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16th Feb 2017

11 Hans Zimmer movie soundtracks that redefined the word ‘epic’

Truly one of the greats.

Rich Cooper

Music is the beating heart of a movie.

Film scores show us how to feel, they reveal truths about characters that can’t be conveyed in words, they tell stories of their own. Great film composers are as well-known as great directors: John Williams, Danny Elfman, Ennio Morricone.

One such great is Hans Zimmer, the composer responsible for so many of our favourite film scores and epic movie moments. He’s written music for over 100 movies, so this is a mere sliver of his work, but it’s some of his best.


1. Inception

Zimmer is known for his huge, epic scores, and Inception was a suitably epic film to write music for. From hypnotic guitar lines (played by Johnny Marr of The Smiths, no less), to blaring horns, to the fact that the score cleverly works Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien into the fabric of the music, Zimmer’s music for Inception is as clever and layered as the film itself.


2. Gladiator

It takes a strong man not to well up a little when they hear the music from Gladiator. Alongside the swords-and-sandals, blood-and-guts battles and deathmatches, Gladiator is the story of a father and husband who just wants to be with his family again. Zimmer’s music tugs at the heartstrings, stirring and inspiring us to rally behind Maximus.


3. Rush

Formula 1 is all about speed, intensity, machinery, technology and control, and Zimmer manages to capture those essential elements in his score for Rush. Grand strings are underpinned by pacy electronic rhythms and clashing dissonance, with his trademark pounding drums propelling the race for greatness along.


4. The Dark Knight Trilogy

It’s impossible to pick a single film from the three Batman movies that Zimmer scored (we’re pretending Batman v Superman didn’t happen), so we’re including them all. The scratching, scraping Joker’s theme from The Dark Knight, the chanting from The Dark Knight Rises, the Batman theme that runs throughout the trilogy – it’s all brilliant.


5. Planet Earth II

Part of the reason that people loved Planet Earth II so much, Attenborough and the majesty of nature aside, was Zimmer’s music. So well-loved is it that it even found its way onto Late Night with Stephen Colbert just the other night, with Zimmer performing alongside a full orchestra.


6. True Romance

Hans Zimmer doesn’t just do big orchestral bombast, he can reign it in and take a more nuanced approach when he needs to, swapping the strings for marimbas on his theme for Tony Scott’s True Romance. ‘You’re So Cool’ is nod to the music from classic crime film Badlands, which in turn is based on a piece by composer Carl Orff.


7. Sherlock Holmes

Zimmer described the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack as “the sound of The Pogues joining a Romanian orchestra”, which is pretty much spot-on. Centred around an out-of-tune piano, squeaky violins and dulcimers, the score has a Romani gypsy feel, unlike anything Zimmer had done before.


8. 12 Years a Slave

Hans Zimmer has, perhaps unfairly, become synonymous with pounding drums and blaring orchestral grandeur of late (see: Man of Steel), so there was some trepidation when it was announced that he would write the score for 12 Years a Slave. We needn’t have worried, as he brought a deft touch that complemented Solomon Northup’s incredible story rather than telling it for him.


9. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

While Zimmer isn’t actually credited for the score to The Curse of the Black Pearl, he was responsible for coming up with some of the major (and most famous) themes. Like the themes from the Star Wars, James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, the Pirates of the Caribbean themes are instantly recognisable and can be hummed by anyone at a moment’s notice.


10. The Lion King

Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs steal the show when it comes to music from The Lion King, but Zimmer’s incidental music won him his first and only Oscar. On this soundtrack, he captures the epic expanse of the savannah, both sweeping and joyful, whilst remembering that the heart of the story is about love and family.


11. Interstellar

There’s a great piece on the Interstellar DVD extras where Zimmer talks about composing the score for Interstellar on. The core theme of the score was written when director Christopher Nolan told Zimmer that it was a story about the relationship between father and child, rather than about space exploration. This helped keep the score – and the movie – rooted in that relationship.