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The 30 Most Underrated Movie Scores of the 2010s, Ranked

Jun 25, 2023

The 2010s were a new era for the industry, and for movies. How about the film scores? Let's go through 30 of the ones that deserve more love.

The 2010s. Phew! We got through a hell of a start with the new millennium, in every which way to Sunday. During the 2000s, we had a shocking attack on American soil, a new president that dragged us into our longest-running war, hip-hop dominating the world, the iPod giving way to Apple's revolution and dominance, the emergence of reality TV, the internet conquering daily life, a global recession, a writers strike, the rise of Facebook, the death of Michael Jackson, and to top it all off, the nation's first black president! Then in the world of cinema, we had the Superhero/Comic book genre make a reinvigorated, grand, and muscular comeback into the public zeitgeist (and the box-office) and firmly cement a colossal throne within the kingdom of Hollywood.

We had gifted, brilliant, talented, and polarizing auteurs popping up and throwing gut punches at the Hollywood system. We had a new Batman, a new James Bond, the return of James Cameron, the Lord of the Rings movies weaving new cinematic magic, Ashton Kutcher finally taking on a dramatic role, the beloved show "Friends" coming to its end, the Saw franchise almost single-handedly resurrecting the horror genre, we saw Anakin finally putting on the Vader mask, Harry Potter crafting his cinematic legacy, Indiana Jones coming back, Twilight driving everybody crazy, Jack Sparrow making everybody laugh, Martin Scorsese winning the most abysmally overdue Oscar ever, and of course, "Brangelina". Not to mention, Robert Downey Jr. got a second chance at life!

So naturally, after such a tumultuous decade, no one knew what to expect in the next one. And absolutely NO ONE would be prepared for any of it. It's as if the 2010s were a more chaotic extension of the 2000s. More global conflict, more social media, more reality TV, more technology than ever, andm of course, Donald Trump flipping the entire world upside down with his ascension. But in terms of pop culture, everything changed just as rapidly and historically. With the last, dying breath of Blockbuster's everywhere closing down steadily, the streaming service boom, led by the mighty Netflix, marched towards the century-old wall of Hollywood, like the Greeks marching to Troy in the famed battle, determined to rule, change the status quo, and succeeding in more ways than one.

And the industry would never be the same... then we had The Avengers officially giving birth to the "cinematic universe" trend that is now steering the direction that studios go with many of their films. Technological advancements gave way to more filmmaking ingenuity such as the process of "de-aging" old actors to fit certain characters to varying degrees of success. Diversity in cinema was the forefront movement of industry change, giving way to barrier-breaking milestones like Black Panther, Moonlight, and Wonder Woman. The Star Wars franchise made a huge - and polarizing - return to pop culture. Hunger Games took the YA mantle from Twilight. Disney started their trend of live-action remakes.

The horror genre was reborn with the "elevated horror" movement led by game-changers like Jennifer Kent, Jordan Peele, Blumhouse, and A24. Darren Aronofsky actually became too polarized for his own good. Margot Robbie and Lupita Nyong'o sprung onto the scene, charming the human race effortlessly. Leonardo DiCaprio finally won HIS overdue Oscar. Christian Bale said goodbye to Batman. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie called it quits. Hugh Jackman bid Logan a game-changing farewell. George Miller had one of the biggest, most flabbergasting comebacks in Hollywood history with one of the greatest action movies ever made. The Fast and Furious franchise became an envied behemoth. Charlie Sheen became a global pariah. And of course, lest we forget, the fall of Harvey Weinstein in the biggest scandal the industry has seen in decades and the ripple effect of the MeToo movement, ended up rocking Hollywood (and pretty much every industry) upside down and right side up again... and changing the dynamics of, well, everything!

So, with so much going on in what was arguably the most impactful decade for Hollywood in ages, how were the scores for many of the brilliant films that came out? Did all these changes somehow affect the world of composers or their essential contribution to moviemaking? The answer is a resounding NO! We had another superbly memorable decade of scores amidst all the other noise. Many were by composers who haven't failed us yet, like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Ludwig Goransson, Brian Tyler, Marco Beltrami, ect. We've even had a few seismic changes in the world of scores as well, such as the passing of the legendary Ennio Morricone (RIP) and the first female Oscar winner in over two decades, Hildur Guðnadóttir, who won for her score for Joker. But as usual, we've had plenty of wonderful scores and composers that were either not given enough due, or not given it at all. It's almost painful to start the list but here we go.

The beginning of the 2010s cinematic decade started with a bang, with many great films that included with one of Darren Aronofsky's most celebrated ones. It was universally praised for many qualities, but Black Swan's score by Clint Mansell could've been more in the conversation. He brilliantly tied his compositions to Tchaikovsky's ballet of Swan Lake, but with enough change and originality to make it feel fresh and not derivative.

And his own compositions were just as brilliant, encompassing the story's tension, of Nina's battles with herself, and her slightly twisted journey of self-discovery, masterfully, especially in tracks like "Lose Yourself" and "Opposites Attract". And then giving the soundtrack a perfect, dualistic closer in "A Swan Song (For Nina)".

Of all the musical collaborations Sir Ridley Scott has had over his legendary career, his brief trajectory with composer Marc Streitenfeld has been the most underappreciated. Marc's score for this also underrated period film was above average for the usual historical epic score. He captured the setting of old-century England beautifully, and imbued a real range throughout the score.

You had serene and emotional tracks like "Sherwood Forest" and "Walter's Burial", tense and devious tracks like "Godfrey", which perfectly suited one of the main villains, and thrilling, well-made cues for the action scenes. The only downside was the slight lack of a central theme for Robin himself, but otherwise, this wasn't a generic, phoned-in, standard action movie score.

This criminally underrated sword-and-sandal epic has an equally underrated score by Atli Orvarsson. His music evokes the feel of traditional Hollywood historical epics, with muscular grandeur and spiritual uniqueness. He employs nearly every ancient-sounding element under the sun, including beautiful hymns, vocal melodies, a brawny orchestra, and Celtic music such as Uilleann pipes and tribal drumming. And tracks like "I Will Return" are gorgeous, inspiring, and emotional. His score is wonderfully captivating, fascinating, and both beautifully old-fashioned and fresh, and after all these years, it remains one of the most memorable period scores ever.

This score by the brilliant veteran James Newton Howard received mixed reviews upon release, which makes it underrated, as it's actually a knockout action-thriller soundtrack with quite interesting and unorthodox elements to boot. Like the emotionally tugging, moving, and poignant "Cognitive Degrade" and "Viralled Out" aren't common pieces of music you'd expect to hear in summer blockbusters like these.

And all the action-oriented tracks are heart-racing, stylish, and thrilling. The score incorporates a lot of moody instrumentation comprised of electronics, drums, and even strings. Contrary to what its critics must've heard, this is one of the most well-made, interesting, serious, and gripping action scores ever.

The reboot of everyone's favorite neighborhood web-slinger was a surprisingly successful reboot and, though it was a short-lived franchise, was a fresh and slightly darker, grittier, take on the superhero. But The Amazing Spider-Man's score, composed by the late and iconic James Horner, was even more surprising, but sadly, it wasn't as appreciated as Danny Elfman's works from the Sam Raimi films. Horner's score was surprising because of how different and fresh it was in comparison to other superhero movie scores.

Where the go-to sound for the blockbuster superhero was bombast and grandness, Horner's was more tender, quieter, emotional, and experimental. While the main theme still builds to a sense of cinematic heroism, it starts off with fascinating vocal sounds. And it zips between highs and lows of grandeur and engrossing curiosity, then ending on quiet piano. It contains everything from intense darkness, to mournful and beautiful emotion, to intimate and lovely piano, to left-field electronics, and even high-pitched vocal melodies.

The highly-anticipated reboot of Superman for the modern era, the film had the great fortune of having Hans Zimmer, arguably the most well-known and most legendary composer of his generation, leading the musical front. And the combination proved to be a winning success, with the soundtrack being adorned over by fans and audiences and rising to the top of several charts during its release. Why, then, is it still considered underrated? Simply because of the response among its peers, music critics. They were heavily divided over the score, with many giving remarkably dumbfounding criticisms such as it being "repetitive" and having an over-reliance on "drums" or being "too loud".

There aren't really that many tracks that have drums aside from the ferocious "Oil Rig", and the tracks with drums taking part of the music are few and far between, and the drums remain calm and tender over several of them, only building intensity towards the end. The mention of repetitiveness also doesn't hold up, as the soundtrack is deftly diverse and the main cues that remain throughout are often tweaked and used in creative ways.

Obviously, we're not professional music critics here, but still, there is so much brilliance, beauty, spectacle, tender warmth, and complexity to this score that it does feel incredibly sad that it wasn't more embraced in the critical side of things. That is where the score is underappreciated, and it's heartbreaking and baffling. This remains one of the most incredible, emotional, unique, and creative scores ever made, and especially perfect for this timeless superhero icon.

This biblical epic from Ridley Scott was hotly anticipated in the lead-up to its release and provoked a certain amount of controversy and curiosity for how several aspects of the film would be handled. And when it hit, it ended up underwhelming in both its box office and its reception. But one of the better parts of the film, and one of the most underrated, frankly, was its score by Alberto Iglesias. He was an unexpected choice, but really brought a lot to the table in terms of creativity, passion, and ambition.

He captured the setting and vibe of Ancient Egypt well, and gave a beautiful middle-eastern flair throughout the whole score. He employs the old-fashioned orchestra and choir in grandiose style. He adds interesting vocal elements in certain cues. And tracks like "Leaving Memphis" and "I Need A General" truly standout in their creative composition and sense of wonder. "Hittite Battle" is an action standout that is thrillingly epic and captivating with Egyptian-sounding flutes. All in all, Alberto crafted a unique and fitting score that should've been given more of a look at.

Like Exodus: Gods and Kings, released in the same year, Noah's release coupled with a few other religious-themed films, labeled the year as "The Year of the Bible" in cinema. Like Exodus, Noah was also controversial but received a more positive response than the former. It was praised for its ambition, scope, creativity, performances, and many other qualities, but its hauntingly unique score by Clint Mansell, one of the composing world's "auteur" talents, was a little less talked about.

The film took place before there was actual culture or ethnic diversity among the earth, and the music reflects that by not having any specific cultural or ethnic sound or influences. This makes the approach rather unusual and remarkably special, with sounds not yet heard in movie music before. He also employed the Kronos Quartet for the project, and the overall vibe is raw, gritty, ominous, and brutal, given the premise of the film.

You can almost feel the end of the world and the flood washing over everything within the music. You can actually feel the judgment and wrath being bestowed upon man, in thoroughly dark and sinister fashion. But Clint also adds a lot of light and hope in certain tracks, awe and wonder in others, and even some beautiful melody in places. There are tribal drums, foreboding percussion, and thunderous orchestra throughout. But there's also this eerie spirituality within the entire score, that almost makes it seem otherworldly. Clint wholeheartedly captures all the elements of the film, from the massive scale and swirling, dark spectacle, to the breathtaking, majestic emotional power, to the more quiet and tender somberness. This is arguably Clint's most rich and epic work to date, and deserved to be more noticed in the mainstream sense.

This incredibly dark, sinister thriller from Denis Villeneuve featured one of his best collaborations with the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It's seriously one of the most haunting, chilling scores you can ever listen to. The orchestra and string arrangements on many of the dark, intense tracks have an unsettling yet captivating coldness to them, as if in tender mourning, which ties thematically into the film's premise of child abduction. It literally feels like the music itself is crying for lost children at times. And a lot of the score shows Icelandic musical influences as well, courtesy of Johann's nationality.

And when the music goes truly, disturbingly dark, like in the track "The Keeper", it absolutely commits in terrifying fashion with a building crescendo that's breathlessly spine-shivering. But there are moments of light too. Johann sometimes imbues things with a slow, hopeful, melodic sensibility here and there, and sometimes builds it beautifully, like in the track "Through Falling Snow". All in all, it may be a little too on the dark, intense side for mainstream audiences (as the movie is), and maybe that's why it wasn't given much attention... but if one is willing to listen through it, it's an unforgettable musical experience.

The over-sized sequel in the Amazing Spider-Man duology, for all its faults, did something incredibly ambitious and epic with its soundtrack. First off, getting the maestro Hans Zimmer on board already made it big. But going even further, Hans assembled a sort of musical "supergroup" of talented musicians and artists to collaborate on the music, and the result was a larger-than-life, edgy, sweeping, stylish, fascinating, grand, emotional, suitably ambitious, and just damn cool movie soundtrack!

And as experimental as it was, it had a big risk of not working at all. I mean, Hans used dubstep, for crying out loud! But somehow, they pulled off something that, while the experimental edge may not be everyone's cup of tea, is quite unforgettable. Spidey's theme, in all its high-flying sonic flair, joyful heroism, and confidence, may just be the most "Spider-Man" feeling theme he's ever gotten in a movie.

Electro's theme is wonderfully electronic and ambitious with angry vocals and lyrics and a truly sinister edge, not to mention the copied sound of electrical currents is a touch of genius. The Goblin's theme is terror incarnate, starting slow and building until it gets to a chaotic hurricane of intensity and action, with gothic undertones. The cues for Gwen and Peter are tender, beautiful, and quite touching. And it's all layered on the canvas of the hip experimentation from this magnificent supergroup. All in all, the soundtrack made a big splash but received a polarized response in many circles, with critics leaning more positive but audiences feeling more mixed. But just the edge, style, and creative ambition to do something different in Spidey's world, and by Hans no doubt (this might be his most "Non-Zimmerish" score ever), could've been more welcomed and appreciated.

Related: 22 Best Synthesizer Movie Scores of All Time

This underrated action/thriller gem could've had a generic, standard headache-inducing action/thriller score, but veteran composer Patrick Doyle is more sophisticated than that. He really created a musical soundtrack that took the subject of the film dead serious. You can fully feel the tense espionage atmosphere throughout the entire thing, and there are, of course, pulsating action tracks, but even these are done with conviction and intelligence, not just techno electronics mushed together.

There are also beautiful moments too, especially the love theme, which is tender, pleasant, and emotional. This woefully underrated soundtrack barely got any attention, but it's certainly one of the better and more interesting ones out there.

The score for this potent and contemporary sci-fi/action film, interestingly enough, came from first-time composer Ryan Amon. The director of the film, Neil Blomkamp, contacted Ryan about doing the music, instead of going to a more established mainstream composer. This was Ryan's first feature to score, and boy was it the right intuition to hire him because, after doing such a phenomenal job here, he's sure to have a bright future in the field.

His score is just outstanding! He captures all the aspects of the story in such stylish fashion, from the gritty despair of a dwindling earth, to the high-octane action cues that are expertly done with dark, interesting electronics and pulsating drum beats that evoke Terminator influences, to the beautifully melancholic and moving emotional tracks like "Matilda" and "Elysium". The arrangements are masterful, the action and drama utterly thrilling, and the emotion heartfelt, sad, and deep. This score is honestly one of the best debuts for any composer, and one of the finest scores in the genre.

This origin story of Dracula was obviously fitted for dark, horror-movie music and gothic vibes. But the amazing and talented Ramin Djawadi chose to go further and give the film a little more life than that. The main themes for Dracula certainly have horror elements, no doubt, but it's more interesting and sophisticated than the usual routine themes. It has a chilling demonic atmosphere, gothic Victorian violin, and sinister vocal chants that start as whispers and get louder as they build the tension.

He also adds lovely Middle Eastern sounds and textures to reflect the setting, especially in the track "Sultan Mehmed". "This Life and the Next" is both gorgeous and sad, with a haunting vocal melody built in. There are also bombastic action cues, of course, and beautiful emotional pieces such as "I Will Come Again". Ramin really gives care to all the emotions found in the story, from chills and thrills, to mourning and grief, and slight whispers of hope. There's creativity and depth throughout the score that's not common in genre films like these, and in it really should've been more remembered.

The Transformers franchise may just be the only mainstream blockbuster franchise so far about robots to give the world a plethora of scores that really took the scale and epic grandeur quite seriously and went way over the top with it, into soaring territory. Starting from the score of the first film, Steve Jablonsky, an embarrassingly underrated talent in the composing world, wrote a score that would befit a serious-minded, Oscar-like, poetic tale of good vs. evil akin to something like Lord of the Rings, not a kid-friendly story of giant transforming robots. With the incredibly epic and heroic Autobots theme, and the dead, sinister Decepticons theme with those villainous chants, the man genuinely wove a Shakespearean sensibility into the music that was just incredible and elevated the movies to grand heights.

And with the fourth film, what should've been redundant music by then, Steve actually gives the music new life again and adds more interesting and epic layers that weren't really found since the first score. From the thrilling and intense "Lockdown" to the interesting and rather heroic "The Knight Ship", to the beautiful and emotional "Tessa", Steve poured new creative passion into the music and made a cool, if rather odd, decision to weave echos of the main theme song "Battle Cry" by Imagine Dragons throughout some of the score, including the "Tessa" track. And his soundtrack was deserving of more appreciation.

Ok, so this installment, with Arnold's first comeback, wasn't such a success. Pity, as it's actually one of the better ones in the franchise and really deserves to have another shot at appreciation. But the most underrated part of the film was the score by Lorne Balfe, which is an absolute knockout! He didn't just recycle the original theme like others before; he gave it an entirely new makeover and imbued its melody throughout the entire score, resulting in wonderful tracks like "Better Days" and "Fate and Hope".

The love theme for Sarah & Kyle is one of the most beautiful you can ever hear, with the main theme melody caressing the entire track and then crescendoing into a gorgeous whirlwind of heartfelt emotion that is deeply moving. And the action cues are epic, bombastic, and heart-racing. It's an incredibly passionate, deep, serious-minded, thrilling, and quite emotional score, which is pleasantly surprising for a Terminator film.

Again, imbuing the melody of Brad Fiedel's iconic theme throughout the landscape was genius and really gave it life, connection to the franchise, and a sense of stake. It's one of the most underrated scores ever.

Since this huge DCEU team-up event already developed a pretty polarizing reception and reputation at its release, it'd be understandable that its score by the returning Hans Zimmer and collaborator Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, would get a bit lost in the shuffle. It was modestly successful on the charts, actually, but should've been given more praise as it's really a wonderful score in the franchise that did what sequel scores should do, and that's to extend the already established musical world, find new layers, and expand on previous themes, instead of rehashing what was or phoning it in.

Tom created a wonderfully thrilling, epic, dark, and gorgeous new theme for Batman that encompassed the entirety of his character, both in the context of the film's story, and the general character of Batman. It had the trauma, the darkness, the sadness, the violence, fear, and bombast, but for this Batman, it also contained a weariness, a sense of one being tired with the life he's led and getting ready to throw in the towel. It's utterly haunting and captivating.

A towering achievement for Tom! Hans brought back his iconic Man of Steel theme but expanded it in new emotional layers. The now iconic and breathless Wonder Woman theme drops in like an atomic bomb, with its crunching battle cry of a guitar riff being as perfect a theme for an Amazon warrior as can ever be written. And Lex's theme is the pitch-perfect sound for the evil genius, with stomping piano and screaming classical instruments that both represent his cultured intellect and high status and also give off that mad, world-domination intensity, as the rest of the theme then evolves into a more subtle sinisterness, with the ticks of an unstable, insane psychosis that this version of Lex has and dark, devious strings that are villain perfection.

The rest of the score has all the great stuff one can want in a comic book epic: the bombastic action cues, the tense and dramatic ones, the highly emotional and beautiful ones like "This is My World", and everything in between. It's simply one of the best sequel scores ever written.

There haven't been a lot of adaptations of Tarzan, so it was interesting to hear what sort of musical soundscape the famous jungle hero should have in the modern era. It's a joy to say that composer Rupert Gregson-Williams hit it out of the park. He made a score that was inventive, thrilling, action-packed, intriguing at times, and certainly epic. The opening track, "Opar", is just magnificent with its exotic, African vocals. Rupert creates a real sense of the jungle throughout the score and sprinkles many naturalistic, primal, and tropical textures.

Tarzan's theme is wondrous and heroic. His love theme with Jane is soft and tender. And the action cues are muscular but without sounding generic; they have an exotic feel too and interesting sounds. The film may have been a mixed success, but its soundtrack is certainly deserving of more praise and attention.

When this DCEU villainous team-up film dropped, having ridden on the wave of its surprising and immense hype, its soundtrack actually stole a lot of the attention, having released huge radio singles by different artists, climbing on a whole lotta' charts, even obtaining an award win and nomination, and taking over the pop culture zeitgeist. It not only pulled the spotlight away from the film but also from the great score by Steven Price.

His score is old-fashionedly epic, interesting, and surprisingly emotional. He captures the slightly heroic, rock-and-roll vibe of the team well. He makes the action parts a hybrid of modern and old-school. But again, he really adds a lot of emotion, surprisingly. Quite a few tracks underscore that sad and deep emotional cue, and it gives the score, and the film, a real beating heart. There are thrills, moody instrumentals, dark gothic vibes in some tracks (especially Joker and Harley's theme), grand emotion, and a whole lotta attitude!

This underrated, hugely-cast, heist thriller also has an even more underrated and awesome score headed by Atticus Ross and in collaboration with Claudia Sarne, Leopold Ross, and Bobby Krlic. The result is a highly stylish, electric, pulsating, experimental, and effortlessly cool soundtrack. The track "Ticking Glock" should be the accompanying music of every heist scene in any movie, with its relentless pace pushed along by actual clock ticking. "Eleven Fifty Nine" is cop thriller noir perfection with its bass lines and moody electronics.

"War Porn" adds some nice, melancholy emotion. The rest of the score is littered with a lot of these elements and other various interesting sounds. And let's not forget Cypress Hill's exhilarating and eerie "Pigs" at the end, remixed by Atticus Ross. Simply one of the best cop and heist scores ever put together!

This adaptation of the popular video game, starring Michael Fassbender, may have not been a success critically or financially, but its score by Jed Kurzel deserved far more appreciation. It's absolutely dazzling, gripping, and fascinating. The opening track, "Young Cal", transports you to an entirely different time with its ancient-sounding, ethnic instrumentation. The more action-oriented tracks like "First Regression" and "Second Regression" dazzle and seduce with their Arab-Western hybrid, electronics, and wonderfully exotic drum beats, and tracks like "The Creed" are riveting, poetic, and emotional.

There's a sense of deep spiritual and exotic distinctness throughout the music, and with many ethnic and tribal sounds scattered throughout. Especially the track "You're Not Alone" feels like a culmination of all the sonic elements, starting with that hypnotic drum rhythm, and pulling the ancient and exotic grandeur and Arab-Mediterranean influences together along the way, all building to a wonderful finish. An extremely unique, atmospheric, and enchanting score.

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