Top Ten Composer And Director Collaborations

The epic 1917 hit movie theaters recently. Not only is it already being described as a potential Oscar front-runner, but it’s also the seventh time director Sam Mendes and composer Thomas Newman have worked together.

It’s not uncommon for directors to frequently collaborate with the same composer. The score or soundtrack is an incredibly important part of a movie. It can create tension, generate emotion, and is frequently the thing that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

To celebrate 1917’s release, here are our top ten director and composer collaborations.

10. James Cameron and James Horner (Aliens, Titanic, Avatar)

20th Century Fox

James Cameron and James Horner are both masters in their own rights, but it is even better when they’re working together, particularly when it comes to awards success.

All three of their collaborations earned Horner Oscar nominations for his scores, and of course Titanic took home the award and many others at the 1998 ceremony.

Horner was particularly prolific in the 1990’s, providing scores for classic movies such as Braveheart, Apollo 13, Deep Impact and Jumanji.

Tragically he passed away in 2015 after being involved in a plane crash, aged only 61. His incredible work stands the test of time, and he will be credited for the original themes he composed in Cameron’s upcoming Avatar 2.

9. Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood, The Master, Phantom Thread)


Radiohead band member Jonny Greenwood is perhaps now better known for his work in movie, frequently composing scores for both Lynne Ramsay and Paul Thomas Anderson. It is with the latter that Greenwood has received the most recognition, with Phantom Thread picking up a much deserved Oscar nomination.

Greenwood’s prowess as a composer is clearly something which appeals to Anderson, who is known to favor those he has worked with before – Daniel Day-Lewis frequently being his actor of choice!

The eerie and powerful score for There Will Be Blood was perhaps unfairly overlooked when it came to awards that year, failing to pick up a nomination.

However, it clearly had a lasting impression on the person that mattered, Anderson, and whilst a release date is not confirmed yet, Anderson is currently working on a new project, so time will tell whether this will also feature music from Greenwood.

8. The Coen Brothers and Carter Burwell (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Hail, Caesar!)

Gramercy Pictures

Working with the Coen Brothers on all but one of their projects, Carter Burwell has been the man they’ve relied on from 1984’s Blood Simple to 2018’s The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs.

Providing the soundtrack for the directors’ quirky and ever changing style is no easy feat, but Burwell has proven time and time again that he is the one that can do it, adapting easily to tone and genre.

Outside of his work with the Coens, Burwell has also been nominated for two Oscars; for Carol and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Last year he provided the music for thriller The Good Liar, and Laika’s latest animated movie, Missing Link.

7. Darren Aronofsky and Clint Mansell (Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Darren Aronofsky’s movies are certainly unique, and they definitely get people talking! And the man behind the music of Aronofsky’s visions is former musician Clint Mansell, who has composed all but one of the scores for his movies.

From the hallucinatory hellscapes of Requiem For A Dream to the dramatic ballets of Black Swan, Mansell’s synth-infused scores are subtly brilliant and provide the perfect notes for the visionary director’s work.

6. Wes Anderson and Alexandre Desplat (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle Of Dogs)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Everyone knows the iconic look of Wes Anderson’s movies, but you may not know the person behind the scenes responsible for delivering the quirky scores that accompany them; composer Alexandre Desplat. From 2009’s Fantastic Mr Fox, Desplat has provided the music for all of Anderson’s movies.

Again, Anderson is one of those directors who loves to work with people he’s collaborated with previously, with the same crop of actors frequently popping up in his movies.

The same goes for behind the camera, with Anderson favoring cinematographer Robert Yeoman for most of his non-animated titles, and now Desplat as composer.

Previously it was Mark Mothersbaugh who provided the music for Anderson’s early work, but it seems Desplat is here to stay as he is already committed to providing the music for Anderson’s next feature, The French Dispatch, releasing in 2020.

5. Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz (La La Land, Whiplash, First Man)


It is still sometimes hard to believe that Damien Chazelle only has four movies in total under his belt.

With his second feature, Whiplash, Chazelle firmly made a case for being one of the most exciting directors of this decade, and the success of the drumming drama was followed up with La La Land and First Man.

Providing the music for all of these was Chazelle’s buddy from college, Justin Hurwitz. Something of a wunderkind himself, Hurwitz and Chazelle have enjoyed incredible success together, with La La Land in particular earning them a stack of awards.

To have made such an impact on cinema in such a short space of time is commendable, and all eyes will be on whatever project they decide to work on next.

4. Tim Burton and Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Big Fish, Frankenweenie)

Warner Bros.

Arguably no other director and composer combination goes hand in hand as much as Tim Burton and Danny Elfman.

The duo have in fact been creating musical magic together since 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and right through to 2019’s Dumbo.

There is a playful and quirky nature to Elfman’s scores that perfectly suits Burton’s often twisted visions. Through their 30 year partnership, Elfman has scored everything from comedies such as Pee-Wee and melancholic romantic fairytales such as Edward Scissorhands.

When you have a formula that works, why change it, as the pairing of Burton and Elfman proves. It is quite frankly shocking that neither has won an Oscar, but as long as they’re working together, who knows what the future may hold for them both.

3. Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Skyfall)

Sony Pictures Releasing

Of course, with our focus being on 1917, all eyes are on Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman once again to see if lightning can strike for the seventh time.

Of their previous collaborations, American Beauty, Road To Perdition and Skyfall all picked up Oscar nominations for their scores, and it was American Beauty that also gave Mendes his one and only Oscar.

Given the incredible number of scores Newman has under his belt, he is certainly long overdue an Oscar, and shockingly despite 14 previous nominations, has never won.

Emotive scores frequently get the attention of the Academy and war movies in particular normally perform very well, so 1917 is being tipped for success, and who knows, it may even be the film that finally gets Newman his much-deserved Oscar.

2. Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer (Batman Begins, Inception, Dunkirk)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Another two greats in their fields, Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer have so far worked on six films together. Films such as Inception and Dunkirk have unbearably tense scores to match the equally exciting action, and the epic sweeping score for Interstellar perfectly matches the grandeur of Nolan’s sprawling sci-fi masterpiece.

Perhaps surprisingly, Zimmer has only ever won one Oscar – for The Lion King in 1994 – however Nolan collaborations Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk were all nominated.

However, Nolan’s next film, Tenet, is being scored by Ludwig Göransson instead of Zimmer, as he is already committed to composing the music for Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian epic, Dune.

We’re sure though it’s just a matter of time until the winning pair are back working together again. When their work so far has been this iconic, how could they not give us more!

1. Steven Spielberg and John Williams (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln)

Universal Pictures

This pair need no introduction really! Arguably the most well-known film director, and the most well-known composer, Steven Spielberg and John Williams’ working relationship spans an astonishing 40 plus years and over 30 films.

Williams of course is responsible for composing some of the most iconic movie scores of all time, and their collective catalogue includes masterpieces such as Jaws, Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park, as well as beloved films such as Hook, Indiana Jones, and E.T.

It is rare that a composer’s work will be as well known as a director’s, but Williams is definitely the strongest example of that, and outside of his working relationship with Spielberg, he is perhaps most well known for composing the music for the Star Wars saga, as well as other beloved franchises such as Harry Potter.

When the two meet however, it is clearly a winning combination as well, with three out of Williams’ five Oscar wins being for Spielberg directed films; Jaws, Schindler’s List and E.T. For as long as these two are around, we hope they will continue to create movie magic together!

1917 is in movie theaters now.

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Sarah Buddery

Sarah Buddery

Contributing Writer

A freelance writer who is frequently found evangelising about why Jaws is the greatest film ever made, and the many highlights of Tommy Wiseau's cult disasterpiece The Room. A lover of all things film, unless of course they contain clowns...