It could be needless to say, but when a movie has the right soundtrack, half of the work is already done: the combination of music accompaniment and moving images is what makes the cinematic experience one of the most immersive and addictive arts ever conceived. For this reason, after the filmmakers and the cast, the music composers are the figures that are mentioned first among who worked on a movie.
Born in Germany on September 12th, 1957, Hans Florian Zimmer is today one of the world’s top authorities in the field of film scoring, with over 180 musical compositions signed for cinema, television and video games, and a thirty years long career in Hollywood that led him to collaborate with the biggest directors of the last decades, composing the soundtracks of many of the most popular recent sagas.
Artistically grown up between the 70s and the 80s, in full new wave era (he even worked as session man in Ultravox), Zimmer was over the years one of the greatest musical innovators within the entertainment cinema: often using a combination of synthesizers, orchestra and classical instruments, he gave life to compositions that sculpted the collective imagination.
For those who want to discover the reasons of the myth, below you find his ten best soundtracks. According to subjectivity, of course, but still a way to help you discover (and rediscover) what made Hans Zimmer great.
Christopher Nolan leads us through a world made of dreams and espionage, in a thriller of colossal proportions and constant tension, but at the same time rich of emotion and intensity. To accompany all this, Zimmer composes one of his masterpieces, a sumptuous and iconic soundtrack containing at least two tracks that are already part of his classics: the tension of Dream is collapsing and the intimate Time (above).
It was 2000 and Ridley Scott is back in vogue, after a tough decade, resurrecting even peplum films with this huge blockbuster. To accompany the heroic path of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) and Scott’s gigantic images, Zimmer gives life to an epic and pompous orchestral soundtrack that will prove to be a great success in sales (gold and platinum certification in many markets) and a reference for many soundtracks that will come later, that often and willingly recover from it elements such as the melancholy tone in the epic moments or the use of female voices. Exactly like in Now we are free.
The Lion King
Who was born in the 90s has almost certainly a special space in the memories for this great classic Disney movie, as well as the memorable songs composed specifically by Elton John. Perhaps not everyone remembers, however, that the instrumental pieces of this soundtrack earned Zimmer (also arranger of the songs) an Academy Award, while the album that came in stores broke every record of sales for the genre, selling more than ten million copies. Recorded on three different continents, the album is a very enjoyable example of World Music applied to the cinema, romantic and intense, impeccable in its function and able to maintain the autonomy from the film. It wasn’t easy at all.
Pirates of the Caribbean
That kind of cinema has been in decline for decades, and every attempt to bring it back to life over the 80s and the 90s had actually the effect of making it even worse. When Pirates of the Caribbean arrived in 2003, though, things changed completely, thanks also to the stellar sales and Johnny Depp’s popularity in the role of Captain Jack Sparrow. And we can be sure: without the music theme dedicated to him (that later became a cult reused in many other contexts), the famous first appearance of Pirate Jack on a sinking ship wouldn’t have the same impact.
The Dark Knight
Rethinking the music for Batman after the legendary theme composed by Danny Elfman for Tim Burton was very difficult, and when Christopher Nolan called Zimmer to compose the music for his set of movies dedicated to The Dark Knight, the musician wanted a real break with the past: no gothic or fairytale tones, but a real musical theme owned by the protagonist. The final result is perfectly in line with Nolan style and the new urban thriller music matches perfectly with the images of the three films, highlighting their best moments.
Written by Quentin Tarantino in the end of the 80s, True Romance screenplay arrives in the theatres thanks to Tony Scott in 1993. For this hilarious thriller (absolutely to rediscover) the German composer packs a soundtrack that assembles some of the best rock songs of the 50s and the 90s, alternating them with original compositions, including the Gorgeous You’re so cool, that accompanies the opening titles and the final.
The Thin Red Line
Composing music for Terrence Malick is not easy: Ennio Morricone knows something about it, and he remembers not too enthusiastically the work for Days of Heaven in the late 70s. For his next film, twenty years later, Malick decides to rely on Zimmer’s creativity, which creates a masterpiece of the genre and one of the most beautiful image/music combinations of the decade. Very distant from the hyper-fast rhythms typical of war movie soundtracks, this slow and solemn music accompanies us in a journey for the soul. Journey to the Line has indeed some of the maximum intensity peaks ever reached by the composer.
In 2013 the formula is now consolidated, Zimmer has largely reached his artistic maturity and for Ron Howard’s movie dedicated to the historical rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, he packs a solid “classic” soundtrack, with the right tension during the races and the intense peaks in the most dramatic moments. Extremely enjoyable.
Black Hawk Down
2001, war movies again. This time we are far from the Malickian atmospheres, exactly like this film is far from The Thin Red Line. In his first collaboration with Ridley Scott after The Gladiator, Zimmer chooses to exaggeratem inserting into the music every element characteristic of his own production: large orchestrations, electronics, ethnic music, industrial guitars and even a hint of hip hop. If the result is not completely homogeneous, the fans of the composer will still have a lot of fun.
Now in the fifth collaboration with Nolan, Zimmer knows exactly what the English director needs, and when he’s asked to compose a track about paternity, he pulled out of the cylinder the four notes of S.T.A.Y., perhaps one of the best soundtracks songs of last years, which will be reproposed in all the most intense moments of the film (you can watch it in its visual execution, if you want to feel the wonder). The rest of the work is of course high quality, more electronic than orchestral, and manages to complete his best recent production.