Name the best scores written for the worst films

We try to avoid lists, but this one of the best music written for the lousiest movies is a bit of an earworm.

We haven’t seen most of the crap movies listed here and cannot therefore comment on the selection.

But on a personal level – Tim Page, help me out here – here are three stinkers with brilliant music.

1 Ludicrous love story redeemed by Marvin Hamlisch’s score

the way we were

2 Unwatchable troilism, rescued by Georges Delerue

3 The ultimate opposite to a Brexit film, with a score by George Auric of Les Six.


UPDATE: Tim Page adds:

“Interlude” (Delerue)
“Heaven’s Gate” (Mansfield)
“Help!” (Beatles — not a terrible film but much better music).

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  • Escape Me Never, the later Hollywood take with Errol Flynn ludicrously cast as a composer struggling to finish a ballet score, all done to overwhelming music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. (Trivia: In contrast to Korngold’s usual habit of interpolating music originally composed for film into his concert works, one delicious bit of this score was actually taken from the composer’s earlier Op.17 Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.)

  • Timothy Carey’s “The World’s Greatest Sinner”, a truly bizarre cinematic opus that I saw as a “midnight movie” in Philly several decades ago, has an amazing score by the very young, Varèse-influenced Frank Zappa.

  • Lalo Schifrin composed his Piano Concerto #2 in 1991, which ended up in a 1996 movie soundtrack titled ‘Something to Believe In’. Lord Lew Grade produced this, perhaps his last film. It never reached the US or most of Europe, and only saw release in theatres in the UK and Asia for a brief time. The concerto was originally commissioned by The Steinway Foundation for a 1992 premiere at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony, Maestro Rostropovich conducting. Lalo Schifrin had found a way to bring the concerto into the film for a budding pianist entering a competition. Cristina Ortiz performed the world premiere in the 1992 performance, and yours truly recorded it for the 1996 film with Lalo conducting the Bayerischer Rundfunk. The concerto titled, ‘The Americas’, is a brilliantly crafted concerto, and one which should be recognized outside of the film soundtrack since it was originally composed as a stand alone concerto. I believe the only other pianist who has performed it is Argentinian pianist, Mirian Conti. The rest of the soundtrack has some nice music, and the title song was co-composed by Lalo Schifrin and Tim Rice, with Placido Domingo singing the song. Something to check out…

  • Humphrey Searle wrote a great score for the 1957 Val Guest “The abominable snowman.”.


  • Elliot Goldenthal has written a couple of extraordinary scores for terrible movies: Batman Forever and Final Fantasy. Both are amongst the finest and most exciting orchestral film scores of the last 25 years IMHO.
    And I completely agree with Jack Burt above. Pretty much the only thing of true quality in Star Wars Ep 1-3 is John Williams’s music.

  • Pick any average (i.e. non-Leone) spaghetti-western and there is a good bet that they will have a great soundtrack for an awful film.

  • “The Sword and the Sorcerer” by David Whitaker of VAMPIRE CIRCUS fame (infamy?) — Korngold on a budget. But then there are so many mediocre-to-bad movies of this era (1982) that had fabulous scores, “Conan the Barbarian” by Basil Poledouris being the most obvious example.

    “The Sword and the Sorcerer”

    “Conan the Barbarian”–VJwt_6Wl-C0QBw497J2hs6pd7Vf9MMdr0KI-almd3mUk2e2R5_fCCM9g

    Would that anyone would write anything like this today!

    • I’ve long thought that in the James Bond series, the biggest differential between quality and film was Moonraker – ravishing John Barry theme song yoked to a cheesy car crash of a movie. Smallest differential: Madonna’s unlistenably tinny theme for the film in which Pierce Brosnan finally went full Roger Moore – Die Another Day.

      I should add that I LOVE both those films.

        • John Barry’s score for Moonraker is one of his best. The movie is a personal favorite of mine since it was the first Bond movie I saw in the theater as a little boy, but it’s true that the music is the best thing about it — along with some of the quips and one-liners (“Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”).

  • I once had to write programme notes for a concert performance of David Arnold’s (actually very good) score for “Lesbian Vampire Killers”. When you’re used to writing about Schubert, it’s actually quite bracing to discuss cues such as ‘Whores of Fucking Hades, Prepare to Die!’ or to write about “the delicate piano and celeste filigree that opens ‘Run You Bellends!'”

  • With fullest respect to you and Tim Page, your taste in movies seems a little harsh. While I daresay none is the greatest film ever made, I do not think any of the three you selected is a “stinker.” I have seen all of them, albeit back in the mists of time, and recall each with a certain affection. Not classics but all with come interest, and Passport to Pimlico, in particular, is just a slight Ealing comedy with a lot of charm. You have to have a taste for that sort of thing, I suppose.

    I do remember the music of J et J — a film highly regarded in its day, and which I saw many years later when I was a teen — to be very exuberant, and of TWWW to have a nice song called Memory but nothing that otherwise made me think it was “brilliant” — though I believe it won an Oscar. (But so did ALW for a new song for Evita). Of P to P I recall nothing much of the music.

    These movies are infinitely better than any on the linked list, and none of which I have seen, so I can’t comment on the crude characterisation of them — though it looked as if it might be accurate…

  • S.Prokofiev “Kotovsky , Partisans in Ukrainen steppes, Tonya”, D.Scostakovich : ” Youth of Maxim, Volochaev days,The Man with the Gun, Zoya, Young guard, Encounter at the Elbe, The Vyborg district, Moskva-Cheryomushky,” and etc.

  • ‘More’, excellent music by Pink Floyd, forgettable movie.
    ‘Zabriskie Point’, remarkably low depth in Antonioni’s otherwise splendid film oeuvre, but the score has music by Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

  • In addition to the classics he worked on, Bernard Herrmann did the scores for more than a few mediocre films.

    • Nelson Riddle should be played in concerts. He orchestrated George Gershwin’s “Three Preludes” for piano-a splendid orchestration. I seem to recall that the University of Arizona music department inherited all his works. Why doesn’t some conductor dig them up and play them?

  • Tan Dun’s music for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” My wife and I saw that film and thought that it was laughably incoherent. (I usually refer to it as “Crouching Gerbil, Hidden Hamster.”)

  • Jerry Goldsmith wrote a tremendous score to “The Final Conflict” in 1981. The movie is an unwatchable mess, but the soundtrack is the best of the three Omen scores (and that is saying quite a lot, considering he won an Oscar for the first and did such a spectacular job for the second). For any other movie, it would have been Oscar nominated.

  • One correction: no troilism takes place in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, although you could argue that there’s a ménage-à-trois afoot (though technically Jules, Jim, and Catherine never live under the same roof). I also didn’t consider the movie unwatchable; in fact I thought it a lyrical masterpiece (and have seen it at least half a dozen times). One thing is certain, though: the semiautobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché upon which the film is based is badly written, godawful pulp, one of the worst excuses for a novel imaginable. The film constitutes one of the comparatively rare cases in which the movie is vastly superior to the book! Truffaut went on to set an additional novel by Roché, Les deux anglaises et le continent, with music again supplied by Delerue.

    • One additional correction: the song “Le tourbillon” sung by Jeanne Moreau in the Truffaut film, and featured in the clip above, is the one piece of music in the film that wasn’t composed by Delerue! It was composed by the actor who is accompanying her on the guitar, Serge Rezvani (pseudonym of Cyrus Bassiak).

  • With a few exceptions (film-wise), almost all of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores. He has scored so many turkeys, it’s amazing he was able to write glorious scores for them.

    The Sum of All Fears
    any number of Star Trek films (his “best for a worst” would be Star Trek 5, but he also supplied a gorgeous score for First Contact, which isn’t all that bad a Star Trek movie)
    The Haunting

    and the list could go on for quite a while, he scored some 250+ films

  • What, nobody mentioned Pino Donaggio and Dressed To Kill? True Brian de Palma – sleaze with Michael Caine and Nancy “Robocop” Allen!

  • Bacharach’s “The Look of Love”, written for the original (and catastrophic) version of “Casino Royale”.

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