How Many Movie Scores Can You Hum?

Speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean, can you hum the main theme of the score? I can sort of vaguely remember it, but not with any kind of precision.

That got me thinking about film scores, and how many melodies from film scores I could, say, accurately whistle or hum. Here’s the list, off the top of my head:

Star Wars
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Great Escape
Back to the Future
The Mission

It’s no surprise that most of those are John Williams scores, the composer on whom most film aesthetes like to heap abuse.

This raises a related point–should film scores be hummable at all? My rule of thumb is that if I notice the score (unless I’m actively listening for it), it’s too prominent, or the movie is too dull. Maybe film composition has evolved beyond Williams’s memorable themes, and the medium is better for it?

Which scores can you hum? No counting soundtracks that you own–that’s cheating.

Speaking of film evolution, compare the plot of the three Pirates movies to the three original Star Wars movies. I feel like there’s more double-crosses, twists, reversals, action sequences, subplots and so forth in one Pirates movie than in all three of Lucas’s films. And what happened to a little exposition in the first act to refresh our memories from the last movie? It took me half an hour to remember where the hell Jack Sparrow had gone.


  1. As much as I adore John Williams scores, I would argue that Ennio Morricone (The Mission; The Untouchables; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) is a far superior composer. Williams is memorable, but Morricone touches to your heart in ways that Williams has never managed.

  2. I think most people would also know the Theme from ET, Lord of the Rings, the original John Williams Harry Potter theme, The Sound of Music, Saturday Night Fever, Beverly Hills Cop, and Grease.

  3. Norlinda: Indeed, ET (another John Williams) and Beverly Hills Cop (Herbie Hancock) are good ones. I’ve seen all the movies, but I can’t for the life of me hum the themes from Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter movies (in my mind, I can hear bits from the trailers in the latter case, but I’m pretty sure they’re not the main theme).

    I’d discount any lyrical piece, as it’s fair easier to remember (and frequently serves a somewhat different purpose in the film, especially in the case of musicals).

  4. Chariots of Fire by Vangelis is definately hummable, though like many, I haven’t even seen the movie. His other movie themes are good too, though not necessarily memorable. If you like the genre, try Blade Runner and 1492 Conquest of Paradise, and I like the more obscure ones such as Antarctica and La Fete Sauvage. Go on, just buy his “Themes” album, it’s all good.

    In the same category, I’d also list Dead Poets Society by Maurice Jarre, and Last of the Mohicans by Jones and Edelman.

    I also have to vote for Morricone over Williams, subtlety over big sound.

  5. From Morricone, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a must for this list.

    The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein deserves a spot, too.

    But, whether through merit (my vote) or sheer repetition, I’m going to argue that the James Bond Theme by Monty Norman is the all-time champion.

  6. let’s not forget the Godfather theme, the Pink Panther, and Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I think at least two of those are by Henry Mancini. There’s a whole world of Henry Mancini out there if you’re the humming kind.

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