The other day, I was on social media, and somebody posted an interesting vs. battle discussion. It was Danny Elfman vs. John Williams, and who was the more legendary composer.
Now, no disrespect to Danny Elfman (I absolutely adore his work on Beetlejuice, the 1989 Batman movie, The Simpsons’ theme song, and even modern stuff, like the Netflix megahit, Wednesday), but honestly, I wouldn’t put him in the same league as John Williams, who very well just might be the GOAT when it comes to scoring films.
In fact, I had to wonder, is there anybody who could possibly challenge John Williams when it came to being the best film composer of all time (I mean, this is the dude who freaking scored Star Wars!). And then it hit me. Ennio Morricone! If there was anybody who could go head-to-head against John Williams, it was him, so that’s what I intend to do, by looking at each of their work from a few different categories...
The Songs Everybody Knows
Every composer worth their baton has those songs that everybody knows. So, who has the bigger, more versatile collection?
John Williams’ Songs That Everybody Knows
Okay, so this category is almost unfair. John Williams has scored the following movies: Superman: The Movie, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, the Indiana Jones films, the first three Harry Potter movies, the first two Jurassic Park movies… and that’s just a sampling! I bet that you could probably hum the main themes to all of those aforementioned movies, which is why many consider John Williams to be the GOAT when it comes to this sort of thing.
Ennio Morricone’s Songs That Everybody Knows
Don’t sleep on Ennio Morricone, though! All of Sergio Leone’s westerns were scored by Ennio Morricone, including what may be the most recognizable song of his -- the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. But, there are some other well-known scores for films you may not have realized were by Morricone, like The Thing, The Untouchables, and my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, The Hateful Eight. That said, since none of these movies was as big as say, Star Wars, or Jurassic Park, well…
The Songs Everybody Knows Victor: John Williams
John Williams wins this one by a landslide, simply for the fact that his songs were in bigger films.
The Hidden Gems
Sure, everybody knows the hits, but who has the bigger collection of hidden gems in their composer jacket?
John Williams’ Hidden Gems
Now, I’m not going to just list stuff like Empire of the Sun, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because I wouldn’t exactly call those “hidden gems.” They’re just slightly lesser gems. But how about something like the jazzy Cinderella Liberty, or maybe the rousing doom and gloom of The Towering Inferno? Or what about the creepy melody to The Fury? I mean, hot damn. Did this dude ever miss?
Ennio Morricone’s Hidden Gems
Okay, so maybe these are not hidden gems to fans of classic old movies, but Once Upon a Time in America (also by Sergio Leone) has one of the most lush and splendid themes of all time. Or what about his work on Cinema Paradiso? What a gorgeous score. The Battle of Algiers? Jeez. And then, you have the theme to The Mission, which is so beautiful! This is tough!
The Hidden Gems Victor: Ennio Morricone
John Williams never missed, but when it came to who had/has a deeper collection of hidden gems, I have to give it to Morricone.
How Their Songs Influence The Movies They’re Attached To
Sure, a great theme is important and all, but what really matters is whose score is more fully integrated with the movies they’re attached to. So, who has the better overall scores for movies?
John Williams’ Songs And Their Influence On The Movies They’re Attached To
Again, this seems like an unfair W for Williams. It’s hard to detach Williams from Star Wars, Jaws, or Harry Potter. In fact, when I wrote my vs. article on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom vs. The Last Crusade, I made sure to play both soundtracks, and man, I think I may have given The Last Crusade the edge since I prefer that soundtrack to Temple. Honestly, when you want rousing, awe-inspiring music (and even dour stuff like Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan), John Williams’ scores can really carry the viewer through an experience.
Ennio Morricone’s Songs And Their Influence On The Movies They’re Attached To
Ennio Morricone’s songs are sneaky in just how much they really carry you through a narrative. Though there seem to be a lot of parallels in some of his works, I can’t help but think how swept away I was by the scores in movies like Bugsy, Days of Heaven, or even horror flicks like Wolf, as well as one of the worst movies ever, Exorcist II: The Heretic. Seriously, when I really think about it, I think I’ve been transported more with Ennio Morricone’s often haunting scores than any other composer.
The Songs And Their Influence On The Movies They’re Attached To Victor: Ennio Morricone
This was a tough one as well since it’s hard to imagine movies like Jaws or Star Wars without John Williams’ scores, but here’s my deciding factor: Morricone’s scores even made bad movies – like The Exorcist II: The Heretic, still seem worth watching. And that’s saying something!
Influence On Other Composers
A composer’s work is not only important to any one specific film, but also who it has influenced along the way. So, which composer’s influence is broader?
John Williams’ Influence On Other Composers
This may be the toughest category, since not every composer has said who inspired them. But Danny Elfman himself called John Williams “The Master”
It’s also quite evident that songs like The Avengers theme by Alan Silvestri are influenced, at least in some way, by the bombast of John Williams’ scores. In fact, I would say that a great many superhero themes owe something to John Williams, who helped shape the blockbuster with his scores. So, yeah. If you like big budget movies, then John Williams likely helped influence the people behind the music.
Ennio Morricone’s Influence On Other Composers
Again, it’s hard to know just exactly who Ennio Morricone might have influenced, but famed composer Hans Zimmer himself said that if not for Morricone and Sergio Leone, he might not have ever become a composer.
And if there are any quiet scores that sound deep and introspective, then Morricone was likely playing in the mind of the composer who produced it. But, again, it’s not nearly as easy to pinpoint Morricone’s influences as it is to Williams’, since blockbusters really are the norm these days.
Influence On Other Composers Victor: John Williams
I consider myself a film junkie, but I haven’t listened to EVERY score to EVERY movie ever made. But, when it comes to whose sound I feel I hear the most frequently these days, I’m going to go with John Williams. That’s just how I feel.
Ultimately, it’s all about who will have the longest lasting legacy. So, out of these two masterful composers, who will have the longest lasting one?
John Williams’ Legacy
Here’s the thing. Star Wars is bigger than any other franchise ever. That theme alone puts Williams at the top of the heap, but the fact that the themes to Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Superman are pretty much attached to their characters, well, I just don’t see how John Williams’ legacy won’t outlive us all.
Ennio Morricone’s Legacy
Yes, the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is eternal, and yes, I feel like Morricone’s overall collection may be more impressive than Williams', but I honestly think that even people who aren’t cinephiles will still remember Williams’ themes more than Morricone’s, simply because they’re attached to bigger and broader films.
The Legacy Victor: John Williams
It’s impossible to say that anybody has bigger Hollywood scores than Williams.
The Overall Victor: John Williams
As much as I was rooting for Morricone, I think I have to give it to John Williams for sheer bangers alone. But, what do you think? Are you more Team Morricone? For more news on all things involving cinema, be sure to swing around here often!