Ten Movie Scores to Write to by Genre
Many writers listen to music while they work, but did you know listening to music with lyrics can be distracting and limit your cognitive abilities? In 2018, a study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal showed reading comprehension, reading speed, and proofreading accuracy decreased when people listened to music with lyrics. They were less distracted while listening to nonlyrical music because it doesn’t sound like speech. One way to avoid this issue while still listening to some interesting music is to find scores of movies you like and write to them. This also creates different writing atmospheres, depending on the score you choose.
Here are ten of my favorites, with the genre I think they go best with. (Note: I limited myself to one John Williams score, because his music would take up half of the list otherwise! If you want more Williams, I made a playlist of some of his most iconic work here.)
1) Adventure: Forrest Gump
This score is lush and gentle in some parts, with romantic piano and string themes, but also has its inspirational, grand moments. It’s the perfect backdrop for writing your own sprawling adventure like Forrest Gump.
2) Action: Speed
The quintessential action movie score, percussion-heavy with a fast, driving beat and additional synthesizer textures. If you want to channel the energy of an endless chase scene into your writing, this one’s for you.
3) Horror, Thriller: Psycho
This classic score features a simple string orchestra, jumping from tracks with slow, creeping tension to the squealing violins stings that make it so iconic. It’s a great score for writing thrillers, or horror.
4) Mystery, Sci-fi: Blade Runner
Blade Runner’s synth-heavy score feels like a mix of film noir jazz and the music they play in the background of a planetarium show. It’s contemplative, moody and mysterious, but unmistakably sci-fi. Many tracks have a sparse sound texture, so if you’re looking for something unobtrusive to listen to Blade Runner may be a good option.
5) Sci-fi, Horror: Interstellar
Piano, organ, and distorted electronic effects feature heavily in this score, giving it a perfect sound for sci-fi, especially sci-fi with horror elements. The music is ebbs and flows from slow, stripped back ostinato to soaring, dense crescendos and back.
6) Epics, Fantasy: Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings trilogy has three hours and forty minutes of score, accompanying everything from ethereal magic to unsettling horror to booming action. This is a terrific soundtrack for fantasy writers, or anyone who wants to write for big chunks of time.
7) Fantasy, Adventure, Drama: Star Wars
My John Williams pick! Star Wars’ iconic score is inspired by the music of great Romantic composers, filled with drama, grand orchestrations, and stirring emotional moments that open up the imagination. It’s another score to listen to if you’re writing for the long haul—there’s several hours of music if you listen to the whole franchise.
8) Drama, Romance: Pride and Prejudice (2005)
This score heavily features strings, piano, and woodwinds with a Romantic inspiration. There are some dramatic, contemplative tracks mixed with lively dance tunes, and what sounds like the background of a walk through the English countryside. A good score for writing dramas and romances.
9) Romance: The Notebook
The Notebook is the most peaceful score on the list (minus a break for some big band music in the middle). Many melodies take notes from classic Hollywood romances, and like Pride and Prejudice it features piano, woodwinds, and strings for a mellow sound.
10) Drama, Romance, Tragedy: Titanic
Titanic is an epic-scale movie, and naturally its score has a range of moods. Some tracks are romantic, some are ominous and dark, some are filled with action. Truly an epic soundtrack for writing an epic romance or adventure.
Bonus: 2001: A Space Odyssey
I didn’t include this score because it samples heavily from existing classical music, but if you want to listen to some choral pieces that will unsettle you (and maybe set the mood for some strange writing), listen through 2001: A Space Odyssey.
These scores didn’t make my top ten list, and you probably won’t find them on lists great movie scores, but I enjoyed listening to them in my research and had to add a postscript. Twilight’s score has a fantastic drama in a lot of its tracks, with tender piano melodies for sweet moments and dark, moody tension elsewhere (it also features electric guitar with its orchestra, which I’m a sucker for). Finding Nemo captures the sounds of the ocean, from the bright coral reef to the empty expanses of the deep. The composer makes great use of woodwinds and shimmering textures to that purpose.