The ten best film scores of 2023

Film scores of 2023
(Image credit: Google)

A good year for films means a good year for film scores – and 2023 was a good year for films. The world of film scores is as dynamic as it’s ever been, made up of musicians from the worlds of pop, rock, indie and hip-hop alongside more traditional composers. It has made for a selection of excellent and genre-jumping film music across the last 12 months. Here’s our ten best film scores of 2023:

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Oppenheimer – Ludwig Göransson

Göransson only got the chance to work with Christopher Nolan because the Dark Knight trilogy’s director’s go-to man, Hans Zimmer, couldn’t do 2020's Tenet - he’d committed to scoring Dune. It was Zimmer who recommended Göransson, a Swedish producer who’d worked on the Creed and Black Panther franchises as well as collaborating with Childish Gambino and Vampire Weekend, for the job, something he might now be regretting given Nolan retained Göransson for Oppenheimer. What a job the Swede did though. In a film that was pretty much Cillian Murphy looking mega stressed for three hours, it was down to the music to bring the pace and electrify the drama and this mesmerising score did that and then some. Its central motif was a warm piano pattern that summed up everything great about the film, the hope and the fears, the love, the loss, the devastation. Listen to central track Manhattan Project – it’s all there.

Killers Of The Flower Moon – Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson never got to see his 12th collaboration with Martin Scorsese through to its release – the former singer and guitarist of The Band and Bob Dylan collaborator died three months before the film based on the Osage murders in 1920s America made its debut in cinemas. Robertson had already completed work on this masterful soundtrack by then, a project close to his heart given his Cayuga and Mohawk heritage. He mixes music that nods to Osage culture with bursts of guitar and panoramic Americana on this stirring send-off.   

Past Lives – Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen

Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen of experimental indie-rockers Grizzly Bear were tasked with soundtracking Celine Song’s doleful romance and the duo came up with something to match the film’s strange mix of sadness and gentle euphoria. Minimalist without being stark, there’s barely any percussion, but its meld of piano, dusty guitar lines and swooping strings making for an atmospheric listen.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse – Daniel Pemberton

You don’t begrudge Daniel Pemberton’s job on the second instalment of Sony’s Spider-Verse films, a man charged with coming up with a music-verse of a score to match the kaleidoscopic multitude of personalities on the screen. No problem for the British composer, though, his score veering from new wave explosions, hip-hop breakbeats, barbed techno, ambient soundscapes, electro bombast, Indian disco, punk and more. A dazzling and excellent set.

Barbie – Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt

Whilst a lot of the musical focus was understandably on Barbie The Album, which featured songs by Lizzo, Tame Impala, Dua Lipa, Haim, Billie Eilish and, umm, Ken, Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt’s score was just as important a piece of the Barbie puzzle, taking in orchestral epics, 80s pop grooves and swirling indie-pop.

A Haunting In Venice – Hildur Guðnadóttir

Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir brings the creepy vibes on the score to Kenneth Branagh’s latest Poirot bash. The musician and cellist had already shown she could do intensely unsettling on the soundtrack for Joker but here she ramps everything up, the result something more akin to a horror soundtrack. Like the best horror, it’s hypnotic – you can’t take your eyes (ears) off it.

The Creator – Hans Zimmer

Director Gareth Edwards was so keen for Hans Zimmer to score his sci-fi action epic that he initially tasked an AI company to come up with Zimmer-esque cues. In the end, he got the man himself. Something about the project must have revitalised the iconic composer because this was his best blockbuster work in years. There’s a subtlety and restraint here rather than the trademark Zimmer boom. That approach is best summed up in the homely A Place In The Sky, a moving world music-meets-classical piece that sets the tone.

Rye Lane – kwes.

South London experimental pop artist and producer kwes. was the perfect person to soundtrack this South London-based rom-com, which is just as romantic about its setting as it is about the couple at the centre of the story. That kwes. doesn’t dial down his eclecticism is what makes this score so special, bouncing from samplist hip-hop to grime beats to warped electronic-pop.

The Killer – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

The Nine Inch Nails duo head into the murky depths with David Fincher once more, but instead of the usual industrial griminess of their Fincher scores, here their sound has clean edges, the sound clear and sharp to reflect the state of mind of the protagonist – Michael Fassbender’s titular Killer. Underneath it all, fuzzy beats slowly come to the fore, everything becoming more distorted as the journey winds on.

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny – John Williams

John Williams may have backtracked on his statement that his work on the final Indiana Jones film would be his last but there was still a poignancy to hearing both classic melodies and uplifting new cues on this score. The maestro is 91 now but has lost none of his touch. The film may have been a bit wonky but the score was anything bit.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.