Best Original Film Soundtracks Since 1998

As time progresses and music evolves, it's hard to define modern orchestral music using the same classical terminology used to describe the music of baroque, classical, and romantic period composers.  Are today's original film scores the new classical music?  It's possible that original film scores will be regarded as highly as those composed by Beethoven or Mozart. If that is indeed true, we've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best original film soundtracks since 1998.  For more recommended film scores, check out the best original films scores of 2010.

1
Meet Joe Black - Thomas Newman (1998)

Susan Parrish (Claire Forlani) Shares An Intimate Moment With A Mysterious Presence Known Only As Joe Black (Brad Pitt) In 'Meet Joe Black'.
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

This is without a doubt, the album that started it all... our obsession with original film scores. Thomas Newman, a Hollywood heavyweight composer, has composed music for many movies, including Wall-E, American Beauty, Finding Nemo, Finding DoryThe Green Mile, and Spectre. Newman has a unique style of writing, and once you are familiar with it, it's easy to recognize. Creating themes is extremely important to Newman - a theme can introduce an idea or represent a character or feeling.  Once the theme has been established, Newman is able to manipulate it or reconfigure it, either subtly or dramatically, in order to paint a more detailed and nuanced picture. What we like about Newman's score for Meet Joe Black is how accurately the music mimics the feelings and sentiment of the film; it's introspective, poetic, and lyrical. Buy from Amazon »

2
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Tan Dun (2000)

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", Soundtrack by Tan Dun. Sony Classical (P) 2000 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

Tan Dun's impressive work for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon effortlessly fuses Western and Eastern music in a unique and meaningful way. With the help of Yo-Yo Ma, Dun impossibly paints a vivid picture with a minimal sound. From the heart-pounding drums to the solo cello, his score is the foundation of a visually stunning, award winning movie. Buy from Amazon »

3
Chronicles of Narnia - Harry Gregson-Williams (2005)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", Soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams. Walt Disney (C) 2005 Disney

This blockbuster movie of 2005, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, boasts a fantastic soundtrack. Each song masterfully depicts the movie's drama, so even without the silver screen, the score stands solidly by itself. Gregson-Williams has an impressive list of works including scores for the Shrek films, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Prometheus, and The Martian, but many of his fans agree that Narnia is one of his greatest musical triumphs. The music of the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack are rather eclectic - it's a mix of modern and classical music with references to folk music. Buy from Amazon »

4
American Beauty - Thomas Newman (1999)

"American Beauty", Soundtrack by Thomas Newman. Dreamworks

American Beauty, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1999, has an amazing score. Composed by Thomas Newman, the music brings out the emotional subtleties words alone cannot do. Tastefully written, Newman's musical intuition to stay away from overly powerful, somewhat cliché musical themes adds to the film's inherent beauty. The music of American Beauty is more of a framework, a hollow shell accented with "mile markers", allowing the listener to fill in the gaps with their own emotions, feelings, and interpretations. Buy from Amazon »

5
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Howard Shore

"The Lord of the Rings", Soundtrack by Howard Shore. Reprise (c) 2007 New Line Productions, Inc.

Like the music of John Williams' Star Wars, Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings is instantly recognizable. Its music evokes many of the movies' most memorable scenes. What's more, with over nine hours of film to cover, a lack of musical variety is not an issue here! Shore effortlessly captures the action, emotion, and atmosphere of the movie and translates them to notes on a page. The trilogy features several artists, but one, in particular, we are quite fond of is Renee FlemingBuy from Amazon »

6
Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman (2008)

"Slumdog Millionaire", Soundtrack by A. R. Rahman. Interscope Records (C) 2008 Celador Films Ltd./Channel Four Television Corporation

This album is starkly different from the other albums on this list. Rahman's Slumdog Millionaire, winner of the 2009 Golden Globe for Best Original Score from a Motion Picture, is definitely a youthful soundtrack fusing hip-hop and the typical Bollywood soundtrack into a modern-day, upbeat masterpiece. Buy from Amazon »

7
Finding Neverland - Jan A. P. Kaczmarek (2004)

"Finding Neverland", Soundtrack by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Decca (C) 2004 Universal Classics Group, a Division of UMG Recordings Inc.

Youth, joy, and reckless abandon are the themes of this fantastic soundtrack. Kaczmarek, a polish composer, envisioned the meaning of Peter Pan and transformed it to music. Children's chorus, solo piano, strings, and other energetic orchestrations take the listener exactly where they want to go - Neverland. Buy from Amazon »

8
Star Wars: Episode III - John Williams (2005)

"Star Wars: Episode III", Soundtrack by John Williams. Sony Classical (P) 2005 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars. Almost anyone can name the movie upon hearing the main theme and many can sing it if asked. The soundtrack to Episode III is nothing short of spectacular. Williams, whose music for Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban was nominated for a Grammy for Best Score in 2005, is another Hollywood heavyweight composer. The music for Episode III is, perhaps, the darkest of the six Star Wars films. Buy from Amazon »

9
Finding Nemo - Thomas Newman (2003)

"Finding Nemo", Soundtrack by Thomas Newman. Walt Disney (C) 2003 Walt Disney Records/Pixar Animation Studios

Thomas Newman's third entry on the list is his score for Finding Nemo. Gracious in design and impeccable in execution, Newman's music is heartfelt and sincere. In a cold, vast ocean, his music adds warmth and emotional richness that computer animated characters and vivid graphics cannot fully express. Buy from Amazon »

10
Amelie - Yann Tiersen (2001)

"Amelie", Original Soundtrack by Yann Tiersen. EMI (C) 2001 Virgin Music

This delightful French film has a soundtrack that is rather unique. Its french flair and instrumentation are far from cliché. Employing a variety of instruments from accordion to solo piano, this score encompasses the film's fluttery charm and nature. Buy from Amazon »