Angelina’s ‘80s Archive: 5 of My Favorite Film Scores of the ‘80s

In case you don’t know by now, I’m passionate about the ‘80s. Two of the topics I have covered the most in this column are the decade’s movies and music. When I write about movies, I often highlight the music in them that I love. When I make playlists, it’s almost guaranteed that at least one of the songs on each of them is a song I first grew to love from hearing it in a movie. 

I’ve been learning this semester in my first film and TV class the extent to which sound choices affect a film overall — its context, tone, stakes, everything. This has gotten me thinking about why I love the movies that I do, and a good musical score is such an important part of that. So, today I present to you my favorite film scores of the ‘80s. 

  1. 1. Back to the Future (1985), composed by Alan Silvestri

    assorted movies on bookshelf

    Standout Song: “Back to the Future”

    The energy in the Back to the Future soundtrack is, simply, perfect. You know exactly what is when you hear it, and the titular song has become an iconic piece of film — for good reason. There are horns, there are strings, and there is even a glockenspiel! I’m tearing up listening to it at this moment. It is truly a special feeling to experience, and it will instantly get you hyped up. 

    Fun fact: One of the other films Alan Silvestri has composed for is Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). I listen to Captain America’s theme music all the time because there is something about it that demands my attention. It has a real Back to the Future vibe, so I highly recommend it.

  2. 2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), composed by John Williams

    Galaxy of Stars behind mountains

    Standout Song: “Flying”

    John Williams may be the best-known modern composer there is. His work never misses, from Jaws to Home Alone to Star Wars to Harry Potter. As the kids say, he “always understands the assignment.” The E.T. score is magical. I am always impressed by composers’ ability to make me feel like I’m flying through music. 

    Another song to listen to: “Princess Leia’s Theme,” from Star Wars: A New Hope.

  3. 3. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), composed by James Horner

    woman laying down with her foot on a radio

    Standout Song: “Main Title/A Rare Day for Boys”

    Unfortunately, the Something Wicked This Way Comes soundtrack is not available on Spotify or iTunes. If it was, I would listen to it all the time. The first song on the album seamlessly transitions from eerie as the Dark’s Carnival train rolls into town (a part of the song which always comes into my head when I see a train puffing along) to lighthearted as the two main characters walk through the leaves. This music sounds like fall to me, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart and my music taste. 

    Other soundtracks to explore: James Horner has composed a couple of my favorite soundtracks, namely for Jumanji (1995) (check out the song “A New World”) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) (I recommend listening to “Rooftop Kiss”). His music has been the soundtrack to so many different parts of my childhood.  

  4. 4. Dead Poets Society (1989), composed by Maurice Jarre

    variety of book stacks

    Standout Song: “Keating’s Triumph”

    Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it cannot be separated from its score in my mind. “Keating’s Triumph” is like a more soaring version of the first song on the album, “Carpe Diem.” If you’re not crying at the strings, wind instruments, percussion, and synths at the beginning of the song, it’s over when the bagpipes hit around halfway through. The continuous building of horns, bagpipes, and percussion as the song goes on after its midway point is almost guaranteed to stir you. I get emotional even thinking about this music, let alone listening to it or seeing it used in the movie itself.

    Another song to listen to: The instrumental version of “Unchained Melody” that Jarre arranged for Ghost (1995).

  5. 5. The Karate Kid (1984), composed by Bill Conti

    Person with a clap board on set

    Standout Song: “Training Hard”

    Around the 1:25 mark of “Training Hard,” it becomes especially emotional. This song evokes images of sunsets, canoes, crane poses, and a growing friendship between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel LaRusso. It isn’t overly flashy, but instead sweet and simple. It fits the film perfectly.

    Another song to listen to: “Gonna Fly Now,” the iconic theme song to Rocky (1976), also composed by Bill Conti.

Instrumental songs can be useful as finals roll around, so here is a playlist of the 4 main ones I mentioned today to get you started! 

Catch you next week!  

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