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The Big Score: Hans Zimmer – Essential Listening

The Big Score: Hans Zimmer – Essential Listening

Chances are if you’ve seen a movie in the last 10 years, you’ve heard a Hans Zimmer score. Zimmer, a German composer and music producer, is responsible for over 100 scores since the mid-1980s. He’s one of the most popular composers today, scoring for major directors like Ron Howard, Christopher Nolan, and Guy Ritchie. Most recently, Zimmer garnered major attention for his work on the 12 Years a Slave score. With the depth and breadth of his work over the last 30 or so years, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. If you’re looking for a grand overview, however, of Zimmer’s best work in the last 10 years or so, here are a handful of scores you’re going to want to check out.



The Inception soundtrack was one of the most talked-about scores in 2010. Its “BWAAAAH” theme became the running joke of several internet videos (featuring cats and the like) as well as “click this button” sites. Beyond its highly recognizable theme, the score is as beautiful and engaging as the bulk of the film. Zimmer manages to delicately find the balance from a driving, action-heavy tone to more retrospective, slower pieces. The film is also famous for its use of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” which also becomes slowed down and mirrored in Zimmer’s score (in the same way that time works in the dreamscape of Inception). Tracks of note include “Time,” “Dream Within a Dream,” and “Old Souls.”

Sherlock Holmes

Zimmer’s work on the 2009 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, landed him an Oscar nomination back in 2010. Beyond its accolades, the Sherlock Holmes score is one of Zimmer’s most playful and entertaining scores to listen to. It’s got a bouncing, fast-paced main theme that adeptly matches the pacing of the film. Well-placed uses of accordion as well as exotic percussion allow for some diversity too. The whole thing sounds like it’d make perfect playing in the background of a skeevy, back-alley London pub about 100 years ago. Tracks of note include “He’s Killed the Dog Again,” “Discombobulate,” and “I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before.”

The Lion King

What, have you forgotten that Hans Zimmer did some of the most crucial scoring work on The Lion King? While it’s easy to remember the soundtrack as an Elton John/Tim Rice creation, Zimmer contributed heavily to this absolutely iconic score. The scene of Simba running through the fields under the starlight would be nothing without the pulsing, emotional scoring of that particular scene. It’s hard to imagine that there is ever a dry eye during the King of Pride Rock sequence, either. The scope and depth of this score is so grand; it highlights the landscape of the entire film. Tracks of note include “This Land,” “Under the Stars,” and “King of Pride Rock.”

The Thin Red Line

Zimmer’s work for Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line is nothing short of poignant. While some of his best known work these days are for popular franchise films, he does some of his best work to date in this simple yet profoundly beautiful score. The tracks are quiet and drifting, reflecting the subtle tragedy of the battle of Guadalcanal. This is a soundtrack to listen to on your own, a soundtrack for thinking and for feeling. Tracks of note include “The Lagoon,” “The Village,” and “Silence.”

While this column has only highlighted a handful of Zimmer’s best work, know that there’s so much more out there worth listening to. If you exhaust all of these scores during your work week, you may also want to check out the scores to Gladiator, The Dark Knight, and the latter Pirates of the Caribbean films.

— Fran Hoepfner