Horner's long and successful career spanned four decades, from the late '70s and early '80s until now. At the time of his death, he was attached to upcoming releases like Anton Fuqua's Southpaw—a far cry from the kinds of films through which he made his name.
Horner's breakthrough came with scoring 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, crafting dynamic compositions that would define the hallmarks of his approach to movie music. You know a James Horner score when you hear it, most of the time. In fact, there's a chance you are hearing some of a previous score. In addition to borrowing and tweaking selections from classical composers for his work, Horner often reused pieces of his own scores for later films. Horner scored both of the top-grossing movies of all time—James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic—the latter of which is also the best-selling film score ever. This is despite a notoriously rocky first recording process working with Cameron on Aliens, after which Horner swore he wouldn't work with Cameron again.
Cameron was far from Horner's only repeat director, though Cameron's movies were the only ones for which Horner won Academy Awards (Best Original Song and Best Original Score, for Titanic). Ron Howard, Walter Hill, Joe Johnston, Don Bluth, Michael Apted, Phil Alden Robinson, Mel Gibson, Philip Noyce, Edward Zwick, Alan J. Pakula, Wolfgang Petersen, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Martin Campbell, Steven Zaillian—each of these directors worked at least twice with Horner, with seven total collaborations with Ron Howard, including Apollo 13.
Horner's music is the kind where every few years you realize he scored another beloved movie, be it An American Tail, Willow, Patriot Games, Braveheart, or Field of Dreams. He was occasionally criticized for using tweaked selections from classical scores or his own previous work, considered less original than crafting wholly new compositions. But Horner was a pioneer of electronic music and unusual instrumentation to get the effect he wanted, and a glimpse at his filmography reveals a more diverse range of work than one might expect from a glimpse at his greatest hits. His sound will be missed.
What are your favorite James Horner scores? Reminisce and pay respects in the comments below.