The Academy Award for Best Original Score is one of the most prestigious honors a composer can be given. Over the years, some of the world’s most acclaimed composers, like John Williams and Max Steiner, have won the award. We’re going to list every Academy Award for Best Original Score winner, then rank some of the best. By the end, you’ll know the Best Original Score category better than ever before.

Original score Oscar movies

All Best Original Score Oscar Winners

Before we pick our favorite Best Original Score Oscar winners, let’s recap every single recipient of the award to date:

best original score academy award

All best original score Oscar Winners

  • 1934, Victor Schertzinger and Gus Kahn, One Night of Love
  • 1935, Max Steiner, The Informer
  • 1936, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Anthony Adverse
  • 1937, No composer credit, One Hundred Men and a Girl
  • 1938, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • 1938, Alfred Newman, Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • 1939, Herbert Stothart, The Wizard of Oz
  • 1940, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken, Stagecoach
  • 1940, Leigh Harline, Paul Smith and Ned Washington, Pinocchio
  • 1940, Alfred Newman, Tin Pan Alley
  • 1941, Bernard Hermann, The Devil and Daniel Webster
  • 1941, Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace, Dumbo
  • 1942, Max Steiner, Now, Voyager
  • 1942, Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld, Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • 1943, Alfred Newman, The Song of Bernadette
  • 1943, Ray Heindorf, This Is the Army
  • 1944, Max Steiner, Since You Went Away
  • 1944, Morris Stoloff and Carmen Dragon, Cover Girl
  • 1945, Miklos Rozsa, Spellbound
  • 1945, Georgie Stoll, Anchors Aweigh
  • 1946, Hugo Friedhofer, The Best Years of Our Lives
  • 1946, Morris Stoloff, The Jolson Story
  • 1947, Miklos Rozsa, A Double Life
  • 1947, Alfred Newman, Mother Wore Tights
  • 1948, Brian Easdale, The Red Shoes
  • 1948, Johnny Green and Roger Edens, Easter Parade
  • 1949, Aaron Copland, The Heiress
  • 1949, Roger Edens and Lennie Hayton, On the Town
  • 1950, Franz Waxman, Sunset Boulevard
  • 1950, Adolph Deutsch and Roger Edens, Annie Get Your Gun
  • 1951, Franz Waxman, A Place in the Sun
  • 1951, Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, An American in Paris
  • 1952, Dimitri Tiomkin, High Noon
  • 1952, Alfred Newman, With a Song in My Heart
  • 1953, Bronislaw Kaper, Lili
  • 1953, Alfred Newman, Call Me Madam
  • 1954, Dimitri Tiomkin, The High and the Mighty
  • 1954, Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • 1955, Alfred Newman, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
  • 1955, Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton and Adolph Deutsch, Oklahoma!
  • 1956, Victor Young, Around the World in 80 Days
  • 1956, Alfred Newman and Ken Darby, The King and I
  • 1957, Malcolm Arnold, The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 1958, Dimitri Tiomkin, The Old Man and the Sea
  • 1958, Andre Previn, Gigi
  • 1959, Miklos Rozsa, Ben-Hur
  • 1959, Andre Previn and Ken Darby, Porgy and Bess
  • 1960, Ernest Gold, Exodus
  • 1960, Morris Stoloff and Harry Sukman, Song Without End
  • 1961, Henry Mancini, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • 1961, Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Irwin Kostal and Sid Ramin, West Side Story
  • 1962, Maurice Jarre, Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1962, Ray Heindorf, The Music Man
  • 1963, John Addison, Tom Jones
  • 1963, Andre Previn, Irma la Douce
  • 1964, Sherman Brothers, Mary Poppins
  • 1964, Andre Previn, My Fair Lady
  • 1965, Maurice Jarre, Doctor Zhivago
  • 1965, Irwin Kostal, The Sound of Music
  • 1966, John Barry, Born Free
  • 1966, Ken Thorne, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  • 1967, Elmer Bernstein, Thoroughly Modern Millie
  • 1967, Alfred Newman and Ken Darby, Camelot
  • 1968, John Barry, The Lion in Winter
  • 1968, Johnny Green, Oliver!
  • 1969, Burt Bacharach, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • 1969, Lennie Hayton and Lionel Newman, Hello, Dolly!
  • 1970, Francis Lai, Love Story
  • 1970, The Beatles, Let it Be
  • 1971, Michel Legrand, Summer of ‘42
  • 1971, John Williams, Fiddler on the Roof
  • 1972, Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell, Limelight
  • 1972, Ralph Burns, Cabaret
  • 1973, Marvin Hamlisch, The Way We Were
  • 1973, Marvin Hamlisch, The Sting
  • 1974, Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, The Godfather Part II
  • 1974, Nelson Riddle, The Great Gatsby
  • 1975, John Williams, Jaws
  • 1975, Leonard Rosenman, Barry Lyndon
  • 1976, Jerry Goldsmith, The Omen
  • 1976, Leonard Rosenman, Bound for Glory
  • 1977, John Williams, Star Wars
  • 1977, Jonathan Tunick, A Little Night Music
  • 1978, Giorgio Moroder, Midnight Express
  • 1978, Joe Renzetti, The Buddy Holly Story
  • 1979 Georges Delerue, A Little Romance
  • 1979, Ralph Burns, All That Jazz
  • 1980, Michael Gore, Fame
  • 1981, Vangelis, Chariots of Fire
  • 1982, John Williams, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • 1982, Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse, Victor/Victoria
  • 1983, Bill Conti, The Right Stuff
  • 1983, Michel Legrand & Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Yentl
  • 1984, Maurice Jarre, A Passage to India
  • 1984, Prince, Purple Rain
  • 1985, John Barry, Out of Africa
  • 1986, Herbie Hancock, Round Midnight
  • 1987, David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su, The Last Emperor
  • 1988, Dave Grusin, The Milagro Beanfield War
  • 1989, Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid
  • 1990, John Barry, Dances With Wolves
  • 1991, Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast
  • 1992, Alan Menken, Aladdin
  • 1993, John Williams, Schindler’s List
  • 1994, Hans Zimmer, The Lion King
  • 1995, Luis Bacalov, The Postman
  • 1995, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, Pocahontas
  • 1996, Gabriel Yared, The English Patient
  • 1996, Rachel Portman, Emma
  • 1997, James Horner, Titanic
  • 1997, Anne Dudley, The Full Monty
  • 1998, Nicola Piovani, Life is Beautiful
  • 1998, Stephen Warbeck, Shakespeare in Love
  • 1999, John Corigliano, The Red Violin
  • 2000, Tan Dun, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • 2001, Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 2002, Elliot Goldenthal, Frida
  • 2003, Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2004, Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
  • 2005, Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain
  • 2006, Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel
  • 2007, Dario Marianelli, Atonement
  • 2008, A. R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
  • 2009, Michael Giacchino, Up
  • 2010, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
  • 2011, Ludovic Bource, The Artist
  • 2012, Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
  • 2013, Steven Price, Gravity
  • 2014, Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • 2015, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
  • 2016, Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
  • 2017, Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
  • 2018, Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther
  • 2019, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker
  • 2020, Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross, Soul

Now that we’ve recapped all of the Best Original Score Oscar winners, let’s rank our favorite winners and highlight their exceptional work.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

20. Chariots of Fire

Academy Award for Best Score Winners  •  Chariots of Fire Theme

Only one word comes to mind when I think of the Chariots of Fire soundtrack and that word is iconic. Over the years, Vangelis’ music from Chariots of Fire has become a mainstay at the Olympic games.

Although the soundtrack as a whole hasn’t aged as gracefully as some of its contemporaries, it still remains a fixture during moments of sports excellence and times of enduring achievement.

Oscar Original Score Winners

19. Lawrence of Arabia

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  Lawrence of Arabia Wins a Music Oscar

Lawrence of Arabia is a big, sweeping movie, and Maurice Jarre’s score plays an integral role in conveying its epic scope. Jarre won three Academy Awards for Best Original Score; for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Passage to India — but his work on Lawrence of Arabia remains his most iconic work. 

Academy Award Winning Scores  •  Lawrence of Arabia Theme, Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra

After listening to Jarre’s score, you’ll never think about traversing the desert sands the same way again. 

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

18. The Devil and Daniel Webster

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  The Devil and Daniel Webster, Performed by the London Symphonic

You’d be hard pressed to find many modern film composers who don’t cite Bernard Hermann among their greatest influencers. Hermann composed the scores to many of the greatest movies of all-time, like Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Taxi Driver.

But although Hermann received a lot of critical acclaim in his lifetime, he only won the Academy Award for Best Original Score once. He did receive four other nominations in the category: for Citizen Kane, Obsession, Anna and the King of Siam, and Taxi Driver.

Best Original Score Oscar Winners

17. The Hateful Eight

Academy Award for Best Score Winners  •  Ennio Morricone Wins Best Original Score

Ennio Morricone’s Oscar win for Best Original Score was more than 70 years in the making. Someway, somehow, Morricone didn’t win for The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, or The Untouchables — but he finally did for The Hateful Eight.

Academy Award Winning Scores  •  The Hateful Eight Soundtrack

We often wonder why certain individuals, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, were snubbed at the Oscars, but I’d argue that nobody has been snubbed more than Morricone. It was great to see him win the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2016, four years prior to his death in 2020.

Oscar Original Score Winners

16. The Lion King

Academy Award for Best Original Music Score  •  Hans Zimmer Wins Best Original Score

Did you know that Hans Zimmer composed the score for The Lion King? Like the Hans Zimmer? Is it just me or is that completely insane?

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  The Lion King Original Score

The Lion King soundtrack isn’t just awesome because of Zimmer’s compositions — Elton John and Jeremy Irons offer great performances as well.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

15. The Wizard of Oz

Academy Award Winning Scores  •  The Wizard of Oz Soundtrack Suite

The Wizard of Oz was responsible for a lot of innovation in the industry of movie-making — visually, narratively, and acoustically. Perhaps the most obvious groundbreaking facet of the film was its eye-catching use of Technicolor, but there’s a lot more to The Wizard of Oz than just that.

Herbert Stothart’s score for The Wizard of Oz complimented Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s songs, such as “Over the Rainbow,” which also took home an Academy Award.

Oscar Original Score Winners

14. The Best Years of Our Lives

Academy Award for Best Score Winners  •  The Best Years of Our Lives Soundtrack

Hugo Friedhofer’s score for The Best Years of Our Lives really added a needed layer of emotional resonance to the picture. That’s not to say that The Best Years of Our Lives was bad by any means. Quite the contrary, many critics regard it as one of legendary director William Wyler’s best.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a story about personal intimacy in the face of sweeping change. Friedhofer’s score communicates this mood to a tee.

Best Original Score Oscar Winners

13. The Adventures of Robin Hood

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  The Adventures of Robin Hood, Performed by the John Wilson Orchestra

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is widely regarded by contemporary critics as one of the greatest film composers of all-time. Korngold wasn’t quite as prolific as the other titans of his era, like Alfred Newman and Max Steiner, but one could argue he’s been just as influential.

The Adventures of Robin Hood soundtrack created an adventurous and whimsical mood that’s come to be synonymous with its title character.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

12. Jaws

Academy Award Winning Scores  •  John Williams Wins Best Original Score for Jaws

John Williams is going to appear more than once on this list, simply because his body of work is so good. Williams won his second Oscar for Best Original Score for Jaws four years after he won for Fiddler on the Roof.

Academy Award for Best Score Winners  •  Jaws Theme Song

If you want to learn more about leitmotifs, look no further than the iconic, low-hum Jaws theme song. Everytime we hear that theme, we know there’s a shark lurking in the water.

Oscar Original Score Winners

11. Titanic

Best Score Winners  •  James Horner Wins the Academy Award for Best Original Score

People love the Titanic soundtrack. And when I say love, I mean really, really love the Titanic soundtrack. The appropriately titled “Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture” soundtrack sold over 30 million units worldwide!

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  Titanic ‘Hymn to the Sea’

The Titanic soundtrack wasn’t just a hit with the public either — critics adored it as well. Horner also won the Oscar for Best Original Song for the film's most enduring theme “My Heart Will Go On.”

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

10. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Best Score Winners  •  Henry Mancini Wins Best Song

Henry Mancini won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, as well as the Academy Award for Best Song for his work on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Here's a sample — take a listen to the jazzy, romantic, and melancholy suite.

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  Breakfast at Tiffany’s Soundtrack Suite

Audrey Hepburn performed the winning song “Moon River,” which was written by Johnny Mercer and composed by Henry Mancini. Mercer and Mancini collaborated on several projects, including their other win for Days of Wine and Roses.

Oscar Original Score Winners

9. Let it Be

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  The Beatles Win the Academy Award for Best Original Score

How could we not put The Beatles on the list? The world’s four most loved lads from Liverpool found a way to receive acclaim in just about everything they did; including but not limited to music and cinema.

Best Score Winners  •  The Making of Let it Be

Let it Be brings us behind the scenes of the last days of The Beatles as they work around the clock to finish what would be their last official album. 

Best Original Score Oscar Winners

8. How the West Was Won

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  How the West Was Won Soundtrack

Alfred Newman was like the Mozart of film composers. At the age of 13, he travelled the world as part of a vaudeville act. By 30, he had conquered Broadway and moved to Hollywood.

We often say that an artist is prolific if they put out a “full-length” work each year — Alfred Newman gave new meaning to the word prolific. In less than 40 years in Hollywood, Newman composed more than 200 original scores! He was nominated for 45 Academy Awards and won nine.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

7. The Social Network

Best Score Winners  •  The Social Network Soundtrack

Want to learn how to compose an original film score? Read our article on how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross design surrealist film scores. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Reznor and Ross revolutionized film scores with their work on The Social Network.

If you’re a music fan, then you probably know Trent Reznor as the front-man for Nine Inch Nails — but he’s truly a man of many musical talents. Reznor began his work as a soundtrack designer in 1994 with Natural Born Killers.

Ross began working on movie/TV soundtracks in 2004 with Touching Evil. Today, the two are regarded as perhaps the most talented movie composing duo in the world. In 2020, they earned two nominations for Mank and Soul (with Jon Batiste).

Oscar Best Film Scores

6. La La Land

Oscar Best Film Scores  •  La La Land Opening Number

The 2010’s were a great decade for the Best Original Score category at the Oscars — and perhaps no score is more emblematic of this period’s boundless creativity than Justin Hurwitz’ La La Land.

Director Damien Chazelle deserves a lot of credit for the excellent La La Land soundtrack as well. Hurwitz and Chazelle have worked together since they made Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench in 2009. It’s safe to say that the duo bring out the best creative aspects of each other.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

5. The Godfather Part II

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola Win Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II

Nino Rota is one of the most underappreciated film composers of all-time. Although he produced a lot of acclaimed scores, especially for his friend and collaborator Federico Fellini, he was only nominated for two Academy Awards. Actually, he was only nominated for one — his nomination for The Godfather was rescinded because it included previously produced material.

Academy Award for Best Score  •  The Godfather Part II Soundtrack Suite

Nonetheless, Rota finally received the recognition he deserved for composing the score to The Godfather Part II — which was conducted by Francis Ford Coppola’s father Carmine Coppola. 

Best Original Score Oscar Winners

4. The Shape of Water

Best Score Oscar Winners  •  You’ll Never Know ft. Renee Fleming

Full disclosure: I don’t like The Shape of Water. The whole monster love allegory just doesn’t sit right with me. Is the fish-man really sentient? Seems like a stretch to me. That said, I love The Shape of Water soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat — I mean, how could you not?

Desplat is one of the greatest composers in the world. Over his career, Desplat has been nominated for nine Oscars and won two; one for The Shape of Water, and one for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

3. Star Wars

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  John Williams Wins Best Original Score for Star Wars

John Williams had to beat out some tough competition in 1978 to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score, including… himself? Ah, yes Williams was so acclaimed in ‘78 that he was nominated twice, for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Academy Award for Best Score  •  Star Wars Theme Song

The importance and influence of Williams’ score for Star Wars can’t be quantified. Had it been released a year earlier, it probably would’ve been included in the Voyager Golden Record, floating into galaxies far, far away. 

Best Original Score Oscar Winners

2. The Lord of the Rings

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  Howard Shore Wins Best Original Score for The Fellowship of the Ring

You know you did a good job when you beat John Williams twice in the same year for Best Original Score. In 2002, Williams was nominated for A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but it was Howard Shore who took home the top honor for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Oscar Best Film Scores  •  The Fellowship Theme Song

Oftentimes, we very cavalierly say that music “transports us to other worlds” — but in the case of Howard Shore’s The Fellowship of the Ring score, that is absolutely the case.

Academy Award for Best Original Score Winners

1. Schindler’s List

Oscar Best Film Scores  •  John Williams Wins Best Original Score for Schindler’s List

If you ever need a good cry, just turn on John Williams soundtrack to Schindler’s List and let the waterworks flow. There’s simply no denying that Williams' score for the film is akin to the great works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Best Original Score Oscar Winners  •  Schindler’s List Theme Song

No adjective can do the score justice — but I will say that it’s intoxicating, arresting, haunting, and defyingly resolute. 

UP NEXT

Academy Award for Best Original Song

The Academy Award for Best Original Score is a great honor — but did you know there’s a separate Academy Award for Best Original Song too? In our next article, we rank every Best Original Song Oscar winner, from “Man or Muppet” to “Lose Yourself.” See where your favorite Oscar winning original song ranks up next. 

Up Next: Original Song Winners →
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