Top 10 Hugely Underrated Instrumental Film Scores

Written by Maya Botha

Instrumental musical scores from great movies and films that unfortunately never got the attention they deserved. WatchMojo presents the most underrated film scores of all time. But what will take the top spot on our list? Oblivion, Conan the Barbarian, or the Prince of Egypt? Watch to find out!

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These musical soundtracks may be unappreciated and underestimated but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 underrated instrumental film scores.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the musical scores of particular films that are usually undervalued or aren’t given the respect they deserve. This could be because the movie didn’t do as well as expected or the music just didn’t receive enough recognition. Also, while these scores may contain one or two songs with vocals, the majority of the work must be instrumental to qualify.

#10: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (2001)

Probably one of few overlooked Disney movies today, what makes “Atlantis” unforgettable though is not only its animation, story and voice casting but also its music. Composed by James Newton Howard in his trademark style, the score takes the audience on a journey to the unknown with bold sounds and different musical scenes. Creative, spine chilling, beautiful and adventurous, we recommend this score to any JNH fan. Listen to “The Secret Swim” and “The Crystal Chamber” if you don’t believe us.

#9: “Thor” (2011)

One of the best superhero films of 2011 also features frequent Kenneth Branagh collaborator Patrick Doyle and his majestic and thrilling music score. Known for his Oscar-nominated work on “Sense and Sensibility” and “Hamlet”, Doyle brings both energy and emotion to “Thor”’s story, acting and visuals. Although it’s said that both Doyle and Branagh had trouble finding the musical direction for the score, we can only say that we see no evidence of this, as the result is amazing. Beginning with the very superhero-esque “Chasing the Storm,” this is one score not to be missed.

#8: “The Mask of Zorro” (1998)

Now we get to experience some swashbuckling action in musical form! Inspired by Miklós Rózsa’s film score from “El Cid,” composer James Horner put his own take on Latin music in this adventure flick. Though some say it’s similar to Horner’s previous work, you can’t help but feel like you’re actually riding on a horse while listening to tracks like “The Ride”. With a blend of exciting and touching music, this is an enjoyable and sweeping score that all JH fans can enjoy.

#7: “The Last Samurai” (2003)

You’re probably familiar with many of Hans Zimmer’s brilliant film scores like the Oscar-winning “The Lion King”, but what you probably didn’t know is that he is also the man behind the music of this epic war film. On his 100th film score, Zimmer fuses traditional Japanese instrumentation with his usual musical flair to perfectly match the tone of the film. “The Way of the Sword” and “A Small Measure of Peace” don’t only make up the conclusion of the film, but are also some of Zimmer’s finest work.

#6: “Unbreakable” (2000)

Here’s another musical score from the chameleon-like James Newton Howard. Bringing some “misterioso” or mystery to the film, Newton Howard creates a suspenseful musical atmosphere to M. Night Shyamalan’s neo-noir superhero drama only one year after he scored the director’s “The Sixth Sense”. Beginning with “Visions,” “Unbreakable”’s score is one musical trip worth listening to. While many people consider the film to be one of Shyamalan’s best movies, it’s Newton Howard’s enchanting and haunting music that will stay long after you watch it.

#5: “Taxi Driver” (1976)

Famous for being the man behind the music in “Psycho”’s shower shrieking scene, Bernard Herrmann’s last score before his 1975 death was for this psychological thriller. Considered one of the greatest films of all time, “Taxi Driver” sees Herrmann bringing in instruments such as the saxophone, harp and drum to set the sleazy setting and tone in motion. Making use of unsettling instrumentation as in his previous works, both the movie’s setting and its characters are given a musical personality through his score, garnering proof that Herrmann and his music will remain in pop culture for generations to come.

#4: “Hook” (1991)

With this entry, we get to the man who’s arguably the king of iconic film composers. Known for his “Jaws” and “Star Wars” film scores, usual Steven Spielberg collaborator John Williams composed the music for this adventure fantasy flick about a little boy who didn’t want to grow up. Starting things off with a prologue that effectively brings us into the magic of the film, the score - with a typical Williams touch - is what truly elevates the entire cinematic experience for the audience. “Remembering Childhood” is a track that’s especially worth listening to, as it highlights Williams’ gentle melody, use of instrumentation and theme of innocence.

#3: “Oblivion” (2013)

Director Joseph Kosinski felt the band M83 would be perfect to score “Oblivion” as he believed they would bring originality and emotion to the film - and boy, was he right! “Waking Up” and “Earth 2077” are two tracks from the score that are must-listens as they bring much excitement and intensity to this post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. Emotional and experimental, M83’s score – with the help of Joseph Trapanese – is a brilliantly dramatic work that really lets the audience go on a sci-fi adventure with Tom Cruise.

#2: “The Prince of Egypt” (1998)

Here we are with another score from the ever-popular Hans Zimmer. With powerful choral voices to start off an animated journey adapted from the Book of Exodus, the score for “The Prince of Egypt” allows the audience to listen to Zimmer’s orchestral pieces, which includes songs that we’d even go so far as saying are biblically stunning. The film was praised for its animation and voice work, and for its masterful Hans Zimmer music, something any HZ fan will undoubtedly fall in love with.

Before our top pick gets all the high notes, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Princess Mononoke” (1997)
- “Treasure Planet” (2002)
- “Fargo” (1996)

#1: “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)

Before he brought the gentle “Free Willy” main theme to the world, Basil Poledouris worked on the music for this Arnold Schwarzenegger classic. When the score begins, you instantly know you are in for a wild fantasy adventure. Director John Milius and Poledouris discussed ideas on how to create the tones for specific scenes as this was the latter’s first large-scale orchestral score. Powerful and with an epic touch to suit an epic movie, this is one of the most underrated musical scores of all time and one that music enthusiasts aren’t likely to forget.

Do you agree with our list? Which underappreciated film score is your favorite? For more appreciated Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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