The most Oscar-nominated person alive has just turned 85. The world’s favorite composer, John Williams, has been writing movie scores and earning Academy nominations for six decades, and he doesn’t even like films that much. In 2012, he told the Financial Times that he couldn’t remember the last time he went to the movie theater. Even so, working in movies was written into his destiny from an early age and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Williams is responsible for providing film fans everywhere with soundtracks to live by but he remains a humble man to the core. He doesn’t employ anyone, not even an assistant, and he still works with just a pencil and manuscript paper. His profession is defined by a passion of the purest kind.

In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at ten of his most iconic soundtracks:

10Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Despite the context, Saving Private Ryan is one of John Williams’ more peaceful scores. The film united the age-old partnership of Spielberg and Williams, starred Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, introduced Matt Damon and won five Oscars including Best Director. The war epic stands to this day as one of the most raw and accurate depictions of combat that cinema has ever seen. The unforgettable story, a heart-warming tale of blind sacrifice, is reflected beautifully in the soaring soundtrack that is all at once melancholic and optimistic.



  1. I think the STAR WARS score owe more to Hadyn, shot through with Wagnerian leitmotifs… and John Williams’ music for 1941 is his first take for the later RAIDERS music. The jaunty, madcap score for this earlier Spielberg just became more “pulpy” for those films, but it’s the musical mirror to it.

    Interesting list. Personally, I’d rank his CLOSE ENCOUNTERS as a representative Williams, just touching the sentimentality of later Spielbergs, IMO. His score for STAR WARS made me get into soundtracks AND Orchestral music when I listened to it as a kid— nothing made me ‘decipher’ Classical Music as Williams’ motifs that fit perfectly as Symhonic Allegro – Adagio – Scherzo – Allegro/Andante of “Main Title” – “Princess Leia’s Theme” – “The Little People” – “Throne Room/ Main Title Reprise”: Classical WAS understandable!

    True, his music isn’t as ‘chunky’, memorable in recognizable motifs to catch the ears, as his late ’70s/’80s heyday works— but he’s still scoring films today with that more ‘mature’ sound. As I’ve always analogised: some people prefer “Symphony No. 9 ” over the “Eroica”….

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Williams!

  2. For my money, the fugue from Close Encounters, a musical conversation between humans and an alien species, is the best thing Mr. Williams has written. And yet, it doesn’t even make the top ten. There’s no accounting for taste!

    • I do agree that for Close Encounters he wrote some of his most eerie and engaging music, but for this list it came down to a question of longevity. Home Alone is a questionable addition, but it made it because of it’s familiarity for so many people and its transcendence of generations. By comparison, it could be said that Close Encounters has turned into something of a cult classic. I could have kept going to 25 with this list and I enjoyed looking back at the classics very much!


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