According to historian Kurt London, film music was born out of necessity—it was needed to cover the sound of the projector. It wasn’t long, however, before film music took on an artistic life of its own.
During the silent era, movie theaters had to provide their own musical accompaniment, either by playing a phonograph or hiring musicians to improvise a score live. The first film composers, as we think of them today, appeared in 1929, when the ability to synchronize sound to celluloid emerged. Since then, film music has evolved from lush, sweeping symphonies to jazz-pop confections to blockbuster orchestrations combined with powerful synths.
In recent years, film music has undergone yet another transformation, with composers coming to the form not only from conservatories but also from the worlds of hip-hop, rock, jazz, and experimental music. Many work in close collaboration with directors to evoke mood as much as emotion. Get to know the three minds shaping the sound of Hollywood in these introductory playlists.
Hildur Gudnadóttir is an Academy Award-, Golden Globe-, Emmy-, two-time Grammy-, and BAFTA-winning Icelandic artist who has been manifesting herself at the forefront of experimental pop and contemporary music.
Her work for film and television includes Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Mary Magdalene, and the critically acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl (for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award, as well as a Grammy Award), Joker (for which she won an Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Grammy) and Battlefield 2042 (which she co-composed with Sam Slater).
Kris Bowers is an award-winning film composer and pianist known for his thought-provoking playing style and genre-defying film compositions that pay homage to his classical and jazz roots.
His works include The Snowy Day (for which he won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition in 2017), Dear White People, Green Book, When They See Us, Black Monday, Madden NFL 20 and Madden NFL 21, Mrs. America, Bridgerton, Bad Hair, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Respect, and King Richard.
Two-time Academy Award-nominated composer and pianist Nicholas Britell is known for his critically acclaimed scores for feature films by Academy Award writer-directors Barry Jenkins and Adam McKay.
His works include Best Picture winner Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, Vice, Disney’s Cruella, Netflix’s The King, Succession (for which won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme as well as the 2018 Hollywood Music in Media Award for Best Original Score), and Amazon's The Underground Railroad.