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James Horner's Most Iconic Movie Scores And Songs

For over 30 years, Horner — who died in a plane crash on Monday — composed grand, sweeping, Oscar-winning scores for everything from Avatar and Titanic to Field of Dreams and An American Tale.

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1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

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Before Horner became one of the most in-demand film composers working in Hollywood, he wrote the sweeping and romantic score for what is considered to be the best Star Trek movie ever made. Even early on, Horner displayed a piercing ability to craft rich, memorable themes that felt both of a piece with their films and able to stand completely on their own. His love for robust horns and waves of lush orchestral strings is evident here; they would be standbys Horner would return to with frequency.

2. Cocoon (1985)

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Horner cultivated lasting creative partnerships with several directors who would work with him again and again, and one of his richest partnerships started with director Ron Howard's sweet sci-fi adventure about a group of senior citizens who encounter a team of ageless aliens.

3. Aliens (1986)

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Director James Cameron was another of Horner's frequent collaborators, starting with Cameron's classic sci-fi thriller. Horner wrote such a driving, evocative score for the film that one cue in particular — which you can hear above at the 1:00 mark — became an almost ubiquitous presence in movie trailers for years afterwards. Aliens also earned Horner his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.

4. An American Tale (1986) and "Somewhere Out There"

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The same year Horner was nominated for Aliens, he also earned an Oscar nod for his gentle, melancholy music for the signature song from this Steven Spielberg-produced, Don Bluth-directed animated feature about an immigrant mouse separated from his family in New York City. Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram recorded a radio version of the song that became a Top 40 hit, and Horner ultimately won two Grammys for it, including Song of the Year.

5. Glory (1989)

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Between 1986 and 1989, Horner composed the music for at least 19 feature films. Just one of the standouts was this stirring, military drum-driven score for this Civil War drama about one of the first U.S. military units to use black soldiers in combat. Note the children's choir, another mainstay of Horner's work.

6. Field of Dreams (1989)

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Horner was well known for theater-shaking bombast, but he was also capable of subtler, quieter music that was no less evocative, like the guitar-driven score for the beloved Kevin Coster mystical baseball drama. It earned him his second Oscar nomination as a film composer.

7. The Rocketeer (1991)

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Disney's attempt at launching a four-square superhero tale may have been a box office disappointment, but Horner's skill for creating spirit lifting musical themes is on perfect display here.

8. Legends of the Fall (1994)

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Although Horner made great use of a full orchestra, he also enjoyed employing synthesized music even for period films, like director Edward Zwick's sprawling family epic. By this point, Horner was also engaging his musicians, especially those playing woodwinds, to push their instruments to create unconventional sounds.

9. Braveheart (1995)

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Horner rightly earned another Oscar nomination for director Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning Scottish epic. But the score also represented a perfect example of Horner's somewhat controversial penchant for reusing his own material from previous scores and tweaking them just slightly. Compare this track from the Braveheart score to the previous one from Legends of the Fall; they almost sound like they're from the same film.

10. Titanic (1997) and "My Heart Will Go On"

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The "love theme" from Titanic was simply inescapable in the months following Titanic's debut in Dec. 1997. You could not listen to the radio without hearing it multiple times a day. It became one of the best-selling singles ever, selling over 15 million copies. Horner won Oscars for composing the music for the song and for Titanic's score, and in 1999, "My Heart Will Go On" won Grammys for Song and Record of the Year.

11. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

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Horner brought out all of his tricks for this score for Howard's loosely adapted biography of Nobel Laureate mathematician John Nash — non-verbal singing, bold horns, sweeping strings, and driving percussive pianos and drums — all in service of capturing the contrast of Nash's sterling intellect and paralyzing paranoid schizophrenia.

12. Avatar (2009)

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By the 2010s, Horner's blistering output had cooled considerably. He scored just one film in 2010 and in 2011, and after composing the music for 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, he did not return for the 2014 sequel. But Horner's career was far from over. Audiences will be able to listen to Horner's music as soon as next month, in the Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama Southpaw, and he was expected to return to compose the music for Cameron's multiple Avatar sequels.

Indeed, his Oscar-nominated score for Avatar will evoke many of his previous music for anyone familiar with his work — and given that Horner composed for at least 115 feature films in his lifetime, it is fair to say his music reached multitudes. There is a reason filmmakers kept returning to work with Horner so often: His music deftly captured our attention and commanded our imagination, pulling us into the story and holding us there, rapt and moved.

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