Music & Entertainment

Danny Elfman’s Movies and Film Scores List

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 31, 2019 • 6 min read

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Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film

For more than 30 years, Danny Elfman has established himself as one of the most versatile and accomplished film composers in the Hollywood industry. He’s been nominated for four Oscars and has collaborated with directors such as Tim Burton, Gus Van Sant, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee, Rob Minkoff, Guillermo del Toro, Brian De Palma, James Ponsoldt, and David O. Russell.

Beginning with his first score on Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Danny has scored more than 100 films, including Milk (Oscar nominated), Good Will Hunting (Oscar nominated), Big Fish (Oscar nominated), Men in Black (Oscar nominated), Edward Scissorhands, Batman, To Die For, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Justice League, Spiderman, A Simple Plan, Midnight Run, Sommersby, Dolores Claiborne, and the Errol Morris documentaries The Unknown Known and Standard Operating Procedure. Most recently he has provided the music for Tim Burton’s Dumbo and The Grinch.

A native of Los Angeles, Danny grew up loving film music. He traveled the world as a young man, absorbing its musical diversity. He founded the band Oingo Boingo and came to the attention of a young Tim Burton, who asked him to write the score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Thirty-four years later, the two have forged one of the most fruitful composer-director collaborations in film history.

In addition to his film work, Danny wrote the iconic theme music for the television series The Simpsons as well as the series Desperate Housewives and Tales from the Crypt.

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Danny Elfman Teaches Music for FilmDanny Elfman Teaches Music for Film

Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman teaches you his eclectic creative process and his approach to elevating a story with sound.

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Danny Elfman’s Movies and Film Scores List

Danny has more than 100 film and television scoring credits to his name. Here are just a few career highlights:

  1. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Winging it on his first film score for Tim Burton, Danny combined his love for Nino Rota’s music in Filinni’s films with Bernard Herrmann’s wondrous fantasy music that he grew up on to create a child-like, manic innocence to perfectly capture Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character.
  2. Back to School (1986) Danny’s breakout success on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was so unexpected that the score wasn’t released on CD until a year after the movie premiered. Varese Sarabande Records combined it with Danny’s infectious, classical score from Alan Metter’s Back to School for an Elfman comedy double header.
  3. Beetlejuice (1988) Danny’s diabolical, frolicking score for Burton’s macabre tale showed the composer stretching beyond his unique comedic approach into fantasy and horror.
  4. Scrooged (1988) Danny created an iconic but dark Christmas score for Richard Donner’s comedy, featuring a pulsating “la-la-la-la” choir ostinato and an orchestra.
  5. Batman (1989) With a rep as the go-to composer for quirky comedies, Danny repositioned himself as an A-list blockbuster composer with his gothic, propulsive score to Burton’s dark superhero flick.
  6. Edward Scissorhands (1990) Danny’s keenly sensitive and magical compositions for Burton’s semi-autobiographical oddity suburbs became one of his most imitated and influential works.
  7. Sommersby (1993) Danny tackled Jon Amiel’s epic romance with an opening title featuring orchestra and solo trumpet to characterize Richard Gere’s haunted, solitary antihero. Strings and woodwinds surge to reflect both the sweeping, period landscape and the story’s tragic potential.
  8. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Danny helped Burton come up with the film’s story, centered on the king of Halloween, Jack Skellington, as he worked with the director to write songs and ultimately a score for the spooky, holiday-themed film. It went on to become one of Burton’s biggest cult hits.
  9. Dolores Claiborne (1995) Taylor Hackford’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel gave Danny the chance to delve into psychological scoring, characterizing Kathy Bates’ caretaker character and her troubled relationship with her charge with piano, plucked strings, and an erratic, scratchy “fiddle” performance on solo violin. It all adds up to a portrait of mental illness and regret.
  10. To Die For (1995) Danny’s rewarding collaboration with filmmaker Gus Van Sant started with this quirky independent comedy. He wrote music for strings, choir, and some electric guitar feedback to underscore the relentless ambition of Nicole Kidman’s manipulative TV reporter character.
  11. Dead Presidents (1995) Danny created a kaleidoscopic mix of pulsing timpani, strings, choir, mixed percussion, wailing rock guitar, and various processed effects for the Allen and Albert Hughes’ gritty crime caper.
  12. Mission: Impossible (1996) Danny teamed with Brian De Palma—one of the last living directors to have worked with Bernard Herrmann—for this thriller. Danny responded with a score influenced by Herrmann that also incorporated composer Lalo Schifrin’s themes from the Mission: Impossible TV series.
  13. Mars Attacks! (1996) Danny tackled Burton’s wacky alien invasion film with a focused march. It underscores footage of an ominous armada of flying saucers that rise up from Mars and head toward Earth.
  14. Good Will Hunting (1997) After being overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for almost a dozen years, Danny finally earned an Oscar nomination in 1998 for his inspiring work this Gus Van Sant drama.
  15. Men in Black (1997) Danny’s witty score for Barry Sonnenfeld’s sci-fi action comedy earned him a second Oscar nom in 1998.
  16. A Simple Plan (1998) After scoring two of Sam Raimi’s deliberately cartoonish horror films (Darkman and Army of Darkness), Danny collaborated with the director on this low-key suspense film, creating a musical portrait of backwoods avarice and impending disaster using microtuned piano, banjo, an eight-piece flute ensemble, and strings.
  17. Sleepy Hollow (1999) Danny wrote a grand, lush, symphonic horror score for Burton’s vivid take on the classic American horror tale. Danny’s mysterious main theme stands in both for the saga of the Headless Horseman and, when voiced by solo male soprano, for Ichabod’s childhood memories.
  18. Hulk (2003) After scoring other famous superhero characters from Batman to Spider- Man, Danny was tasked by Ang Lee to leave most of his familiar superhero action hallmarks behind. This score features wailing female vocals and a descending ostinato for six flutes to underscore Bruce Banner’s “hulk-out” transformations.
  19. Big Fish (2003) Danny earned a third Oscar nomination for his lyrical score to Burton’s phantasmagorical film.
  20. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) Danny created a bold orchestral fantasy score as well as a collection of amusing songs done in a variety of styles for Burton’s kooky reimagining of the beloved Roald Dahl tale. He also voiced the many dozens of Oompa Loompa singing voices himself.
  21. Milk (2008) Danny earned his fourth Oscar nom for his deft and sympathetic musical portrait of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in Van Sant’s biopic.
  22. Alice in Wonderland (2010) Danny took a unified approach to Burton’s take on the Lewis Carroll classic, centering his score around an inspiring theme for Alice and an accompanying, driving ostinato figure that helps propel her on her journey through Wonderland.
  23. Real Steel (2011) Danny created a score that’s moving, uplifting, and thrilling for Shawn Levy’s film based on an old Twilight Zone episode about boxing robots. It’s Danny’s Rocky.
  24. Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Danny got into the tragicomic mindset of this David O. Russell movie with piano, strummed guitar, and vocal harmonies inspired by the Beach Boys (that he sang himself), creating a kind of love song without lyrics for the film’s main characters.

Want to Learn More About Film Composition?

Whether you're an aspiring film composer or simply want to learn more about musical composition, navigating the complex world of music and film can be daunting. No one knows this better than versatile and accomplished film composer Danny Elfman. Danny has scored over 100 films ranging from The Nightmare Before Christmas to Good Will Hunting. In Danny Elfman's MasterClass on music for film, the four-time Oscar nominee shares his approach to writing feature scores, working with directors, and identifying themes and melodies.

Want to become a better composer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master composers, including, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Itzhak Perlman, Herbie Hancock, and more.

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