Lights, camera, action, music! Film scores have a starring role in determining the mood, experience, and overall quality of a movie. While the purpose of the music is to enhance the action on screen, the best scores can also stand alone. John Williams is widely regarded as the greatest film composer in the history of the medium, and is considered by some to be the greatest living American composer. He has been nominated for 53 Academy Awards, with five wins. He has more Academy Award nominations than any other living person. He is second only to Walt Disney as the most nominated person in the history of the Academy Awards. Here are some of him most iconic works:

Star Wars

Almost everyone would be able to recognize at least one tune from the Star Wars score. Themes from Star Wars, especially the “Imperial March” are common themes for pep bands and school orchestras. Williams won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for Star Wars in 1978, along with additional awards for later Star Wars movies. 

Harry Potter

Williams composed the scores for the first three Harry Potter Films, and the themes that he created were used throughout the subsequent movies. He sets the magical tone of the series through his unique instrument choice and minor key melodies. One of the most recognizable tunes, “Hedwig’s Theme,” is introduced by the celesta, a piano-like instrument with a clear bell-like sound. 

If you would like a chance to hear a Harry Potter score performed live, the Des Moines Symphony will be performing “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” February 23 and 24!

Jurassic Park

Williams musically illustrates the awe and majesty of the giant dinosaurs through the main theme in Jurassic Park. Noteibly, Jurassic Park was not nominated for Best Original Score at the 66th Academy Awards, but Williams did still win the Oscar that year, for his work on Schindler's List.


In the Jaws score, Williams proves his intelligence as a composer by creating gripping tension with only two notes. The main “shark theme” has become a symbol for impending danger. Its semitone motion makes listeners feel unsettled, creating the perfect emotional tone for the gory tale to come. Williams won the Oscar for Best Original Score for Jaws in 1976 and his first Grammy for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture in 1975.

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List is one of the best film scores in history. The music fits perfectly with the heartbreaking story about the genocide of the Jews during WWII. The main theme features legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman. Williams won the Academy Award for Original Score for this movie in 1994, as well as the 1995 Grammy for Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture or Television.