Ennio Morricone: 5 mood-setting scores from the late maestro

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 27: Ennio Morricone attends the Honorary Degree at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera on February 27, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 27: Ennio Morricone attends the Honorary Degree at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera on February 27, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images) /

Ennio Morricone composed hundreds of distinctive film scores over the course of his 91 years. Here are 5 of my favorites.

In the horror realm, there are composers known for their distinctive, unique scores (the John Carpenter-Alan Howarth pairing, for instance), to the point where many up-and-coming musicians try their best to emulate the sounds of yesteryear. Ennio Morricone, who recently passed away at 91, had his hooks in horror…and every other genre, too.

An IMDb search of his credits reveals a jaw-dropping 520 instances as “composer.” While I obviously haven’t seen all of the films Ennio Morricone scored, there are several that came to mind when I heard of his passing.

What follows are five of my favorite instances of Morricone’s music setting a mood that became inextricably bound to the other aesthetics of the film it was for.

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

One of my favorite gialli from the days when I was first getting into this lurid fusion of Italian crime and horror cinema. The slow-motion, flame-colored opening titles (featuring a group of smiling teenage girls riding bikes to an undisclosed location) have a quality that captures the carefree nature of youth, but there’s a hesitancy to the string arrangement that strikes a foreboding chord from the outset. The film begins with someone witnessing a murder, and, in true giallo fashion, there will be many more before the killer is unmasked.

Hitch-Hike (1977)

When you think of a nightmarish car ride, does an overly active acoustic guitar set a proper mood? In the case of Hitch-Hike, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Gun-wielding criminal David Hess accosts drunken journalist Franco Nero and his unhappy wife (Corinne Clery) for a twist-laden journey into theft, murder, and insanity. Morricone’s score sets the mood for an irreverent subversion of thriller cliches, to much success.

The Thing (1982)

One of Morricone’s most-recognized scores set the standard for ’80s horror. John Carpenter had scored a majority of his films up to this point, so it’s actually pretty easy to mistake the minimalist, “thumping heartbeat” synth tones as one of the director’s own. The minimalist approach plays up a sense of brooding, ominous mystery, and the opening sequence coalesces well with that of The Hateful Eight – who are these people in this snow-covered wasteland, where are they going, and what’s going to happen to them?

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Even in my early ‘teens, the score to this Clint Eastwood vehicle stood out. Lacking the sweeping orchestral quality of some of his best-known work, Morricone reverts to more straightforward, efficient compositions for Wolfgang Petersen’s film. In many ways, it complements the deceptively simple mechanics of the cat-and-mouse game played by a Secret Service Agent (Eastwood) and an assassin (John Malkovich). But there’s also a sentimental quality to the music, including an oddly ethereal motif that mimics birdsong.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

This has become my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, and Morricone’s opening overture is nothing short of majestic. Before we realize the image we’re looking at is a snow-covered wood-cut of the crucified Christ, and before a horse-drawn carriage cuts a path across a snow-covered landscape, a mood of distrust, fear, and possible martyrdom has been set, permeating every minute of this three-hour epic.


You can listen to Ennio Morricone scores on Spotify and VEVO. 

What is your favorite Ennio Morricone score? Let us know in the comments.