Michael Giacchino is the Oscar-winning composer behind Up, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Star Trek, and more. He is also an Academy governor of the Music Branch. Below, Michael shares his journey into making film music—and five film scores he loves (although, to him, there’s really no such thing as a true top five).
I grew up making movies. That’s all I ever did, from 9 years old, all through college. I went to film school. I made tons of stop-motion movies, tons of live-action movies.
My dad had a great record collection—Martin Denny, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, albums from Mexico, from Russia, from all over the world—and I just loved it growing up. At the time, I was not thinking that this would be a tool for me to use later on. It was just something I enjoyed listening to and using in the movies that I was making. That was a left turn later in life, when music sort of took over.
Movies really are the one place where, as a musician, you can dip into all of the different variations and different cultures of music from around the world, because you never know what kind of movie you’re going to be working on. So all those influences eventually came flooding back to me when I started working on things like Ratatouille, or Up, or The Incredibles, or Coco. Even the classical music I listened to growing up influenced a lot of what I did in Star Trek and in Spider-Man. Music isn’t just music for movies. It’s storytelling. You have to be a storyteller in order to be a film composer.
The score is by Jerry Goldsmith, and it is absolutely just one of my favorites. I remember seeing that as a kid and being blown away by how weird it was, how it didn’t sound like any other film score I had heard. It was just incredible, and I found him to be one of the most creative, interesting composers for film ever.
Of course, Bernard Herrmann is amazing, but North by Northwest is probably one of my favorites [of his]. He had a way with melody that was just incredible, and his action music was always wonderfully melodic. Sometimes, action music could just be in your face and pulsing along, but his was never like that. I think that the action music in North by Northwest is the epitome of really wonderful action writing. It had a sense of fun to it, and it had a wink to it. It didn’t take itself too seriously. It’s hard to not like everything that [Bernard] did because he was so brilliant, but that score, in particular, I love because I also loved the movie itself. I thought the marriage between the music and the movie was perfect.
I loved Hildur Guðnadóttir’s music for Joker. I thought it was so crazy and weird, and that seemed to fit perfectly. So much of what I love is from the past, so when something like that comes out and you hear it, you’re like, “Whoa, that’s weird. How did she think of that?” It really makes you rethink what you’re doing as well.
Jon Brion did that score. And I love that movie to begin with, but I remember the score just being so simple and emotional and beautiful. I often think about that one.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for Arrival is so cool. I find it very emotional, and I find it very creative and incredibly expansive.