RAIN MAN – Director Barry Levinson took a huge leap when hiring the then relatively unknown German composer for his subsequent multi award-winning 1988 film. Even those this was Zimmer’s earliest Hollywood offerings, he pushed to create an experimental soundscape, with the use of synthesizers, steel drums and the panpipe (surely one of the least appetising instruments for any composer?) Given those disparate musical elements, the Rain Man Theme is far from jarring. It works incredible well within what is essentially a road movie, offering up an almost exotic feel and is particularly in sync with the extraordinary character at the film’s centre. Levinson’s punt paid off as Zimmer received his first Academy Award nomination.
BACKDRAFT – Fresh from teaming up with Tony Scott for Days of Thunder, Zimmer dove back into the world of big-budget Hollywood spectacle with Ron Howard’s underrated 1991 firefighting drama. It’s a blistering effort from the composer, fully reflecting the fiery, combustible action on screen, both between the characters and the life-threatening scenarios they find themselves in. The track below, Fighting 17th, finds Zimmer really pushing the heroic angle of the story. Some of the operatic cues here would later be redeployed on a much large canvas for the first three in the Pirates of the Caribbean series Zimmer composed.
THE LION KING – There’s a number of children’s films threaded amongst Zimmer’s wildly prolific output, but the first and arguably the most famous of those works remains an utter delight for those who came of age with the film, and the subsequent new generation of Disney fans. Zimmer was brought on for this gig because of his work in two previous films which used African as their backdrop (The Power of One and A World Apart). He brings a real warmth, majesty and a vivid sense of place to the songs written by Tim Rice and Elton John. Zimmer was rewarded for his efforts here by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1995.
THE DARK KNIGHT – It’s incredibly tough to single out the best score from Zimmer’s celebrated work with Christopher Nolan. Somewhere close to the top would certainly sit his work in The Dark Knight, which was a superlative joint effort between Zimmer and fellow composer James Newton Howard. The two spark wonderfully off each other, their different styles coming together in exciting ways. Aggressive Expansion plays out, motif-like, in numerous parts of the film and is one of the truly indelible components of that film, especially during its final cue at the very end when a wronged Batman goes into exile, escaping on his Batpod.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Stepping into the iconic footsteps of Vangelis to create the music for the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 seminal, dystopian sci-fi didn’t appear to faze Zimmer (working once more alongside his Dunkirk collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch). Even coming on board at the 11th hour, due to the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson’s departure from the project, Zimmer crafted a score every bit of memorable as his predecessor, even revisiting Vangelis’ Tears in Rain to equally striking effect. The track Mesa brilliantly encompasses the composer’s sweeping style with a vibrant futuristic through line.