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50 Greatest Sci-Fi Themes Ever

We asked you to vote for your favourite SF, fantasy and horror movie themes ever. Over 5,000 votes later, here are the results…

50 Total Recall (1990)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Pounding drums and a sinister orchestral sweep punctuated with stabs of synthesisers set out the stall perfectly for Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 mind-bender. Nervy, tense and rising to a suitably bombastic climax, the interwoven synths undercut the arrangement with a suitable sci-fi feel, nailing the tone of the film. It also features rising and falling horns that sound like the song of an existentially troubled whale, so it’s no wonder it won a BFI Film Music Award.

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49 The Omen (1976)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Many people mistakenly believe that the demonic choral music from The Omen is Orff's “O Fortuna”, aka the music from the Old Spice ad, also known for its prominent use in Excalibur. But while that classical piece may well have been a influence, no, Jerry Goldsmith wrote this piece himself, and it helped hi win an Oscar (amazingly, the only one of his career). It’s called “Ave Santani” and what the choir is belting out in Latin (“Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani”) translates as “We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan”. Not sure how many of your five-a-day that accounts for.


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48 Independence Day (1996)

Music by: David Arnold

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Still early in his film composing career, a pre-Bond David Arnold impressed film music buffs so much with his ID4 score that there were mumblings of how he could be the true inheritor of John Williams’s crown. The soundtrack is certainly an accomplished, bold, exultantly grandiose affair and the main theme is as patriotic as apple pie – the musical equivalent of President Bill Pullman’s mighty speech. It almost feels like there should be fireworks going off to accompany it… or maybe some “1812 Overture”-style cannons.

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47 Gremlins (1984)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Mention the music from Gremlins and most people will immediately think of the sweet, ululating little song that Gizmo purrs when he’s content. What a shame most people forget Goldsmith's wonderfully quirky theme tune, a nightmare fairground hurdy gurdy stomp trapped in a melodic hurricane or madness. It perfectly suits the mixture of black comedy and horror in Joe Dante’s brace of madcap movies.


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46 The Mummy (1999)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Jezzer’s doing well in the nether reaches of this chart, isn’t he? Five places in, and he’s claimed four of the slots! His theme for director Stephen Sommer’s CG heavy Mummy movie went for the obvious – an Egyptian motif – but then becomes a mighty orchestral piece that seems somehow like it deserves a better film.

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45 Krull

Music by: James Horner

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Before he became composer on the two top-grossing movies of all time (Titanic and Avatar) back in the ’80s James Horner had what might be called a signature style – horn-heavy themes with a swashbuckling swagger and a seafaring lilt. All three of his most famous early ’80s film themes – for British fantasy flick Krull, Battle Beyond The Stars and Star Trek II – sound like they could quite happily accompany The Scarlet Buccaneer or Mutiny On The Bounty. In fact, when heard in isolation, it's not always easy to immediately work out which is which. But they’re all great. Battle Beyond The Stars didn’t make the cut, but we’ve posted it below so you can compare and contrast (as you might be able to guess, we didn’t need to post Star Trek II here as well, because it may well be coming up later).


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44 Inception (2010)

Music by: Hans Zimmer

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What was unusual about Hans Zimmer’s music for Inception was that he wrote it while the film was being made and not, as is almost always the case with movie scoring, after he’d seen the final cut. Allegedly, director Christopher Nolan asked him to do this to “unleash his imagination”. So instead of writing the music to fit, he composed various mood pieces that could fit into suitable scenes. At one point, Zimmer incorporated a guitar sound reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s sound and then brought in Johnny Marr, one time guitarist with The Smiths, to play on these sections.

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43 Starship Troopers (1997)

Music by: Basil Poledouris

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A theme that’s about as subtle as the film it accompanies, you’re left wondering if it’s supposed to sound like music to invade Poland by, or merely a pastiche of fascist military musical propaganda. It’s certainly stirring and Wagner-esque. Poledouris had a leisurely six months to work on the film’s score, during which time director Paul Verhoeven kept on urging him to make it more and more bombastic. He clearly got what he wanted.


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42 Escape From New York (1981)

Music by: John Carpenter

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John Carpenter is only one of a handful of directors who has also scored most of his movies. With Escape From New York Carpenter uses a similar approach to that of Halloween, relying on simple synthesisers riffs. But don’t be fooled by his apparent early ’80s one-fingered approach; Carpenter’s dad was a music professor, and though Carpenter’s scores often use repeated, insistent phrases, he clearly knows how to write film music that creates the prefect mood. Escape may sound very much time-locked but it’s also wonderfully nostalgic.

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41 Barbarella (1968)

Music by: Bob Crewe, Charles Fox

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Right, so where do these lyrics come from: “It’s a wonder, wonder woman”? Nope, not the Wonder Woman theme tune but the groovy, quintessentially ’60s opening croon to that quintessentially ’60s sc-fi film Barbarella. Accompanying the unforgettable sight of Jane Fonda undressing in zero gravity (sadly no satin tights in sight), the song is a brash, psychedlic, parping pop assault that exists somewhere between “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” and the theme tune to Carry On At Your Convenience. Irresistibly kitsch.

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40 Clash Of The Titans (1981)

Music by: Laurence Rosenthal

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Playful, majestic and filled with the spirit of adventure, Rosenthal’s euphoric theme for Clash Of The Titans could almost be a blueprint for James Horner’s ’80s film work.

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39 Predator (1987)

Music by: Alan Silvestri

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This was Silvestri’s first action movie score, though he had already won over film music connoisseurs with this superb work on Back To The Future. This theme is a masterclass in sci-fi action mood setting – bombastic, yet slightly unsettling at the same time.


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38 The Black Hole (1979)

Music by: John Barry

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The problem with The Black Hole’s music is – which actual theme did people vote for? There’s the official theme (above) which is a wonderfully doomy, swirling minor key masterpiece that sounds like something from Offenbach’s Orpheus In The Underworld. Or there’s what’s actually the “Overture” (below) which sounds more like the director twisting Bond music man John Barry’s arm behind his back and going, “You will give me Star Wars!” The “Overture” is, in fact used in the film (during a laser battle) but some cinemas did indeed play it before the curtains opened as well! (For the record SFX prefers the proper theme.)

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37 RoboCop (1987)

Music by: Basil Poledouris

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Another mighty thunderstorm of a theme from the Brothers Bombastic, Poledouris and Verhoeven. Poledouris mixes synths with orchestration to give a harsh combination that reflects the man-machine of the title. But there’s also a hint of melancholy; it would make a great King Kong or Godzilla theme – films in which we root for the monster, who seems more human than any of the human characters.


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36 12 Monkeys (1995)

Music by: Paul Buckmaster

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Short and sweet, this quirky piece was inspired by an Argentinean tango. Composer Pauk Buckmaster has orchestrated pieces for many rock and pop stars (including Elton John, Tears For Fears and The Rolling Stones) but his coolest moment has to be working with David Bowie on “Space Oddity”.

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35 The Incredibles (2004)

Music by: Michael Giacchino

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JJ Abrams’s go-to man for film and TV music (he’s worked on Lost, Alias, Fringe and Star Trek) serves up a wonderful pastiche of ’60s spy movies and action adventures TV shows here, with just a little hint of John Barry thrown in as well.


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34 Aliens (1986)

Music by: James Horner

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Working on Aliens was a miserable experience for Horner, as when he arrived to write the score, the notoriously perfectionist James Cameron – who was still editing the film together and working on post production – wouldn’t let Horner see a cut of the film. In the end the score was a rush job, and even then Cameron treated his composer dismissively, re-editing sections of the score and even using some cues from other composers and lifting bits of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien music. Allegedly only the opening theme and end credits music remained as Horner originally intended. Horner left the project assuming Cameron would never want to work with him again.

But for all the tensions, at least Cameron forced Horner not to rehash his Battle Beyond The Stars/Star Trek II/Krull formula yet again. Instead, the Aliens theme opens with a cacophonic crescendo that both evokes and builds upon Goldsmith’s signature Alien theme, before falling back into a melancholic melody that sounds like someone’s taken the Krull theme, beaten the crap out of it and left it mewling in the corner.

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33 The Exorcist (1973)

Theme by: Mike Oldfield

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The first of a number entries that weren’t written specifically for the film in question, but co-opted by canny directors who could see the synergy. In fact, a soundtrack had been written by the legendary Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry) but it was ultimately rejected by both director William Friedkin and the studio. Instead, Friedkin used modern classical compositions, including Tubular Bells, the title track off a debut album by a new British instrumentalist called Mike Oldfield (and its use in the film helped push sales of the album). He clearly never wrote the track intended to creep people out massively, but, if you’ve ever seen the film, then that’s exactly what it does whenever you hear it afterwards.


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32 Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Music by: Danny Elfman

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The fourth collaboration between director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman, a singer/songwriter with new wave band Oingo Boingo who initially was reticent to become a film composer until Burton convinced him to give it a try for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Elfman considers it his most personal and favourite work. Unlike some of his more frenetic themes, the Edward Scissorhands theme is a beguiling magical music box of a piece, full of charm and warmth.

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31 The Crow (1994)

Theme by: The Cure

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A film for the MTV generation, The Crow was at the forefront of a trend that endures to today of filling vampire films and TV shows with wall-to-wall emo and goth rock. The theme tune was “Burn” a track by quintessential British pop miserablists The Cure, not that you know it unless you read the soundtrack listing. A massive, grungy, acoustic avalanche of a song, it’s as down as dirty as you want from an iconic bloodsucker flick.


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30 Dune (1984)

Music by: Toto

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US soft rock band Toto (altogether now, “I bless the rains down in Aaaaaaaaaafrica!”) only ever composed one film soundtrack, and even then Roxy musician Brian Eno gatecrashed with one song of his own (“Prophecy Song”). Clearly it’s a favourite amongst many of you judging by its position here, so it’s a shame they didn’t do a Vangelis and continue with the classy film music (and quit making their insipid pop noodlings).

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29 Stargate (1994)

Music by: David Arnold

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David Arnold is now best known as the composer who took over from John Barry as the musical mainstay of the Bond franchise. But early in his career he was also the regular score provider for Roland Emmerich (he went on to do Independence Day and Godzilla). Stargate was only his second movie after director Danny Cannon’s The Young Americans. But the Stargate theme was to prove one of his most enduring, thanks to ten seasons of the TV show.


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28 Alien (1979)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Ridley Scott didn’t originally want Goldsmith as composer but the studio insisted on him using a known (and trusted) name. Although we’ll never know what kind of score Scott’s preferred choice of Japanese composer Isao Tomita would have concocted, he would have had to created something mighty special to beat Goldsmith’s effortlessly masterful score. Full of dark beauty and discordant shocks, and yet almost rustically lyrical at others, it both underscores the film perfectly, and yet provides an immersive listening experience when listened to in isolation. The main theme is a curiously ethereal and scarily intense by turns; wisps of more traditional Goldsmith melodies seem to float by until a harsh, disharmonious screech railroads right through it. It’s the aural equivalent of a chestburster breaking through. Simply perfect.

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27 The Matrix (1999)

Theme by: Rob Dougan

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The Matrix theme was actually a track by Rob Dougan (aka Rob D) called “Clubbed To Death” which was a dance club hit on its original release in 1995, but never actually made the UK 40 in that form. The version used in the film is actually a remix subtitled “Kurayamino Variation” (Kurayami is Japanese for darkness), which was later re-released in 2002 and made number 24 in the charts, a surprisingly low position for track that everybody recognises, even if they’re not sure what it’s called.


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26 Moon (2009)

Music by: Clint Mansell

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Moon’s composer was Clint Mansell, former lead singer and guitarist of noise terrorists Pop Will Eat Itself. After the group disbanded in ’96 he embarked on a second career as a film score composer, starting with Pi in 1998, and then went on to provide the music for every subsequent Darren Aronofsy film. His wonderfully minimalist work on Moon underscores the edginess of the film perfectly (the full track above takes a while to get going but stick with it to discover why folk voted for it).

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25 Princess Bride (1987)

Music by: Willy DeVille

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Although Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler famously wrote the score for The Princess Bride, the theme tune, “Storybook Love” was actually written and performed by Willy DeVille (née Mink DeVille). Knopfler had produced and played guitar on DeVille’s LP 1987 Miracle, on which the song originally featured. When Knopfler was then hired to write the music for Princess Bride he immediately saw that “Storybook Love” was an ideal fit, and the rest is history.


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24 James Bond (1962)

Theme by: Monty Norman

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You know the name. You know the number. And we’d be bloody shocked if you didn’t know the music too. And as a bonus below, the individual Bond theme that rated polled the highest (though it didn’t make the Top 50), which, ironically, is one of the least sci-fi of the Bond films.

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23 Halloween (1978)

Music by: John Carpenter

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John Carpenter and his magic finger strike again. A theme that’s so naggingly insistent that it seems to be a musical metaphor for Michael Myers himself. Or maybe the endless sequels.


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22 Star Trek (2009)

Music by: Michael Giacchino

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Of all the potential pitfalls that lay before JJ Abrams’s superb Star Trek reboot, a new theme for the voyages of the starship Enterprise was among the biggest. After all, Star Trek as a franchise has had two or three of the most memorable themes in sci-fi history (and no, we don’t count Enterprise among those). Fortunately Abrams’ regular collaborator Michael Giacchino (Lost, Alias, Fringe, Mission Impossible III) proved himself more than worthy of boldly going where only a handful of men have gone before, crafting a majestic and suitably rousing theme to perfectly encapsulate the coming together of Star Command’s legendary crew. You can practically see the final frontier in his notes – no small task given it works as pulse-raising, fist-in-the-air action theme at the same time.

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21 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Music by: John Williams

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Williams created a theme based on the famous five-note alien greeting used in the film which became an anthem for first contact, and even inspired a disco version. Hans Zimmer reckons that Williams” score for Close Encounters is “as good as anything Stravinsky wrote”.


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20 ET The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Music by: John Williams

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John Williams strikes again, with another melodic, lush, soaring theme that emphasises the child-like wonder inherent in the film. You can’t hear this without visions of a bicycle silhouetted against the moon popping into your brain.

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19 Conan The Barbarian (1982)

Music by: Basil Poledouris

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Amazingly, producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted this fantasy epic to be scored with pop music, but director John Milius was having none of that. He wanted a full-on orchestral score that filled every moment of the film. Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West) was considered – and what a shame he never did do a sci-fi or fantasy film, because we’re sure it would make this list. On the other hand, that would have robbed us of Basil Poledouris’s monumental score for Conan, which is now considered one of the greatest old-school orchestral scores by connoisseurs of such things.


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18 Serenity (2005)

Music by: David Newman

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Blimey, for once those notoriously organised Browncoats didn't manage to block vote Serenity into first place. Maybe they’re still sore because the film didn’t use the song from the TV show, Firefly. Though, to be fair, the theme by the incredibly prolific score-writer David Newman (Galaxy Quest, The Nutty Professor, The Flintstones, the Bill & Ted films) does have a similar jaunty, Irish jig-cum-country-and-western feel to it, and fully deserves a place in this Top 50.

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17 Batman Begins (2005)

Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard

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A deliberate departure from the instantly-recognisable Elfman-composed Batman fanfare, the Zimmer theme is a frantic, urgent, crashing affair with fleeting hints of his predecessor’s lush orchestration, almost as if he’s deliberately mangling it. It's the kind of theme you shouldn’t play while driving, because you'd soon be breaking the speed limit and thinking you can overtake someone by driving straight over them.


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16 The Terminator (1984)

Music by: Brad Fiedel

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One time keyboard player for Hall And Oates (look, it paid the rent, okay?) Brad Fiedel created the score for Terminator entirely on synthesiser, which was completely fitting considering he saw the music as representing “a mechanical man and his heartbeat”.

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15 Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

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Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had wanted Jerry Goldsmith to write the music for the first Star Trek TV pilot “The Cage” but the composer was unavailable at the time. Instead, he got to compose the music for the first Trek film, in the process coming up with anthemic (and – he admits – Star Wars-inspired) theme that then became (in slightly adapted form) the theme for seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well.


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14 Batman (1989)

Music by: Danny Elfman

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Now, the things is, no matter you could argue that the Hans Zimmer Batman theme suits the Nolan film better, is more experimental, is more adventurous, reflects the dark side of Batman with more force, etc, etc, etc, if you asked someone to hum it, could they? Nope, to the general public, Elfman’s rousing six-not theme is still the iconic, cinematic Batman signature tune.

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13 Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)

Music by: James Horner

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At last we come to that other early ’80s James Horner theme with a nautical feel, but at least this time that was what he was required to deliver, which is probably why it’s by far the best of his early work. Director Nicholas Meyer saw his Trek as a kind of Horatio Hornblower in space, and Horner wrote music to match. It’s a glorious theme full of bravado and bluster and the spirit of adventure. It shame that it wasn’t used for one of the TV series as well.


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12 Ghostbusters (1984)

Theme by: Ray Parker Jr (by way of Huey Lewis And The News)

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“Who ya gonna call?” And 28 years later, we still know the answer. That’s the sign of a catchy and effective theme tune. Shame that composer Ray Parker Jr swiped the tune shamelessly from Huey Lewis And The News. Yep, the “Power Of Love” group successfully sued Parker Jr, claiming that the Ghostbusters theme was just too close to their own track, “I Want A New Drug”. And whereas usually with these cases you do wonder if any similarity might just be coincidence, this time, we reckon Huey and his boys had a point.

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11 Flash Gordon (1980)

Music by: Queen

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It’s interesting that Flash Gordon and Ghostbusters should wind up next to each other in this Top 50, because they have a similar effect on you. Just as you can’t help blurting out, “Ghostbusters!” whenever somebody asks, “Who ya gonna call?”, you can’t help but follow a “Flash!” with an “Aaaaaah–aaaahhhhhh!” Queen, possibly the most theatrical band Britain has ever produced, were the prefect choice for the campy, panto-perviness of the 1980 Flash Gordon, with its lurid sets and operatic costumes. And the rumbling piano/bass/drum combo on bass line is a work of genius.

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10 Blade Runner (1982)

Music by: Vangelis

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A haunting combination of synths and traditional instrumentation, the theme music for Blade Runner is an ethereal beast, more of a mood than a melody, and yet totally captivating in its own subtle way. It also perfectly captures the “film noir” in a future setting dichotomy of the film. It was composed by Greek multi-musician Vangelis, who rose to fame as an avant garde pop artist before making the transition to film. And yet amazingly, while many people would probably think of him more as a film composer these days than a pop artist, he only ever wrote the scores to three films, the crucial point being that all three of those scores are instantly recognisable classics: Chariots Of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492.

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9 Back To The Future (1985)

Music by: Alan Silvestri

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Silvestri’s theme for Back To The Future is almost self-mockingly epic. If you didn’t know film it was from you’d probably expect it to be from a war movie or a swashbuckler. Ironically it could even have been the theme for Romancing The Stone, which Silvestri also composed for. And yet, it still fits the lunacy and timey-whimeyness of the trilogy’s time-travelling labyrinth of plot line. It’s a theme that can suit a film set in the near future or the wild west. It’s a theme that can suit a film about love or about revenge. It’s a theme that can suit a film about skateboarding or runaways trains. Which is lucky, because it has to suit all of those.


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8 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Theme music: “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss

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That Stanley Kubrick was a canny one. He was a master at choosing music completely unrelated to the subject matter of his films, and somehow making the pieces feel like they had always been intended for his films. Thus an 1869 tone poem by Richard Straus inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical treatise on the “death of God”, and the prophecy of the Übermensch, suddenly became the theme tune not just for 2001, but for space itself.

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7 Pirates of The Caribbean (2003)

Music by: Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer

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In a cinematic era when anthemic, instantly recognisable theme tunes had gone out of fashion to a large extent, the theme to Pirates Of The Caribbean is a breath of fresh air. A swaggering, galloping, behemoth of a seas shanty, it’s guaranteed to shiver anyone’s timbers.


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6 Jurassic Park (1993)

Music by: John Williams

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Possibly the most majestic piece of music ever written. A theme for the beauty and power of nature itself, it could have been used for every David Attenborough documentary with “Life” in the title.

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5 Harry Potter (2001)

Music by: John Williams

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Williams proves that he could score a whimsical Burton fantasy if asked. The wonderfully wistful motif at the heart of the Potter theme evokes images of magic and childhood, and yet, as succeeding composers have discovered, it can be easily twisted into something darker and foreboding. Like puberty.


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4 Superman (1978)

Music by: John Williams

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There is a theory that the most effective and memorable themes are those where you can easily sing the title of the film to the melody. Such as Star War, Doctor Who and, of course, Superman. Okay, you have to add a few, “duh, duh, duh dums”, but you know exactly when you have to sing “Superman!” And when Williams’ theme is accompanied by the stunning opening titles of the original movie (and to some extent the opening titles to Superman Returns) the effect is one of the most rousing introduction to a movie Hollywood has ever produced.

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3 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Music by: John Williams

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John Williams strikes again. He actually wrote two different potential pieces for the Indiana Jones theme, but Spielberg liked them both and so they were combined into one as “Raiders March”.


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2 Star Wars (1977)

Music by: John Williams

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The theme tune that revolutionised theme tunes. From the moment the opening fanfare blasts from the screen, you are transported to a place long ago in a galaxy far, far away, and you know it’s gonna be an exciting place. Star Wars’ score was a theme-led affair, reintroducing lush, classical orchestration back into the sparse, utilitarian aural landscape of ’70s cinema, with recurring motifs for various characters, places and plot dynamics. And while all six movies have musical sections that are masterpieces in themselves (the battle on Hoth, the asteroid sequence, Leia’s theme, the imperial march) the main theme will always be the jewel in the crown, and don’t let over familiarity convince you otherwise.

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1 The Lord Of The Rings (2001)

Music by: Howard Shore

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So Star Wars remains the number one sci-fi movie theme of all time, but in the combined SF and fantasy chart it is shockingly toppled by Howard Shore’s sumptuous theme for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. And if anything was going topple Star Wars, we’re glad it was this. Almost a symphony in itself, it moves from eerie darkness to rustic nostalgia to the kind of monumental sweeping strings that make you wish it was the new national anthem, eating through a bewildering variety of instrumentation as it goes. Magical and mighty, yet playful and emotive, it’s a theme every bit as ambitious and exquisite as the films themselves.

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