Think of any great movie you love; chances are it wouldn’t be half the film it is without the music that accompanies its amazing writing and performances. The right music can amplify the emotions of a scene or change its meaning entirely. Often it sets the tone for the film. Beyond that, a great score is usually also something you can listen to even outside of watching the film. Scores like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Indiana Jones become as iconic as any other aspect of their respective films, and it’s hard to imagine such films with any other music.
I’ve been working for a long time on a list of my favourite film scores. This is not that list. No—that list won’t be finished for quite a while. In the meantime, I’ve made a list of some of the worst scores I’ve ever heard, so I hope this will keep the music-lovers among you satisfied until then. Unlike my list of the Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations, this list is in no particular order. Were I to make a list of the five worst, then it’d probably be filled with scores that sound the same, so I instead chose to talk about five unbelievably dreadful scores that are all awful for more-or-less different reasons. Coincidentally, the movies they accompany are each just as bad as the scores. And so, let’s get on with this agonizing list of Five Terrible Film Scores!
“Troll 2” (1990) by Carlo Maria Cordio
Whenever bad soundtracks are brought up, the one I always hear mentioned is Andrew Powell’s score for Ladyhawke, an ‘80s synth score for a Medieval Fantasy film. But you cannot tell me that Carlo Maria Cordio’s score for the abhorrent movie Troll 2 isn’t at least ten times worse. O, the synth in Ladyhawke was bad, but Troll 2—composed entirely on a Korg M1 Synthesizer by whom I can only assume to be a madman—is far more unpleasant to listen to. Every note, every beat, every chord is wrong. It doesn’t match what’s going on in any given scene.
I’ve tried to find something worse than Troll 2 for this list, but I can’t. I don’t think there is a score worse than this. At least Ladyhawke was just bad ‘80s syntho-pop; at least it can be classified! Troll 2 doesn’t fit into any genre of music. It’s just scattered notes played on a Korg!
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) by Pharrell Williams
“Dude… If you could only imagine what Hans and I got up to musically. Riveting? That’s an understatement.”Pharrell Williams
No. An understatement would be “This is the worst piece of music ever to have Hans Zimmer’s name on it!”
What can one say concerning The Amazing Spider-Man 2? One could talk about how every frame of the film is painful to look at, how every actor is miscast, how it didn’t need to exist… And the score! What did I just listen to? Pharrell Williams, the man responsible for the song Happy, cannot compose a film score to save his life—even when he has Hans Zimmer helping him! When Williams described his own score, he said that “riveting” was an understatement. “Riveting” isn’t the word I would use. Rather, I would describe this score as bizarre! It is by far one of the strangest pieces of so-called “music” I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting down and listening to.
While the score tries to be suspenseful, it fails gloriously. The Electro Suite, for example, consists of a flanged nutter muttering something about paranoia for twelve minutes. The terrible vocals and techno combine with shockingly inept orchestral themes to form an ear-grating abomination. Listening to this score feels like putting your finger in an electrical socket!
“Ben & Arthur” (2002) by Sam Mraovich
I’ve already talked about the homophobic piece of crap that is Sam Mraovich’s film Ben and Arthur in my review thereof. Mraovich was the auteur of the project, having a hand in every aspect of production including, among other things, writing; directing; cinematography; casting; editing; makeup; and, in case you’ve not yet guessed, he composed the bloody score too!
Although the score is consistently terrible throughout the movie, it reaches its worst in a scene in which Victor Sailes, the brother of our “hero” Arthur, sneaks into a carpark and murders a lawyer. The buildup is painful and sounds like the director had just bought his first Wal-mart synthesizer at the time of recording. While not quite as bad as Troll 2, the synth here not only clashes horribly with the scene but also makes one want to turn the movie off right then and there. And then…
It shifts to blaring techno music just so the listeners will become envious of Vincent Van Gogh! This techno bollocks is even worse than the usual techno bollocks! And it just keeps going, getting ever louder with each rendition of the horrible sequence Mraovich seems to have thought was a motif. Add a car alarm to this and you’ve got yourself a harrowing experience for any non-masochistic set of ears. Who could possibly have thought it a good idea to score a film like this? The same person who thought it would be a good idea to have that film’s hero burn a man alive while humming to himself and then bound away cheerfully!
“The Lord of the Rings” (1978) by Leonard Rosenman
I’m not talking about Howard Shore’s masterpiece of a score, so don’t click away just yet! I’m talking about Leonard Rosenman’s terrible score for the cartoon twenty years earlier. I’ve already talked about this score in my review of Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 The Lord of the Rings cartoon. As I said then, when you’re film’s set in a fantasy world that came into being through the Great Music of the Ainur, you need to have some bloody amazing music! Leonard Rosenman, however, gave us little more than a generic ‘70s fantasy score’s bastard by the Hogan’s Heroes theme.
The main theme consists of the worst six notes Rosenman could possibly have picked in the worst order and the worst key he could have picked. Howard Shore’s Fellowship Theme puts even the great Star Wars to shame, but this… This is just sad. It’s not much more than a rip-off of Hogan’s Heroes being played over what’s meant to be a Tolkien epic, and the theme just repeats over and over again. Even the director, Ralph Bakshi, hated this one, and at least in this I am right there with him.
“Bridge to Terabithia” (2007) by Aaron Zigman
I could rant about all the things this film does wrong. I could say how it’s two thirds of a film’s worth of asinine filler followed by one third of a vaguely well-made movie… or how the advertising campaign seemed calculated to draw in everyone who was going to hate the film and alienate anyone who might have loved it. But that’s not what we’re here for, is it? No—we’re here because the film’s soundtrack and score are of similar or worse quality to the film it accompanies!
Despite being based on a book from the ‘70s, the film’s soundtrack consists mainly of tween-pop songs designed to appeal to a fourteen-year-old audience. The score by Aaron Zigman, while not as unpleasant as the songs, is nonetheless an incredibly bad one. At best it seems to be trying and failing to rip off various John Williams scores such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Then there’s the rest of the score, which I feel suffers from a lot of the same problems as the film itself.
Let’s look at the main theme, which tries to convey much the same emotion as the bulk of the film does—that is, what Doug Walker so fittingly dubbed “Whimsical Digestion.” It tries so hard to force a feeling of enchantment that it comes across as insincere. The manipulative score shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it’s a very manipulative film. As is the case with much of the score, there’s just enough Celtic influence alongside the modern instruments so that it feels confused.
The guitar and Celtic instruments clash horribly with the bland piano. I play the piano, and yet this style of music is almost enough to me hate the bloody instrument! After listening to this crap so many times while writing this article, I feel the only cure is for me to go downstairs to my piano and play The Sacrifice of Faramir once or twice, and when I’m finished writing this, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!
After the buildup we come to the attempt at a sweeping motif. The key word here is “attempt,” as its forced emotion makes listening to it more uncomfortable than anything else. Zigman continues to try and insert out-of-place piano into a score that really, really doesn’t need it. I understand what he’s trying to do; he’s trying to give it a modern feel and yet evoke a magical world, but—as I’ve already said—the instruments merely clash with each other and the score succeeds in neither area.
Considering what the film is really about—not what the trailers wanted you to think it’s about—I think Zigman should have thrown out all Celtic influence and gone entirely with a modern feel. Had he done that, I probably wouldn’t be talking about it now. Instead he created a score that, much like the movie, doesn’t know what it wants to be.
All this is nothing compared to how the film ends: with a big “Fuck you!” to the audience! You see, despite lying to everyone and advertising Bridge to Terabithia as “the next Narnia,” all the fantasy elements are in the kids’ imaginations and the film is actually about the main character grieving after his unrealistically perfect best friend drowns two thirds in, and as the credits roll the film flips us the bird with a cheerful pop song!
O, the song’s as terrible as the film, but that doesn’t even enter into it! It wouldn’t matter if the film and the song were great because after a dark, depressing story an upbeat song of any sort just doesn’t fit! I mean, just imagine if The Hobbit had ended like this:
See? It doesn’t bloody work! And I went with the best happy song I could think of! Even as a small child watching Bridge to Terabithia I felt insulted by the ill-fitting song in the credits. After advertising a fun family fantasy film, spending the first two thirds of the movie boring the audience to tears with a tastelessly cheery pseudo-‘70s family film, and then suddenly revealing what movie you’re really watching, the credits song is the most insulting thing they could have possibly thrown at those who paid to see their movie.
Aaron Zigman’s score for Bridge to Terabithia is far from the worst score on this list, but there’s a lot more to say about its badness than is the case with, say, Troll 2. While some of the other scores on the list physically hurt you in return for trying to listen to them, none of those actively insults its listener to the extent that this one does. It is for this reason that I consider this not the worst—that would have to be Troll 2—but one of the worst film scores of all time.
I honestly don’t know what to say. These scores are the opposite of every great film score that stirs real emotions and becomes a character in its own right. Although I enjoyed tearing these awful scores to pieces, listening to them was like being beaten with a pipe. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and play The Sacrifice of Faramir on piano, and then I’m going to listen to some music by Howard Shore, John Williams, and any other great composers that cross my mind. Maybe that will get these five abominations out of my head.