Is your favorite on this list?
Music has always been integral to the cinematic format, but nobody gets it right like horror films do. The horror genre has succeeded not only because of its scares or plots, but because the scores in these films aid in the terror.
Iconic scores from Bernard Herrmann and John Carpenter have been praised for decades, but modern horror deserves its due. The films of the modern age have utilized music in a way that the films of the past have not. They aren’t simply meant to invoke fright in the audience, but to create a mood piece so heavy it stays with you for days.
So, without further ado, here are the best horror film scores of the 21st century.
The Invisible Man – Benjamin Wallfisch
A tense and thrilling film about a woman desperate to escape her abuser, Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man remains one of the best films of the 2020s. The highlight, though, is Benjamin Walfisch’s frightening score. The standout track “Attack,” which plays during our first glimpse of the titular character, boasts a heavy bass that is later accompanied by unwavering synths. The two pair together excellently, and Walfisch utilizes them in scenes with the highest tension. As if the plot of The Invisible Man isn’t scary enough, the harsh music that omits from the film is sure to chill anyone to the bone.
Annihilation – Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow
Rivaling the likes of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as the best composing duo are Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The two have collaborated on each of Alex Garland’s films, but there is no doubt that Annihilation is the standout. The score completely inhabits the film, from droning folk guitars strumming to overwhelming synthesizers. The standout track from the score is the swirling and overwhelming “The Alien” heard during the film’s climax. Paired with the reveal of the film’s “alien,” this track reverberates through the speakers like an extraterrestrial event in itself. Salisbury and Barrow utilize bass and synthesizers to craft an unforgettable and futuristic sound that feels unimaginable to craft.
Nope – Michael Abels
Michael Abels and Jordan Peele have been collaborators since Peele’s sophomore feature Us, with Abels composing the music that lurks in the background of Peele’s terrifying worlds. While Us’ score had a handful of standout tracks, Abels’ work on Nope is otherworldly. The way he utilizes strings and horns in the most thrilling scenes in the film rivals that of great 1980s adventure movies. It’s clear that Abels and Peele both realize that what can be scary can also be thrilling. Tracks like “Run (Urban Legends)” and “Pursuit” leave you clutching your seat in anticipation, and you’ll find them stuck in your head for days to come.
Suspiria – Thom Yorke
There’s been a handful of 90s rock stars who have turned to composing late in their careers. But one of the most interesting is Thom Yorke. As the lead singer of Radiohead, Yorke’s crooning voice captured a generation, and his composing work isn’t any different. The score, like this interpretation of Suspiria, is languid and droning, creeping up on listeners until it finally snaps with the track “Volk.” In the film “Volk” is used during the climatic dance sequence, with a brooding piano clashing with garish synths, overflowing until it becomes a cacophony of noise.
Summer of 84 – Le Matos
The mid-2010s saw all kinds of “nostalgia bait” blossoming in different media formats. From graphic novels to television, the ’80s was making a comeback, but no other form of media did it better than Summer of ‘84. One of the best aspects of the film is the score by Canadian electronic duo Le Matos. Their score rivals that of Stranger Things composers Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, with the score’s synths transporting its audience back to the 80s. With tracks like “Manhunt” and “Where’s Sammy,” Le Matos has created an atmospheric mood piece that bleeds nostalgia from every orifice.
Hereditary – Colin Stetson
Named one of the scariest horror films of the 21st century, Ari Aster’s Hereditary took the film industry by storm. Not only did the film make well above its budget, but it’s now a cultural staple. The film’s score, done by Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson, even recently went viral on TikTok. The track in question, “Reborn,” begins during the film’s final scene as strings build together like a choir of haunting voices. The track makes Hereditary’s finale even more terrifying than it already is, with Stetson’s score engulfing the film until it is all that remains as the screen goes black.
Under The Skin – Mica Levi
While Levi gained critical acclaim for their work on the 2016 film Jackie, it was Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin that initially put them on the map. If the music in Jackie is haunting, then Levi’s work in Under The Skin is downright stomach-turning. The track “Lipstick To Void” mirrors the indescribable void the main character transports to when hunting her prey. It feels slick, nauseating, and scarily inviting. With this score, Mica Levi not only created a musical entity that stands alone, but solidified themself as one of the greatest composers of the modern age.
Saw – Charlie Clouser
For a film that birthed the term “torture porn”, the first Saw film is actually quite toned down. A borderline psychological thriller, the film plays tricks on its characters and its audience up until the very end, trading in the gore of the late films for subtle mind games. In its final revealing sequence, Charlie Clouser’s score revs up into a cacophony of synths and strings, birthing the now iconic “Hello Zepp + Overture” theme. The music swells, with the tempo picking up as the track continues repeating the same sequence, allowing it to get engraved in your mind well after the credits begin to roll.