10 Best John Williams Movie Songs
John Williams is one of the greatest film composers of all time. As of the writing of this article he has three songs (Star Wars, Jaws, E.T.) on the AFI’s Greatest American Movie Score Of All Time list, won 5 Oscars and been nominated 47 times, and had 4 of his themes top the U.S. Billboard charts (Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman).
Here are my top 10 John Williams Songs.
1. Star Wars Main Title
Star Wars has been called a space opera. It is because of John Williams that the music in Star Wars is just as famous as the film itself. This list could have been composed entirely of Star Wars songs, but the main title sequence has become forever tied to this timeless classic. When the opening scroll appears on screen and the orchestra starts playing, fans go crazy. It is more powerful today than it was back in 1977 when it first appeared on screen. Hearing this masterpiece instantly draws people into the emotional journey they embarked upon when following a story set in a galaxy far, far, away.
2. Superman Main Title
In 1978 Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve made us believe a man could fly in Superman: The Movie. It was John Williams who made our hearts soar. His main title score is now recognized and accepted as Superman’s theme song. Despite countless television shows, cartoons, movies and video games, it is this song that is forever tied to the Man Of Steel. By standing for truth and justice, Superman inspires the world around him. This song instills the same feeling for its listeners. To have a song embody the same power and emotions of the character it represents is truly an amazing feat.
3. The Raiders March
Raiders Of The Lost Ark was an action adventure thrill ride that got audiences’ hearts racing. People fell in love with Indiana Jones and what would become his main theme song. When this song starts playing; people instantly visualize our hero in his fedora and leather jacket, cracking his whip and fighting to preserve historic artifacts and battle those evil Nazis. (Yes, I said Nazis and not Russians. I am still trying to forget.) That being said, from 1981 when Indiana Jones first appeared on screen, till his last movie in 2008 this song is as strong as ever. When this song pops on, people’s adrenaline starts racing and they are ready for an adventure.
4. The Imperial March
Yes, another Star Wars song. This one appeared in the 1980 Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. This song has become known as Darth Vader’s Theme song but it represents the entire Empire. When this song comes on, your nerves tense as you instantly put your guard up. It matches the strength and order that is central to the Empire, as well as their oppression of the galaxy. John Williams was able to beautifully capture the essence of the Empire with this musical piece, allowing for an even richer and deeper antagonist.
5. Jaws Theme
In 1975 John Williams would work with an up and coming film director by the name of Steven Spielberg. They would form a long-term relationship and create some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies together. The mechanical shark for the movie Jaws was affectionately named Bruce after Spielberg’s lawyer. Bruce was a production nightmare and there is endless trivia about this robotic shark. It was plagued with mechanical problems that constantly ruined shots. Many scenes with Bruce had to be changed or cut from the film. Although Spielberg originally laughed at Williams score for Jaws, he would later say “without Williams' score, the movie would only have been half as successful”. With only a few notes, John Williams was able to bring more life into the menacing Jaws than an expensive piece of animatronics. This score did an amazing job instilling fear into people and making us all afraid to go into the water. That is a lot of power for a two-note song.
6. E.T. Theme
Williams and Spielberg teamed up again for the 1982 movie E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. This film about a boy befriending an alien and helping him get back home took us on an emotional rollercoaster. Starting with the fear of an unknown alien, to the joy of friendship and new discoveries, the sadness of loss and ending with the excitement of an adventure. This film touched us all. John Williams’ score put us into a state of childlike wonderment that allowed us to go on this journey and enjoy the experiences it had to offer.
7. Schindler’s List Theme
1993 was a big year for John Williams. He would win his 5th Academy Award for his work on Schindler’s List. This song perfectly captures the despair and hope that the film evoked in its audience. Schindler’s list was an emotionally heart-wrenching film and I have not been able to bring myself to watch it again. However, this haunting musical piece can be listened to over and over.
8. Jurassic Park Theme
Jurassic Park was released the same year as Schindler’s List. Talk about a Great year for Spielberg and Williams. It highlights the versatility and talent of both of these great artists. The Jurassic Park Theme sets up the arrival to the island beautifully. The majestic music fills us with a sense of wonderment. Although we are not prepared for the horror that are about to be unleashed, it does set us up for the grand world we are about to enter. John Hammond spared no expense when building his park and Williams helps us appreciate it fully.
9. Hedwig’s Theme
With so many theme songs to famous movie franchises in the 20th century, it makes sense that Williams would be responsible for the music in another franchise for the new millennium. The Harry Potter series has captured the hearts and minds of all ages, sexes, and nationalities. People now associate Hedwig’s Theme with the film that brought these books to life. His song transports us to a magical world, filled with wizards. J.K. Rowling gave us the words and Williams gave us the sounds.
10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
It is amazing to think that Williams was able to score both Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind at the same time. The overall score to this entire film was probably one of the best of his career. Although no one song made it to the top of my list that does not take away from how spectacular it was. Spielberg said John’s work on this film was “When You Wish Upon A Star meets science fiction”. Williams’ dedication to his craft and this project is astounding. He wrote over 300 versions of the 5 tone motif before Spielberg finally decided on the one we hear in the movie. In Close Encounters, music was used to communicate across different languages and John Williams has been doing just that for decades.
These are my favorite John Williams’ scores. It is hard to judge what the “best” is when discussing a subjective topic like music. This is even harder when dealing with an artist with such a strong body of work. The movies these songs appear can’t be taken out of the equation. My preferences lean toward his work on fantasy and science fiction films. John Williams’ music in Dracula, The Accidental Tourist, The River, and many more are also timeless masterpieces.
What are your favorite John Williams’ songs? Please share in the comment box below.