Composer Hans Zimmer revisits Oscar-winning territory with his score for Disney’s remake of The Lion King. In celebration, here are Zimmer’s 17 greatest film works presented and ranked – with a few notable omissions…
In 1994, Disney released one of the jewels of their renaissance period: The Lion King. This anthropomorphised take on Hamlet, playing out to luscious hand-drawn visuals, bold characterizations and showstopping tunes, boasted the kind of generational impact that is never forgotten.
And now The Jungle Book film-maker Jon Favreau puts a photo-realistic CGI spin on the material in Disney’s remake. The new version hews very closely to the original while mixing up newer cast members (Donald Glover, Beyonce, Chiwetel Ejiofor) with returning favourites (James Earl Jones as Mufasa). And Favreau has also made the pivotal decision to stick with the original film’s trio of soundtrack composers: Hans Zimmer for the score, plus Elton John and Tim Rice for the songs, although certain soloists have been swapped out befitting this new take on the material.
All three won Oscars for their stirring work on the movie, but we’re here to talk about Zimmer, one of the most revered film composers of his generation. This rebooted Lion King offers Zimmer an intriguing opportunity to revisit what is considered one of his crowning achievements, so to mark the occasion, here are his 17 greatest scores ranked.
And yes, the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, as well as Inception, Man of Steel, Dunkirk and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are absent from this list – one because they’re allowed to dominate the conversation around Zimmer far too much, and two because, in the eyes of this writer, they don’t represent this fine composer anywhere near the peak of his powers.
17. The House of the Spirits (1993)
Given Zimmer is regularly associated with blusterous action fare, it can often be a jolt re-acquainting oneself with his formidable dramatic capabilities. Case in point: this somewhat forgotten Billie August drama, whose all-star cast (Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas) can’t save it from stewing in a sea of portent (the film is based on the debut novel by Isabel Allende). Nevertheless, the movie’s dynastic backdrop, array of characters and Chilean locations offer an opportunity for Zimmer to conjure a rich, swirling score that drips with melancholy. Those who associate him predominantly with the likes of The Dark Knight are well advised to check this one out.
16. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Zimmer has always been good at bass-heavy scores, ones that tease a sense of mystery and shadowy deception. Fitting, therefore, that he should score Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestseller, an onslaught of religious conspiracy, coded artwork and subterfuge. It’s not light fare – in fact the movie is downright dull – but Zimmer expertly teases out the riddles lurking in the recesses of human history, his familiar sawing strings and processed brass orchestrations almost threatening to overwhelm the film. (In fact, the BBFC suggested the music’s intensity ought be toned down slightly for the purposes of attaining a 12A certificate). The score does eventually step into the light with the cathartic, ecstatic ‘Chevaliers de Sangreal’, one of Zimmer’s most powerful pieces that really does touch on a sense of the divine.
15. The Holiday (2006)
From the dark to the light. Zimmer is equally adept at working at the fluffier, more comic end of the soundtrack spectrum – in fact, this kind of material often draws out the kind of endearing, charming, thematic qualities lacking in his more bombastic scores. There are any number of infectious Zimmer comedy scores on offer, from A League of Their Own to Cool Runnings and the Oscar-nominated As Good As It Gets, but the sheer warmth of The Holiday wins it. Showcasing genuine heart in its melancholic orchestrations while also incorporating Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in America (film composing is plot point in the movie, and Zimmer himself gets a self-referential nod), it’s a lovely score.
14. Regarding Henry (1991)
Zimmer replaced romantic master Georges Delerue for this obscure Mike Nichols movie – scripted by a young JJ Abrams, it stars Harrison Ford as a workaholic lawyer who must rebuild his life after a gunshot wound to the head. No doubt Nichols was looking for a bit of a contemporary kick in the music, and that’s what the up-and-coming Zimmer delivered, a synth/jazz crossover that, like the earlier, pioneering Rain Man, further cemented him as an exciting, fresh voice in the world of film music. Away from the pop inflections (including vocals from Bobby McFerrin), Zimmer’s central descending melody, alluding to the unfulfilled nature of Ford’s character and his road to recovery, remains one of his most haunting creations.
13. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The emergent status of DreamWorks as an animation powerhouse became apparent with this sweeping take on the story of Moses and Rameses. The star-stuffed voice cast includes the likes of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes and Sandra Bullock, and certainly the adult-skewing nature of the storyline allows Hans Zimmer to indulge some of his most portentous, spiritual material. There’s relatively little mickey-mousing of the action in reverential tracks like ‘The Burning Bush’, Zimmer instead latching onto the Biblical themes of the story. Zimmer also produced and arranged certain songs otherwise written by Stephen Schwartz, including the in-film version of ‘When You Believe’ performed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky (the single released later was a duet between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston).
Click below to continue onto the second page…