Top 10 Film Scores by Ennio Morricone
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For over half a century, this Italian maestro composed some of cinema's most memorable scores. For this list, we're singling out the most moving, experimental and imaginative film scores composed by Ennio Morricone. Our list includes the scores for The Hateful Eight” (2015), “The Thing” (1982), “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), “Cinema Paradiso” (1998), and more!
He may’ve won his first Academy Award in 2016, but this Italian maestro and composer has been at it for years. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Film Scores by Ennio Morricone.
For this list, we’re singling out the most moving, experimental and imaginative film scores composed by this legend of cinema.
#10: “Days of Heaven” (1978)
If there’s one aspect of Ennio Morricone’s film scoring technique that deserves particular acclaim, it’s the maestro’s ability to almost effortlessly adjust to nearly any cinematic situation. This versatility was put to great use on the score of director Terrence Malick’s 1978 drama “Days of Heaven,” which follows a young couple who are out to swindle an inheritance out of their Texas Panhandle employer. Morricone’s delicate and romantic sensibilities are out in full force here, as the film’s main title sequence stirs with a simple, yet oh so effective melody of distant melancholy and fragile beauty. The Oscar-nominated score is a nearly perfect way to set off our list.
#9: “Navajo Joe” (1966)
Comparatively lighter in tone to his work in the “Dollars Trilogy,” Morricone’s score to this spaghetti western- starring Burt Reynolds- is nonetheless just as effective. The composer – credited as Leo Nichols at the time - had always made great use of choral vocalizations, and this idea is set to a pounding war drum while male and female singers take turns singing out the name of our film’s hero, Navajo Joe. Morricone would go on to compose even lighter spaghetti western fare later on in his career with such films as “My Name is Nobody” and “Two Mules for Sister Sara,” but this score grabs attention right from the start with its brash and fearless style.
#8: “The Untouchables” (1987)
Sweeping, orchestral grandeur and period swing tunes were the name of the game when it came to “The Untouchables.” With Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness and Robert De Niro as the infamous gangster Al Capone, the film represented what was an era of both critical and commercial success for Ennio Morricone’s work as a film composer decades into his career. The maestro’s keen ear for melody was still firmly in check here, however, as Morricone deftly works in somber, dramatic cues and more energetic fare to create a score as timeless as the film itself.
#7: “Cinema Paradiso” [aka “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”] (1988)
The 1980s were a fertile period for Ennio Morricone as a film composer, thanks to a number of high profile film scores that raised the maestro’s reputation among moviegoers and critics the world over. Morricone’s score for the 1988 film “Cinema Paradiso” might be the most beloved for many casual fans of the man’s work, while also serving as a stirring example of how romantic music need not be overwrought in order to achieve the proper sentiment. Indeed, Giuseppe Tornatore’s love letter to the cinema receives an appropriately emotional score, one steeped in the nostalgia and innocence of youth, and holding on to that feeling throughout one’s life. It’s an immensely powerful piece from a master at work – who also happened to have a little help from his son Andrea.
#6: “The Hateful Eight” (2015)
It may have taken Ennio Morricone over fifty years of career defining work and five previous nominations, but the maestro finally scored an Academy Award for “Best Original Score” in 2016. What made it even more fitting was the fact that the film for which Morricone won, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” was directed by a man’s who never stopped championing Morricone’s work year after year in both interviews and the soundtracks to his other films. Indeed, Tarantino seems to always find time to slip in some Morricone in his work, but it was truly wonderful for an original score by the legend to finally achieve top honors.
#5: “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)
The haunting, lonely and chilling sound of a harmonica; that’s all it should take for Morricone fans to instantly recognize this film score as one of the finest ever set to screen, the genre defining classic known as “Once Upon a Time in the West.” The cue “Man With a Harmonica” serves as the theme for the film’s central protagonist, played by Charles Bronson, a wronged man out for revenge against the ruthless killer known as Frank, played against type by Henry Fonda. Director Sergio Leone had already collaborated successfully with Morricone in the past on his “Dollar Trilogy” of films, but it was here where perhaps the maestro composed his most fully actualized and complete spaghetti western masterpiece; a stone cold classic that has stood the test of time.
#4: “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964)
Speaking of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” it was with this first installment of the series - one that would turn its star Clint Eastwood into a household name – that the relationship between Leone and Morricone was really brought over to an American audience. It also showcased a whole new look and feel to the classic western idea. A few of those new aspects which immediately captured the attention of audiences included Morricone’s decision to feature a vocal chorus, twangy guitar and a solo trumpet, not to mention the sharp whistling melody of Morricone collaborator Alessandro Alessandroni, who was himself a composer of note. The slight playfulness set on display here with “A Fistful of Dollars” stood in stark contrast to many orchestral western scores of the day, making room for a flood of imitators to find their own success in the wake of Morricone’s first true flash of wild west brilliance.
#3: “The Thing” (1982)
Morricone’s score for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Carpenter typically wrote his own film scores. Inviting Morricone in speaks volumes to Carpenter’s trust and respect for the composer, especially given that “Halloween” had proven the director to be no slouch when it came to music. Morricone’s work did not disappoint, however, taking the minimalist approach already favored by Carpenter and lending to it a subtle orchestral menace that set the mood perfectly for the director’s take on isolation, distrust and paranoia.
#2: “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984)
If there’s anything that can be said about the creative relationship between director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone, it’s that the duo never failed to create grand, sweeping moods and emotions thanks to their ever-impressive skill and craftsmanship. “Once Upon a Time in America’“ was the last time Leone and Morricone would collaborate together on a film score, as Leone passed away in 1989. The score is chock full of memorable moments, from themes of inner city hustle ‘n bustle to serene, atmospheric flute melodies which would serve to offset a balance between the idea of close family ties and the life of organized crime eventually undertaken by some of the film’s main characters.
Before we reveal our top film score from Ennio Morricone, here are a few honorable mentions!
"The Mission" (1986)
"For a Few Dollars More" (1965)
"The Mercenary" (1968)
"The Battle of Algiers" (1966)
"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" (1970)
#1: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
The opening titles are iconic, that whistle unmistakable, the soundtrack... legendary. There’s quite simply no western theme that quite tops Ennio Morricone’s definitive masterpiece, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” High drama, tension, humor and hair-raising melody are all present within this stacked musical score. One particularly memorable moment is the film’s gorgeous penultimate sequence, which features the angelic vocals of Edda Dell’Orso set to the maestro’s epic “The Ecstasy of Gold.” It’s a score that transcends westerns from any country, and films of any era, as one true original all its own.