10 Exceptionally Undervalued Film Composers Throughout History


Unlike actors and directors, musical composers aren’t often credited enough with their input in a film, majorly going unnoticed for doing their job right. The only time we actually pay attention to them is when the score is off or extremely overbearing, in the odd exceptional cases. On the contrary, if the score directly contributes to the mood of the film; only a few fans acknowledge the role of the score in the entire equation.

Having said that, there are a few household names like Hans Zimmer and Ennio Morricone that have taken the world by storm with their talent and received worldwide acclaim for it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the lot, as we may be familiar with their work, but not the minds behind it. Here are 10 of the most underrated movie composers of all time.

10 Jean-Baptiste de Laubier (Para One)

The Leads of Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Lilies Films

Professionally known as Para One, Jean-Baptiste de Laubier is a French musician that’s known for his frequent collaboration with Céline Sciamma. Having worked with the director on films such as Tomboy, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Petite Maman, Laubier’s is also a filmmaker himself, with his music style deeply rooted in golden-age hip-hop. Being a filmmaker himself, Laubier brings a deep sense of narrative structure to his score, molding it to the frameworks of the film.

9 Philip Glass

A sped up image of cars driving in the street making trails of light in Koyaanisqatsi
Island Alive / New Cinema

In terms of talent and craft, Philip Glass is right up in the league with Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Considered by industry professionals as one of the most influential composers, Glass’s work is criminally underrated, as the musical genius continuously reinvents his style based on the film’s narrative. You may have heard his tunes in films like Koyaanisqatsi, The Truman Show, and Candyman, but the mention of his name might not have rung a bell, until now.

8 Rolfe Kent

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Unlike Philip Glass, who isn’t very genre-bound, Rolfe Kent does slice-of-life and humor, and he does it very well. Kent has a gift for scoring comedies, but does it with panache and emotional depth. His score for the Oscar-winning film Sideways perfectly illustrates this point, as it has a dash of jazz lush with the melody of the saxophone, beautifully capturing the booze-fueled world of Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church’s wine-filled odyssey.

7 Satyajit Ray

Balaka Movies

Apart from being a writer, director, author, essayist, lyricist, illustrator, and calligrapher, Satyajit Ray was also a music composer of some pedigree. Known to have scored some of his films, Ray’s ear for music overlapped with his sense of narrative, giving the director complete control of the world of the film.

Ray worked with some humongous names like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustaad Vilayat Khan at the beginning of his career, before composing for his own films, as the classical heavyweights weren’t very receptive to feedback.

6 Christopher Young

Doug Bradley as Pinhead, the lead Cenobite
Entertainment Film Distributors

If Rolfe Kent has a penchant for feel-good films, Christopher Young is his counterpart in horror and bleakness. Young’s musical world is incredibly lush with powerful choirs and hair-raising compositions, which are then layered with multiple instruments, further culminating into an aural frequency that’s synonymous with demonic possession.

Having helmed the music for films such as Hellraiser, Drag Me to Hell and Ghost Rider, it’s safe to say that horror movies are not entirely complete until they have Young’s Midas touch.

5 Alexandre Desplat

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Despite the beauty of his visuals, can you imagine watching a Wes Anderson movie on mute? That’s exactly what you’d get if you took away Alexandre Desplat’s music from Anderson’s film. Apart from being Anderson’s constant collaborator, Desplat’s also worked on films such as The Shape of Water and The Imitation Game, but one of his most underrated scores was for The Luzon Defense.

Marleen Gorris’ film established Desplat as a fresh and exciting voice that diluted the classical constructs of music, applying to the comedy, fantasy and thriller genres alike.

4 Michael Nyman

Holly Hunter stand by a piano on the beach in The Piano
Miramax Films

Michael Nyman was particularly active during the ’80s and ’90s, lending his score to films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Gattaca, with his best work being in Jane Campion’s 1993 film, The Piano. Nyman’s music isn’t confined to any particular genre, as he’s one of the few gifted musicians that are able to bend his style to the narrative’s need. For instance, Campion’s film revolved around the piano, and Nyman used it prominently in his score, but that was far from the only instrument used. The maestro layered the piano with other orchestral elements, creating a lush sonic portrait that went well with the film’s context.

3 Yann Tiersen

Audrey Tatou in Amelie
Claudie Ossard Productions

Yann Tiersen presents the perfect example as someone you may have heard, but don’t know his name. The multi-instrumentalist composer behind the French marvel, Amélie, recreated a soulful French experience, despite hating Paris with a burning intensity.

Tiersen’s very reclusive and selective in his approach to films because he feels that composing music isn’t too serious a task, for him; it’s rather organic and instinctive, creating the possibility of friction between himself and the director.

2 Trent Reznor

Regency Enterprises

For rock loyalists, he’s the frontman of the band Nine Inch Nails, for cinephiles, he’s a great composer and one of Fincher’s closest collaborators, scoring films like Gone Girl, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Despite being a high-ranking composer, Trent Reznor’s criminally underrated for his musical prowess, as people sometimes forget to see past his doom and gloom image with his day job in NIN.

1 Thom Yorke

Dakota Johnson in Suspiria (2018)
Amazon Studios

Thom Yorke is another rock demigod that’s taken up film scoring on the side. Being the frontman for one of the most successful modern-day bands in Radiohead, Yorke’s divergence into the world of cinema brings with him a stream of creative influx and talent, as a musician and artist. Having scored films like Suspiria, while having a soundtrack in Children of Men, Thom Yorke is frugal in the films he scores, but the ones he takes are bound to have the Midas touch

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