Music in the movies: Alan Silvestri

In our latest music in the movies column, Glen celebrates the classic soundtracks of Alan Silvestri...

With Back To The Future set to return to the big screenand the impending Blu-ray release of the classic trilogy, I thought that it would be an appropriate time to look at the work of the composer Alan Silvestri.

Silvestri’s composing career began in the early 70s in TV and film at the tender age of 21, and he has composed excellent scores to many classic films over the years. His strong working relationship with director Robert Zemeckis is perhaps what Silvestri is best known for, but he has worked on many other blockbusting projects and has started collaborating regularly with director Stephen Sommers.

Silvestri has twice been nominated for an Academy Award, one for Best Score for Forrest Gump and once for Best Song for Believe from The Polar Express. I haven’t covered either of the two aforementioned films, as I don’t feel they match the quality of the pieces below, which are amongst my favourites of his output to this date…

Romancing The Stone

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The first of many collaborations between Silvestri and Zemeckis was for the filmmaker’s swashbuckling adventure classic Romancing The Stone. Comparisons to Indiana Jones and John Williams’ classic score are inevitable, but Silvestri created a score that captures the essence of the film, with a striking level of skill and creativity underpinning the themes of love and comedy with a jazz-influenced pieces as well as using more up tempo numbers for the action adventure elements.

A suspenseful score that ranks among the finest pieces in Silvestri’s catalogue, it’s easy to see why this proved to be his breakthrough score.

Back To The Future

Perhaps not as score-heavy on the latter entries to the series, Back To The Future still boasts an impressive and effective score.

Having previously collaborated with Silvestri on Romancing The Stone, Zemeckis was keen to work with him again, but Spielberg was reportedly less keen, as he wasn’t a fan of his previous compositions. Zemeckis insisted on Silvestri making the score grand in scale in order to impress Spielberg and get the music used in the film.

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Although much of the attention goes the way of material by the likes of Huey Lewis and the News, Eric Clapton and vintage 50s tracks,  Silvestri’s score does a great job of underpinning the emotion and drama of the film.

There’s an excellent special edition of the score available that includes the full score heard in the film, as well as a whole other alternative score that was composed and set for use prior to the film undergoing drastic changes in personnel and tone.


A return to the action genre for Silvestri saw him provide an aural assault full of ominous passages underscored by interesting percussion, stirring strings and horn blasts to enhance the feelings of danger and suspense. It’s, by no means, the best showcase for Silvestri’s talents, but still a hugely enjoyable score that enhances the film it accompanies.

Silvestri would return to many of the themes heard here for Predator 2 and composer John Debney utilised many of the same key themes for his score to Nimrod Antal’s Predators.

Back To The Future Part II

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Unlike the soundtrack to the first instalment of the Back To The Future series, the focus for both the film and the soundtrack release was Silvestri’s score. A number of the themes heard in the first instalment are used here, but they’re also expanded upon.

Silvestri had to provide themes for the segments of the film that take part in the future and the past, to adequately create the required moods. He does this very successfully, creating a more accomplished overall piece of work in the process. It’s a confident piece of work from a composer clearly comfortable with what’s required of him and freed from the pressures surrounding him in the first instalment.

The Abyss

James Cameron had a well established and successful working relationship with composer James Horner prior to making his aquatic sci-fi epic, but decided to seek out the services of Silvestri to portray the unknown underwater world that would be depicted.

Through the use of bold choral and orchestration, Silvestri creates a grand soundtrack that is at times claustrophobic and at others high tempo and action packed. What’s most impressive is the feeling of the unknown that permeates the piece and truly gives a sense of uncertainty.

Breaking from relationships that would define much of their output, both director and composer created work that to this day is amongst their best.

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Back To The Future Part III

Like for his score to Part II, Silvestri reuses many themes previously heard in the franchise, but adds a new lease of life to reflect the film’s setting, which, in this case, called for him to try his hand at creating pieces with a western feel.

It’s the western pieces that are of the most interest here, as not only do they suit the mood and images on screen perfectly, but they’re excellent genre pieces in their own right.

Also of interest is Silvestri’s take on ZZ Tops Doubleback, which is another great addition to the score. This rounds off an excellent trilogy of scores to one of the finest movie franchises of all time.

What Lies Beneath

I quite like What Lies Beneath. Sure, it’s a bit cheap with the scare shots and is far from the most accomplished or effective chiller, but I find it to be an entertaining and well made film that benefits from a great Silvestri-composed soundtrack.

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As Zemeckis aims for a Hitchcockian tone for the film, Silvestri seems to be channelling Bernard Herrmann’s classic scores, as he nails the mood and tone perfectly, and by heightening the sense of tension, he elevates the material as a result.


As with his score for What Lies Beneath, Silvestri shows a Herrmannesque quality in his score for James Mangold’s thriller, Identity.

The score is quite subtle in the film, for the most part, but is given a chance to assert its presence when needed, particularly when the tension is ramped up and the object is to elicit scares. It’s a far more competent and effective homage to Herrmann than What Lies Beneath. Perhaps not the strongest listen in isolation from the film, but it’s a well composed piece of work that works well in combination with the images on screen.

Please add your own Silvestri highlights below…

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