Of all the below-the-line categories at the Oscars, Best Original Score is the most difficult to predict early on due to the finicky nature of the music branch of the academy. Scores that sound like frontrunners are disqualified for a variety of reasons, from the number of credited composers to the amount of previously recorded music used. (Scroll down for the most up-to-date predictions for this year’s Best Original Score race.)
Even when we know the players, it is still difficult to predict the eventual winner given the diversity of the recent champs. The epic orchestrations of Howard Shore‘s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) and “LOTR: The Return of the King” (2003) sound nothing like A.H. Rahman‘s pulsating, Bombay-infused work on “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) or Alexander Desplat‘s whimsical tunes for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014).
As with many of the creative arts categories at the Oscars, most usually equals best when it comes to Best Original Score. So, the more music in your movie, the better your chances. Is it any wonder Justin Hurwitz (“La La Land”) took home a trophy for composing an original movie musical last year, or that Ludovic Bource (“The Artist”) triumphed for penning wall-to-wall score for a silent film in 2012?
In the first part of this decade, there has been a push-and-pull within the music branch over recognizing rock musicians. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails won for scoring David Fincher‘s “The Social Network” (2010), but then were snubbed for their equally haunting work on the director’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) and “Gone Girl” (2014). And for every Arcade Fire that get nominated for “Her” (2013), there’s a Junkie XL or Jonny Greenwood who get left out for “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and “The Master” (2012), respectively.
UPDATED: August 7, 2017
Hans Zimmer is an early frontrunner in this race for “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan‘s epic about a turning point in WWII. He reaped the most recent two of his 10 nominations for Nolan films (“Inception,” 2010; “Interstellar,” 2014). Zimmer won this award on just his second try back in 1994 with “The Lion King” and could finally pick up a bookend for this change-of-pace score.
Zimmer could also reap a bid, along with Johann Johannsson and Benjamin Wallfisch, for “Blade Runner 2049,” Denis Villeneuve‘s sequel to Ridley Scott‘s 1982 sci-fi classic. That film boasted an iconic score by Oscar champ Vangelis (“Chariots of Fire”).
Johannsson, a past nominee for “The Theory of Everything” (2013) and “Sicario” (2015), could also compete for Darren Aronofsky‘s upcoming psychological horror “mother!” Last year, he was disqualified for his work on Best Picture contender “Arrival,” so he may benefit from residual goodwill by branch members.
John Williams has won five Oscars from staggering 50 nominations (Adaptation or Song Score for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971; Score for “Jaws” in 1975, “Star Wars” in 1977, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982, and “Schindler’s List” in 1993). This year, he could compete for both his latest collaboration with Steven Spielberg, “The Papers,” and the newest entry in the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Last Jedi.”
Conversely, Thomas Newman has been nominated 14 times but has yet to win (he losing track record includes bids for the scores of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Little Women” in 1994, “Unstrung Heroes” in 1995, “American Beauty” in 1999, “Road to Perdition” in 2002, “Finding Nemo” in 2003, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” in 2004, “The Good German” in 2006, “Wall-E” in 2008, “Skyfall” in 2012, “Saving Mr. Banks” in 2013, “Bridge of Spies” in 2015, and “Passengers” in 2016; as well as a song for “Wall-E”). Can he finally win with his soaring score for Stephen Frears‘ biopic “Victoria and Abdul”?
Please note: Only those films with confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while others are dropped due to delays or critical reception.
Volker Bertelmann, Dustin O’Halloran, “The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
Nicholas Britell, “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Carter Burwell, “Wonderstruck” (Amazon Studios)
John Debney, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Michael Giacchino, “War for the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Fox)
Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread” (Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features)
Johann Johannsson, “mother!” (Paramount Pictures)
Johann Johannsson, Benjamin Wallfisch, Hans Zimmer, “Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros/Columbia Pictures/Alcon Entertainment)
Dario Marianelli, “Darkest Hour” (Focus Features)
Thomas Newman, “Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features)
John Williams, “The Papers” (20th Century Fox)
John Williams, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Walt Disney Studios)
Hans Zimmer, “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
Marco Beltrami, “Logan” (20th Century Fox)
Carter Burwell, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Carter Burwell, “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri” (Lionsgate)
Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, “Wind River” (The Weinstein Company)
Alexandre Desplat, “Suburbicon” (Paramount Pictures)
Patrick Doyle, “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox)
Michael Giacchino, “Coco” (Pixar/Disney)
Jonny Greenwood, “The Snowman” (Universal Studios/Working Title Films)
Rupert Gregson-Williams, “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.)
Rolfe Kent, “Downsizing” (Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
Alan Menken, “Beauty and the Beast” (Walt Disney Studios)
Thomas Newman, “Thank You For Your Service” (Universal)
James Newton Howard, “Detroit” (Annapurna Pictures)
James Newton Howard, “Roman Israel, Esq.” (Columbia Pictures)
Michael Abels, “Get Out” (Universal)
Michael Andrews, “The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios)
James Edward Barker, “Lean on Pete” (A24)
Michael Brook, “Stronger” (Lionsgate)
Hildur Guðnadóttir, “Mary Magdelene” (Universal)
David Holmes, “Logan Lucky” (Bleecker Street)
Rael Jones, “My Cousin Rachel” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Marcus Miller, “Marshall” (Open Road Films)
Daniel Pemberton, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Dave Porter, “The Disaster Artist” (Warner Bros.)
Graham Reynolds, “Last Flag Flying” (Amazon Studios)
Nitin Sawhney, “Breathe” (Bleecker Street)
Joel P. West, “The Glass Castle” (Lionsgate)
Marcelo Zarvos, “Wonder” (Lionsgate)
In the coming weeks and months, we will be predicting all 24 of the competitive categories at the Oscars.
Best Picture | Best Director | Best Original Screenplay | Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Actor | Best Actress | Best Supporting Actor | Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography | Best Costume Design | Best Film Editing | Best Production Design
Best Makeup & Hairstyling | Best Sound Editing | Best Sound Mixing | Best Visual Effects
Best Original Score | Best Original Song
Best Animated Feature | Best Documentary Feature | Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Short | Best Documentary Short | Best Live-Action Short