4:00 pm EST, December 13, 2018

The 10 best movie scores of 2018, ranked

Listen to the best tracks from the year's best film scores now!

By Aaron Locke | Edited by Donya Abramo

As the year comes to a close, we take a look back at the 10 best movie scores from 2018.

The best movie scores have the power to transport the audience to a world entirely different from their own. Sometimes movie scores are the best thing about a movie, other times they are just the frosting on the cake. They possess the ability to add tension to a scene, alter the mood and atmosphere of a film, and offer greater insight into the journey on the screen.

When it comes to the best movie scores of 2018, there’s no shortage of great work to choose from. Familiar names like Alexandre Desplat and Carter Burwell continued their prolific careers this year. Recent favorites like Justin Hurwitz and Nicholas Britell returned with stellar compositions. Meanwhile, unexpected musicians like Thom Yorke made their way into the ring.

After countless hours of watching and listening, check out our list of the 10 best movie scores of 2018 below!

10. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

Classic orchestras aren’t exactly trending at the moment, but it’s impossible to deny that the score for the highly anticipated Mary Poppins Returns delivers. Not since the Harry Potter films were still making their way through theaters has a score like this so fully committed itself to a classic style that swells with a majestic sound. It’s clear that Disney wanted to deliver a sound for the film that would remind audiences of the legacy behind this story and they’ve captured that feeling with grace and beauty.

9. ‘Halloween’

The original score for John Carpenter’s 1978 movie Halloween remains iconic forty years later, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved. This year’s Halloween sequel directed by David Gordon Green features a phenomenal score from Carpenter himself. He revisits the old themes fans are familiar with, but this time he ups the ante with greater intensity and ferocity that helps make up for the movie’s weaknesses.

8. ‘Mid90s’

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are no stranger to composing film scores. Their work with David Fincher including The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have been recognized as some of the best of the decade. This year, their work for Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s is some of the best I heard this year. Despite the fact that the original score is a mere four songs, they all ache with a potent blend of optimism and nostalgia that will leave you in awe.

7. ‘Mandy’

Earlier this year, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson passed away at only 48. He left behind an impressive career, having scored films including Arrival and Sicario. After his death, Mandy was released – a psychedelic and grotesque horror film that is definitely not for everyone. Jóhannsson’s score, however, is just awesome. Hearkening back to 80s electronic style without feeling nostalgic, his score makes the movie what it is. What’s so interesting about his score for Mandy is how different it is from his other work. It marks an exciting step forward in his career, one that was unfortunately cut short.

6. ‘Isle of Dogs’

Wes Anderson movies never fail to deliver vibrant and infectious original scores that suit the director’s quick swift narrative pacing and playful visual style. Isle of Dogs is no exception. Composed by Alexandre Desplat, marking the composer’s fourth collaboration with Anderson, the Isle of Dogs score is a delight, full of strong percussive beats, beautiful horns, and even some chamber singing.

5. ‘Annihilation’

Annihilation, Alex Garland’s follow-up to his film Ex Machina, was one of the most exciting and divisive films of the year. The science fiction horror movie led by Natalie Portman featured one of the most impressive final acts in a movie this year, helped by a truly awe-inspiring score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The score predominately features heavy synth tunes, but weaves in dissonant strings and guitars to help create a deeply unsettling sound for the movie.

4. ‘First Man’

Two years ago, Justin Hurwitz’s original score and songs for La La Land earned him not one, but two Oscars. This year, Hurwitz re-teamed with director Damien Chazelle for his film First Man. While the film itself was rather poorly received by audiences, Hurwitz’s score still soars with magical and majestic glory that matches the film’s spectacular journey into space. You need only to listen to “The Landing” to understand what makes this score so special.

3. ‘You Were Never Really Here’

Just last year, composer Jonny Greenwood’s original score for Phantom Thread was, without a doubt, the best score of the year (and arguably the decade). Greenwood showed off his skills again in Lynne Ramsay’s film You Were Never Really Here. What makes Greenwood’s work one of the best movie scores of 2018 is the blend of new and old sounds that create something distinctly modern yet timeless. This suits Ramsay’s film perfectly, as she too creates worlds that refuse to be tied to a specific point in time. Greenwood’s score delivers deafening crescendos and moody atmospheric sounds that help punctuate the violence in Ramsay’s film.

2. ‘Suspiria’

Who could have predicted that another member of Radiohead would deliver one of the best movie scores of 2018? Composing a score for the Suspiria remake is no small undertaking, but Thom Yorke proved himself up to the task. Rather than try to recreate or mimic what made the original score by Goblin so good, Yorke chose an entirely different direction. His score combines subtle synth work, sinister strings, and even weaves in Yorke’s own falsetto singing. The score bleeds with ethereal beauty, a distinct contrast to the original Goblin score. Yorke succeeded in creating a distinctly original score that deserves recognition.

1. ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

One only need listen to 30 seconds of Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk to realize it’s not just one of the best movie scores of 2018, but it is the best. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name emanates love, romance, family, and courage. It’s a breathtaking and lyrical film and Britell’s score beautifully compliments the movie’s visual style. The score uses a gorgeous string section combined with magical and bright horns and flutes to create a sound that instantly transports you, not to a place, but into a feeling of profound love and uplifting joy. If there’s any justice, Britell will take home the Oscar for his work. It’s undoubtedly the best film score of 2018.

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