HOT CORN Radio | The 5 Most Memorable Scores from Danny Elfman

From Midnight Run to Spider-Man: here are Elfman’ best movie soundtrack

Danny Elfman
Danny Elfman and a friend.

MIDNIGHT RUN – A (then) rare foray into comedy for Robert De Niro, this beloved 1988 buddy movie was also something of a departure for Danny Elfman, the bluesy, good-time score illustrating his versatility in jumping between musical genres. The Main Titles track below perfectly embodies and compliments the lively, cheerful vibe that runs throughout much of the film itself. There’s nothing here that even remotely hints at the brooding, gothic soundscape synonymous with many of Elfman’s later works.

BATMAN – Elfman’s long and fruitful creative relationship with director Tim Burton, which began back with 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, has yielded a number of highly memorable scores, including the delightfully demented Beetlejuice soundtrack and the delicate, ethereal work found in Edward Scissorhands. However, it was Burton’s interpretation of this legendary DC character which arguably remains Elfman’s most iconic work, even prompting the composer (presumably to the consternation of some fans) to thread it into the music cues for his work on last year’s below par superhero team-up, Justice League.

DEAD PRESIDENTS – The second film by Menace II Society director siblings, The Hughes Brothers, Dead Presidents may have slipped from the cultural radar, but it’s certainly an interesting if flawed film, with flashes of sheer brilliance. The same could be applied to Danny Elfman’s score. His work here sounds pretty experimental, and while some of the techniques used are a little jarring, the subtle rhythmic sounds, juxaposed with those traditional orchestral compositions, make for an intriguing aural experience. An example of those results (below) again illustrates a musician who refuses to rest on his laurels, and is instead willing to explore and push the boundaries of what a score can do.

GOOD WILL HUNTING – Picking up two Academy Award nominations in the same year (the other being for Barry Sonnenfeld’s surprise blockbuster Men in Black) Elfman’s music for Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed 1997 coming-of-age drama see’s the composer at his creative peak. It’s a haunting and occasionally poignant score which never feels mawkish nor manipulative. Will’s Reflection is the perfect example of this, with Elfman really getting into the psyche of Matt Damon’s troubled blue-collar savant. Elfman and Van Sant have worked together on six films so far, with the director even calling on the composer and Elfman’s close colleague Steve Bartek to adapt Bernard Herrmann’s original Psycho score for the 1998 scene-for-scene remake.

SPIDER-MAN – Elfman stepped back into the comic book fold some 13 years after his dalliances with the Dark Knight to create the music for rival superhero property Spider-Man in the webslinger’s 2002 big-screen debut. Working with another regular collaborator Sam Raimi, Elfman’s results here are a thrilling, pulpy treat every bit as memorable as his previous genre outing, albeit free from much of that darkness in which was shrouded in Burton’s 1989 feature. Elfman has so far gone on to compose the music for three other Marvel properties, including Raimi’s 2004 sequel, Ang Lee’s Hulk and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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