James Horner: from Star Trek to Avatar - 10 of his best film scores in clips

The Oscar-winning composer James Horner, who has died in a plane crash, wrote the music for Star Trek II aged 28 and went on to score films such as Aliens, Iris and Braveheart. We look back over his career in clips

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Horner was hired for the second Star Trek movie after Jerry Goldsmith, who had scored Star Trek: The Motion Picture, had become too expensive. Horner reworked the classic Star Trek TV series fanfare (written by Alexander Courage) for the opening theme.


Horner described working for James Cameron on the Alien follow-up as a “nightmare” – when he arrived at Abbey Road studios, in London, to work on the score, the picture was not finished, Cameron spent days tweaking sound effects, and the producers refused to delay the schedule to allow Horner to write a score to his own satisfaction. However, the result ended in Horner’s first Oscar nomination – which he lost to Herbie Hancock for Round Midnight.

An American Tail

Horner was also nominated for best song in the same year, for this little ditty Somewhere Out There from the cartoon An American Tail. Horner did a lot of work on kiddie material produced by Steven Spielberg, including Casper, Batteries Not Included, and The Land Before Time.

Field of Dreams

Another Oscar nomination followed Horner’s score for the mystical baseball movie starring Kevin Costner. Rather than produce a sweeping orchestral score, Horner went down the soundscape route, linking atmospheric fragments together to create a brooding, ghostly backing.


Horner liked to feature Celtic motifs in his scores, and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart gave him ample opportunity. Here is the undeniably stirring Sons of Scotland speech, with Horner’s booming melody underscoring Gibson’s hoarse encouragement of the troops.


The big one. Not only did Titanic win Horner his best original score Oscar, he also scooped one for best song for My Heart Will Go On, and the complete soundtrack became one of the all-time biggest sellers. He always says he was surprised to have been invited back by Cameron after the difficulties he had experienced on Aliens, and he looks delighted by the outcome on Oscar night, as seen in the clip below.


Horner wasn’t just about big scale bombast: he could work on miniatures too, as his credit on the Richard Eyre directed Iris showed. Though it’s hardly his most attention-grabbing score, Iris has plangent music moments that build on the restrained emotion of the scenes.


Horner was arguably at his best souping up potentially clunky sequences: here he puts a lot of drums to work behind a face-off between Brad Pitt and Eric Bana in the Wolfgang Petersen-directed Troy (when such films were fashionable). Impressive stuff.


Horner returned to work with Cameron on the 3D blockbuster Avatar, which resulted in overtaking Titanic at the box office. Horner called it the “most difficult” job he ever undertook, with its mix of high action and ethnological research.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Horner was more than equal to the demands of the modern superhero movie: here’s his dramatic accompaniment to The Amazing Spider-Man: including a clever moment of silence when it looks like Spidey may have gone over the side of a building, and isn’t coming back.

Below is an extended 2010 interview Horner did for the DP/30 video blog.

  • This article was changed on 23 June, to correct the song title My Heart Will Go On


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

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