I’ve covered other types of soundtracks and scores from villains to heroes and back again, but what I haven’t written about yet are the beautiful tracks—the gorgeous ones with the romantic (not necessarily about love) swells and drops, and the haunting melodies that embed themselves in your brain and become a part of the character and experience for you. I’m a huge fan of soundtracks for movies, TV, and video games, and my favorites are about as eclectic and weird as I am, so be prepared (like a lion telling some hyenas how it’s going to be), and keep an open mind. However you feel about some of the movies the themes come from, listen to the track and give it a fair shake!
This list is on the long side (I can’t help it that there is so much beauty in this world!) and in no particular order, so I’m going to lead with one of my favorite tracks from the original three Star Wars movies:
1. “Luke and Leia” from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by John Williams
This theme is a slow build and stays consistently lovely throughout. It lacks the romantic love tones of “Han Solo and the Princess” and instead embodies the sense of longing that accompanies Force-sensitive siblings too long separated from each other. Yes, we all know they kissed that time, but it didn’t mean anything, they didn’t know they were related yet, and it was only to make Han mad, so just chill out, right? This theme is all about the sibling bond, going from having no one (Owen and Beru en flambe? Alderaan chunks where Alderaan space was?) to having each other, and it’s gorgeous.
2. “To the Stars” from Dragonheart by Randy Edelman
This is one of those themes that got kidnapped and used for a lot of other trailers. Every time I see a trailer and hear this music, I get excited and tell anyone who will listen that the music playing is actually from Dragonheart, and … if they still want to sit by me in the theater after that, I know I’ve found a kindred spirit, right? Listen at the 2:19 mark for my favorite part: the percussive hit and soaring orchestrals! For me, this track is full of unnamed longing, which makes it perfect for use in various types of movie trailers and has earned it a permanent place on my Story Writing Playlist.
3. The Evenstar theme from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Howard Shore
I’m a huge LOTR fan. I was encouraged to read the books as a kid but stopped partway through The Hobbit and didn’t pick up another one until I’d seen The Fellowship of the Ring when it came out. I ran home and read everything I could get my hands on, including the Lost Tales and Silmarillion. Before Howard Shore wrote the music for these movies, the only other soundtrack that was ingrained on the same level as far as characters and places having consistent themes throughout multiple movies, was John Williams’ Star Wars soundtracks. The love story of Arwen and Aragorn is fully captured in The Evenstar theme. It sounds like an audio version of how he sees her: perfect, above him, and yet ever present. When the theme crops up at points in the movie where they are apart (most of the time), it always symbolizes her steadfastness and how she’s pulling for him from afar. As if to say, “Hey, Aragorn! Don’t you dare just lay there and die! I’m giving up my immortality for you, boyfriend! Keep it together! My dad is sooo not happy with you right now, but I’m hundreds of years old and I can do what I want! And I want to do a sweaty, tired Ranger, so up you get!”
4. “Lady in the Water Overture” by James Newton Howard
I get that people either love or hate this movie and generally have strong feelings regarding their opinion. I happened to love the movie (It’s the only Shyamalan movie I love, I promise!) and the soundtrack. Even if you hate the movie, try listening to the Overture and pretending it’s from anything else. It stands alone as a beautiful piece of music even if you hate this movie with the kind of fiery passion I reserve only for his adaptation of Avatar the Last Airbender. He didn’t write the soundtrack, so give it a chance!
5. “Once Upon a Time … Storybook Love” from The Princess Bride by Mark Knopfler
Well, if ever there was a movie that I’ve literally loved for as long as I’ve been a conscious being capable of liking things, The Princess Bride would be it. Seriously, lines from this movie permeate my friend and family culture. I paid money to see Mandy Patinkin perform live at my university years ago all banking on the hope that surely he wouldn’t leave us high and dry—he would say the words! I like him for his Broadway stuff anyway and enjoyed the concert in its own merit, but the whole time, buzzing under the surface, was my absolute certainty that he was going to say the words.
My friend insisted that he wouldn’t, that he was probably tired of it, it didn’t fit with the rest of the show, etc. But I knew. When the show was nearly over, he casually said, “There’s just one more thing. I never leave a college campus without saying something …” When he started talking, his back was to the audience. He leaped into a swordfighting stance, facing us, and said, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” I was in a balcony and the floor shook with the applause and cheering. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one holding out for a hero, and damn if he didn’t deliver! Okay, that had zero to do with the track, except that it illustrates how much that movie and its characters mean to me. I’m not someone who thinks a lot about things that would be awesome for weddings and such, but I think this track would make a lovely down-the-aisle piece for the right couple. It’s a perfectly beautiful love theme for Buttercup and Westley. The theme starts in earnest at about the 1:00 mark. I also love the Guide My Sword track, which is the theme of Inigo Montoya’s revenge, finally fulfilled.
6. The Dark Crystal theme by Trevor Jones
Just like the movie, the main title is simultaneously beautifully fantastical and oddly menacing. It took me years to truly appreciate this movie. When I was a little kid, the Chamberlain and his creepy “hmm” noise were the stuff of nightmares for some reason. Yeesh. I still hate that sound! That aside, the movie is a fabulous Jim Henson creation about the Crystal that split the Mystics and the Skeksis into creatures of Light and Dark respectively, resulting in the near-extinction of the peaceful Gelflings at the hands of the Skeksis. I sure hope Jen and Kira really like each other, because it looks like they’re going to be single-handedly responsible for repopulating the planet with Gelflings. This could get awkward. I hope they found more Gelflings living underground or something after the movie ended, because they’re going to have some weird family gatherings/double dates if they have to repopulate from a stock of two.
7. “Main Title” from The Secret of NIMH by Jerry Goldsmith
The Secret of NIMH soundtrack has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and this track embodies all of the best parts of the score. The beautiful-but-ominous chorals at the beginning of the track, then the swelling main theme (that turns into the Flying Dreams song later in the movie) occurs at the 2:15 mark. For a movie about the troubles of cartoon mice, The Secret of NIMH was scored like the best live action fantasy film available. This is a soundtrack worth listening to, buying, and having forever if you’re a film score person.
8. “Main Title” from Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman
If someone made me put together five movie scores to convince alien life that Earth culture was worth saving, the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands would be one of them. Elfman had me the moment the choir started to sing. From the moment I heard this music as a kid, I envisioned myself as a goth-tastic Disney Princess, waltzing it up in a creepy (but comfortable) castle to this song. That kind of visceral, image-driven love never dies. The dress in my imagination is somewhere between Mia Sara’s Devil Dress in Legend and Sleeping Beauty’s blue dress, and I wish I could sew, because I’d probably make it and wear it to inappropriate places. “What do you mean that Gothic Disney Princess isn’t appropriate attire for work? No, I didn’t get lost on my way to Comic Con! These are just my clothes! Is there a problem?”
9. The duet from The Corpse Bride by Danny Elfman
I’m just going to stay with Danny Elfman for a minute and talk about how much I love the duet from The Corpse Bride. I like the movie, but my love of it pretty much boils down to this scene and how beautiful this song is. The rest of it was fine, but I was hoping for a more mind-blowing The Nightmare Before Christmas experience, only to find that it was much more understated than that. This theme always finds its way onto my playlists with titles like “creepypretty” and “goth ballerina.”
10. “Now We Are Free” from Gladiator by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer
Like the theme from Dragonheart, this track is commonly used in trailers and videos to bring a sense of gravitas and transcendent beauty to pretty much anything that touches it. I swear, I’d cry at a Coke commercial if this song was in it! My favorite part is at about the 1:00 mark!
11. “Arrival to Earth” from Transformers by Steve Jablonsky
Whether you love or hate the Transformers movie(s), this piece of soundtrack is gorgeous. It isn’t often that a heroic theme is simultaneously driving (pun kinda intended), beautiful, triumphant, and haunting, and this track manages to be all of these things and more. The Transformers soundtrack sounds like moving parts. One of my friends who is also a fan of soundtracks and I agree that it makes excellent driving music for long car trips, and I think that isn’t by accident.
Steve Jablonsky was tasked with creating music to fit mechanical aliens who hide among us as vehicles, and he captured the constant forward momentum in the soundtrack. Whether the Autobots are leaving their home planet and traveling through space, or driving on Earth’s highways as cars and semis, this soundtrack makes you want to keep going forward and doesn’t put me to sleep the way other instrumentals might on a long trip. For a particularly lovely piece of this track, check out the 3:05 minute mark. The “silence” of that moment in the soundtrack is only the absence of the driving beat, which picks up again seconds later, but it’s a good testing point if you’re otherwise unwilling to immerse yourself in the entire track.
12. “Alsatia’s Lullaby” from Toys by Hans Zimmer
Toys is a weird movie—a really, really weird movie. I love the absolute crap out of it, but I completely understand if others find it baffling and odd. Robin Williams plays a wacky toymaker, Joan Cusack plays his sister, Alsatia. This theme is hers and plays during one of the big reveals of the movie. I don’t want to spoiler it too hard if you haven’t seen it, but if you want to see L.L. Cool J play a military character obsessed with camouflaging himself and Robin Wright make a dolphin noise at random, you should consider watching it. Here’s the link to the trailer for the movie. If the trailer annoys you, don’t watch it. If the trailer intrigues you, you’ll probably love it!
13. “Love Theme” from Blade Runner by Vangelis
If you enjoy love themes with lots of saxophone in them, then do I have a love theme for you! Even though it’s so saxophony that the guy from Careless Whisper is seriously never gonna dance again, it’s also hauntingly beautiful and perfect for the film. The noir feel of Blade Runner coupled with the sense of longing Vangelis brings to to this theme keep it firmly in the territory of beautiful music.
14. Theme song from Howl’s Moving Castle by Joe Hisaishi
The entire soundtrack is really good, but this is the most memorable theme from the movie and is often played differently throughout. I mean, we already know I love a good waltz, right? Around the 4:05 mark, it goes waltztastic—for reals, full-on mad waltz-romp—and also, if you watch it, you’ll get to experience Wizard Howl, Sophie Hatter, and good old Turnip Head. It’s win-win.
15. “The Four Who Saved the Nine Kingdoms” from The 10th Kingdom by Anne Dudley
If you like weird miniseries inspired by fairy tales, may I recommend The 10th Kingdom? It’s long, it’s strange, and the trolls have a shoe obsession, but you also get lots of Scott Cohen as Wolf, who is one of my favorite Fictional TV Boyfriends, a ring that sings, Al Bundy as the Troll King, a prince who gets turned into a dog, and an idiot who gives himself the Midas curse and can’t touch anything. It’s magical. This track, and the song that played during the opening, Wishing on a Star by Miriam Stockley, are my favorite tracks from this miniseries.
16. Tifa’s theme from Final Fantasy 7 by Nobuo Uematsu
Of all of the gorgeous Final Fantasy themes out there, all of which I love, Tifa’s theme is my favorite “pretty” one. Aerith’s theme is more popular, and it’s gorgeous, but Tifa was my favorite character in that game (and in the Advent Children movie) and her theme music reflects her character perfectly. It’s calm, warm, and measured, like the character herself. Tifa was a badass fighter, a good listener, and a natural caretaker, and she and her lovely music are my favorites from FF7. Here is a piano version of her theme that does it justice:
17. Dante’s theme from Fullmetal Alchemist by Michiru Oshima
If I was doing categories, this one would fall under, “Beautiful but Threatening.” As pretty as this song sounds, it’s the theme of a villain who has been maintaining her youth at the expense of others’ lives for hundreds of years. Dante is a creepy villain, and this theme suits her perfectly!
18. Davy Jones’ theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest by Hans Zimmer
This one also falls under the “Beautiful but Threatening” category. It starts out as a tinkling music box, representing Davy Jones’ lost hopes and dreams. By the 1:12 minute mark, the gentleness has gone from the track, replaced with aggressive organ and percussion. The bluster doesn’t last long—by the 2:34 minute mark, the plaintive music box tones are back and end the track. This mirrors Davy Jones’ character in the movies: He began as a man in love, was transformed by jealousy and fear, and by the end of the third movie, he has become something of a tragic villain, though no less a threat for it.
These are just some of my top most beautiful soundtrack tracks. Honorable mention goes out to “Inama Nushif” from Children of Dune, Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars, “Convento Di Sant’Anna” from The English Patient, and the main theme from Stargate (the movie version). If you have favorite tracks for me to listen to, let me know in the comments!
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]