Academy Award for Best Original Score: Ranked 10 Winners

Academy Awards

“And the Academy Award for Best Original Score goes to…”

Cinema is the ultimate visual medium, a thousand pictures a minute, each worth a thousand words.

But behind them, it is the music that’s doing almost as much talking.

Oscars (Source:

A good score can do a lot, from setting the mood to upping the tension to telling an entire story.

And the Academy Award for Best Original Score has to be the most prestigious honor that can be given to any composer for their work.

For this list, we’ll be ranking ten iconic composers who’ve been chosen by the Academy as the best.

Quick Overview

Here’s a brief look at the composers for our list who’ve won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Rank Composer Score
1 John Williams Jaws

Star Wars

Schindler’s List

2 Howard Shore The Lord of the Rings
3 Max Steiner The Informer

Now, Voyager

Since You Went Away

4 Hans Zimmer The Lion King
5 Bernard Herrmann All that Money Can Buy
6 Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight
7 Henry Mancini Breakfast at Tiffany’s
8 James Horner Titanic
9 Jerry Goldsmith The Omen
10 Vangelis Chariots of Fire
Ludwig Göransson Black Panther

1. John Williams

Where do we begin with this composer?

John Williams is practically a household name, or at least the music he’s composed should be.

He’s been nominated for the Academy Awards a staggering 38 times and has won the golden statuette on five different occasions.

His adventurous scores for movies like Jaws, Star Wars, E.T, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter have become the cornerstones of many.

John Williams (source: Classical FM)

We can’t even begin to cover the entire work of this five-time Oscar-winning composer.

As a matter of fact, he has over 150 credits as a composer and over 450 soundtrack credits to his name.

Without a doubt, John Williams has gone down in history as one of the film industry composing giants.

2. Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Probably known best for the precious theme from Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore won three Academy Awards for his works in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

He then went on to write critically celebrated and award-nominated scores for movies like Hugo, The Aviator, and Eastern Promises.

Earlier in his career, Shore was associated with darker films like Seven rather than epic adventures.

Howard Shore (source: Pinterest)

Thus, he was considered an odd choice for scoring the film adaptations of JRR Tolkiens fantasy novels.

It may have been a risk initially, but obviously, it was one that paid off a hundredfold.

His score for The Fellowship of the Ring is still considered to be among the best in business.

3. Max Steiner

The Austrian composer has been credited for scoring some of the best music ever written for movies.

With 20 Oscar nominations, Max Steiner has won the golden statuette on three different occasions.

He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Informer, Now Voyager, and Since You Went Away.

Maximilian Raoul Steiner (source: IMDb)

To emphasize, he was also the first to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.

As a prodigy, the Austrian conducted his first operetta at age 12 and became a full-time professional at a very young age of 15.

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4. Hans Zimmer, The Lion King

When you start looking into modern film soundtracks, this composer’s name is going to be one of the first and one of the most frequent that you see.

Hans Zimmer is everywhere.

He’s composed not only for many popular movies like Gladiator and Inception but also for animated films like The Lion King, which won him an Academy Award.

Hans Zimmer (source: Vox)

Adaptable and innovative, the German composer is easily one of the best composers today.

Hans Zimmer earned his first Oscar nod for Rain Man in 1989, and since his win, he’s been nominated by the Academy nine more times.

More recently, he’s been busy scoring for iconic movies such as Dune, Dunkirk, Interstellar, Man of Steel, and The Dark Knight Trilogy.

5. Bernard Herrmann, All That Money Can Buy

Bernard Hermann had a fantastic knack for setting up moods.

Try asking Alfred Hitchcock why he always collaborated with Hermann for musical scores.

Bernard Herrmann (Source: USCB Library)

While his lone oscar came for scoring All That Money Can Buy, Hermann has also composed for two of the most famous and possibly the two best movies of all time.

Vertigo and Citizen Kane.

Similarly, his other notable works include Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Obsession.

Hermann was nominated for the Oscars for the latter two.

6. Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Most well known for his Western soundtracks, Ennio Morricone’s repertoire is full of instantly recognizable works.

Almost all of us were bummed to figure that Ennio’s iconic theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or The Untouchables didn’t win any Oscars.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- Ennio-Morricone
Ennio Morricone (Source: Redferns)

However, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for 2016s The Hateful Eight after more than 70 years.

The daring composer was also innovative and resourceful, adding sound effects like gunshots to his scores when he couldn’t use a full orchestra.

7. Henry Mancini, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

With over 350 musical credits to his name, Henry Mancini won four Oscars throughout his career.

Two of them were Academy Awards for Best Original Score for Breakfast at Tiffanys and Victor Victoria.

The jazzy, romantic, and melancholic suite for Breakfast at Tiffany’s is still being recycled in modern cinemas.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- Henry-Mancini-Oscar
Henry Mancini (Source: Tessa.lapl)

Not only did he win the Academy Award for Best Original Score, but he also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Mancini’s other iconic scores include The Pink Panther, Touch of Evil, Days of Wine and Roses, and many more.

8. James Horner, Titanic

He’s one of the most easily identifiable composers in Hollywood.

After all, he’s the man behind the best-selling orchestral film soundtrack ever, Titanic.

To enumerate, the soundtrack from Titanic sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- James-Horner-Oscar
James Horner (Source: NYTimes)

Similarly, James also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Titanic’s theme, “My Heart Will Go On.”

And when you listen to James Horner’s tracks from different movies, you may pick up on common melodies and motifs.

Just compare some of the music from Avatar with Enemy at the Gates to see that consistency.

But if ten academy award nominations are any indication, sticking to what works obviously works for Horner.

9. Jerry Goldsmith, The Omen

Let us consider the soundtracks of Disney’s Mulan (1998).

There are the songs that we love to sing, and then there are the quite more reflective tracks.

Credit the latter to this composer who claimed he tried for emotional penetration with his work.

Goldsmith certainly succeeded.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- Jerry-Goldsmith-Podium
Jerry Goldsmith Scoring a Theme (Source:

The Mulan soundtrack earned him both an Oscar nod and a Golden Globe nomination.

This is also evident in his other compositions.

Moreover, he’s written spine-tingling pieces for The Omen and the hopeful heroic theme from Star Trek First Contact, winning an Oscar for the earlier.

He has been recognized as one of the most versatile composers out there, which allowed him to work with some of the biggest directors out there.

10. Vangelis, Chariots of Fire

Its been more than forty years since Chariots of Fire was first released in cinemas.

And the only word that comes to mind when we hear the theme of Chariots of Fire is “Legendary.”

Vangelis’s score for the movie won him the Academy Award for the Best Original Score in 1981.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- Vangelis
Vangelis (Source: Greek music Greek songs)

Since its inception, it has been a main staple for the Olympics and various other sporting documentaries.

The Greek composer is often credited with harmonizing electronic music with jazz and orchestral music.

His other notable scores come in the form of, The Blade Runner, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Alexander.

Honorable Mentions

Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther

The Swedish composer won his first Oscar and nomination for the 2018s MCU film Black Panther.

With guidance from the Senegalese musician Baba Maal, Göransson visited Africa in search of the right theme for Wakanda.

Similarly, through his travels, he was able to utilize traditional west African instruments like the talking drum and fula flute.

Academy Award for Best Original Score- Ludwig-Göransson -Oscar
Ludwig Göransson (Source: Filmmagic)

While the score still captures the fun and whimsy associated with the MCU, it’s also radically different from what we’ve come to expect.

Göransson composed a score fit for a King, and whenever we hear his music, it feels as if the sun is rising on a bright new day.

For his most recent works, he has scored for the Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

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