Every year, I listen to and enjoy a lot of orchestral film and television scores. Some resonate with me more than others and stick with me throughout the year with listens upon listens. These are those scores, my favorites of 2019.

This year’s post follows those from last year and from 2015, 2013, 2012, and 2011. Like last year, rather than try to rank them as I did previously, I’m listing them alphabetically.

In years past, my lists have been all or nearly all film scores. But this year I have some entries that come from the lands of TV, games, and even theme parks. Let’s begin!

AVENGERS: ENDGAME — Alan Silvestri

I was pretty surprised when Alan Silvestri was announced as the composer for INFINITY WAR. He didn’t score AGE OF ULTRON or the Russo Brothers’ two Captain America films, so I was not expecting him to score it. But he did, and then ENDGAME too, and I’m so very glad.

I love his Avengers theme, and it’s all over this score. Superhero themes can be tricky in that they can sound a bit hokey. John Williams wrote *the* superhero theme in 1978 for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, and I think some heroic themes since then that try to emulate it just sound hokey. But rather than having an overt, bright sound that could stray toward hokey, Silvestri’s Avengers theme has more of a bravado sound that feels heroic but also ready to get down to business.

Aside from the Avengers theme, this score has some exciting and driving action music as well as some touching heart. It really feels like he put his all into this. AVENGERS: ENDGAME and READY PLAYER ONE are his best scores in years and a return to the Alan Silvestri style I love.


The first of a few non-film-score entries here, this is for the creative and quirky card-based iPhone and iPad game released on Apple Arcade. I quickly became a bit obsessed with the game to the point where the musical themes for each of the levels would be playing in my head when I wasn’t playing the game. Much to my delight, I discovered the retro-esque music—by someone new to me, which is always fun—was available outside the game too. So I’ve been listening to it long since I finished the game. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend it!

GOOD OMENS — David Arnold

Another non-film-score entry, this is for the Amazon/BBC show about an angel played by Michael Sheen and a demon played by David Tennant trying to save the world from Armageddon. It was delightfully, charmingly weird, and I absolutely loved it and didn’t want it to end.

I also loved the score by David Arnold, one of my favorite composers with credits including INDEPENDENCE DAY, TOMORROW NEVER DIES, and CASINO ROYALE. Apart from the Benedict Cumberbatch SHERLOCK, he hasn’t had too many credits recently. But here he is with this, and it’s so very good to have new music from him.

My love of GOOD OMENS begins with the brilliant theme. It’s a waltz that’s part comedic and part serious but fully delightful and quirky that so perfectly fits its source material. I love that in the opening credits the theme is formed by two different instruments working in tandem just like Aziraphale and Crowley do throughout the story. There are themes that are great fits for their source, and there are themes that are perfect fits. This is one of the latter, and I can’t imagine a different theme working as well. It’s also incredibly ear-worm-y; I can’t listen to the theme without it being in my head for the next few hours.

The many variations and styles the theme goes through is by itself an immense joy. Each episode’s end credits (except for the final episode) has a different rendition of the theme: there’s a Queen-infused rock version (above), a string quartet version, a surf-style version, a carnival-esque version, and a version with pipe organ and chanting. Elsewhere throughout the score are more renditions: there’s a Victorian version, an acoustic guitar version with some Spanish flavor, and even one that takes on the style of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. The theme is so malleable and so good.

The rest of the score builds on the musical world established by the theme: there’s some warm music for the group of friends, comedic music for the shenanigans of our two main characters as well as Michael McKean’s witchfinder character and his antics, dramatic and ominous music for when things get tense with the arrival of a certain four characters, heartfelt music for some touching scenes, and more.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I absolutely adore this score (if I were ranking these, I’m pretty sure this one would be atop the list). I hope this marks the beginning of David Arnold’s return to more regular scoring because that would make me ineffably happy.


Back to finish the trilogy of films is John Powell delivering yet again a masterful score. His 2010 HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON score remains my favorite of his (and it absolutely should have won Best Original Score that year), and his sequel score is high on my list of favorite Powell scores. Add this one to the list too.

What I wrote about his SOLO score last year and his PAN score previously is 100% accurate here too: Strong thematic material, rich orchestrations, and sheer fun. These are all things I hope for in a John Powell score. And he yet again didn’t disappoint. He really has a knack for writing this kind of big, bold adventure music. More please!

KNIVES OUT — Nathan Johnson

I’m not familiar with Nathan Johnson’s other work, so I didn’t have any preconceived idea of what the score might sound like. But(!) I had an idea of what I *wanted* the score to sound like. And this was exactly it.

Normally, I like scores with big, memorable themes, and while this score doesn’t really have one, it makes up for it with the mysterious, murdery aura it exudes (sort of like John Ottman’s THE USUAL SUSPECTS score which I also love). I love the movie and the score and wish they were both nominated for more things.

THE LION KING — Hans Zimmer

I don’t think there will ever be a better Hans Zimmer score than his 1994 THE LION KING score. That score had focus, originality, and themes & orchestrations that could be both strong and delicate. He just doesn’t write music like that anymore.

When I heard he was returning to score the remake, I was part excited and part nervous. Excited because it’s my favorite Zimmer score, and I was eager to hear him expand on it. But nervous because he’s a very different composer than he was 25 years ago.

The end result, though, is everything I was hoping it would be. It’s much of the same score but with a fuller, richer sound. All the original themes are back, and most of the same music for particular scenes is the same—but everything sounds just a little better. I can never be sure if the instruments heard in Zimmer scores are real instruments or samples, and this score is no different. If these are actual musicians performing, the recording allows for that fuller, richer sound. If they’re samples, well, they’re damn good samples.

While Zimmer may never write a better score than his original LION KING score, he still has it in him to write one as good.

LITTLE WOMEN — Alexandre Desplat

Desplat is exactly the composer you go to for music like this. That’s 100% a compliment because he’s so good at it and can produce such beautiful results.

Like KNIVES OUT, there really isn’t a strong, central theme, but the overall mood of the score more than makes up for it. Here, there’s a jaunty levity throughout most of the score as the memories of happy times are relived.

The score is so expertly crafted with so much care and heart that once I listened to it, I kept coming back to it.

THE MANDALORIAN — Ludwig Göransson

Ludwig Göransson continues to be a composer to watch after punching onto the scene with his score for CREED and winning an Oscar for his marvelous BLACK PANTHER score. Now he flies into the Star Wars universe with this score.

Some of the music is a little too sound-design-y (and thus a little too un-Star-Wars-y) for me, but the theme is strong and memorable, and the high points of the score are so good. Disney released an album for each of the show’s episodes, so it was easy to compile a playlist of all my favorite tracks from each episode making quite a nice collection of music.

I know this music is contentious among some fans of John Williams’s Star Wars music for not having enough of that established sound. But I think it’s great and fun music. That’s good enough for me. I have spoken.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME — Michael Giacchino

This score is a good example of a composer returning for a sequel and revisiting & improving upon the original. Some sequel scores are sort-of rehashes of the original. Not this one. Yes the themes and style are the same, but there’s a certain drive in some of the tracks and a certain almost maturity in the music compared to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. That score was great, but there’s a little something extra here. Plus the new themes are so enjoyable. The track “Far From Home Suite Home” above is easily one of the best Michael Giacchino tracks there is (I’ll say again how much I love his pun-filled track titles).

I’m glad Spider-Man gets to swing in for one more adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because that means Michael Giacchino gets to as well.


What began in 1977 concludes eight films later in 2019. Along for that entire 42-year ride was the legendary John Williams providing the musical soul that propelled the story and the characters—music that really became an integral character itself. I can’t imagine what Star Wars would be without him. And I’m glad I don’t have to. His music will live on as some of the best film music in all of film music.

What’s striking about this score in particular is that here he is at 87 still composing circles around some of his peers. The action is crisp and driving, the tender moments heartfelt, and the heroic moments soaring (there’s a delicious moment not on the official album where Williams morphs Kylo Ren’s menacing theme into a forceful, hopeful rendition). Of course this isn’t THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but it’s still superb music.

And with the end of the Skywalker saga also comes and end to the Williams saga. He’s said this will be the last time he scores a Star Wars film. This is a long shot, but I’d love for the Academy to award him Best Original Score as a sort-of career achievement award that they sometimes do. With him having scored all nine Star Wars films since 1977 and this being his last, it would be a lovely—and deserving—send-off.

Some More

There are two other pieces of music I wanted to call special attention to. These aren’t scores per se, but they’re still music written for a special thing.


THE RISE OF SKYWALKER wasn’t the only new Star Wars music from John Williams last year. He also provided a suite of music for Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I like how the music is rooted in the Star Wars sound but feels slightly on the outskirts of it. Fitting!

VOYAGE — Michael Giacchino

This piece of music was written for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. There’s some early exploration of the theme, some dissonance, and some calm before the theme blasts off and then comes in for a landing. Fitting!

Something in particular I love about Michael Giacchino is that it often feels like not only is he writing music for something he respects or appreciates, he’s writing music for something he’s a big fan of; the joy he seems to have for the thing comes across in his music. See TOMORROWLAND (my favorite Giacchino score) as a prime example. This piece fits that billing too. He’s a self-professed nerd: his Twitter bio currently includes “nerd composer who sometimes composes for nerds”. The theme blasting off at 6:04 with that propulsive drive underneath is what I mean. He’s having fun writing music for something he loves.

It’s often easy to tell when a composer is just collecting a paycheck on a score when they don’t seem to put any effort or joy into it. But it’s also easy to tell the opposite, and Michael Giacchino is a great example of that. He’s nerding out on the things he loves.

Even More

The scores above weren’t, of course, the only 2019 scores I listened to throughout the year. While the following scores weren’t among my favorites, they still had some standout tracks I enjoyed listening to repeatedly.

ALADDIN — Alan Menken


DUMBO — Danny Elfman

GODZILLA — Bear McCreary


JOJO RABBIT — Michael Giacchino


OUR PLANET — Steven Price

PARASITE — Jung Jaeil

RIM OF THE WORLD — Bear McCreary

1917 — Thomas Newman


Thank you to all of these composers and many more for entertaining me throughout the year. I hope this has inspired you to check out some of these scores and that you find some joy in them like I did. Here’s to more orchestral delight in 2020!

Update 14 Feb: I added “The Belt of Faith” from Jung Jaeil’s PARASITE score to the “Even More” section.