50 musical artists that have scored movies
50 musical artists that have scored movies
Feature films are made up of so many different elements—and they must all come together so seamlessly they create a world where audiences can get lost for a few hours. While some movie elements are obvious—like the characters, the setting, and the dialogue—a less apparent part of films lies in the music that often plays in the background. Film scores can have a deep and lasting effect on audiences who sit mesmerized by the sounds and images that unfold harmoniously on the silver screen. It is not always obscure film composers we’ve never heard of who come up with these emotion-inducing scores—often it is our favorite musical artists.
Stacker researched the intersection between music and film and picked out 50 famous musicians or bands who have scored films on the side.
Many of the artists on this list have had major music careers. The films they’ve scored are often surprising. There is the artist who returned to the limelight with a score for a Charles Bronson action film because his neighbor asked him to. Another artist on the list created the score for a popular Blaxploitation film. One British indie rocker scored the remake to a horror classic.
These artists and scores cover music spanning across genres. They have crossed the divide between two powerful mediums, film and music, to bring audiences some of the greatest music ever heard in the recesses of a darkened theater. Keep reading to learn about 50 musical artists who have scored feature films.
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This French duo composed the score for “The Virgin Suicides,” a coming-of-age film that marked Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut. It turns out Coppola was a fan of electronica music and had heard their debut, “Moon Safari.” Air’s Jean-Benoît Dunckel told Stereogum of creating the score: “We began by making very moody stuff, music that was like stepping out between light into something quite dark. But more and more, Sofia cut the movie into a love story—a teenager-style movie.”
Canadian composer Owen Pallett joined Canadian alternative rock group Arcade Fire to score the 2013 Spike Jonze film, “Her.” The film’s soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score at the 2014 Oscars and only received a proper physical and digital release in 2021. The band said that Jonze wanted the score to emphasize the romantic aspects of the film, as opposed to focusing on the sci-fi element.
Musician Jon Brion created film scores across multiple genres, including the ensemble drama “Magnolia,” the coming-of-age film “Ladybird,” and the comedy “This Is 40.” Writing for PopMatters, Evan Sawdey says of Brion’s score for “Ladybird,” “Brion creates a score that features his trademark blend of whimsy and melancholy, created with an array of instrumentation that’s not too far removed from what you’d hear from a high school band.” Brion’s first film score, in collaboration with Michael Penn, was for filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s crime drama “Hard Eight.”
The Godfather of Soul scored two back-to-back Blaxploitation films in 1973. “Black Caesar” is the tale of a Harlem man who gets involved with the mob, and it features two solid tracks from James Brown, “The Boss” and “Down and Out in New York City.” The second film, “Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off” saw Brown recycle some of his own hits, including his 1970 classic "Brother Rapp," which makes an appearance, though without the “live” crowd from the original track.
While best known as singer of The Talking Heads, David Byrne also scored the comedy film “Married to the Mob,” as well as his own film, the cult classic “True Stories.” Bryne has not only created scores for movies, but for television as well. The musician was responsible for scoring the second season of the HBO drama, “Big Love.”
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Along with violinist Warren Ellis, Nick Cave has created some epic movie scores, including the score for the 2005 film “The Proposition,” for which he also wrote the screenplay. The Australian musician and singer for the band Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds also worked on the 2007 film “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Writing for Pitchfork, Joshua Klein notes of the track “Song for Jesse,” “the cue that seems to crop up the most in the film, its eerie bells and keys are thoughtful, menacing, pretty, and ghostly all at once.”
Former Cream guitarist and musician Eric Clapton also has had a substantial amount of experience scoring feature films. While many fans may know he scored all four installments in “Lethal Weapon,” the cop buddy comedy franchise starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, perhaps they don’t know of the singer's lesser-known films. The 1991 film “Rush,” about two narcotics cops sucked into the horrors of drug addiction, included the Clapton hit “Tears in Heaven,” written for his young son Conor who died in a terrible accident, and the 1999 Rob Reiner romantic dramedy “The Story of Us” featured the Satellite Award-nominated Clapton song, “Get Lost.”
Slide guitar master Ry Cooder worked with German auteur Wim Wenders on several films, including the 1999 documentary “The Buena Vista Social Club,” and the 1984 tale of an aimless drifter, “Paris, Texas.” Cooder also scored the 1985 comedy “Brewster’s Millions,” directed by Walter Hill, with whom he collaborated on multiple films.
The American musician was the drummer in the British band The Police. He went on to compose feature film soundtracks including 1980s films “Rumble Fish,” “Talk Radio,” and “Wall Street.” Stewart Copeland won five Grammys and the first Hollywood Film Festival Outstanding Music in Film Visionary Award.
A member of the band the National, Bryce Dessner wrote the score for the Fernando Meirelles film “The Two Popes.” He was involved with the film score for the 2015 film, “The Revenant,” which featured original music by Dessner. The period crime drama “The Kitchen” also was scored by Dessner.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning musician Bob Dylan scored the 1973 feature film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” Dylan was nominated for the BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music for the score and for the Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special at the 1974 Grammy Awards.
The French electronic duo Daft Punk lent their synth skills to the score for the 2010 film “Tron: Legacy.” The film’s soundtrack reached #4 on the Billboard chart. The band formed in 1993 and went their separate ways in 2021.
Danny Elfman has scored hundreds of films and often collaborates with Tim Burton. The frontman of ’80s band Oingo Boingo, Elfman also dabbles in television and composed the theme songs for “Desperate Housewives” and “The Simpsons.” Recently, Elfman created the score for “The Woman in the Window.”
Keith Emerson from the band English rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer scored the second film in director Dario Argento’s “Mother of Tears” trilogy. “Inferno” featured an epic score, though many fans didn’t believe it compared to Goblin’s score for the first film in the series, “Suspiria.” While Emerson would go on to score a few more films, including the Bruce Malmuth thriller “Nighthawks” and the Michele Soavi horror film “The Church,” he would die tragically in 2016.
Brian Eno is a British singer, composer, and producer who scored a host of movies, including several 1970s cult classics. He also created the score for the 2009 Peter Jackson film “The Lovely Bones,” which was based on the novel by Alice Sebold. Eno received a Saturn nomination for Best Music in 2010.
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Explosions in the Sky
The Austin, Texas group Explosions in the Sky scored the 2004 Peter Berg-directed film “Friday Night Lights.” The story goes that the film’s producer Brian Reitzell actually emailed the band to see if they had any interest in scoring the movie, which starred Billy Bob Thornton and Connie Britton, and fortunately they did. The rest is music and film history.
Musician Peter Gabriel has had a successful solo career and stint as the frontman for the British band Genesis. He also took up the interesting task of scoring Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Gabriel somehow managed to utilize his knowledge of and expertise with world music, and mix haunting synths and vocals to come up with an entirely original sound.
Soulful artist Marvin Gaye scored the film “Trouble Man” as part of an agreement with Motown Records. Gaye followed in the footsteps of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes by scoring a 1970s Blaxploitation film. Tracks like “T Plays it Cool” and “Trouble Man” were upbeat and funky.
Progressive Italian rock band Goblin is probably best known for their score for the Dario Argento horror film and the first in Argento’s “Mother of Tears” trilogy, “Suspiria.” The score was so well-loved by both music and film fans that Claudio Simonetti, Goblin’s keyboardist, led a tour in 2018 where he performed the score while screening “Suspiria.”
Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood created the score to the 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film “There Will Be Blood,” but the score was ruled ineligible for an Oscar because of its use of preexisting music. Greenwood would go on to score more movies and collaborate on several Paul Thomas Anderson films.
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The band Grizzly Bear composed music for “Jack Goes Boating,” the 2010 film directed by and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. They were also responsible for the movie score for the 2010 romance film “Blue Valentine '' starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. This Brooklyn indie band included much of their previously released music in instrumental versions on the film’s soundtrack, because when the film’s release date got pushed up, Grizzly Bear didn’t have time to create brand new songs.
George Harrison’s debut solo album just so happened to also be the movie score for the 1968 film “Wonderwall.” The former Beatle also scored several documentaries about the iconic British band he once made history with. Harrison also made some surprising contributions to movie scores with his compositions for the 1981 Terry Gilliam film “Time Bandits” and the 1986 film “Shanghai Surprise,” starring Madonna and Sean Penn.
The 50th anniversary of the score to the film “Shaft” came in June 2021, and with it, an assessment of how Isaac Hayes changed the landscape of movie scores. Not only did the soundtrack score Hayes the Oscar for the film’s title song, but it made him the first Black man to win such an honor and paved the way for other Black artists interested in scoring films. Both the film’s album and the single “Shaft” reached #1 in November 1971.
Blood Orange musician Dev Hynes made his film composition debut alongside writer-director Gia Coppola, who was making her directorial feature film debut with 2013s “Palo Alto.” Hynes teamed up with Coppola again to score the 2020 dramedy “Mainstream.” The artist also worked on Rebecca Hall’s 2021 film, “Passage.”
Not only did Mark Knopfler perform with the band Dire Straits until the band finally split in the early ’90s, but he has had an illustrious solo career and scored several movies. His scores include the Scottish dramedy “Local Hero” in 1983, the 1987 Rob Reiner classic film “The Princess Bride,” and 1989’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”
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Mica Levi’s first film score was for Jonathan Glazer’s film “Under My Skin” starring Scarlett Johansson. Her second film score not only avoided the sophomore slump but earned the musician an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) for the 2016 film “Jackie,” which starred Natalie Portman as the former First Lady. In 2020, Levi received an award nomination and a win for the Amazon Prime miniseries “Small Axe.”
Brooklyn-based experimental musician Daniel Lopatin also uses the pseudonym Oneohtrix Point Never to create electronica, which he used to score the 2019 Safdie brothers’ film “Uncut Gems.” He previously scored the Safdie brothers’ 2017 film “Good Time” and Sofia Coppola’s 2013 film “The Bling Ring.”
French electronic band M83 is primarily made up of singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Gonzalez. M83 co-wrote the film score with American composer Joseph Trapanese for the 2013 movie “Oblivion” starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.
Funk soul musician Curtis Mayfield was no stranger to film soundtracks, and wrote and performed on several. Many people know Mayfield for his work on the 1970s Blaxploitation film “SuperFly.” Mayfield’s score was so fantastic that the soundtrack actually grossed more than the film. The soundtrack was Mayfield’s third studio album.
While Paul McCartney has had an illustrious musical career spanning more than a half dozen decades, many people are surprised to find out that he once scored a Hayley Mills film. The 1966 romantic dramedy “The Family Way” focuses on a young newly married couple who have yet to consummate their union.
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Italian record producer, songwriter, and composer Giorgio Moroder composed many film scores and soundtracks for hit movies, including “Scarface,” “American Gigolo,” and “The Neverending Story.” Moroder won two major awards for his score of the 1978 film “Midnight Express,” which included an Oscar for Best Original Score as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s credits as a composer are as diverse and eclectic as his new wave band Devo’s contribution to music. The movies he’s scored include everything from the 1998 comedy “Rushmore” and the 2003 coming-of-age “Thirteen” to the 2010 kid’s film “Ramona and Beezus.” Mothersbaugh also continues to perform with his band Devo.
Many know Randy Newman for his upbeat scores for a host of child-friendly Disney Pixar movies including “The Princess and the Frog” and “Toy Story” and its many sequels. The composer has won Oscars, Grammys and Emmys, and has also scored films for adults, including “Meet the Parents” and “Seabiscuit.” Newman also created the score for director and writer Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” Writing for Vanity Fair, Yohana Desta noted, “Newman’s score skews on the romantic side, brought to life by a chamber orchestra.”
Karen O, leader singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, scored the album for the 2009 Spike Jonze film “Where the Wild Things Are.” She has also contributed songs to several major motion pictures and television series, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Flight Attendant,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Shortly after the death of drummer John Bonham, iconic band Led Zeppelin broke up, and for a time, the remaining members of the band disappeared. In 1982, Jimmy Page returned with an unexpected offering, the score for the sequel to the Charles Bronson cult action film “Death Wish,” and Page would not only score “Death Wish II,” but the 1985 follow-up, “Death Wish 3.” The film’s director Michael Winner was Page’s nextdoor neighbor and appreciated his musical contribution to the movie, including the nearly six-minute instrumental track, “The Chase.”
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In collaboration with the alt rock band Arcade Fire, Canadian musician Owen Pallett scored the 2013 Spike Jonze film “Her.” Pallett also scored the 2009 film “The Box,” which was nominated for a 2014 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Score, in addition to several documentaries including the 2020 film “Spaceship Earth.”
Once the lead singer of alt band Faith No More, Mike Patton also scored several major motion picture films including 2009’s “Crank: High Voltage,” and the 2012 film “The Place Beyond the Pines.” One of his most memorable efforts remains the film “1922,” which was based on the novella by master of horror Stephen King.
French indie pop band Phoenix is known for their collaborations with feature film director Sofia Coppola. They scored “Lost in Translation,” “Somewhere,” and “The Beguiled.” Their most recent effort with the Oscar-nominated director was the 2020 comedy “On the Rocks” starring Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, and Marlon Wayan, with additional duty as music supervisors.
The eclectic British band composed the soundtrack for the 1969 Barbet Schroeder film “More.” Pink Floyd also scored another Barbet Schroeder film—1972’s “La Vallée.” The film score audiences will never forget, though, is for the 1982 film “The Wall,” directed by Alan Parker and based on the Pink Floyd album, which was based on Roger Waters’ life.
Both the band Popul Vuh and the film director Werner Herzog found their creative beginnings in West Germany, and perhaps that partially explains their decades-long partnership. Popul Vuh created film scores for several of Herzog’s films, including the remake of the 1922 F. W. Murnau silent classic, “Nosferatu.” Herzog’s 1979 version, “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” would become a classic in its own right.
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Icon rock band Queen, with its flashy frontman, Freddie Mercury, created the memorable score for the 1980s campy sci-fi film “Flash Gordon.” The British band also performed the film’s theme song “Flash,” which was written by guitarist Brian May.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
While both Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are members of the industrial metal band Nine Inch Nails, they also bond over their shared film score collaborations, which include “The Social Network,” for which they won an Oscar for Best Original Score in 2011. Another Oscar win came in 2021 for the Pixar film “Soul,” which was a joint collaboration with Jon Batiste, the bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Reznor and Ross have scored other films like David Fincher’s “Mank” and Netlflix’s “Bird Box,” though they haven’t always been happy with the resulting score.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA scored the film soundtrack for director Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 production “Ghost Dog.” What made it even more epic than its experimental and meditative vibe was that it marked one of the first instances of a hip-hop artist crossing into the world of film scoring. RZA would go on to have his directorial feature film debut with the 2012 film “The Man With the Iron Fists,” which he would also score, along with Howard Drossin.
Belgian band Soulwax composed the soundtrack for Oscar-nominated director Felix van Groeningen’s film “Belgica.” The innovative band created 15 fictitious musical personalities to sing/perform the 16 tracks on the album. These tracks ranged in genre and included everything from synth pop to indie rock.
The electronic synth music of Tangerine Dream was popular in the film scores of many films of the ’70s and ’80s, particularly of those in the horror genre, and its influence can be seen in the retro film and television offerings seen today, such as the Duffer brothers Netflix hit “Stranger Things.” The synth sounds were more affordable than the orchestras so often used in film scores. Tangerine Dream capitalized on this with their major motion picture scores, including 1983’s raucous teen comedy “Risky Business,” 1984’s sci-fi film “Firestarter,” based on a Stephen King novel, and the dark and moody 1987 film from Kathryn Bigelow, “Near Dark.”
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The Los Angeles band was responsible for the soundtrack for the 1984 sci-fi film “Dune.” It was the band’s first and only film score, though they would go on to perform and write for many television and film soundtracks. Toto is also known for their catchy song “Africa.”
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has also had a successful solo career and delved into the world of movies with his score for the 2011 coming-of-age film “Submarine.” The film also marked director Richard Ayoade’s feature film debut. The soundtrack consists of six tracks by Turner.
Frontman for the long-standing band Pearl Jam, Vedder challenged himself when he took on the task of scoring the 2007 film “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn. The film’s album also marked Vedder’s first solo studio debut album and featured Vedder calling upon both his vocal and multi-instrumental talents to sing and write most of the tracks, and create a score that went on to be nominated for two Gold Derby Awards.
Thom Yorke may be best known as the frontman for the alternative British rock band Radiohead, but he also scored the 2018 horror movie “Suspiria,” a remake of the 1977 Dario Argento classic. The score marked Yorke’s film-scoring debut. Pitchfork contributor Philip Sherburne noted, “Yorke’s score tackles a broader range of styles and ideas than any of his previous solo work, and all of them shine.”
The Godfather of Grunge continuously defied the expectations of his music genre, and his collaboration with Jim Jarmusch for the Western “Dead Man” found him doing something he hadn’t yet: scoring a film. This pairing was not surprising, given that Jarmusch listened to Young’s music while he wrote the script for the film. Young wrote the score while he watched the film, along with the help of his famous Gibson Les Paul “Old Black.”
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