Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Scores by James Horner


On Monday night I heard that Mr. James Horner was unaccounted for when a plane registered to him crashed in St. Barbara, CA, I prayed he’d turn out ok. I started listening to his music all night long and was amazed at how many of them I love. Before I went to bed, I already picked my top 10 list thinking that I would dedicate this week’s Music Break post to him as a tribute. When I turned on my iPad in the morning, I read the news came that the 61-year-old composer was the pilot of the plane and he was indeed killed.

It saddens me to hear about his tragic death. He’s one of my favorite composers of all time… so many of his scores resonated with me. He’s such a phenomenal and versatile composer. Looking at his filmography and listening to a bunch of his work, there are a variety of motifs that he used throughout his illustrious career. Even within the same year he could create two VERY different scores that somehow fit perfectly to its respective film (i.e. in 1994 and 1995, see below for the year next to the film title). He’s credited for over 150 projects as composer on IMDb, received seven Oscar nominations and won two for Titanic (for Best Original Song and Best Dramatic Score).

There’s such a beautiful, romantic and ethereal feel about some of his dramatic scores like Legends of the Fall and Braveheart, but I also love his more energetic and up-tempo scores, i.e. Rocketeer. He can convey the sentiment and tone of the film so perfectly. I think some of my favorite scores are the ones that are so evocative that it take you to another time and place. I’m always taken back to the glory of the doomed ship whenever I hear Take her to sea, Mr Murdock score.

JamesHorner_CameronHorner collaborated several times with James Cameron and he wrote a nice tribute to him posted on THR. He shared his experience working with him on composing for Titanic, “I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship.” He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing, and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score.”

As my tribute to the late composer, here are 10 of my favorite scores from James Horner (in order of release):

The Land Before Time (1988)

The Rocketeer (1991)

Legends of the Fall (1994)

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Braveheart (1995)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Titanic (1997)

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

The New World (2005)

Avatar (2009)

Thank you Mr. Horner for your amazing work…
your music shall live on…

So what’s your favorite James Horner score(s)?


28 thoughts on “Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Scores by James Horner

  1. For me, it’s the score he did for Star TreK II: The Wrath of Khan, Commando, The Rocketeer, and Titanic (though I still loathe that song by Celine Dion). The New World is a score that I don’t remember much but then again, much of Horner’s work wasn’t used since Malick is notoriously known for doing something else as he essentially used classical pieces instead which definitely angered Horner. He will be missed.

    1. Hi Steven! Glad you love Rocketeer and Titanic too. Yep I can’t stand Dion’s voice though the song itself is fine. I prefer the instrumental version though. Yes he’ll be missed indeed.

  2. It’s sad to hear he lost his life yesterday, I used to love his work and I’m glad you put The Mask of Zorro on the list, a very underrated and fun action film. Of course Horner’s score definitely enhanced all the action on the screen. What’s funny was that he tends to reuse a lot of his scores in the 80s for action films. He used the same theme on the two 48 Hrs. film, then he reuse that same theme for Arnold’s Red Heat and Commando. I loved his scores for Aliens, Braveheart and Titanic. I actually prefer his score for Patriot Games than Clear and Present Danger.

    But I have to be honest, I haven’t been a fan of his work within the last 10 years or so. I hated his scores for Windtalkers, Troy and The Amazing Spiderman. I don’t remember much about his scores for either Avatar or The New World.

    May he rest in peace.

    1. Hi Ted! It’s been ages since I saw Mask of Zorro but that score is so wonderful. It just fits the tone and culture of the movie, just like everything else he did. I think it’s ok if he recycled his theme and modified them a bit, I think Zimmer did that too. I think most of my fave of his work is from the 90s and 2000s.

  3. Hi Ruth! So sad to hear about Horner’s passing, but what a great tribute you’ve put together. He’ll be missed, for sure. Some of my favorite scores would be: Titanic, Braveheart, The New World, Aliens, and The Rocketeer.

    1. Hi Josh! I’m still so heartbroken, he seems like a very nice man and a consummate professional. Glad we share some favorites here!

    1. Oh I missed your tribute post, I presume you did one too? Glad to hear we share some favorites! Titanic’s score is absolutely brilliant, LOVE it!!

  4. I had no idea he was even missing. Just a terrible shock. I always assumed he was far older as he had been around for so long. I love the Legends of the Fall piece especially. Just beautiful. It describes the tone and theme of the film in music. A truly gifted man and a sad loss.

    1. Yeah I think they couldn’t identify the pilot so they just said he’s missing. Turns out he himself was the pilot 😦 The Legends of the Fall one is absolutely gorgeous, it’s beautiful and haunting.

  5. I’ve been listening to lots too these past few days and have grown attached to Legends of the Fall, which I’d all but forgotten about.

    1. Hi Jay! I think I remember Legends of the Fall score more than the film though I should rewatch that at some point. It’s such a tragic story and the melancholic score fits perfectly.

    1. I knew you would appreciate James Horner too Cindy! We have similar taste in music it seems. Yeah it’s very sad news indeed, but his music shall live on…

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    1. Hello Alex! Glad to hear you like some of Horner’s less-popular works. Yes The Rocketeer is a great score and I LOVE the movie too!

      1. He did repeat music a lot though, I’ve noticed. Braveheart and New world are particularly similar. This isn’t rare however, Zimmer does that a lot as well. And even Williams.

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