He’s been nominated a staggering 45 times for an Academy Award. And he’s taken home the Oscar on five of those occasions. His film scores are recognized worldwide and attached to some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, largely thanks to his relationship with director Steven Spielberg.
His name is John Williams and he is one of the best American film composers of all-time, if not the greatest.
If you think I’m exaggerating, I don’t blame you. That’s a bold statement to make (“of all-time“), but Williams’ music is truly astoundingly beautiful and instantly noticeable.
So I challenge you to take a look at the 5 most famous movie themes John Williams has composed and then tell me whether you still think he doesn’t deserve to be at the top of the all-time list.
1. Star Wars
Listen to the “Star Wars” theme:
Star Wars starts with a loud blast from brass horns before settling into the theme we all know and love.
It is John Williams at his best: bombastic, playful, inspiring, and epic. Perhaps this theme tops this list because the films are the most famous, but the films would also be inherently different without the sweeping score of John Williams’ orchestra.
What’s amazing is the main theme of Star Wars is not the only wildly recognizable theme from the movie — Darth Vader’s Imperial March embodies the sinister intent of the Galactic Empire while remaining an unforgettably catchy tune.
And while many things were impressive when the movie first came out — lightsabers, spaceships, Wookies — it’s the film’s score that holds it all together in the end.
Listen to the Jaws Theme:
“Da-dum… Da-dum… Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum…”
Even if you’ve never seen the movie Jaws, you’ve undoubtedly heard its theme. It’s instantly recognizable and easy to hum along to.
But what makes the Jaws theme so great is that it embodied the character so well and became intrinsically attached to it. Whenever the shark appeared, so did the theme. And so it became ingrained in the audiences head that the shark brought along with it this tense and anxious music.
That is the genius of John Williams work.
Jaws is also significant as the second collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and Williams that cemented their relationship. It proved to be a friendship that is as enduring as it is fruitful for both parties involved.
Listen to the Superman Theme:
Though the theme has taken on a life of its own and been revived in films, TV series, and other venues without John Williams conducting the orchestra, the original regal piece of music belongs to Williams.
First used in Superman, the original Christopher Reeves version of 1978, the theme is layered with the nuances that make Superman who he is. The music is strong, intentional, righteous, and soars through the air.
Admittedly at times it sounds very similar to the Star Wars theme Williams also composed, but there is enough variety that this piece of music stands on its own as powerful as the superhero for which it’s named.
4. Harry Potter
Listen to the Harry Potter Theme:
Of all the movies on this list, Harry Potter is the most recent by a wide margin (excluding sequels). The theme song that accompanies it is also the most different. It is rarely loud, consistently dark, and lacks the same “March” style Williams applied to the other films on this list.
If anything, that reversal in expectations shows Williams ability to break out of his conventions when needed.
While he only scored the first three films, he established a musical style that was carried throughout the entire series — culminating with this song, actually called “Hedwig’s Theme,” being universally recognized to represent magic, Hogwarts, and everything Harry Potter.
5. Indiana Jones
Listen to the Indiana Jones Theme:
The iconic theme for Indiana Jones actually doesn’t come up in the movie until after an extended intro, but when it does, it majestically sets the mood of the movie to be a true action-adventure.
With his signature use of a strong brass section leading the way, accented by the sweeping sounds of strings, John Williams once again firmly implanted a piece of music inside of our heads.
It helps that Spielberg and Williams overlaid the score at optimal moments throughout the film, often when Indy was in the midst of a heroic escape, further cementing our idea that the music is an irreplaceable part of the Indiana Jones character.
We may not have John Williams on our staff to compose original music, but we do have a great selection of cinematic underscores available to download for free!