Remembering James Horner

James Horner

James Horner

By Sean Tuohy

Sadly, the filmmaking world lost one of its most talented composers the other day following James Horner’s plane crash. Horner’s music has been heard in movies for nearly 30 years in such films as “Aliens,” “Avatar,” “Braveheart,” and “Titanic.” He was a skilled composer who created moody tunes for the films he worked on, but he could strike fear deep within your soul with one pluck of a chord or brighten your day with a quick keystroke. Horner’s scores, like the movies they embellished, were emotional roller coasters that sometimes outlived the movies themselves.

Below are six of Horner’s best music numbers:


The classic action-sc-fi film is amazing on all fronts, but what pulls viewers fully into the world is Horner’s spooky score, which relays on heavy strings during tense moments and moves to drums during the heavy action. Like the movie itself, the score is a great blend of many genres.

“The Rocketeer”

Though the film did not do well at the box office the score to this Disney comic book film was a true masterpiece. Horner’s score is light, hopeful, and, at times, very playful. The heavy use of strings fills the listeners with sense of adventure and good times ahead.


For the Civil War film detailing the first all-black fighting unit, Horner infused a military sound into his score. Despite the subject matter—war, loss, racism—Horner was able to keep the score filled with buoyancy, a sound of belief that beyond the horrors of war is a life filled with joy and happiness.

“Apollo 13”

Ron Howard’s classic thriller, based on true events, told the story of three astronauts trapped on a space ship on the way to moon. Horner played a balancing act with this score; keeping the music tense at moments, but at other times making sure the movie reflected the wonder of space travel.

“The Man Without A Face”

This Mel Gibson-directed coming of age film tells the tale of a young boy and his relationship with a disfigured former teacher. The score swings between soft and light, showing the world through the eyes of a child, and moves to harsh and heavy sounds, reflecting the world of adults.


Daniel Ford: Sorry to intrude Sean, but no list of Horner’s work would be complete without the score from “Titanic.” As an impressionable teenager when the movie came out, I can’t remember any movie theme moving me in quite the same way. I still get chills when I hear it. It is majestic, harrowing, tragic, and hopeful—all the qualities Titanic and its survivors embody. If you weren’t crying before you got here, feel free to start sobbing in earnest.