Boy, do I love a movie (or television) score that can make me cry. Most music can elicit emotion when played over a sad or inspirational scene but it takes a truly great score piece to have the same effect when listened to out of context. So, here’s my list of the top 10 score pieces that are as moving on their own as they are on screen. I should caution that I’m not a musician and may have misused some terms. If I have, please correct me in the comments section. Sorry.
No movie score list can be complete without mention of How To Train Your Dragon. This is a beautiful and very dynamic piece but I ultimately ranked this so low because the emotion it evokes is dependent on the context of the scene. It’s lovely in its own right but I’m not sure I’d consider it truly moving if I didn’t associate this piece with when Stoick finds Hiccup’s body (0:40) and when Hiccup discovers he’s lost a leg (2:04).
Dragonheart was the first film to ever make me cry. Over 10 years later and this piece still gets to me, though I can honestly say that it has little to do with the film. I love the way this piece builds with the the Dragonheart theme first coming in at 0:40 and finally exploding at 1:55. “To The Stars” is one of those rare pieces that can double as either sad or inspirational, depending on your mood.
The choral version of this song is my personal favorite but seeing as this list is for score pieces only, I defaulted with the piano rendition which plays during the opening credits. It’s a simple, wistful melody that just pierces the heart.
Alright, the context certainly adds to this piece. 1:03 isn’t nearly as powerful if you don’t know that that’s the moment when Mary starts running to Jesus. That stated, 1:46 is the reason I included “Mary Goes to Jesus” on this list. No context is necessary. If 1:46 – 2:05 doesn’t at least give you chills, you need to consult a professional.
I’m fudging on my “scores only” rule with the inclusion of “Now We Are Free,” but “Honor Him” ends too abruptly (at 1:20) to be a satisfying piece in its own right because it was written to transition directly into “Now We Are Free.” Together, these two pieces create 5 minutes 35 seconds of near-transcendent music. When Lisa Gerrard begins to sing the “Honor Him” motif at 2:21 … wow. Just wow.
Regardless of your feelings for the Lost finale, this is a beautiful piece of music. It’s almost 8 minutes long but not a second of it is wasted. This is the ultimate “Oceanic Six Theme” piece, which was always my favorite of the Lost musical motifs. It’s renditioned with piano (2:01), harp (2:40) and finally full orchestra at 3:20. Then, for good measure, we get a reprise of “Life and Death” at 6:31. I’ll admit this motif isn’t quite as moving if you didn’t listen to it play over the deaths of your favorite characters for 6 seasons but it is lovely, nonetheless.
Due to the absence of a proper soundtrack, I’m not sure what to call this piece other than “finale” since it plays over the final minutes of the miniseries and the end credits. The piano motif that plays throughout Birdsong is pretty (and I certainly want to kiss whoever thought to have it play over the Battle of the Somme) but I love how it builds here in the finale into an orchestral piece.
I’ve neither seen nor read Cloud Atlas so I don’t even know the context of this piece. As with “Birdsong finale”, “Cloud Atlas Finale” takes a motif played throughout the soundtrack, usually on a piano, and incorporates it into the orchestral piece at 1:10. The steady beat and the vocals combined creates a sort of march (ironically more so than “Prelude: The Atlas March”) that builds in complexity and harmony. 3:21-3:34 might have secured it 1st place if it weren’t for that minor final note.
Yes, yes, the iconic stampede and death scene that “To Die For” plays over scarred us all as children but listening to this piece by itself will give you chills even if you’ve never heard of The Lion King. The use of human vocals is extraordinary, here. The choir effectively heightens the intensity of the first half or so of the piece (especially 1:11 – 1:55) and helps milk the heartbreak out of the second half. “Epic” is an overused word but “To Die For” truly fits this adjective. This too might have been #1 if it had ended at 3:46 and not gone on to include the bit that accompanies Scar’s entrance. I’d rather the piece leave me sad than creeped out.
I’ll admit that this piece holds a great deal of nostalgia for me but “The Discovery of the Great Valley” is an absolutely magnificent piece in its own right. As with “To Die For”, you don’t have to be familiar with the movie that this piece belongs to, to feel moved. The crescendo beginning at 0:35 and the explosion of the “If We Hold Together” motif at 0:53 that climaxes at 1:26 speaks for itself.