John Williams' work is easily some of the most recognisable musical pieces in film history.

Having worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Richard Donner over the years, his music has featured in some of the greatest films of our time - and helped to make them so. With confirmation that Williams is finishing up his time with Star Wars with Episode IX, there's never been a better time to count down of his greatest works.

Here's our pick of his finest pieces.

 

10. HOME ALONE - Main Theme / Somewhere In My Memory

As much as Home Alone is associated with Christmas, so to is John Williams' playful score that's just as recognisable as any part of the film itself. Going through Williams' discography, comedies are a rarity, but it seems to catch much of the humour in the soundtrack pretty easily as well as the general feeling of Christmas itself. Just listen to this without picturing that time of year in your head.

 

 

9. JFK - The Motorcade

Oliver Stone's imaginative and deliberately dramatic retelling of Jim Garrison's investigation into the conspiracy behind JFK's assassination was going to need a score to match - and it's never more aggressive and frightening than in the cue made for the recreation of the moment itself. Mixing in the hopeful tone from the film's prologue with chaotic drums, it's designed to set you on edge and it works brilliantly at it. How do you put music to one of the most traumatising moments in modern American history?

 

8. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - The Visitors

Like all of his collaborations with Spielberg, Williams' soundtrack is about capturing the mood and the presence of what's on the screen and the two compliment one another perfectly without overpowering the other. With Close Encounters, you had then-groundbreaking visuals and special effects and a sweeping, soaring soundtrack that played up the mystery and the hope of finding new life beyond our own. Sure, there's the tones, but this piece really just captures all of what Close Encounters was about.

 

7. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - The Map Room At Dawn

Torn from the pulpy pages of adventure novels, Indiana Jones was a throwback to a glorious age and so to was John Williams' score. This piece, from the scene where Dr. Jones fixes the Staff of Ra in the underground map-room known as the Well of Souls, just lifts the entire thing entirely. There's not really a lot that can be done with the scene as it's just Ford putting a stick into the ground and shining an amulet, but with this kind of swirling, mysterious piece of music, it becomes so much more.

 

6. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN - Opening Titles

A good opening title should act as an introduction to the general tone, feel and structure of a film. Bond openings, for example, are lavish and loud. Star Wars is loud, bombastic and thundering. For Catch Me If You Can, John Williams and Spielberg opted for a slick jazz score over some Saul Bass-influenced visuals to create one of the most memorable opening titles in recent history. Williams, although known for his neoromantic scores, began his career working as a jazz pianist in many of New York's most famous clubs. Listening to this, you can hear those influences brought to bear.

 

 

5. SCHINDLER'S LIST - Theme From Schindler's List

When Spielberg completed Schindler's List, he screened the film for John Williams to get a sense of the soundtrack for the film. Williams, shook by what he saw, turned to Spielberg and told him that he deserved a better composer than he was for the film. Whether or not that's true is hard to say, but Williams' work on Schindler's List, together with violinist Itzhak Perlman, made for some haunting music - particularly its opening theme.

 

 

4. SUPERMAN - Can You Read My Mind?

When we interviewed Richard Donner a few years ago, one of the main points that was brought up was how his vision of Superman was just that - a mythologised, fully-realised version of a comic-book. The film dealt with very black and white themes and issues, good versus evil, truth, justice and the American way and so John Williams' score reflected that. It's not subtle, it's not going for nuance or texture, it's going for beauty and it has an earnestness that's really hard to ignore. 

 

 

3. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - The Imperial March

For anyone who's well-versed in classical music, they'll know that a number of John Williams' scores have nods and references to Richard Wagner, a famous German composer whose music was appropriated by the Nazis before World War II. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Williams was able to create one of the most militaristic, fascist sounding pieces of music in cinema history. It's all pomp, high-nosed, vainglorious music with a thundering beat to it and was even used by Alex Jones of InfoWars.com for his title music from a brief period.

 

2. JAWS - Quint's Tale

"Sometimes the shark would go away... sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes, he looks right into you." What's so effective about this scene - and John Williams' music for it - is that it all starts so subtly and without any forethought. Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider all laughing, getting slightly drunk and talking about scars when the scene takes a gentle, slight turn into a much darker place and the music, which has been non-existent up until this point, slowly bobs it head above the surface. Sure, the main theme from Jaws is more recognisable, but this is the best piece of music from the Jaws soundtrack because, like the shark, you never see or hear it coming until it's too late.

 

1. E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL - Saying Goodbye

It's hard not to watch the finale of E.T. and not well up, especially with what's come before. The little Elliott, in the woods after escaping the authorities, finally sees E.T.'s spaceship land and the final goodbyes is made all the more potent by one of the most beautiful pieces of film music ever created. It's so rich and almost slightly overwrought, but it fits so perfectly with the heightened emotions and colourful visions on the screen.