R.I.P. James Horner: A top tier contributor to cinematic music

"Titanic in 3D" World Premiere - Arrivals

It was with great sadness that we learned yesterday of the death of composer James Horner at just 61 years old. Horner died in a plane crash, piloting a small aircraft that went down a day ago in California. The composer is a multiple Oscar winner, taking home Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Titanic, marking just one of his many collaborations with filmmaker James Cameron. All told, Horner was nominated by the Academy ten times, with various other nominations and wins to his credit. He was a well respected musician and giant in the industry, so he will certainly be missed in a big way.

Horner was cited by the Academy for his work on not just Titanic, but also Aliens, An American Tail, Apollo 13, Avatar, A Beautiful Mind, Braveheart, Field of Dreams, as well as House of Sand and Fog. All of the nods came in Best Original Score, except for ones in Best Original Song for An American Tail (the song Somewhere Out There) and with one of his wins for Titanic (for his work making My Heart Will Go On happen). Those Original Score and Original Song noms just scratch the surface of Horner’s talents, but it gives you an idea just how beloved he was in Hollywood. This is truly a loss, and that’s putting it mildly.

Here’s how I’d quickly rank his ten best scores to date, though honestly everything he did was pretty top notch. You can’t go wrong with anything of his, but these scores from Horner really stand out from the rest, at least for me. No list is wrong, but off the top of my head, this is what mine would look like:

10. Windtalkers
9. A Beautiful Mind
8. Braveheart
7. Avatar
6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
5. Titanic
4. Deep Impact
3. Apollo 13
2. Field of Dreams
1. Aliens

Honorable Mentions: The Amazing Spider-Man, Courage Under Fire, and Legends of the Fall

That list above makes for quite a career, right? Just think, that top ten list doesn’t even include An American Tail, Courage Under Fire, Glory, House of Sand and Fog, Jumanji, The Land Before Time, Legends of the Fall, The Rocketeer, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, or Troy. You could easily go 25 deep on his catalogue and only be talking about scores that you’ll recognize as some of the industry’s best. My honorable mentions merely scratch the surface…

Horner will be missed by all, with Cameron in particular clearly going to have his presence missed on the Avatar sequels. That’s hardly the thing to focus on right now, but in the years to come, when there’s a lack of new Horner compositions, it’ll be felt. There’s no getting around it, he was one of the very best in the industry. He worked across all genres too, which is the mark of a true great in my book. No matter what type of film he was involved with, he put forth something that was catchy, effective, and a benefit to the work.

In the immediate future, you can hear Horner’s work in the upcoming boxing drama Southpaw. That was already a movie to look forward to, but now there’s an added bittersweet bonus to consider. He’s likely not going to wind up in the Oscar running, but a posthumous nod is hardly impossible. One more nom as the cherry on top of a brilliant but all too brief career would be somewhat appropriate, though that ultimately remains to be seen. Right now, make sure you think of his family and also listen to something of Horner’s this week. He really gave us so much. I’ll say it again…he will be missed!

Rest in peace.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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