John Williams

John Williams’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

John Williams
Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).

I grew up in a very strict household in terms of….well, everything, but music for example.  Getting approval for any music with words was onerous and I between the period where I stopped trying and snuck it in anyway and was still being scrutinized, I became obsessed with movie music.  Film scores, even for films I wouldn’t be allowed to see for years, were somehow kosher in the Kafkaesque parental rule book and I devoured them.  There weren’t too many 11 year olds who knew who John Williams was.  I knew who he was: he was the greatest composer of the 20th century (I should say “is” as the maestro is still with us, but we’re out of the century is my point).

Han Solo, Harrison Ford, Star Wars

You can say Gershwin or Copland, but you’re wrong: it’s Williams.  I sometimes wonder what films would be like if Beethoven, Mozart or Bach lived today, because if they did, they’d be doing film scores.  Classical composers didn’t compose for themselves often.  They did commissioned work for patrons.  Composers who want their music heard and remembered today work in movies and they generally latch on to a patron (or director) with whom they have a good working relationship.  In Williams’ case, he has done the scores for all but one of Spielberg’s films.  Just those efforts alone would be amazing, but Star Wars became defined by its music and, whatever you think of the prequels, the quality of the music behind those movies has been transformative.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford

His resume is so good, it borders on the ridiculous.  There are few people in Western Civilization, perhaps the world who do not know a piece of Williams’ music, even if they may not know it was composed by him.  Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Harry Potter and DOZENS more.  If the quality of his recent scores hasn’t been up to some of his previous efforts, I’d argue it mirrors the decline of quality in his patron’s films.  No, he’s not doing the best work of his career.  I think his golden age was 1975-2005.  There’s thirty years of peerless work in there.  Before we get to those peerless works, here’s the last 10 films done by Williams:

WILLIAMS’ LATEST TEN:
1. The Book Thief (2013)……………….7.00
2. Lincoln (2012)…………………………..7.50
3. War Horse (2011)………………………6.25
4. The Adventures of Tin Tin (2011)..7.00
5. Indiana Jones 4 (2008)……………….8.00
6. Munich (2005)…………………………..5.00
7. Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)…………8.25
8. War of the Worlds (2005)……………5.75
9. Star Wars Episode III (2005)………10.00
10. Harry Potter 3 (2004)………………10.00
JOHN WILLIAMS’ CURRENT WORKING AVERAGE: 7.475

jurassic-park-1993-01-g

John Williams is not a 7.5 composer, but he’s in his eighties and largely works on Spielberg’s canvas, which has been a spotty one these last ten years.  Hans Zimmer is the best composer working today; the best doing his best work, but Zimmer will even tell you in a heartbeat he’s no John Williams.  Williams even composed three Olympic themes and the NBC Nightly News anthem, which are just as iconic as his film scores.

Ranking the ten best of his scores is like trying to describe how shiny a particular diamond is.  You can argue a dozen ways for even the top spot.  These are mine, but I won’t argue with anyone throwing others onto the heap.

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WILLIAMS’ GREATEST TEN:
1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)……..10.00
2. Superman (1978)……………………………………………………….10.00
3. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)………………………………….10.00
4. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)………………………10.00
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)……………………………………….10.00
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)…………….10.00
7. Schindler’s List (1993)…………………………………………………..10.00
8. Jurassic Park (1993)……………………………………………………. 10.00
9. Hook (1991)……………………………………………………………….. 10.00
10. Space Camp (1986)……………………………………………………..10.00
JOHN WILLIAMS’ CURRENT GREATEST AVERAGE: 10.00
FIRST PERFECT TEN; HIGHEST RANKING POSSIBLE

Now you can add about a dozen more tens onto this list and I’ve included Hook and Space Camp at the bottom because (along with Home Alone where he wrote his own Christmas carols), I think they’re his most unappreciated works.  The bottom line is: John Williams has made as much of a contribution to movies as anyone who has ever had a hand in the medium: actors, directors, composers, and more have been inspired by fifty years of dedicated, inspirational work to the medium.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing him direct nights of his movie music at the Hollywood Bowl several times and he delights in sharing his music with audiences.  He’ll save Star Wars for the end because all across the Bowl, thousands of plastic lightsabers begin to wave in rhythm to the strains of Vader’s Empire March.  Williams will turn to the crowd and conduct the audience in the dance of light and it’s just…magic.  The kind of magic his music has imbued in movies  and that will outlive him for centuries to come.

john-williams

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3 thoughts on “John Williams’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies”

  1. I saw Close Encounters at a very early age on television. Shortly thereafter, I was in a record store with my mother, and saw the soundtrack on display. I asked my mother to buy it for me, and subsequently wore the cassette tape down. At age six I knew who this man was, and loved him. I don’t know how you narrowed his best work down to just ten scores.

    1. To be honest, I could throw out those 10 and still give him another ten 10s and maybe another ten after that. He’s had as much impact on the medium as any individual period. I’m in awe of the man. I’m so happy I got to see him in person.

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