When you think about amazing film scores, many names come to mind, but in my head, Michael Giacchino is near the top of a great music composers list. If you are a true movie lover, you can’t get enough of a great film score.
What names would fill your list of amazing composers?
Some are still with us like John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Randy Newman. Sadly, others are not but their music lives on, such as Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and Ennio Morricone. Then, there are the few who are defining the musical sounds of today, like Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman, and Ludwig Göransson.
Any Great Composer List is Incomplete without Michael Giacchino
Starting his career in video game scoring, Michael Giacchino has made a name for himself as one of the most reliable and in-demand film composers working today. It doesn’t hurt that Giacchino has worked with some of the best in the movie game–J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, Matt Reeves, Pete Docter, and Jon Watts, just to name a few.
Known for his energetic instrumentation, classical melodies, and great use of character themes, there’s an extremely high chance you’ll walk out of a movie humming Giacchino’s music. And who can forget his and his colleagues’ affinity for puns in their cue titles such as “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and “The Magical Mysterio Tour” for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
These very puns have even inspired the titles of a few articles of mine for this very site, including the one you’re reading right now.
Even with multiple award wins, hours of television music, and tons of films under his belt, there’s no stopping Giacchino. He’s currently set to score Matt Reeves’ The Batman. And while he didn’t say it out right, it’s more than likely that he’ll return for Jon Watts’ currently untitled Spider-Man sequel.
Without further ado, let’s review the best Michael Giacchino scores.
10. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Beginning our list is Michael Giacchino’s second run with those wild dinosaurs. After delivering a marvelous score for Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, Michael Giacchino and director J.A. Boyona kick it up a notch with a bigger and often scarier score for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Giacchino has a knack for maintaining musical continuity, but never relies on old themes to carry a score. While his themes for Owen and Jurassic World itself return, the new material shines brightest in this movie.
If Jurassic World had a more fantasy element to it, Fallen Kingdom‘s score goes in horror territory. The theme for the Indo-Raptor in particular is insanely gothic and scary. And before his theme was shared to the world, I assumed his theme for The Batman would sound like it.
The themes for Maisie Lockwood, Blue, and Ken Wheatley are also wonderful additions to the ever-growing catalogue of memorable and exciting Jurassic World themes.
Whether it is for action, suspense, or to strike emotion in a scene, Giacchino always brings the goods. All this and more are why it’s so exciting that he is currently set to reunite with Colin Trevorrow for Jurassic World: Dominion.
9. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Several of these scores are from big-budget blockbusters and franchises. While that isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s good to appreciate Giacchino’s work on smaller projects. Enter Jojo Rabbit.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit gives Michael Giacchino the opportunity to tap into his inner child. Instead of going in an overly cheesy or overly dramatic route, Giacchino lets the emotion the music stirs do all the talking.
That sense of childlike wonder is imperative to the score’s quality. And it fits despite the often-grim subject matter. The use of lush instrumentation really drives Taika Waititi’s message of standing up against hate home. Michael Giacchino really knows how to create fairy tale-esque music, even if the movie is set in reality.
8. Ratatouille (2007)
As of 2020, Michael Giacchino has scored eight Pixar movies since 2004. Ratatouille is a special one, not only because it’s his second collaboration with Brad Bird, but it earned Giacchino his first Oscar nomination.
As with another film on this list, Giacchino is exceptionally good at creating sounds that match the setting of a film, and never once feels lazy or stereotypical. We get all the sounds and vibes that we expect to hear in a movie set in Paris, but it all just works with not a single track out of place.
What also sells the score is that it doesn’t have one mode. We have the frenetic action music that Giacchino really loves, we have smooth and soaring jazz, and a little tango for good measure. The score can be funny, emotional, dark, and often adorable. As any great Pixar film should be.
7. Doctor Strange (2016)
Prior to 2017, Giacchino only scored two superhero movies: The Incredibles and Sky High. After years of speculation as to who would score Doctor Strange, Michael Giacchino was the man for the job.
Rarely do you ever hear a film composer talk about how much of a fan they are of the superhero in their compositions, but Michael Giacchino’s love for the Sorcerer Supreme is all over the score.
The score brings the same uplifting, heroic fanfares that we’ve fallen in love with since John Williams helped us believe a man could fly in 1978. Giacchino brings even more to the table with the Doctor Strange score. The big male choirs, the use of electronic elements, and of course, the use of the harpsichord. It all felt magical.
While the MCU has often been criticized for its supposed lack of memorable themes, I think Doctor Strange has one of the more recognizable themes in all its phases. It’s my second favorite theme in the MCU after Alan Silvestri’s “Avengers“ theme. The theme is introduced early on and comes full circle in the last three tracks.
It should be noted that while there were rumors of his return, it is still unknown if Giacchino will score Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Madness. But if all goes well, he will score for our beloved Sorcerer Supreme.
6. Up (2009)
Every film composer has that one score that anyone who has watched a movie will recognize. The kind of score that really highlights talents as a film composer. John Williams with Star Wars, Hans Zimmer with Inception, Danny Elfman with Batman–these are just a few examples of film composers’ definitive scores.
For Michael Giacchino, that score is Up.
His third Pixar movie, and first collaboration with Pete Docter, Up has proven to be one of the most iconic Pixar score of all-time. Why? Easy, because of a young girl named Ellie.
“Ellie’s Theme” is the emotional center of the score. It serves as a constant reminder of the film’s theme. The marriage montage between Carl and Ellie has become an iconic cinematic moment, with Giacchino’s score being a huge reason as to why. The four-minute sequence has no dialogue. Giacchino and the talented artists at Pixar do some heavy lifting for beautiful results.
“Ellie’s Theme” isn’t the only shining moment in the film. “Escape from Muntz Mountain,” which is like “Mysterio’s Theme” in Spider-Man: Far From Home, starts off really uplifting, almost heroic. Yet, when Muntz’s motivations are revealed as the score becomes a villainous theme.
Up earned Giacchino countless accolades, including the Oscar for Best Original Score. It’s no doubt that Up remains the most iconic score in his filmography. And thankfully, he only got better from there.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Originally, Alexandre Desplat was set to score Rogue One. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Desplat dropped out. It wasn’t all in vain, as Michael Giacchino stepped in despite having only four-and-a-half weeks to complete his music.
Despite the short schedule, Giacchino put his heart and soul into the movie, which is my personal favorite aspect of Rogue One. It still has the familiar John Williams DNA, but Giacchino brings in his only style, particularly with the action.
Despite having every excuse to do so, Michael Giacchino doesn’t the drown the score with old John Williams’ themes. He only reprises them when necessary. What really shines in the score are the new themes.
Giacchino’s themes for Jyn Erso, Director Krennic, and Chirrut Îmwe are among my personal favorites of the franchise. Every time each theme shows up, I was in absolute awe. The “Jyn Erso Suite” is one of the most beautiful themes the franchise has ever had.
The action material is also fun, especially during the scenes on Jedha and Scarif. And who can forget Giacchino’s incredibly epic and frightening rendition of The Imperial March at the end of the film? Plus, the track, simply titled Rogue One, reminds me a little of John Williams’ theme for NBC’s Meet the Press and that makes me smile.
As of drafting this article, Giacchino hasn’t talked about returning to the franchise in any official capacity. With a live-action Cassian Andor series and a Taika Waititi-directed Star Wars movie on the horizon, Giacchino has a few opportunities to return if he wants.
4. Coco (2017)
As I mentioned with Ratatouille, Michael Giacchino tends to respect other cultures with his music. Coco is an even larger testament to that skill.
Coco lays all worries to rest, as Michael Giacchino pays massive respect to Mexican culture along with the rest of the movie. He brings the trumpets, guitars, and gorgeous strings we come to expect for a movie set in Mexico, but it also gives us so much more.
Like Up, Coco revolves around themes, primarily those for Miguel’s family and the concept of love. The music underscores some of the most memorable and exciting scenes in the whole movie and complements the insanely gorgeous visuals quite nicely.
It wouldn’t be a Michael Giacchino Pixar score without fanfares and energetic harps accompanying action scenes. Coco delivers on that front and does just as much heavy lifting as the emotional music.
The soundtrack’s “Día de los Muertos Suite” is one of my favorite pieces by Giacchino and the last two minutes often bring me to tears. That is what makes this Pixar living Latino all the better.
3. Super 8 (2011)
Michael Giacchino is no stranger to John Williams.
Taking up the mantles of Jurassic Park and Star Wars is no easy task. And as great as those scores are, Super 8 is probably the most Williams-esque score in Giacchino’s filmography.
Super 8 was J.J. Abrams’ love letter to the films of Steven Spielberg. So naturally, if Abrams was paying homage to Spielberg through his direction and writing, Giacchino would pay tribute to John Williams through his music.
The score grabs you instantly, with a simple four-note leitmotif that represents the aura of mystery surrounding the movie. The love theme, “Alice Projects on Joe,” is also a highlight and my favorite love theme created by Giacchino.
The cornerstone of the score is “Family Matters.” I’m not exaggerating. When I hear it, I immediately begin to tear up a little. The theme invokes the same wonder and dreamlike state as the best scores in John Williams’ filmography, the “Flying Theme” from E.T. especially. Its use in the film’s climax really ties the whole movie together.
While it comes with the militaristic marches and high-octane action cues we come to know and love, Super 8 remains one of the most emotional scores Michael Giacchino has ever written.
2. The Incredibles (2004)
The score that put Michael Giacchino on the map.
While I believe Up is Giacchino’s most recognizable score, there’s an argument for that title belonging to The Incredibles. His first collaboration with Brad Bird and Pixar, it remains my favorite work of his from Pixar more than 16 years later.
Brad Bird made it clear that he wanted the score to invoke a similar feeling to John Barry’s work on the James Bond. The film score does not disappoint. That jazzy feel and fast-paced action cues are incredibly infectious, right from the film’s opening car chase.
The “Incredibles Theme” remains one of my personal favorite superhero themes of all-time, and I can’t help but hum it aloud whenever I hear it. While far from the first score Giacchino made, The Incredibles was really the score that started a lot of Giacchino’s musical trademarks, especially with the action.
For instance, Giacchino’s use of the harp whenever a character is falling during an action scene is moving every time. The use of loud trumpets and pulse-pounding strings is also present in this score. No matter how much time passes with music or Giacchino, you can’t go wrong with a little jazz.
1. Star Trek (2009)
While I’ve always been a fan of film scores, I didn’t really start listening to them without movies until I was 10. In early 2009, I started using AOL Radio and flipped through the film score station and came across a track called “Enterprising Young Men“.
After that, the rest is history.
I’ve often said that I’m not much of a Trekkie. Not that I don’t like or appreciate Star Trek, I just wasn’t exposed to it nearly as much as I was exposed to Star Wars. But J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie piqued my interest in the franchise and the music was a large reason as to why.
Star Trek is not only one of my favorite movies, it’s also one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. Words cannot describe how much I adore this score. I can listen to a single note and immediately know where it’s from and I’m taken to the scene it played under.
The main theme, the aforementioned “Enterprising Young Men,” is one of my favorite film themes of all-time. No matter how I feel or where I am, I feel like jumping on top of something and wanting to fly somewhere and go on an exciting adventure. It was such a gift that Giacchino brought the theme back for both sequels and it never got old.
Giacchino’s themes for Spock and Nero are underappreciated. If you haven’t guessed by now, Michael Giacchino is a genius when it comes to villain themes, and Nero’s Theme (called the punny “Nero Sighted“) is no exception.
Every action cue, every emotional beat, even the incidental music just has an otherworldly quality to it. While Giacchino is far too modest to believe so, his score this film sits very comfortably next to the works of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner’s scores that honor the music of the original series while bringing their own skills to the table.
And while I’m not a Trekkie in the traditional sense, Giacchino using the original Alexander Courage theme full-on in the End Credits is just astonishing.
While the future of this iteration of Star Trek remains unknown, I hope should a fourth movie be made that Giacchino returns to the fold. If not, I hope he scores another Star Trek project sometime in the future. Any Star Trek project with Michael Giacchino’s involvement is bound to help us believe we too can boldly go where no man has ever gone before.