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.

A UK based film nut who got lost on the way home from a Product Design degree in Wales and leapt into postgrad study of the media industries in London. Obsessed with road cycling, Sherlock Holmes (the books too), neo-noir, historical epics and bored of formulaic spectacle. Still waiting for a Hogwarts letter...

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3 Comments on "On John Williams’ 85th Birthday, We Look At His 10 Most Iconic Soundtracks"

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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… Read more »
Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke

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!