The Legacy of James Horner: My Top 10 Compositions (INTRO)

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Here on the Cinema Warehouse, I am saddened to read of the tragic passing of musical genius and Film Composer, James Horner: who died in a plane crash piloting his own single-engine aircraft in Southern California just a short week ago.

This comes as a bit of an unbelievable shock to me, as not only does it seem like quite a few people have been getting into accidents involving private or small aircraft lately, but James Horner is perhaps my most favorite film composer of all time. And I consider it an enormous missed opportunity that I won’t have the chance to meet him in person someday, or perhaps even get to work with him on one of my future films. I just have so many things to thank him for, and so many questions I would like to have asked him.

While writing reviews here on the Cinema Warehouse, I have covered multiple animated films for which he has contributed his usual creative and masterfully crafted fanfare: (An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Balto, The Land Before Time, Once Upon A Forest, We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story) most of which I consider to be his strongest works; as I don’t think his live-action films (save for perhaps the Star Trek films) have produced such rousing, memorable, or even singable scores. And yet, as is evidenced by the many films that people primarily remember him for, his animated soundtracks seem to fall by the wayside when discussing his impressive career. This I feel is unfair.

But in all cases, the types of emotions he was able to rouse up from me (and I hope many of you as well) are so intoxicating, and yet so honest, that (unlike other similar scores) his pieces never feel like they’re trying too hard to tug at your heart strings. And the movies are almost always strong enough to stand on their own. So not only are his scores endlessly powerful, but they reflect and add to the effects that the films are already having on you, resulting in an even stronger experience.

James Horner’s scores are also sometimes very easy to recognize. Just listen for the sorrowful clarinets, the flutes reflecting sweet unconditional love, or the string section playing a slow ballad for the strife of a main character, whilst a soft French horn calls out behind them: and then you will know it’s a James Horner score.

Back in the mid-1980s and through the 1990s, James Horner, along with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, established what the dominant orchestral sound would be for nearly all fantasy and dramatic films from the 80s through to the early 2000s. Just about every family drama and animated feature, whether it had fantastical elements or not, involved a very whimsical score, with strong horns, trilling violins, and memorable character theme songs that pop up again and again throughout the soundtrack. And that is thanks in no small part to the numerous beautiful scores that James Horner wrote himself.

Among all others, James Horner’s scores stand as some of the most memorable from the late 80s and early 90s, as they are unmistakable and timelessly stunning.

So today, in honor of a great musical voice that has left the screen, I’d like to present my Top 10 favorite James Horner tracks from across his filmography, that have made an meaningful impact on my life. The majority of these will be from films I know, so I won’t be able to represent his entire film/discography. But despite that, I think what I have here will be more than adequate to represent his varied stylistic skills and his brilliant ability to instill the most amazing atmosphere, heart, and spirit in each and every one of his projects.

James, may your soul rest in peace, and may your music go on as a staple of film history. You will be truly missed. I hope you all enjoy this retrospective as much as I have.

10. “Nanelia’s Capture” – from Battle Beyond the Stars
9. “Grand Slam Demons” – from We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story
8. “Opening Theme” – from Honey I Shrunk the Kids
7. “Once Upon a Time With Me” – from Once Upon A Forest
6. “Heritage of the Wolf” – from Balto
5. “The Machine Age” – from Bicentennial Man
4. “Main Title” – from Krull
3. “In Training” – from An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
2. “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” – from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
1. “The Great Migration” & “Discovery of the Great Valley” – from The Land Before Time
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