Ranking The Best Film Scores of 2022 (So Far)

We’re more than halfway through 2022 already, which means any dedicated cinephile already has a shortlist for the upcoming awards season. And one of my personal favorite lists to think about is the best film scores of each year.

Music plays a huge role in the emotional storytelling of film. (As someone who works in royalty free music, I’m pretty aware of the intimate ties between audio and video.) And the way that directors on big budget films choose composers and collaborate with those artists to enhance and deepen the story and setting is one area of filmmaking that always deserves a little more credit.

But rather than spend a bunch of time talking about how great film scores are or how diverse the composing landscape is, let’s get down to business and rank the best film scores of 2022 (so far).

 

Film Scores vs. Film Soundtracks

As a starting point, it’s worth at least reminding you of the difference between “film score” and “film soundtrack.” (The complicated part is that these terms are used interchangeably, even by film composers, but the differences are still worth remembering.)

Now, a film score is music that is composed exclusively for a film — think about John Williams’ defining work on Star Wars, or the deep and heavy resonance of Hans Zimmer’s music for Inception

A film soundtrack is a collection of music (either scored or licensed), which serves as a backdrop for the film and may even be heard “in-scene” by the characters — the best example of this is The Guardians of the Galaxy’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1.”

Today, we’re looking at the first item. So if you’re looking for some Guns N Roses from Thor: Love and Thunder or the spectacular return to the Danger Zone in Top Gun: Maverick, you’re going to be disappointed. (Don’t get me wrong, both of those soundtracks are awesome…they just aren’t film scores.)

#1. The Batman, composed by Michael Giacchino

We’ll start with the film score of The Batman because it’s probably the least surprising inclusion on this list. Michael Giacchino is on his way to becoming a household name, landing more and more high-profile scoring jobs over the past decade — getting to score a Batman film almost seems like it fits in the “Just another Tuesday” category for Giacchino.

While this was not my favorite Batman movie, it did deliver one of my favorite superhero film scores. Watching The Batman definitely reminded me of an older era of Batman, putting me more in mind of graphic novels than big, bombastic films. 

As an added bonus, the track names are entertaining to read, especially within the context of the film scenes they attach to.

#2. The Northman, composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough

Ethnic instruments help sell a film in the same way that period- and region-appropriate costumes do. (They’re not quite as essential, but they both establish a unique atmosphere and also elicit certain emotional responses.) 

One example of that is The Northman’s film score, and how the Norse weapons — mostly made of bone and wood — are palpably different from the music you’d expect from “classical” pieces. Sure, the time period might be the same, but the way a tagelharpa sounds is drastically different than the way a violin sounds.

All that to say that the work Carolan and Gainsborough did to craft an authentic Viking score didn’t go unnoticed. They wanted the music to have the same dirty, worn, and grim feel of the story and setting; they ended up surpassing that goal.

#3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, composed by Colin Stetson

I do not enjoy horror films, and in most cases their scores and soundtracks. But Stetson’s

score for Texas Chainsaw Massacre has gotten enough buzz that it forced me to listen to it anyway.

The best horror film scores lean heavily on sound effects to recreate scenes from the film, where the rising tension becomes part of your listening experience (even without the visuals). This score could be a standalone experience, telling a horror story that keeps you up at night with nothing but the sound design and music arrangements. 

#4. Death on the Nile, composed by Patrick Doyle

Part of traditional film scoring a sense of grand, sweeping tones that swept you (and the characters) along on a journey. It’s not something that a lot of modern composers really go for these days, and it’s not something that generally works with most films.

Doyle’s score for Death on the Nile does that. Listen to the score and it feels Victorian sometimes, while other moments sound straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Doyle has some distinctly classical vibes around most of stuff he scores, and this adaptation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery provided an opportunity to pull viewers in by creating a complex and layered time capsule to 1937.

#5. KIMI, composed by Cliff Martinez

Aside from a few diegetic songs (played by electronic devices in-scene), the brunt of KIMI’s film score is a blend of orchestral instruments and light synths. The combination does a great job of delivering music that is both chill and calm, but also carries an uneasy edge that could shift at any moment — something almost necessary in any good thriller, and especially one with a focus on the protagonist’s mental health. 

Martinez finds a simplicity in the score that may not be as effective as a standalone listening experience; the music is at its best behind Steven Soderbergh’s shot direction. But the overall impact that the score brings to the film helped it secure the final spot on this shortlist.

Ranking The Best Film Scores

These five films (and specifically their scores) cover a pretty wide range of genres and styles. 2022 has been a good year for film diversity, and there’s a great chance we’ll continue to see that trend continue all the way up until award season. It’s hard to guess what will end up being the critics’ favorite film score, but it’ll be interesting to see how it comes together.

After all, the best part of any rankings list is that people will have their own thoughts and opinions on the topic. So sound off in the comments with any film scores I overlooked or overhyped. 
Drew Gula is the content marketing writer at Soundstripe, a company that provides creators and businesses with resources like youtube background music and sound effects.

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