographic story of an indigenous race titled Avatar, may once more make him a top composer for fantasy adventure spectacles. Horner's original score and song "I See You" are unlikely to have the cultural impact of his equivalent contribution to Titanic (few scores and songs do), but scoring the biggest blockbuster since The Dark Knight (and potentially even bigger) can only make Horner more relevant in the minds of Hollywood filmmakers.


2008 RANKING: 3
AGE: 77
BIRTHPLACE: Long Island, New York
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich
RELATIONSHIPS: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg
BACKGROUND: U.C.L.A., session pianist (for Goldsmith & Bernstein), TV composer, concert music
FAN FAVORITES: Spielberg movies, Star Wars series
TYPECAST IN: Fantasy adventure, Oscar bait
1. Star Wars--460
2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial--434
3. The Phantom Menace--431
4. Revenge of the Sith--380
5. Jurassic Park--357
6. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull--317
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--316
8. Attack of the Clones--310
9. Return of the Jedi--309
10. The Empire Strikes Back--290

The 77-year-old maestro understandably seems happy to take it easy these days, at least as far as film scoring is concerned, and despite rumors that he might return to the Harry Potter franchise for its final episodes, another composer will be taking on the task for at least the penultimate entry in the series (see composer #3 for more details). The less-than-beloved recent Indiana Jones film proved to be one his highest grossers, and it's assumed he'll score whatever the next Spielberg film turns out to be -- probably the motion-capture animated Tintin, but possibly a long rumored biopic of Abraham Lincoln.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Adventures of Tintin


2008 RANKING: 6
AGE: 54
BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles, California
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
Scent of a Woman, The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, The Green Mile, Erin Brockovich
RELATIONSHIPS: Alan Ball, Todd Field, Andrew Stanton
BACKGROUND: Son of Alfred Newman, Yale, pop and theater composer
FAN FAVORITE: The Shawshank Redemption
TYPECAST IN: Oscar bait
1. Finding Nemo--339
2. WALL-E--223
3. The Green Mile--136
4. American Beauty--130
5. Erin Brockovich--125
6. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events--118
7. Phenomenon--104
8. Road to Perdition--104
9. Fried Green Tomatoes--82
10. The Horse Whisperer--75

Finding Nemo had been Newman's highest grossing film, earning the composer his sixth Oscar nomination, and it was no surprise when its director, Andrew Stanton, brought the composer on board for his second animated feature, the touching, post-apocalyptic romance WALL-E. The film was a critical smash and was surprisingly successful at the box-office despite its offbeat subject matter, earning the composer two Oscar nominations including his first for Original Song. His fourth film for American Beauty director Sam Mendes, the marital drama Revolutionary Road, received a mixed reception from both reviewers and audiences, while his latest project, Jim Sheridan's English-language remake of the Danish drama Brothers, is doing respectable business despite its downbeat subject matter.



2008 RANKING: 4
AGE: 58
BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles, California
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
The Prince of Tides, The Fugitive, The Sixth Sense, Michael Clayton
RELATIONSHIPS: P.J. Hogan, Lawrence Kasdan, Joe Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Barry Sonnenfeld, Edward Zwick
BACKGROUND: U.S.C., Music Academy of the West, pop keyboardist, song arranger
TYPECAST IN: Adventure, thrillers
1. The Dark Knight--533
2. The Sixth Sense--293
3. I Am Legend--256
4. Signs--227
5. King Kong--218
6. Batman Begins--205
7. The Fugitive--183
8. Pretty Woman--178
9. Runaway Bride--152
10. Dinosaur--137

Howard's collaboration with his friend Hans Zimmer on 2008's The Dark Knight resulted in the highest grossing film scored by anyone not named James Horner, but his projects since then have received a more modest reception. The Happening was Howard's sixth collaboration with writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, and though as usual Howard's music was first rate, the film was one of the director's sillier efforts, more satisfying as a guilty pleasure than as a cautionary thriller. Defiance was a solid piece of Oscar bait that never found its deserved audience, though Howard's classically inflected score, with violin solos by Joshua Bell, earned him his eighth Oscar nomination -- the film's only nomination, a sign of the high respect in which he's held within the film composer community. Confessions of a Shopaholic returned him to the romantic comedy terrain of his first blockbuster, Pretty Woman, while Duplicity, his second film for Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy, eschewed Clayton's droning miminalism for a light-hearted tone and an energetic sound that earned the composer many raves. Howard has a full schedule for 2010, including an Angelina Jolie spy thriller and yet another M. Night Shyamalan project.

WHAT'S NEXT: Gnomeo and Juliet, Inhale, The Last Airbender, Salt


2008 RANKING: 9
AGE: 42
BIRTHPLACE: Riverside, New Jersey
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird
BACKGROUND: Julliard, UCLA, game composer, TV composer (Alias, Lost)
TYPECAST IN: animation, feature versions of TV series
FAN FAVORITE: The Incredibles
1. Up--292
2. The Incredibles--261
3. Star Trek--257
4. Ratatouille--206
5. Mission: Impossible III--133
6. Cloverfield--80
7. Sky High--63
8. The Family Stone--59
9. Land of the Lost--49
10. Speed Racer--43

In 2008, Michael Giacchino had only one major feature released, the lavish feature version of Speed Racer, but despite a huge ad campaign the film proved to be one of the year's biggest money-losers. Fortunately, 2009 was a little different for the composer. His first film of the year, J.J. Abrams's re-inauguration of the Star Trek franchise, turned out to be one of the year's biggest hits as well as a surprising critical smash (and has gone on to earn nominations from the Writers, Producers, Editors and Art Directors guilds), and gave Giacchino the opportunity to write a memorable new theme for the series as well as pay homage to Alexander Courage's classic TV music. Giacchino managed to top this achievement mere weeks later with Up, his third film for Pixar, his highest grossing film yet as well as the best reviewed film and score of the year (and a brand-new Golden Globe winner). He rounded off the summer with another TV-to-film adaptation, Land of the Lost, which though a box-office disappointment still managed to make more money than Speed Racer, and his lively score was one of the film's many highly entertaining elements. He also scored the latest Pixar short, Partly Cloudy, but seems inclined to take a well-deserved year off from film scoring.


2008 RANKING: 5
AGE: 46
BIRTHPLACE: London, England
REP: Kraft-Engel
Blue Sky, F. Gary Gray, Paul Greengrass, Doug Liman, George Miller, Charles Stone III, John Woo
BACKGROUND: Trinity College of Music, advertising music, Media Ventures
TYPECAST IN: Action, animation
1. Shrek--263
2. X-Men: The Last Stand--234
3. Hancock--227
4. The Bourne Ultimatum--227
5. Kung Fu Panda--215
6. Happy Feet--197
7. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs--196
8. Ice Age: The Meltdown--195
9. Mr. & Mrs. Smith--186
10. The Bourne Supremacy--176

Powell scored three hit animated features in 2008, and Bolt and Kung Fu Panda even managed to earn Oscar nominations for Animated Feature (the award, not surprisingly, ultimately went to WALL-E). Hancock also managed to be a huge hit, despite early reviews that suggested it would be Will Smith's Last Action Hero. Powell had only one feature released in 2009 but it was yet another CGI smash, the third film in the Ice Ace franchise (this time in uber-trendy 3D), which managed to squeak past its predecessor to become the highest grossing film in the series. The composer is gearing up for a heavy slate of projects, returning to Mr. and Mrs. Smith turf for the Cruise-Diaz pairing Knight & Day as well as other films ranging from kid-friendly animation (How to Train Your Dragon, The Lorax, a planned 3D Happy Feet sequel) to fact-based grown-up fare (Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame in Fair Game; Matt Damon looking for Iraq WMDs in Green Zone).

WHAT'S NEXT: Fair Game, Green Zone, How to Train Your Dragon, Knight & Day, The Lorax, Mars Needs Moms


2008 RANKING: 8
AGE: 48
BIRTHPLACE: Paris, France
REP: Kraft-Engel
The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
RELATIONSHIPS: Jacques Audiard, Stephen Frears, Florent Siri, Chris Weitz
BACKGROUND: European cinema
TYPECAST IN: Thrillers, Oscar bait
1. New Moon--290 (1/10/10)
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button--127
3. Julie & Julia--93
4. The Golden Compass--70
5. The Queen--56
6. Syriana--50
7. Firewall--48
8. Hostage--34
9. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium--31
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox--19 (1/10/10)

As with so many Hollywood success stories, Alexandre Desplat has proved to be an overnight sensation that took decades to occur. Desplat has been scoring European films since the mid-1980s, but barely any of these films reached U.S. theaters and the few that did (The Advocate, The Luzhin Defense) were barely noticed. The English-language films that first gained him notice in Hollywood, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Birth, were more respected than widely seen, though the Birth CD became a favorite of fans and some filmmakers (like David Fincher). 2006's The Queen proved to be his first major Oscar contender, winning the Best Actress Oscar for Helen Mirren and earning nominations in major categories, including his first for Original Score. The Golden Compass may not have proved to be the Harry-Potter-sized franchise starter its makers had hoped for, but in the two years since, Desplat has been almost alarmingly prolific. While staying true to his roots in French cinema with projects such as the lavish biopic Coco Before Chanel and the powerful prison drama A Prophet, he has neared the top of the Hollywood A-list with three high grossing projects -– the gorgeously crafted Curious Case of Benjamin Button (his first hundred-million-dollar grosser and a multiple Oscar nominee, including one for his lovely score), the charming Julie & Julia and, most importantly, the staggeringly successful second entry in the Twilight franchise, New Moon. He has become the composer-of-choice for many of the world's most acclaimed directors, including Fincher, Stephen Frears, Terence Malick and Roman Polanski, and has signed for one his most challenging and highest-profile assignments yet, the penultimate entry in the Harry Potter saga.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Ghostwriter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, A Prophet, The Special Relationship, Tamara Drewe, The Tree of Life


2008 RANKING: 2
AGE: 56
BIRTHPLACE: Amarillo, Texas
REP: Kraft-Engel
Good Will Hunting, Chicago, Milk
RELATIONSHIPS: Tim Burton, Gus Van Sant
BACKGROUND: Rock singer-songwriter (Oingo Boingo)
FAN FAVORITES: Batman, Edward Scissorhands
TYPECAST IN: Comic book movies, Oscar bait
1. Spider-Man--403
2. Spider-Man 2--373
3. Batman--251
4. Men in Black--250
5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--206
6. Men in Black II--190
7. Mission: Impossible--180
8. Planet of the Apes--179
9. Chicago--170
10. Batman Returns--162

Elfman continues to vary his palette working in an impressive number of styles and genres. His biggest recent hit was the graphic novel adaptation Wanted (whose $134 mil U.S. boxoffice total didn't even put it in the Elfman top ten), where he contributed not only a lively score but a catchy original song, "The Little Things." The recent Terminator sequel, Terminator Salvation, grossed nearly as much but was considered a failure due to the expectations for the series. The film's middling reaction was no fault of Elfman's exciting music, and it demonstrated again that he is the rare A-list composer willing to take on franchises begun by other composers (like the Hellboy films). He demonstrated the more intimate sides of his talent with his touching, Oscar-nominated score for Milk and his light-hearted music for the underrated Taking Woodstock. He also contributed an atypically quiet score for the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious and wrote the themes (with Deborah Lurie providing the score) for the feature version of the Oscar-nominated animated short 9. He's reunited with Tim Burton for the imminent, 3D version of Alice in Wonderland, and the pair plans to work together on another expanded short, a new version of Burton's memorable Frankenweenie. Film music fans should be pleased to learn that his previously rejected score for the long-delayed remake of The Wolf Man has been reinstated. He returns to the superhero genre with The Green Hornet, and is working on such non-cinema projects as a Broadway musical on Houdini and a new Cirque de Soleil show for Hollywood's Kodak Theater.

WHAT'S NEXT: Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie, Green Hornet, The Wolf Man


2008 RANKING: 1
AGE: 52
BIRTHPLACE: Frankfurt, Germany
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, As Good As It Gets, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Frost/Nixon
RELATIONSHIPS: James L. Brooks, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, DreamWorks, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers, Christopher Nolan, Gore Verbinski
BACKGROUND: Keyboardist, pop musician, protege to Stanley Myers, founder of Media Ventures and Remote Control
FAN FAVORITES: Gladiator, The Thin Red Line
TYPECAST IN: Epics, action, Oscar bait, animation
1. The Dark Knight--533
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest--423
3. The Lion King--312
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End--309
5. The Da Vinci Code--217
6. Mission: Impossible 2--215
7. Kung Fu Panda--215
8. Batman Begins--205
9. Pearl Harbor--198
10. Madagascar--193

Hans Zimmer is arguably the most influential film composer since John Williams re-popularized symphonic film scoring for his blockbuster projects of the mid-1970s, and Zimmer's musical (mixing orchestra and electronics in a forthright style) and practical (employing and openly acknowledging multiple collaborators) approaches have spread throughout the industry. He has ongoing working relationships with more major directors than probably any other composer working today, and his resume is filled with smash hits. His influence can only increase with the gigantic success of The Dark Knight (scored with his friend James Newton Howard but dominated by the Zimmer sound), while he maintained his prestige cred with 2008's Best Picture nominee Frost/Nixon. The Zimmer-scored Mexican comedy Casi Divas earned little attention in the U.S., and the grim drama The Burning Plain was similarly ignored, but he's scored two of the holiday season's biggest hits: the divorce comedy It's Complicated and Guy Ritchie's revisionist Sherlock Holmes. Currently he's expected to team with John Powell on the kids comedy Mars Needs Moms and to reunite with Pirates director Gore Verbinski for the animated Rango, as well as write his first solo score for a Christopher Nolan project, the sci-fi thriller Inception.

WHAT'S NEXT: Inception, Mars Needs Moms, Rango

Parts One, Two and Three of this series, featuring the composers listed below, can be accessed on the website.

11. Theodore Shapiro
12. Carter Burwell
13. Howard Shore
14. Harry Gregson-Williams
15. Alan Silvestri
16. Christophe Beck
17. Rolfe Kent
18. Mark Isham
19. Randy Newman
20. Rupert Gregson-Williams
21. Marco Beltrami
22. Brian Tyler
23. Trevor Rabin
24. Mychael Danna
25. A.R. Rahman
26. John Ottman
27. John Debney
28. Christopher Young
29. Dario Marianelli
30. Tyler Bates
31. Jon Brion
32. Alan Menken 
33. Elliot Goldenthal 
34. David Arnold 
35. Ramin Djawadi 
36. Craig Armstrong 
37. Patrick Doyle 
38. Rachel Portman 
39. Graeme Revell 
40. Randy Edelman

NEXT TIME: A group of new composers wait to join the list, including Andrew, David, Dickon, Henry, Jeff, John, Lyle, Nick, Paul, Warren and an old friend named Marvin.

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Comments (14):Log in or register to post your own comments
shouldn't Desplat be a composer-of-choice, rather than a director-of-choice?

shouldn't Desplat be a composer-of-choice, rather than a director-of-choice?

Good catch. I just fixed it.

I'm not excited about Desplat doing the score for Deathly Hallows part one. I was hoping they would bring back John Williams or if that wasn't possible, that they would choose someone brilliant like Hans Zimmer, Michael Gacchino, or Danny Elfman. But Desplat does have the ability to produce some impressive work, the soundtrack for "The Curious Case..." is evidence of that, but I'm still very nervous about this. I hope John Williams returns for part two. It's a pretty big film, so I can see why he might not want to do both parts.

shouldn't Desplat be a composer-of-choice, rather than a director-of-choice?

Somehow David Arnolds background is listed as a pop record producer too.

shouldn't Desplat be a composer-of-choice, rather than a director-of-choice?

Somehow David Arnolds background is listed as a pop record producer too.

Arnold had scored four or five features when he produced the "Shaken and Stirred" album of pop singers performing James Bond songs, so yes, it can be argued that producing pop records was not part of his "Background" when he scored his first film, The Young Americans.

Happy now?

Might want to add Ron Howard among James Horner's collabborations. They've done quite a few together.


Might want to add Ron Howard among James Horner's collabborations. They've done quite a few together.


I try to keep the Ongoing Filmmaker Relationships current, and since Howard did his last three films with Zimmer, I don't consider Horner/Howard to be Ongoing.

Danny Elfman was not born in Texas, I'm pretty sure he was born in LA.

Danny Elfman was not born in Texas, I'm pretty sure he was born in LA.

Actually, that is still not yet 100% confirmed, to my knowledge. There are some that claim he was born in Amarillo, Texas, while most say it's LA. Strange that we have no yet had an official confirmation by the man himself. I agree that LA is the more likely candidate.

A couple of comments are in order.

First of all who writes this crap? Hans Zimmer, of all people is #1? Despite the fact that he's neither that good nor well respected? Or that his scores are collaborations? Heck, it's worth bringing up if you put Williams lower because he slowed down a bit.

All, that when a true TITAN like Williams is barely in the top ten?

You dare take a dig at a perfectly well respteced and certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes Indy 4 (well well done oldschool adenture with a terrific turn by Ford) and no comments on the crap Zimmer scores. Sad to think that Guy Ritchie and Ron Howard put this guy over the top.

And shouldn't you stick to commenting on music, anyway?

Heck, Williams probably did more amazing scores this decade then Zimmer in his entire career.

I don't know whose views or tastes this represent but I sincerely doubt a lot of true film score lovers would agree.

Heck, I'd put Philip Glass before Zimmer any day. Or Burwell.


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