Top 10 scores from ‘Inception,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ composer Hans Zimmer

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Movies and music are an inseparable pairing. Sometimes a song can define a character — one need look no further than John Williams’ “The Imperial March,” which is as essential to Darth Vader as his cape and red lightsaber. Other times, film scores can be more profoundly moving than any amount of dialogue. Just thinking of Michael Giacchino’s “Married Life” from the wordless, opening montage of “Up” brings a tear (okay, maybe more than a single tear) to the eye. Above all, though, a score can transcend its film and composer to become its own iconic cultural entity. Even if you haven’t seen “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” you’ve definitely heard Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold.”

Defining a character, emotionally moving the listener and writing an iconic song are accomplishments that few composers have achieved. Hans Zimmer is one of them. His themes for Batman (he wrote scores for both Baleman and Batfleck, mind you) are sonic encapsulations of the character, and every track from “Interstellar” tugs at the heartstrings as it captures the relationship between a father and daughter. As far as iconic songs go, just watching an action movie trailer from 2010 onward will reveal the deep influence of Zimmer’s “Inception” score on the film industry.

Having composed for more than 150 films, chances are that you’ve had a Hans Zimmer score stuck in your head at least once. Zimmer’s prolific career certainly doesn’t mean quantity over quality though, as he brings his trademark gravitas, epic scope and inventiveness to every project he works on. As he continues to collaborate with top-tier filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, the future of film and TV scores will be nothing but bright. Without further ado, here are Hans Zimmer’s top 10 scores.

— Harrison Tunggal

10. “The Lion King”

Despite being nominated ten times, Hans Zimmer has only won one Academy Award for Best Score — for the seminal animated Disney classic, “The Lion King.” And the win is well-deserved. The film has become as identified with its music, contributed to by songs from Elton John, as it has with its story and characters. Zimmer’s score beautifully captures the Shakespearean-inspired tale. These aren’t just animals in Zimmer’s eyes. These are grand characters who embody love, loss, power and more, especially through the film’s musical score.

— Kyle Kizu

9. “12 Years a Slave”

The score may be minimal, but that’s essentially the point: there is no music, no matter how tragic, that can encompass the horrors of slavery. The minimalism then becomes very, very calculated. The main theme in the film, and the only directly credited to Hans Zimmer on the album, “Solomon” is as haunting as it is beautiful. It’s in the quiet introduction of the song at the end when he returns to his family, after so much silence throughout the film and so much distress portrayed through only dialogue and natural sounds, that we feel the gravity of Solomon Northup’s entire journey. We find much of our empathy in Zimmer’s work.

— Kyle Kizu

8. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”/”Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”

While neither film is universally considered excellent, and in fact, most consider “At World’s End” a dud, no one can blame Hans Zimmer, as he provided a fittingly fun, swashbuckling score for both. While the films became darker in tone, Zimmer found inventive ways to keep the theme park ride-inspired movies entertaining for all. Try to listen to the “Jack Sparrow” score that opens “Dead Man’s Chest” and not remember the once-great franchise’s better days. Here’s hoping Zimmer’s protege Geoff Zanelli and the fifth film in the franchise can bring some dignity back to “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

— Levi Hill

7. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”

When you think of video game scores, they rarely match the level of discussion that a film score would receive. A few, such as “Halo 3,” “Red Dead Redemption,” “The Last of Us” and “Journey,” earn their place as great, memorable scores regardless of the media in which they were composed for. One of the best video game scores comes from none other than Hans Zimmer, and his extreme bombast found on “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” Take all of the visceral craziness and action-oriented sounds he created for the “The Dark Knight,” then turn them to 11 and you get a hint of the nonstop, completely thrilling score to “Modern Warfare 2.”

— Levi Hill

6. “Man of Steel”/”Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

With “Man of Steel,” Hans Zimmer was once again tasked with capturing the essence of a classic and beloved character. Zimmer arguably understands Superman better than Zack Snyder, and Zimmer’s memorable theme is more significant considering the shadow of John Williams’ classic score. Songs like “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” embody the sense of hope that Superman represents, and Zimmer transitions from a simple piano melody to a pulse-pounding orchestra — a move that propels us out of Smallville and into the stratosphere. For “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Zimmer returned to the DC Extended Universe, this time with “Mad Max: Fury Road” composer Junkie XL. Their Wonder Woman theme consists of a biting electric cello riff, a perfect encapsulation of an Amazonian battle cry, and the new Batman theme is a dour fugue which captures the sheer rage that defines Batfleck. Though Zimmer has decided not to score any future superhero films, the DCEU owes much of its stylistic gravitas to Zimmer.

Harrison Tunggal

5. “The Thin Red Line”

After a 20-year hiatus, Terrence Malick returned with his first overtly poetic film “The Thin Red Line,” one of the most idiosyncratic tendencies in his career. To match his poetic approach, Malick was wise to hire Zimmer to be the composer. While Zimmer is typically known for his bombast, the score for “The Thin Red Line” is his most meditative and lyrical. Featuring the oft-cited “Journey to the Line,” “The Thin Red Line” is the most mature score Zimmer has done.

— Levi Hill

4. The Dark Knight Trilogy

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s take on the Dark Knight was simple, but effective — an ascendant, two-note blast that lifts Batman out of a low, dark place of anger and repression into something resembling hope. Tracks like “Molossus” (Zimmer and Howard named each track on “Batman Begins” after a different genus of bat) capture the essence of Batman, his determination and the pain at his core. The duo took a similar approach to writing the Joker’s theme, using two notes to create a prolonged cello whine that escalates in tension with every passing bar. For the last entry in “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” Zimmer went solo and penned Bane’s theme with a thundering chant that evokes the character’s revolutionary persona. If there was ever music to play in the background as you leap off rooftops, clad in cape and cowl, to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful, Zimmer and Howard’s scores would be it. Just don’t wear hockey pads.

Harrison Tunggal

3. “Planet Earth II”

Arguably, the “Planet Earth II Suite” is the greatest thing Hans Zimmer has ever composed, which, when you take into consideration the countless near (if not complete) masterpieces he has, is saying a lot. While Zimmer did not compose for the entirety of the exquisite BBC nature doc — which is what kept this score from being at the very top — the “Suite” remains a constant throughout the entire series, ebbing in and flowing out like the emotional crescendos that make up the hallmarks of the series. Every time the audience is introduced into the stunning photography of Earth and the rich, incomparable narration from David Attenborough, they are also met with the string-heavy, slowly-building beauty of Zimmer’s creation. There won’t be a better individual piece of composing in 2017.

— Levi Hill

2. “Inception”

Though Hans Zimmer created great scores before penning the music of “Inception,” this was the first to become conspicuously influential. Whether it’s the rumbling “In a world” narration of decades past, or today’s insistence on creepy, a cappella renditions of popular songs, movie trailers tend to follow patterns — perhaps the most ubiquitous of which is the “BWAAH” of pretty much every action movie trailer since 2010. Though composer Mike Zarin created the now-iconic sound specifically for the trailers of “Inception,” Zimmer and Christopher Nolan brainstormed the concept of a recurring musical cue, which was inspired by a slowed version of Edith Piaf’s recording of “Non, je ne regrette rien,” and is used in the film as “the kick” to wake characters from their various city-collapsing, hallway fight-filled dreams. Thus, Zimmer’s incorporation of narrative into his composing truly sets him apart, even though “Inception’s” “BWAAH could really use a rest at this point.

Harrison Tunggal  

1. “Interstellar”

As Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” seemed to be the culmination of the director’s career up to that point, so did Hans Zimmer’s score for the grand space film. The story behind Zimmer and Nolan’s collaboration for the music is fascinating enough: Nolan came to Zimmer with one page of writing prior to telling him about the genre or story, and Zimmer came up with a theme in a single day. That page and that theme centered around fatherhood, and Zimmer pulled from his own relationship with his son. This basis of a massive space film in the human elements, in a father-daughter relationship, offers the score an affecting weight. As we hear swaying, overwhelming themes that score human tragedy, such as “Stay” extrapolated into pieces that accompany cosmic action, such as “Detach,” we find a place of empathy and coherence even in the most theoretical moments. At the end of the day, however, it’s also the themes of hope and human progression and how they interact with the theme of fatherhood that top off this score as Zimmer’s best. “Where We’re Going” simultaneously captures the extremely profound reunion of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Murph (Ellen Burstyn) — pulling tears almost against our will with its reverberating organ — while also featuring a wondrous crescendo that pushes our main character out to space yet again; we’re explorers and pioneers, and Zimmer’s score is the best of that.

— Kyle Kizu

Kyle Kizu is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu. Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Contact Levi Hill at [email protected].