Music and film are two of the most complex forms of art that exist. Together, they possess the ability to create a fantastically realistic experience. When done exceptionally well, a cinematic moment like an onscreen kiss or the introduction of two strangers can come to life in an enchanting and unique way.
Among the brilliant artists who compose and curate soundtracks for film is the inimitable Danny Elfman. He began work in the film world in 1985 with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, his first foray into soundtracking and composing for Tim Burton. Since then, Elfman has collaborated with nearly every big name in cinema (not to mention his creation of the intro for The Simpsons, among other works in television).
Below, you’ll find 10 of our favorite Elfman works from the early days to today, paired with some food for musical thought.
1. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985): Breakfast
Tim Burton asked Elfman to put together the score for Pee-Wee, in what eventually became the jumpstart for Elfman’s music-scoring career. Despite initial hesitation, Elfman and Burton have since worked on myriad projects together.
Fun Fact: One of the songs in Pee-Wee also appears in Grand Theft Auto V.
2. Beetlejuice (1988): Intro Theme
The tone of this film is immediately set by the main theme. You’ll hear the signature sounds of tip-toe piano, horns, strings, and organs throughout the film, as introduced by the opening. The feeling of imminent death, but in a strangely lighthearted way, is evoked from the beginning as soon as we hear the sampling of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O,” cut short by a melancholy (yet harmonious) shift in sound.
3. Batman (1989): Intro Theme
Elfman’s main Batman theme was originally scored for the opening of the movie, but the score for the film grew to be so popular that parts of it also appeared in the animated Batman television show, videogames, and even on the station platform for the Batman ride at Six Flags.
4. Edward Scissorhands (1990): Ice Dance
Released as the fourth feature-film collaboration between Elfman and Burton, this is said to be one of Elfman’s most personal and favorite works. The soundtrack in Scissorhands is sentimental and emotive, distinctly matched to the characters on screen. Elfman’s compositions, paired with the talent of a 79-piece orchestra, won the International Film Music Critics Award (IFMCA) in 2011 (for Best Archival Release of an Existing Score) and was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 (for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture.)
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Main Theme
The Halloween theme for this Christmas film, performed by “The Citizens of Halloween Town” boasts a spooky and lovable tune, now forever connected to both holidays. The score was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1993 (for Best Score), and the film was re-released in 2006 in 3D. With the re-release came an updated score featuring covers of some of the film’s songs by Fiona Apple and Fall Out Boy, among others.
6. Men in Black (1997): Intro Theme
A fantastic combination of crazy and wacky, Elfman’s work on Men in Black fits magically within the style of his previous compositions (particularly, the whimsical and fantastical tonality and feeling of the introductory theme, otherwise known as “The Firefly”) yet still stands alone with a unique sound. The film has little to do with music, and yet, the score lends itself to emotions of epic proportions.
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999): Opening Titles
Known by Burton and Elfman fans alike as one of their greatest collaborations, Sleepy Hollow was nominated by the Las Vegas Film Critics and won the Golden Satellite Award. With this score, audiences feel the effects of variations on one theme throughout a story, as Elfman plays with different tones of light and dark with similar themes.
8. Chicago (2002): After Midnight
Elfman obviously wasn’t responsible for all of the musical genius that is the 2002 film adaptation of Chicago, but he is responsible for some of it. He composed two of the tracks featured on the award-winning soundtrack, including “After Midnight.” The demeanor of the track is one that fits in well with the personality of the film, but also sets itself apart from previous Elfman works as jazzy, 1920s-styled, and scandalous.
9. Big Fish (2003): Twice the Love (Siamese Twins’ Song)
Similar to his jazzy work with Chicago, this track from Big Fish exemplifies a beautiful balance between sonic bliss and onscreen violence. And yet, being sung by a single-bodied set of Siamese twins, it reminds the audience of Elfman and Burton’s special signature, slightly eerie style.
10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): Augustus Gloop (Oompa Loompa Song)
In 2005, Burton took on the task of reinventing the legendary Chocolate Factory, and Elfman’s soundtrack added an aural dose of beauty to the onscreen madness. Here, audiences are re-introduced to Elfman with the sound of the former Oingo Boingo frontman’s own voice on tracks like “Augustus Gloop” and “Violet Beauregarde,” among others.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for great music to soundtrack your next video project? Check out the ever-growing selection of licensable tracks in the Shutterstock Music collection »