Star Wars Day: Essential Sci-Fi Scores and Soundtracks to Own as Vinyl Records
May the 4th be with you! May 4th marks Star Wars Day, a punny makeshift holiday meant to celebrate the beloved space opera franchise that has left quite the mark on pop culture. John Williams' sweeping score helped Star Wars become the prestige franchise it exists as today, with his compositions instantly identifiable, serving as the template for nearly every score that came after. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to go even further beyond the galaxy far far away with 10 of our favorite science fiction scores & soundtracks. These records, ranging from immersive soundscapes to carefully curated collections of tracks, make us want to grab our Revolution GO, head outside, and listen under the stars.
When a new Star Wars trilogy was announced in 2015, John Williams was thankfully welcomed back to compose the score. For the finale of the Skywalker saga, Williams pulled out all the stops. New compositions like "A New Home" and "Anthem of Evil" were inspired by classics like "Binary Sunset" and "Imperial March" without simply recycling themes. Still, Williams included plenty of fan service, incorporating several of our favorite familiar motifs.
Sci-fi doesn't always have to be serious. Ghostbusters, the iconic buddy comedy about ghost hunting, was an instant mega-hit, spawning multiple sequels, an animated series, and even comic books. The film's soundtrack, made up of songs by '80s stars like Laura Branigan and Air Supply, has remained exceedingly popular, but the standout track is the iconic theme song, written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr. The moment you see the movie's familiar logo, it's nearly impossible not to think "who you gonna call?"
When she was hired to compose the score for Tron, Wendy Carlos was already well-known as an electronic music innovator. The genre was still in its relative infancy in the early 1980s, but Carlos had been playing electronic music since the late '60s, with Switched-On Bach. Carlos provided her typical Moog-tinged sound, as well as incorporating elements of progressive rock and strings to create an early staple of electronic film scoring. Tron was the third and final film to be scored by Carlos, as she shifted her attention back to her solo music career, but along with composers like Vangelis, she helped to establish a burgeoning genre's credibility in film.
Black Panther is an epic of a film, transcending the usual boundaries of a comic book movie. To produce the soundtrack, director Ryan Coogler turned to hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar. Lamar curated a collection of music to fit the film, as well as writing and recording several original songs. Lamar made it a point to include several South African artists on the album as well as his frequent collaborators like Vince Staples and Khalid. His collaboration with SZA, "All the Stars", received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and several Grammy nominations.
With several sci-fi scores to his credit already, such as Star Wars, Superman, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, John Williams was the natural choice to score Steven Spielberg's E.T. It was a new task for Williams; E.T. was not a sprawling space opera or a mysterious drama, but a sweeter, more personal story. Williams balanced his signature bombastic sound with a more intimate approach. Spielberg even loved the music for the famous bike scene so much, he edited the scene to fit the score.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001 marked a momentous shift in the way sci-fi films were produced and perceived. Previously, many had been campy, low-budget action flicks, featuring a hero zapping away at aliens. Kubrick, part of the New Hollywood wave of 1960s filmmakers, sought to create something different. 2001 was an existential masterpiece, thanks in no small part to its soundtrack, which made heavy use of classical pieces to carry large chunks of the film without dialogue. Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" is the memorable track, played in the film's opening sequence.
For the sequel to 1982's Blade Runner, Hans Zimmer picked up where Vangelis left off. One of the most prolific composers working today, Zimmer employed heavy use of synthesizer, producing a score that paid homage to Vangelis' original while making it his own. This is most notable on "Tears in the Rain", reworking Vangelis' "Tears in Rain" to fit the story of the new film. Zimmer's score stands on its own as an original work, while the inspiration is apparent.
Her feels especially poignant today with the rise of AI. It tells the story of a lonely man who falls in love with a super intelligent operating system. Director Spike Jonze tapped indie band Arcade Fire, as well as composer and violinist Owen Pallett to compose the movie's score. A piano heavy, ethereal composition, Her's score manages to toe the line of bleak and hopeful, remaining deeply personal and intimate throughout.
1970s yacht rock in space. It may sound a little silly as a premise, but Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy pulls it off. Guardians is an excellent look at how the music we grow attached to as children and young adults often stays with us and helps to carry us through growing and maturing. The soundtrack is a walk through the soft rock of the late '70s and early '80s, with nostalgic hits like "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Come and Get Your Love."
As part of another collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve, Hans Zimmer pulls no punches with his score for Dune. Zimmer reached back to the swords and sandles epic films of the 1960s, combining elements of orchestral and electronic music to create an epic, sweeping score that transports you to the deserts of Arrakis. Zimmer even went so far as to develop his own language and fabricate his own unique instruments to capture the otherworldly sound he envisioned.