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Score wars: The five best sci-fi soundtracks

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It's no secret that a truly great film score can elevate the movie-going experience to a level far beyond merely sitting in front a giant screen of moving images. Instead, the skill of a creatively gifted film composer casts a sort of spell upon the viewer; it transports us to these fantastic worlds of fantasy and science-fiction, capturing our emotions and imagination with every vibrant, vital musical cue and stirring melodic theme.

Although the film soundtracks of recent years may have seen a decline in thematic score composition in favor of soundscape dissonance and overblown attempts at "epic" fanfare, The Giver composer Marco Beltrami possesses a firm knowledge of melodic composition, earned during his tenure of scoring such films as Halloween H20, Hellboy and selections from the Scream, Blade, and Resident Evil series.

The classic works of master film music craftsmen still stand strong as testaments to true craft in action, however, serving as examples of a time when film scores were more than mere fodder for a teaser trailer, existing instead as one of most important cogs of the movie machine. That being said, it's truly a tall order to narrow down all of the great musical movie moments recorded over the years, but at the same time the business of compiling such a list was nothing if not seriously fun work. So without further ado, here are five of the best sci-fi soundtracks ever recorded...with a healthy dose of honorable mentions, to boot!

Hardware (Simon Boswell)
Hardware (Simon Boswell) Amazon

Hardware (Simon Boswell)

Simon Boswell enjoys a well earned reputation amongst die hard cult film fans for his work on such left-of-centre films as Italian director Michele Soavi's stylish 1987 slasher Stagefright, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre and the splat-tastic 80s horror ride, Demons 2. Boswell's work on the 1990 science fiction mind trip "Hardware," however, is a rare example where the film composer's score melds seamlessly with the artist cuts chosen for the soundtrack.

Boswell's post-apocalyptic, neo-western motifs meld with the harsh metal and poisonous atmosphere of director Richard Stanley's incredible film, as the evocative visuals of "Hardware" pulse to the pounding beat of industrial metal titans Ministry one minute before then succumbing to the threatening throb of former Sex Pistol John Lydon's post-punk act Public Image Ltd., with their cult classic tune, "The Order of Death."

This is truly a marriage made in the best kind of sci-fi soundtrack hell.

Fantastic Planet (Alain Goraguer)
Fantastic Planet (Alain Goraguer) Amazon

Fantastic Planet (Alain Goraguer)

Science Fiction has always held a particularly special place within the hearts of French filmmakers and movie-goers, and nowhere is this sentiment presented with such skill and creative vision than the 1973 animated feature "La Planete Sauvage," released here in the states as "Fantastic Planet."

This film-directed by noted French sci-fi auteur Rene Laloux-features an immensely popular score from noted jazz pianist Alain Goraguer, one whose impact continues to be felt today by a legion of hip-hop and funk/library music fanatics who continue to mine Goraguer's work for DJ sets and beat sources across the world.

Immediate investigation is highly recommended for the uninitiated here, as Goraguer's incredibly evocative world of laid back breakbeats, delayed psychedelic guitar runs, atmospheric flute and funky jazz piano is one which reveals new secrets upon every successive spin. This one will change your life.

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Brad Fiedel)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Brad Fiedel) Amazon

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Brad Fiedel)

BA-DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM. BA-DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM.

That simple, relentlessly percussive beat was all it took for "Terminator" composer Brad Fiedel to propel himself into the upper echelon of sci-fi soundtrack legends. The theme itself was utilized to even better effect on director James Cameron's 1991 sequel, however, this time fleshed out with symphonic touches which actually managed to retain a semblance of humanity amidst all of the cybernetic carnage which was taking place throughout the film.

Although both Fiedel scores for "The Terminator" and its sequel were excellent, "Judgment Day" just edges out its predecessor, thanks to those vital main titles!

Blade Runner (Vangelis)
Blade Runner (Vangelis) Amazon

Blade Runner (Vangelis)

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou-better known under his musical pseudonym Vangelis-began his musical life as a progressive rock keyboardist in the 1970s with the band Aphrodite's Child, but achieve worldwide success thanks to his soundtrack work for films as varied as "Chariots of Fire," Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" and "1492: Conquest of Paradise."

It was the work of Vangelis on Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi epic "Blade Runner" which would prove to cement his legacy, however, setting up icon status for both musician and film. Indeed, Vangelis' score has become almost inseparable from Scott's film at this point; it's almost impossible to imagine one without the other.

This is testament to the man's incredibly atmospheric and moody work here, creating the noir "Blade Runner" world with swirling synth and subtle beats, all the while peppering the cues with dialogue from the film. It's a fantastic listening experience which holds no shortage of joy for fans even some thirty-plus years after its release.

"Blade Runner" truly defines the term "classic."

Star Wars: A New Hope (John Williams)
Star Wars: A New Hope (John Williams) Amazon

Star Wars: A New Hope (John Williams)

The question when compiling a sci-fi soundtrack list isn't necessarily whether or not to place John Williams' Star Wars score in there, but which one of his iconic pieces of work to include amongst the top five.

Granted, many genre fans would probably point to the 1980 sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" as Williams' finest hour in the original trilogy, as it captures a dark and foreboding atmosphere equivalent to the equally depressing aspects of the film's plot. The score also happens to feature the Empire's iconic main theme, "The Imperial March," which serves as one of, if not the most iconic science fiction musical cue of all time.

This writer, however, is going to turn to the first entry from Williams into the "Star Wars" universe, the eponymous score to A New Hope. Williams' work here in 1977 truly captures director George Lucas' vision of a "space western" with power, grace and heartbreaking beauty. This gorgeous sentiment is captured perfectly on "Binary Sunset," a brief but imminently memorable cue which possesses even more power when played behind the scene of Luke Skywalker's despondent gaze over the burned remains of his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen's farm. The soaring strings and tearful melody tell the audience all of the emotions going through Luke's mind without ever having to say a word.

Elsewhere, the overwhelming impact of the series' Main Titles could not, and should not be overstated. Just look at the reactions of theater-goers every time a new Star Wars film hits the screen: cheers erupt every single time that main theme is introduced, and rightly so: John Williams is a legend, and his musical work here within the "Star Wars" universe will truly live forever.

More Deep Space Soundtracks

  • "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (James Horner)
  • "Robocop" (Basil Poledouris)
  • "Back to the Future" (Alan Silvestri)
  • "Dune" (Toto)
  • "Escape From New York" (John Carpenter)
  • "Logan's Run" (Jerry Goldsmith)
  • "Planet of the Apes" (Jerry Goldsmith)
  • "Jurassic Park" (John Williams)
  • "The Running Man" (Harold Faltermeyer)
  • "Aliens" (James Horner)
  • "The Omega Man" (Ron Grainer)
  • "Soylent Green" (Fred Myrow)
  • "Alien" (Jerry Goldsmith)

This is a "sponsored post," meaning the company who sponsored the article compensated me for writing the article. The opinions I have expressed, however, are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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