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Film

The top 10 film scores of Randy Newman

@Russellisation

As one of the world’s most well known cinematic composers, Randy Newman has enjoyed a career spanning over half a century, taking his knack for upbeat, jazzy compositions to films such as Marriage Story, Pleasantville, A Bug’s Life and more. Often lending his music to family-friendly projects, the music of Randy Newman is used for uplifting, optimistic comedies and animations. 

Though the composer has enjoyed a flourishing film career along with 12 studio albums in total, he remains a musician who finds the writing process a tedious one. As the musician told Performing Songwriter, “I never liked writing. If you read back in interviews there’s whining and complaining. You’d think I was threading pipe for a living, rather than working in a nice room, you know?”. 

Despite this, Newman’s desperate writing process doesn’t come over in his music that is often suffused with pure joy and sometimes tinges of melancholy blues. Having worked prevalently in animation, Randy Newman has helped Pixar on multiple occasions to bring their anthropomorphic characters to life, to find out our pick of the bunch take a look at our list of Randy Newman’s top ten scores, below. 

Randy Newman’s 10 best film scores:

10. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)

A story of heartwrenching drama following the lives of two lovers who have since parted ways, Noah Baumbach reaches such great heights due to the terrific performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. 

Intercutting with happier times between the two warring lovers, Baumbach creates a painful portrait of heartbreak that is emphasised by Randy Newman’s quietly beautiful score. Floating around the characters as if the ethereal remnants of a love long lost, Newman uses careful strings and flutes to create a visceral sense of yearning and nostalgia as we see a once happy marriage fall apart. 

9. Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990)

Backing up a star-studded cast including Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and John Heard, Randy Newman supplies a haunting score of pain and heartache to Penny Marshall’s Oscar-nominated film. 

Based on a true story, Awakenings follows the victims of an encephalitis epidemic who find themselves catatonic, only for a new drug to offer relief and revival. It’s a fascinating story lovingly played out by both Williams and De Niro, with Newman’s score acting as a soft guide to move the film onwards, as if a gentle gust of wind. It’s not one of Randy Newman’s most grand scores, but it’s certainly one of his most powerful.

8. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, 1999)

Moving a generation of children and parents to tears with his song ‘When She Loved Me’ sung by Sarah McLachlan, Randy Newman’s score for Toy Story 2 is a rousing, emotional joy to behold. 

The sequel to Pixar’s breakthrough 1995 classic, Toy Story 2 sees the gang of toys, including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen), adventure to a toy store where they meet up with Jessie, Bullseye and the mysterious Prospector. Perfectly capturing the spirit of John Lasseter’s vision, Randy Newman’s score is tinged with nostalgia as it tells the vibrant and often surprisingly sad story of Toy Story 2

7. Maverick (Richard Donner, 1994)

From the late Richard Donner, the filmmaker behind Superman, Ladyhawke and Lethal Weapon, Maverick is a lesser-known western adventure starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and Alfred Molina. 

A strange genre hybrid, the film follows Gibson as Bret Maverick, a man needing money for a poker tournament who faces various challenges and comic mishaps in order to get what he wants. Playful and upbeat, Newman’s score, once again, perfectly fits the material, matching the comedy of the film with a capering soundtrack that is reminiscent of the old west. In quite a forgettable film, Newman’s score may be its most memorable aspect. 

6. The Natural (Barry Levinson, 1984)

An all-American tale of success and fantasy, The Natural would be the perfect film for Randy Newman to score, showing off a story that was both typically whimsical and joyously uplifting. 

Starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger and Michael Madsen, the film follows a middle-aged man who comes from total obscurity to become a legendary baseball player. Using chimes, trumpets and almost every other instrument in his orchestral arsenal, Randy Newman puts together a rousing score to underline this magical film and create a true sense of wonder.  

5. Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998)

Toying with the conventions of cinema for this 1998 cult classic, Gary Ross’ Pleasantville is an ingenious marvel of cinema that sees the colour palette of the film being tweaked and changed throughout. 

Featuring the likes of Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy, Joan Allen and Reese Witherspoon, Pleasantville follows two siblings who find themselves sucked into a 1950s sitcom where their presence changes the fabric of life. Bouncy and joyful, whilst being nostalgic for a time long lost, Randy Newman’s Pleasantville score is a melodic and dreamlike recreation of the 1950s that works well to transport the viewer to another time altogether. 

4. James And The Giant Peach (Henry Selick, 1996)

A stop-motion masterpiece from animation aficionado, Henry Selick, James And The Giant Peach would represent one of the very first times the composer Randy Newman would foray into the world of Disney. 

Adapted from the novel by Roald Dahl, the story follows an orphan who joins a bunch of anthropomorphic bugs onboard a giant peach destined for New York City. Featuring Miriam Margolyes, David Thewlis, Susan Sarandon and Joanna Lumley, the film itself is a bombastic adventure that, deep down, is a lot more about belonging and fitting in, with the popular number ‘Family’ by Randy Newman emphasising this. 

3. A Bug’s Life (John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, 1998)

The second film from the critical and commercial animation behemoth, Pixar, A Bug’s Life is one of the production company’s most underrated features, which helped to boost their international fame.

With the voice talents of Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Richard Kind, A Bug’s Life follows Flik, a misfit ant who decides to rise up against his community’s oppressive grasshopper overlords. With an eclectic range of songs, Randy Newman’s Bug’s Life score is a joy to listen to, taking the listener immediately back to Pixar’s animated world as it so well recreates the essence of the chaos of the city or the intensity of a bird sighting. 

2. Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich 2002)

Powered by a funky jazz soul, Randy Newman helps to bring the truly loveable world of Monsters, Inc. to life with a frenetic soundtrack that overflows with imagination, fun and excitement.

Once again attracting an impressive cast of voice actors including Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and James Coburn, Monsters, Inc. follows Mike and Sully, two best friends and monsters who work in a factory harvesting children’s screams. For what is possibly Pixar’s most imaginative film, it is only natural that it should be joined by one of Randy Newman’s most energetic scores, filling the film with pure exuberance. 

1. Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Introducing the world to digital animation, Toy Story may be the most influential animated film ever made, featuring an entirely computer-generated world and an iconic story to go along with its monumental importance. 

Of all of Randy Newman’s film scores, his work on Toy Story may even match the importance of the film itself, with songs such as ‘Strange Things’, ‘I Will Go Sailing No More’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ becoming staples of pop culture in and of themselves. The latter song particularly has become synonymous not just with the popularity of Pixar, but also the legacy of Disney animated studios on the whole.