The Best Original Score is one of the most prestigious awards given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the annual Oscars ceremony.
It recognizes the best achievement in music composition for a motion picture that is not based on any pre-existing material. The award was first presented in 1935, and since then, it has become one of the most highly sought-after honors in the film industry.
Over the years, the Best Original Score category has seen many outstanding and groundbreaking films, with composers bringing their unique musical styles and talents to the screen.
Best Original Score Winners
Some of the most celebrated films of all time, such as “Star Wars,” “The Godfather,” and “The Lion King,” have won this award, showcasing the power of music in film and the creativity of the composers behind them.
In this series of articles, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most memorable winners of the Best Original Score award, exploring what made them stand out and examining their impact on the film industry.
Best Original Score Winners
Here are the winners of the Academy Award for Best Original Score from the past decade:
2021: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste for “Soul”
2020: Hildur Guðnadóttir for “Joker”
2019: Ludwig Göransson for “Black Panther”
2018: Alexandre Desplat for “The Shape of Water”
2017: Justin Hurwitz for “La La Land”
2016: Ennio Morricone for “The Hateful Eight”
2015: Alexandre Desplat for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
2014: Steven Price for “Gravity”
2013: Mychael Danna for “Life of Pi”
2012: Ludovic Bource for “The Artist”
Note that the Academy Awards ceremony usually takes place early in the year following the year in which the films were released.
1. The Godfather Part II
“The Godfather Part II” is a crime drama film released in 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and written by Coppola and Mario Puzo. It is the sequel to the critically acclaimed and commercially successful film “The Godfather,” released in 1972.
The film tells two parallel stories: the rise of Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) as a young man in New York City in the early 1900s, and the continuing story of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) as he expands the Corleone crime family in Las Vegas and Havana in the 1950s.
The movie is notable for its complex narrative structure, as well as its exploration of themes such as power, family, and the American Dream.
It features a star-studded cast including Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, and Talia Shire, as well as the debut of actors such as Andy Garcia and Bruno Kirby.
“The Godfather Part II” was a critical and commercial success, winning six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for De Niro.
It is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, and is a landmark in American cinema.
2. The Shape of Water
“The Shape of Water” is a 2017 American fantasy drama film directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Doug Jones in prominent roles.
“The Shape of Water” is known for its unique blend of fantasy, romance, and social commentary.
The film is set against the backdrop of Cold War-era America in 1962 and follows the story of Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, a mute and isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a high-security government laboratory.
Elisa discovers an amphibious creature, played by Doug Jones, being held captive in the laboratory, and she forms a connection with it, developing a deep emotional bond.
As Elisa befriends the creature, she hatches a plan to rescue it with the help of her coworker Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, and her neighbor Giles, played by Richard Jenkins.
However, their actions draw the attention of a ruthless government agent, Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, who is determined to capture and study the creature at any cost.
“The Shape of Water” is a visually stunning film that combines elements of fantasy, romance, and social commentary. It explores themes such as love, acceptance, prejudice, and the power dynamics between individuals and institutions.
The film is known for its captivating performances, particularly Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Elisa, who conveys a complex range of emotions through her physicality and sign language.
“The Shape of Water” was well-received by critics and audiences alike, winning numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director for Guillermo del Toro, and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat.
The film’s unique story, compelling characters, and visual artistry have made it a standout entry in contemporary cinema, showcasing del Toro’s distinct vision and storytelling prowess.
3. Star Wars
Star Wars is a science fiction media franchise created by George Lucas. The franchise began with the original film, later retitled as Star Wars:
Episode IV – A New Hope, which was released in 1977. The film tells the story of a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, who joins forces with a wise Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobiplayed by Alec Guinness, to rescue Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, and save the galaxy from the evil Empire.
The Star Wars franchise has since expanded to include two film trilogies, several standalone films, animated television shows, comic books, novels, and video games.
The series is known for its iconic characters, such as Darth Vader, played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones, and Yoda, a wise and powerful Jedi master, as well as its groundbreaking visual effects and memorable musical score by composer John Williams.
Star Wars has become a cultural phenomenon and has had a significant impact on popular culture. The franchise has spawned numerous merchandise, theme park attractions, and has influenced countless other works of science fiction and fantasy.
4. The Lord of the Rings
“The Lord of the Rings” is a high-fantasy novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in three volumes between 1954 and 1955.
The story is set in the fictional world of Middle-earth and follows the quest of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins to destroy a powerful and evil ring that was forged by the dark lord Sauron.
The novel is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of 20th-century literature and has been adapted into numerous forms of media, including films, television shows, video games, and stage productions.
The film adaptation directed by Peter Jackson, released between 2001 and 2003, is particularly notable for its critical and commercial success, winning a total of 17 Academy Awards and grossing over $2.9 billion worldwide.
“The Lord of the Rings” has had a significant impact on the fantasy genre, with its detailed world-building, complex characters, and epic scope influencing countless works of fiction.
The themes of the novel, including the corrupting influence of power, the nature of heroism, and the importance of fellowship, continue to resonate with readers and viewers around the world.
5. Schindler’s List
“Schindler’s List” is a powerful and critically acclaimed American historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, released in 1993.
The film is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved over 1,000 Polish Jews during the Holocaust. “Schindler’s List” is known for its stark portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust and its poignant depiction of one man’s extraordinary act of heroism in the face of immense adversity.
The film follows the story of Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, as he establishes a factory in Kraków, Poland, during World War II.
Initially motivated by profit, Schindler hires Jewish workers to staff his factory, eventually realizing the atrocities being committed against Jews by the Nazis.
He embarks on a dangerous mission to save as many Jewish lives as possible, using his wealth and connections to protect his workers from deportation to concentration camps.
The film depicts the emotional journey of Schindler and the harrowing experiences of the Jewish people he seeks to save.
“Schindler’s List” is known for its poignant and moving portrayal of the Holocaust, with Spielberg employing a stark black-and-white cinematography to capture the brutality and inhumanity of the genocide.
The performances, particularly Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Schindler, are widely praised for their emotional depth and authenticity.
The film received widespread critical acclaim and was a commercial success, grossing over $321 million worldwide. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Spielberg, and Best Original Score by John Williams.
“Schindler’s List” is often regarded as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, known for its powerful storytelling, historical significance, and impact on Holocaust education and remembrance.
It serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of individual actions to make a difference in the face of unimaginable cruelty.
6. Chariots of Fire
“Chariots of Fire” is a 1981 British film directed by Hugh Hudson and written by Colin Welland. The film tells the story of two British athletes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
The film’s score was composed by Vangelis and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1982.
The score of “Chariots of Fire” is known for its iconic opening theme, which has become one of the most recognizable pieces of music in film history.
The theme is a sweeping, synth-based melody that perfectly captures the spirit of the film and its themes of perseverance, triumph, and nationalism.
The score also includes a variety of other memorable pieces, such as “Abraham’s Theme,” which captures the character’s drive and determination, and “100 Metres,” which underscores the film’s intense race scenes.
The score of “Chariots of Fire” has become a classic in its own right, and it continues to be celebrated for its innovative use of electronic music and its ability to capture the emotions of the film’s characters and story.
The film’s success, both critically and commercially, helped to establish Vangelis as one of the most important composers of his generation and solidified the role of music in the emotional impact of films.
7. Lawrence of Arabia
“Lawrence of Arabia” is a historical epic film directed by David Lean and released in 1962. The movie is based on the life of T.E. Lawrence, a British army officer who played a key role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
The film stars Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, with supporting roles by Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, and Omar Sharif.
The film is known for its sweeping cinematography, expansive landscapes, and memorable performances. The screenplay was written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1963.
The movie also won six other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score.
“Lawrence of Arabia” is considered one of the greatest films ever made and has had a significant impact on cinema. The film’s stunning visuals and powerful storytelling continue to inspire filmmakers today, and it remains a benchmark for historical epics.
8. The Devil and Daniel Webster
“The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a fantasy drama film released in 1941, directed by William Dieterle and based on the short story “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving.
The movie tells the story of Jabez Stone (played by James Craig), a New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the Devil (played by Walter Huston) in exchange for seven years of prosperity and success.
When the time comes for Stone to fulfill his end of the bargain, he seeks the help of famed lawyer Daniel Webster (played by Edward Arnold) to plead his case before a jury of the damned. The trial takes place in a supernatural courtroom, presided over by the Devil himself.
The film is notable for its depiction of the American legal system and its exploration of themes such as greed, temptation, and redemption.
It features strong performances by the cast, particularly Walter Huston as the Devil, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
“The Devil and Daniel Webster” is considered a classic of American cinema, and has been praised for its combination of fantasy and social commentary.
It has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times, and remains a popular choice for performances around Halloween.
9. The Hateful Eight
“The Hateful Eight” is a 2015 American Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film features an ensemble cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, and others.
Known for its trademark Tarantino style, “The Hateful Eight” is a violent, dialogue-driven film set in post-Civil War Wyoming.
The film follows a group of strangers who seek refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Among the travelers are a bounty hunter named John “The Hangman” Ruth, played by Kurt Russell, who is transporting his prisoner Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a former Union soldier turned bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
As tensions rise and secrets are revealed, the strangers’ stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery becomes increasingly perilous, with violence and betrayal lurking around every corner.
“The Hateful Eight” is known for its Tarantino-esque mix of dark humor, gripping dialogue, and shocking violence.
The film is presented in a unique “roadshow” format, with an extended runtime and an overture, intermission, and 70mm Ultra Panavision cinematography, paying homage to the epic Westerns of the past.
The film explores themes such as racism, post-war trauma, and the nature of justice, while showcasing Tarantino’s signature stylized violence and storytelling.
The performances in “The Hateful Eight” are standout, with Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh earning particular praise for their roles. The film also features a memorable score by Ennio Morricone, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Despite polarizing opinions from critics and audiences, “The Hateful Eight” has gained a following for its distinctive style, engaging characters, and Tarantino’s mastery of tension and dialogue.
It is considered a notable entry in Tarantino’s filmography and a homage to the Western genre with its own unique twist.
10. The Lion King
The Lion King is a popular animated musical film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released in 1994.
The film tells the story of Simba, a young lion prince who must learn to overcome his own fears and become a responsible leader in order to reclaim his place as king of the Pride Lands.
The Lion King features an impressive cast of voice actors, including Matthew Broderick as Simba, James Earl Jones as Mufasa (Simba’s father), Jeremy Irons as Scar (Mufasa’s evil brother), and Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, a comedic duo of meerkat and warthog.
The film was praised for its innovative animation techniques, memorable songs by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, and its heartwarming story that explores themes of family, identity, and redemption.
The Lion King was a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time and winning two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”.
The film has since been adapted into a successful Broadway musical, as well as a live-action remake in 2019.
3 Reasons To Watch Best Original Score Winners
Memorable and iconic music: Best Original Score winners are recognized for their exceptional musical composition and contribution to the overall atmosphere and emotion of a film.
The music is often memorable and iconic, and it can transport viewers back to the world of the film long after the credits have rolled. Watching these movies can offer an immersive experience and a deeper appreciation for the power of music in cinema.
Recognizing the art of film music: Best Original Score winners celebrate the art of film music and the important role it plays in filmmaking.
These films highlight the work of composers and their ability to create music that enhances the storytelling and emotional impact of a film. By watching these movies, you can gain a better understanding and appreciation for the craft of film music composition.
The power of music to evoke emotions: Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotions and can enhance the audience’s connection to a film’s characters and story.
Best Original Score winners are recognized for their ability to create music that heightens the emotional impact of a film, whether it be suspense, romance, or drama.
By watching these movies, you can experience firsthand the emotional power of music and its ability to enhance the overall cinematic experience.
Best Original Score Winners – Wrap Up
The Academy Awards for Best Original Score honors the best original music score that has been composed specifically for the film.
These scores represent a diverse range of musical genres and styles, and have been recognized for their originality, creativity, and impact on the film industry.
Winning the Best Original Score Oscar is a significant achievement for any composer, as it recognizes the important role that music plays in enhancing the emotional impact and storytelling of a film.