The 10 most iconic composer-conductor collaborations

While the visuals in a movie are the most immediately recognizable characteristics of a movie, the musical score that sets the tone and mood of a story is just as important to the narrative of the movie. Among the crowd of acclaimed directors and their award-winning films to celebrate are the composers they collaborated with who rounded out their full story experience with powerful soundtracks.

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Many of the best-known films to date feature partnerships between experienced directors and composers with whom they frequently collaborate and who are familiar with their cinematic style. Here are ten of the most iconic composer-director collaborations that have created some of today’s most notable films.

10 Brad Bird and Michael Giacchino

Brad Bird and Michael Giacchino

Brad Bird, best known for his directing work on animated films such as The Incredibles (2018), has worked on several major films with composer Michael Giacchino.

Several of Giacchino’s compositions in the past have earned him an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy, and three Grammy Awards. Films on which Bird and Giacchino collaborated include The Incredibles (2004), Incredibles 2 (2018), Ratatouille (2007), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and The world of tomorrow (2015).

9 Sofia Coppola and Phoenix


Sofia Coppola puts a more contemporary spin on the music of her films, working with the French indie pop band Phoenix, best known for their acclaimed singles “1901” and “Lisztomania.” His musical style employs smooth technoelectronic rhythms that highlight the coming-of-age and contemplative aspects of Coppola’s narrative style.

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Coppola and Phoenix have collaborated on three of his films, including Somewhere (2010), The deceived (2017), and his latest, distributed by A24 for digital broadcast, On the rocks (2020).

8 Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz

Justin hurwitz

Damien Chazelle is perhaps best known for his stories that focus on the artist in distress, and music is a highly critical component of these films. Chazelle is frequently associated with composer Justin Hurwitz in his films, including Guy and Madeline on a park bench (2009), Lash (2014), La La Land (2016), First man (2018) and its next Babylon (2021).

For his work in La La Land, Hurwitz won 2 Academy Awards – Best Soundtrack and Best Original Song for “City of Stars” – as well as a BAFTA for Best Movie Score.

7 Wes Anderson and Alexandre Desplat

Alexander Desplat

Wes Anderson, renowned for his stylistically symmetrical shots and colorful cinematography, is frequently associated with composer Alexandre Desplat in the music of his films. Desplat’s work is especially important to Anderson’s films, as his films contain less dialogue than conventional ones and instead focus on the setting and movement of the characters along with the music.

Some of Anderson’s best-known films contain compositions by Desplat, including Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Isle of Dogs (2018), and his latest, The French office (2020).

6 Tim Burton and Danny Elfman

Tim Burton and Danny Elfman

One of Hollywood’s most recognized and enduring composer-director partnerships is the collaboration between director Tim Burton and musician Danny Elfman. Elfman has worked on some of Burton’s early films and the two have collaborated on projects for more than 30 years.

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Some of Burton’s films that feature Elfman’s compositions include Beetle juice (1988), Eduardo scissorhands (1990), The nightmare before christmas (1993), Planet of the Apes (2001), Big fish (2003), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Frankenweenie (2012), Alice through the mirror (2016) and Dumbo (2019).

5 Claire Denis and Stuart Staples

Claire denis

French director Claire Denis has earned recognition for her filmmaking at festivals around the world, even winning a Palme d’Or and a C├ęsar for her early work. Some of his most notable films have been in partnership with composer Stuart Staples.

The two worked together on The intruder (2004), White material (2009), Bastards (2013), Contact (2004), Let the sun pass (2017) and, more recently, High life (2018).

4 Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer

Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer

Christopher Nolan’s mind-blowing films frequently provoke discussions about the story and the subject. One element of Nolan’s narrative that facilitates such critical thinking is the score that he puts underneath the scenes on screen, many of which were composed by Hans Zimmer, who has a very different musical style that has lent a soundtrack to numerous science fiction thrillers.

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Nolan’s most notable and acclaimed films have been in collaboration with Zimmer, including The beginning of batman (2005), The dark knight (2008), Start (2010), The dark knight rises (2012), Iron Man (2013), Interstellar (2014) and Dunkirk (2017).

3 Steven Spielberg and John Williams

Steven Spielfberg and John Williams

One of the longest-lasting composer-director partnerships in Hollywood is the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and John Williams. Spielberg has worked with Williams on more than 30 films over more than 40 years.

Many of Spielberg’s award-winning films feature music by Williams, such as Jaws (1975), Raiders of the lost ark (1981), ET the alien (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s list (1993), Friendship (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), War of words (2005), Lincoln (2012) and his next Indiana Jones 5 (2022).

two Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard

Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard

Director Spike Lee has collaborated with jazz musician Terence Blanchard on numerous films throughout his career. Blanchard started out as a musician on Lee’s early productions and quickly enlisted to direct the composition of certain projects for the next two decades of Lee’s career.

Lee and Blanchard have partnered on films including, but not limited to, Malcolm x (1992), Get on the bus (nineteen ninety six), 4 girls (1997), 25th hour (2002), Man inside (2006), Chi-Raq (2015), BlacKkKlansman (2018) and Give 5 Bloods (2020).

1 George Lucas and John Williams

John Williams and C3PO

John Williams appears on this list again, as a list of iconic director-songwriter collaborations cannot be complete without the George Lucas and John Williams partnership, of course. Williams, who currently has 25 Grammy Awards, 7 BAFTAs, 5 Academy Awards (and 52 nominations) and 4 Golden Globe Awards, composed one of the most famous movie soundtracks in history with his Star Wars Lucas soundtrack.

Williams’ music appears in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).

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