Perhaps no other composer in the history of cinema has had a larger, more influential body of work than that of John Williams. His first composing credits reach as far back as 1956, writing scores for early television dramas. It was in the 1960s that Williams began composing scores for films, and the rest is history.
The best composers have a signature style; you can hear just a few bars from one of their symphonies or operas and you can immediately tell who composed it. The same holds true for Williams’ scores. Even when watching a film for the first time, you can tell if John Williams composed the score. His style is all his own, and yet no two scores are the same, showing his diversity.
In honor of today being his 80th birthday, let’s take a look at five of his most iconic film scores.
“Star Wars” – If you want proof of just how vital John Williams’ contribution to films is, you need look no further than the “Star Wars” film franchise. Perhaps there is no more well-known John Williams composition than the songs used for the epic space soap opera invented by George Lucas. In the original trilogy (the only films this writer considers worth watching), the score is so important that there are just a few moments in each film without some kind of scoring. Take away the epic grandeur of the film’s score and you’re left with a vastly inferior film.
“Jaws” – If the “Star Wars” score isn’t Williams’ most recognizable, then “Jaws” would take that spot. With just two simple, super low notes he was able to instill fear in generations of beach goers. The tension Williams was able to create with such a simple build-up into the rest of the main theme was an absolute stroke of genius, and it helped contribute to what made “Jaws” such a phenomenal film: suspense. So much of “Jaws” is predicated on anticipating terror, and John Williams amplified that tension with his score.
“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” – Standing as proof once more that if you let John Williams do his thing, he will create an iconic film score that will help further drive your film into the hearts of your audience. The score for “E.T.” is almost whimsical in nature, capturing perfectly the feelings one might feel as an adolescent, discovering a tiny little alien from a distant planet.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” – Obviously what this list is showing is that once you put him together with either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, John Williams creates masterpiece works. You know if you’re somewhere out and about and you hear the main theme to the Indiana Jones films, you catch yourself looking for your whip and trying to figure out how to get out of the impending doom you’re facing.
“Superman” – Rounding out the list, we have yet another film about an iconic pop-culture character. We also have yet another example of Williams’ ability to create a score that is both immediately identifiable with the film and its characters, as well as with Williams himself. His theme for the Man of Steel is so perfect, any future iterations of the story should just use it, since no other theme would work in its place.