Culture Re-View: Celebrating Ennio Morricone’s most essential film scores

Remembering the great scores of Ennio Morricone
Remembering the great scores of Ennio Morricone Copyright AP Photo
By David Mouriquand
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On this day in 1928, Il Maestro, one of the most prolific and versatile composers in the history of cinema, was born.


Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on 10 November 1928 and is remembered as the genius behind some of cinema’s most iconic soundtracks.

After studying classical music and writing scores for theatre and radio, his film soundtracks soon brought him worldwide acclaim.

Morricone composed more than 500 soundtracks for cinema and television, and became famous for scoring the spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Leone, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars.

In 2007, Ennio Morricone received an honorary Oscar for his “magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music” and in 2016, at the age of 87, he won an Oscar for his score to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

He died in 2020, at the age of 91.

Attempting to cover the full breadth and beauty of Morricone’s œuvre is a fool’s errand, so we’ve narrowed things down considerably and picked out the absolute must-have cinematic scores to treasure.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

'Once Upon A Time In The West' might be Morricone’s ultimate masterpiece, but ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ is without a doubt Il Maestro's most iconic score. The first refrain – Aaaaah-eeeeee aaaaah-eeeeee aaaaaah, waaaah waaaah waaaaaaaaaah - is so simple yet a tune for ages, one that would contribute to revolutionising the Western genre. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was the third movie in Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ and the howling of a coyote and sounds of gunfire and whistling meant that the soundtrack still routinely pops up on lists of the greatest film scores of all time.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

In the early ’70s, Italian cinema was all about giallo horror, especially with the master of the Italian slasher genre, Dario Argento. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Argento’s debut feature (and arguably one of his best films), was the first of Morricone’s contributions to the genre. Clearly, the composer was inspired by Krzysztof Komeda’s lullaby in Rosemary’s Baby for his eerily la-la-la nursery rhyme. Add moaning, screaming and some swirling percussions, and you’ve got yourself a statement of intent that meant the giallo genre had already musically peaked in 1970. Until Goblin showed up for 1977's Suspiria, but that's another matter... 

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter famously decided not to score his classic sci-fi / horror film, and instead commissioned Morricone to make a moody soundtrack for the ages. His stripped-down score ominously evokes the chilly isolation and claustrophobia of the film’s setting, as well as the suspense oozing throughout the runtime. 'The Thing' stands as one of the composer’s earliest electronic scores, with synths and reverb galore. We recommend you turn off the lights, grab a pair of decent headphones and experience this textured and haunting score the proper way. Just don’t be surprised if you feel like there's constantly something creeping up behind you.

The Untouchables (1987)

Brian De Palma’s wonderful prohibition-era gangster flick is a classic, and in large part thanks to Morricone’s punchy score. As epic as the story, inspired by the 1950s TV show about G-men busting gangsters, Morricone’s score is a thrilling throwback to Old Hollywood, with heroic, Western-inspired themes, metronome ticking for maximum tension during the action scenes, and trumpets announcing the dastardly baddies. It’s one of his very best.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

He could do Westerns, horror, crime epics and sci-fi. But did you know Morricone was able to make you swoon? Indeed, one of the 1980s most glorious films needed an equally glorious score. And leave it to Morricone to offer up such a transcendent soundtrack to Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, the story of a boy’s friendship with a cinema projectionist. It sounds like classic melodrama, and the music brims with pure sentimentality, but it never goes full cloying. Instead, the heart-breaking score beautifully captures the feeling of childhood nostalgia, as well as evoke the sweeping power and romance inherent to the seventh art. No small thing. Grab the tissues for this one.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Morricone won his first Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack in 2016, at the age of 87, for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. He really should have had about 20 Golden Baldies to his name, but at least it was a fitting end to an illustrious career. Tarantino had previously used pieces by Morricone in his films, but this was the first time he had commissioned any composer to write an original film score. The Hateful Eight was also the first time Morricone had scored a Western since The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and it was one of the last scores before his death. A late-career classic, this score is a fitting (and foreboding) elegy to one of the most versatile composers cinema has ever known.

Ennio Morricone: 10 November 1928 - 6 July 2020.

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