Film-score buffs had a bonanza of riches to choose from in 2018 — notwithstanding the fact that the soundtrack business is almost unrecognizable from what it was even a decade ago. Instead of farming out their new scores to the traditional soundtrack labels, most studios now retain them for their own in-house labels and generally release them digitally. Meanwhile, the labels that once relied on current films for their bread-and-butter releases are focusing more on the niche market for classic film scores: re-releasing old ones with new material, finding worthy titles that somehow never got released, and in some cases even re-recording classic scores.
It’s a complicated business, label executives say. Not only must they track down the best available audio (studios and production companies don’t always retain the elements or sometimes can’t find them), they have to clear the rights (and sometimes the music publishing details have changed). And, especially in the case of very old scores, modern technology has to be put to use to upgrade and improve flawed sound sources.
Commercial viability is also a factor: cult figure Bernard Herrmann, idolized composer Jerry Goldsmith and the perennially popular John Williams always sell well, and all were represented in this year’s output. Many of these are released as limited editions of 1,000 to 5,000 units to ensure quick sellouts.
Our choices for the best classic film music releases of 2018, listed alphabetically:
Advise and Consent (on the Kritzerland label)
Jerry Fielding’s score for Otto Preminger’s 1962 political drama marked his comeback after a decade of being blacklisted and unemployable in Hollywood. The outspoken composer would eventually receive three Oscar nominations; this release is the score’s first appearance on CD in the U.S.
The Bride Wore Black (Quartet)
The second of two films that the great Bernard Herrmann scored for French director Francois Truffaut (their “Fahrenheit 451” is a recognized masterwork), this 1968 score was previously available only on a rare French EP. Spanish film composer Fernando Velazquez conducted the complete score for this new recording, including 25 minutes dropped by Truffaut (and thus being heard for the first time).
Colossus: The Forbin Project (La-La Land)
Universal Pictures Film Music launched its Heritage Collection series of previously unreleased scores with French composer Michel Colombier’s inventive, strings-and-percussion-dominated music for the chilling 1970 sci-fi classic about a super-computer intent on world domination.
The Concorde: Airport ’79 (La-La Land)
“Mission: Impossible” composer Lalo Schifrin, who last month received an honorary Oscar for his film career, scored the last of the “Airport” movies at the end of the ’70s disaster-movie cycle. Schifrin supplies all the drama and tension that the movie lacked in this second Universal Heritage title.
The Cowboys (Varese Sarabande)
John Williams’ ability to evoke the American landscape in music was first glimpsed in this energetic 1972 score for a John Wayne Western. There was no soundtrack issued at the time, and when one finally emerged in 1994 it was incomplete and marred by errors; this album gives us the entire score at last.
Dave Grusin Classics (Varese Sarabande)
Three of the veteran composer’s most important scores from the ’70s and ’80s earned first-time releases this year: His delightful score for the Neil Simon comedy “Murder by Death” (1976), his funky R&B-groove for the legal satire “And Justice for All” (1979) and the dramatic newsroom music of “Absence of Malice” (1981) — a reminder that, 40 years ago, every movie didn’t automatically have a soundtrack album like they do today.
Dracula (Varese Sarabande)
Williams’ operatic, Gothic horror score for the 1979 version of the vampire tale, starring Frank Langella, has been atop film-music buffs’ “want lists” for years. This restoration offers the complete 72-minute score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Harry Potter: The John Williams Soundtrack Collection (La-La Land)
Perhaps the year’s greatest gift to soundtrack lovers, this handsomely packaged seven-disc box set lovingly preserves every note of Williams’ three “Harry Potter” films (“Sorcerer’s Stone,” “2001; “Chamber of Secrets,” 2002; “Prisoner of Azkaban,” 2004) and, in four separate booklets, details the entire history of Williams’ involvement with the J.K. Rowling phenomenon.
Land of the Giants (La-La Land)
A four-disc collection of music commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Irwin Allen sci-fi TV series. Music by John Williams (last of his ’60s TV assignments before he made it big in the movies), Leith Stevens, Alexander Courage and other top TV composers are featured.
Les Moulins de son Coeur (Decca)
A massive 20-CD collection of rare and unusual tracks by French composer Michel Legrand, including debut recordings of his jazzy scores for the Orson Welles films “F for Fake” (1974) and this year’s “The Other Side of the Wind” and his unjustly neglected work for the 1987 telefilm “Casanova.”
The Lonely Guy (Intrada)
Rely on the Oakland, Calif., based label to unearth the rarest gems from enduringly popular composer Jerry Goldsmith. This 1984 Steve Martin comedy inspired one of Goldsmith’s most charming and melodic scores.
Love Story (Quartet)
Just eight months prior to French composer Francis Lai’s death at the age of 86, a complete edition of his most famous score — which won a 1970 Oscar — was released for the first time.
The M*A*S*H Television Scores (Kritzerland)
Johnny Mandel’s music for the original “M*A*S*H” movie has long been available, but this marks the CD debut of his music for the 1970s TV series. These previously unreleased “M*A*S*H” cues were augmented on CD with two previously released film scores he did for 20th Century-Fox, “The Verdict” and his ultimately unused music for “The Seven-Ups.”
The Mummy (Intrada)
Jerry Goldsmith’s massive London orchestra and choir brought ancient Egypt to life in the fun 1999 remake starring Brendan Fraser. This was Goldsmith’s last epic score and one of his biggest box-office hits.
A Nino Rota Trilogy (Quartet)
Three of the renowned Italian composer’s most memorable scores are now available in their entirety, thanks to this ambitious Spanish label: his lively, tongue-in-cheek music for Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” (1963); the impressive symphonic scope of Luchino Visconti’s epic “The Leopard” (1963); and a warmly nostalgic feel for Fellini’s “Amarcord” (1973).
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (Intrada)
Jerry Goldsmith was an early electronic-music advocate, and this 1975 score was one of his first efforts to integrate synthesizer sounds and colors with the traditional orchestra. Previously only available as an inferior and unauthorized bootleg LP, this has been a Holy Grail for Goldsmith fans for many years.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Intrada)
Michael Kamen’s music for the 1991 Kevin Costner version of the Sherwood Forest legend may have been his greatest score… but we’ve never had all of it until now. Kamen wrote memorable themes, surrounded himself with talented orchestrators, and conducted with gusto, as heard in this 2-CD set.
Schindler’s List (La-La Land)
To mark the 25th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Holocaust film, the Grammy-winning 1993 soundtrack album has been reissued with a second disc featuring previously unreleased music from John Williams’ powerful (and also Oscar-winning) score.
The Valley of Gwangi (Intrada)
This cowboys-meet-dinosaurs fantasy with Ray Harryhausen special effects was a sci-fi curiosity in 1969. Its Americana score by Jerome Moross (who revolutionized Western film music with “The Big Country” in 1958) has long been sought by collectors.
The World Is Not Enough (La-La Land)
British composer David Arnold scored five James Bond films, and this expanded edition of his second effort (the 1999 film with Pierce Brosnan as 007) demonstrates that, after John Barry, nobody did it better than Arnold. Bonus tracks feature Arnold’s own demos of the score’s two songs.