Remembering Morricone: 5 Epic Films that Feature the Composer's Iconic Work

Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s legacy in the film industry spans 7 decades and over 500 soundtracks. We look back at his illustrious career through 5 of his most unforgettable films.

With a film portfolio that has produced some of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, Ennio Morricone is a popular figure in the movie industry. His is an impressive oeuvre of collaborations with some of the world’s most influential directors of the time—including Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Brian de Palma, among many others.

The Italian composer died last Monday, July 6. A week earlier, he was admitted after a fall fractured a femur. He was 91. Below is a list of some of his most iconic works.

Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

This film feature holds the acclaim of being one of the best-selling original instrumental scores in the world today. The Spaghetti Western was one of the greatest collaborations, if not the best, of Morricone and Sergio Leone. Extraordinary leitmotifs depict character emotions perfectly, especially in Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale’s captivating scenes. Whether accompanied by sharp guitars or wailing harmonicas, Morricone’s orchestration is exquisite. The polarizing concepts of savagery and civilization are portrayed magnificently. And with the harmonious blending of his music and Leone’s film environs, it is an aural opus worth viewing.

Character introductions were given the required gravitas with Morricone’s leitmotifs.

Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986)

The British period drama is a touching narrative about a Jesuit priest and his relentless pursuit for heaven on earth. Employing liturgical chorales and indigenous instruments, the marriage of styles is musical symbolism of two opposing worlds, a fitting accompaniment to the tale. With the track Falls, Morricone masterfully captures an iconic moment where the protagonist, played by Jeremy Irons, climbs the Iguazu Falls. It is a familiar score that many will recognize from various commercials. 

His original score in this epic drama is a fantastic example of his versatility.

Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987)

Among three collaborations with director Brian De Palma, Morricone’s work in The Untouchables is probably the most well-known. The gangster flick tells the story of an agent (Kevin Costner) on a mission to bring down crime kingpin Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Morricone’s grand manipulation of musical cadence sets the tone in many quintessential moments. The scene with the baby carriage deserves special mention, with the music marching steadily before unleashing the uncanny brutality before our eyes.

It is Morricone’s music that cuts the tension in this incredible scene with Robert De Niro.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988)

The sheer resplendence of this movie will always hold a special place in my heart. According to reports, Morricone, who read the screenplay fell in love just as well at a pivotal moment. He declared his commitment upon reaching the script’s climax—the montage of screen kisses. As a result, he left a previous film engagement and signed in. This poignant ode to movie-making is a brilliant masterpiece. Similar to the film projectionist and the budding cineaste’s mentor-student relationship, Ennio takes his son Andreas under his wing and composes one of the flick’s most unforgettable love themes.

Much like the characters in the film, Ennio mentored Andreas into becoming a composer like he is.

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015)

Many may argue with the inclusion of Quentin Tarantino’s movie, but this film finally scored Morricone his long-overdue Academy Award in 2015. While Tarantino used several of Morricone’s sound bites (in Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and again, after, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Morricone personally came on board to compose new material. His particular expertise in the horn section was featured most explicitly to expose its menacing ensemble of characters.

The bassoon, contrabassoon, and tuba were heavily used to emphasize the fiery spirit of the protagonists.

Listen to his most memorable hits, here:

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