The end of 2021 is nigh, and with it comes the return of a yearly soundtrack tradition; ten film scores will battle it out in another edge-of-your-seat, action-packed competition to find out which truly is… the Best Film Score Of The Year. Stay tuned!
2021 marked the triumphant return of movies to the big screen (after the pandemic had a significant impact on the film industry last year), and with it has come a whole host of brand new cinematic soundtracks for us all to enjoy, and what a show it’s been. From the loudly heroic Spider-Man: No Way Home by Michael Giacchino to the breathtakingly atmospheric Dune by Hans Zimmer (and that’s just naming but a few), it really has been an incredible year for film music all round. As such, with the end of 2021 fast approaching it’s high time for another Best Scores competition, this time also returning to the classic Film setting. As per usual with this it’s all just a bit of fun really, and just because I think a particular score is the best thing ever, doesn’t mean you have to as well! In fact, feel free to post your top 10 film scores of the year in the comments section, I really would love to see them.
Before we get properly started though I do have another exciting new tradition to implement as well this year, so hang on to your hats.
Introducing… the Honourable Mention!
Masters Of The Universe: Revelation
by Bear McCreary
While not a film score as such, Bear McCreary’s brilliant and highly thematic work for the Netflix series this year simply could not go unmentioned. From the loudly heroic main title theme to the spectacular motifs for each of the main characters (such as the ominous Skeletor theme or the reluctantly heroic Evil Lyn motif to name but a few) as well as the multitudes of happily lengthy and gorgeously orchestrated action setpieces, McCreary simply went all out with this score, and the sheer time, effort and enthusiasm that’s clearly gone into making it easily earns it the Honourable Mention of this year’s Best Of list.
Now though, it’s finally time… for the main event!
10. Those Who Wish Me Dead
By Brian Tyler
Brian Tyler composed a surprisingly quiet, pensive for the most part and richly atmospheric score for Those Who Wish Me Dead, though it certainly doesn’t shy away from the composer’s well-known epic orchestral talents when called upon either. The main theme though is the absolute star of the show, starting off gently and almost morosely on sombre strings before then gradually building on increasingly dramatic brass until becoming near-deafeningly epic towards its end. That combined with several beautifully atmospheric setpieces (Opus for example) and a rather intriguing stylistic use of a burning cello easily makes Brian Tyler’s work here one of the best film scores of 2021.
9. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
By Joel P. West
I’ve had quite a bit of time to ponder over Joel P. West’s orchestral score for Shang-Chi now, and while I do think it has certain weaknesses (underutilisation of the main theme for example) the album overall is very entertaining, with tense action setpieces such as Don’t Look Down being of particular highlight as well as the slower and more gently hopeful cues (Family being a solid example of this). By far the best elements of the score though are of course the heroic and quite memorable main theme, and the gorgeous orchestral style. West blends traditional superhero-styled orchestra with Asian-esque string and woodwind elements to genuinely great effect, which (naturally) go hand-in-hand with the main theme to overall make for a score that is well worthy of this year’s top list.
8. Jungle Cruise
By James Newton Howard
James Newton Howard returns to orchestral action-adventure territory with his score for Jungle Cruise, combining his exquisite orchestral style with a catchy, upbeat main theme to some truly spectacular results, which all together help to not only make for many an enjoyable action cue, but also one of the better film scores of the entire year. The absolute highlight though is the wonderfully lengthy standout cue Jungle Cruise Suite above, which features the main theme in all its dramatic glory as well as excerpts from both rapid action and slower romantic pieces from across the score. Essentially, if you’re looking for a great reason why Jungle Cruise has made it onto this top 10 list… look no further than its rather brilliant suite.
7. No Time To Die
By Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer bridged old and new rather excellently with No Time To Die, combining a very John Barry-esque musical style that harkens back to the Bond score days of old with a ferocious modern-day rapidity that overall resulted in some very dramatic and rather breathtaking action sequences. When it appears, the iconic Bond theme also sounds particularly sublime, playing scattered and fragmented in standout cue Cuba Chase and then in full (though sadly short) form in the exquisite Back To MI6. While I do criticize the very minimal usage of the Bond theme across the album, as an action score Zimmer has done a resoundingly standout job here (both thematically and stylistically), making the album overall one of the best soundtrack works of the year.
6. Godzilla v.S. Kong
By Tom Holkenborg
Tom Holkenborg’s deafeningly dramatic score for Godzilla V.s. Kong is certainly something to behold. Here the composer simply doesn’t pull any orchestral punches, going all out with a boisterous, practically roaring new theme for titan Godzilla while also surprising us with a quieter, more pensive motif for King Kong. These two rather excellent new themes combined with several killer action setpieces (with standout cue Hong Kong being the natural action highlight as it features the monster motifs at their loudest and boldest) and a loudly emphatic orchestral style (one that’s particularly heavy on brass) makes for an incredible soundscape for the legendary battle between the two iconic Titans, and a damned good film score overall.
5. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
By Rob Simonsen
Rob Simonsen’s score for Ghostbusters: Afterlife is wonderfully faithful to Elmer Bernstein’s iconic work for the original 1984 movie, so much so that it almost sounds like it could have been written by him. That together with the gorgeous orchestral style and many a welcome reprisal of well-known themes (Bernstein’s Ghostbusters theme in particular simply shines) as well as more than a few highly enjoyable and very well-crafted action setpieces makes Simonsen’s work here a truly incredible effort, and so one that is naturally well worthy of this year’s Best Of list. I mean, come on. Have a listen to Trap Him above and tell me it doesn’t just scream Ghostbusters.
4. The Tomorrow War
By Lorne Balfe
More often than not nowadays, Lorne Balfe manages to make his way onto my Best Scores of the year list. He’s a composer that is continually and noticeably improving his craft, and my general liking of his music has risen considerably in the last few years as a result. Even so though, his score for The Tomorrow War surprised me in just how good it was; sporting an excellently-crafted main theme that sticks in your head pretty much instantly as well as an eerie, effective counter-motif for the hostile alien Whitespikes of the film, not to mention a genuinely exquisite orchestral style and many an exciting action cue throughout – this album simply has it all, and so it should come as no surprise that Balfe has once again crafted one of the top film scores of the year. It’s just phenomenal from start to finish.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
By Michael Giacchino
Speaking of phenomenal, Michael Giacchino has done it again this year with an absolutely spectacular Spider-Man score. With No Way Home he simply goes all out, delivering yet another set of brilliant new themes while also developing his original ones (with the main Spider-Man theme in particular soaring higher than ever before on loudly grandiose vocals) and even reprising a few well-known motifs from prior Spidey movies (and composers), all in the same album! Hearing James Horner and Danny Elfman’s respective Spider-Man themes play again after such a long time is a stunning highlight too, but it’s simply the cherry on top of the already exquisitely orchestrated soundtrack cake here, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that Giacchino’s latest compositional contribution to the MCU easily makes this top 10 list.
By Hans Zimmer
I must say, Hans Zimmer’s Dune has really grown on me this year. I was quite a big fan of the sketchbook album already, but having now listened to all three released albums rather extensively these past few months I’ve come to very much enjoy and appreciate it more as a collective whole. From the proudly grandiose anthem-esque Atreides theme to the darkly mysterious motif for the Kwisatz Haderach, and all of the dramatically action-oriented or ominously atmospheric world-building score weaved in between, you can feel the sheer effort and enthusiasm that Zimmer has clearly put into every note, and the music overall simply shines as a result. While the various main themes heard through their lengthy sketchbook performances are the absolute stars of the show here, Dune as a whole (sketchbook, score and artbook too) is a truly unique and rather incredible musical experience from start to finish, and I for one am tremendously excited to hear what the composer has in store for Part Two.
1. Zack Snyder’s Justice league
By Tom Holkenborg
I am still blown away by just how utterly fantastic Tom Holkenborg’s score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some truly amazing film music come out this year, but this one simply takes the cake (and eats it too). In the end as well, it all comes down to one thing with Justice League; the main theme. It’s simply just… perfect. It’s showcased in seven minute standout cue The Crew At Warpower above, starting off quietly and pensively before then gradually building until the orchestra just explodes, unleashing the Justice League in unapologetically loud, proudly orchestral and fist-pumpingly epic glory, and there’s simply no words for just how breathtaking it is. The way the theme is then expertly weaved throughout the score in seamless harmony with several other new themes by Holkenborg (the villainous Steppenwolf and surprisingly emotional Cyborg motif to name but two standouts) as well as Hans Zimmer’s simply inspiring Man Of Steel and loudly ferocious Wonder Woman themes… it’s almost too much to handle. The brilliant action setpieces, the darkly dramatic sombre moments, the love and care Holkenborg has given to each and every one of the themes both old and new… there’s not a second wasted on Justice League‘s four hour soundtrack album, and a Perfect Score it most certainly is. Best Score Of 2021? Easily.