John Williams has been nominated for Academy Awards 51 times in a career spanning six decades. He has won five, but lost 46 times, which means that arguably some of his best and most popular works were passed over.
In this selected history of Williams at the Oscars, we take a look at 22 of our favorite nominated scores, including his five wins plus some of the surprising movie themes that bested him in other years.
1. 1971 – Fiddler on the Roof (WIN #1) vs Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Fiddler on the Roof was William’s third nomination and his first Academy Award win, beating out a scrumdidilyumptious challenge from the technicolor children’s classic, among other movies that year.
2. 1972 – The Poseidon Adventure vs The Godfather
Godfather composer Nino Rota was stripped of his nomination after it was found that he had “borrowed from” another film score he had written some 14 years earlier.
The surprising winner that year was… Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, which was originally released in 1952 but had never screened in a Los Angeles theater until 1972, at which point it became eligible for Oscar consideration.
3. 1974—The Towering Inferno vs The Godfather Part II
This time, the Godfather won. You don’t mess with the mob a second time.
4. 1975—Jaws (WIN #2) vs One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Williams’ masterpiece, featuring the most menacing repetition of two notes in cinematic history, scared off all competition in 1975.
5 & 6. 1977—Star Wars (WIN #3) vs Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Williams vs Williams! In 1977, Williams received two Oscar nominations for his film music.
And the winner is… Star Wars, heralding the beginning of eight movie scores for the series penned by Williams, with a ninth and final score in the works for later this year.
7. 1978—Superman vs Midnight Express
Italian composer Giorgio Moroder’s theme was kryptonite to Williams’ Superman score at the 1978 Oscars, but unlike Moroder’s disco-infused Midnight Express, it’s Williams’ classic superhero anthem that has stood the test of time.
8. 1980—The Empire Strikes Back vs Fame
The plucky, talented kids from the New York School of Performing Arts made the cut ahead of Williams’ second outing on the blockbuster George Lucas series.
9. 1981—Raiders of the Lost Ark vs Chariots of Fire
Vangelis + slow motion athletes triumphed over Williams’ rip-roaring, anthemic score for Spielberg’s Indiana Jones yarn.
10. 1982—E.T. (WIN #4) vs An Officer and a Gentleman
E.T.’s epic soundtrack is seared into the hearts and minds of ‘80s moviegoers and their progeny. If you don’t have instant goosebumps thinking about Williams’ soaring music, here’s a reminder of Williams’ incredible score.
11. 1983—Return of the Jedi vs The Right Stuff
Bill Conti’s score, which set to music the story of the birth of the U.S. Space Program, beat Williams’ music from a galaxy far, far away…
12. 1990—Home Alone vs Dances with Wolves
John Barry’s score for Kevin Costner’s epic Western tale beat out Williams’ whimsical music for the holiday classic about an 8-year-old (Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister) who is left behind when his family flies to Paris for a Christmas vacation.
13. 1993—Schindler’s List (WIN #5) vs The Age of Innocence
Williams found the task of scoring Spielberg’s masterpiece daunting, telling the director that his movie was so incredible that he needed to find a better composer. Spielberg replied “I know, but they’re all dead.”
Titanic swept the board at the ’97 Oscars with 14 nominations and 11 wins, tying with Ben Hur for the most Oscars won by a single film. Amistad—Steven Spielberg’s retelling of events on a slave ship in 1839—was a runner up in the Best Original Score category that year.
15. 1998—Saving Private Ryan vs Life is Beautiful
The Italian movie beat out Williams’ score for Spielberg’s epic war film, set against the invasion of Normandy in World War II.
The two beloved tales of fantasy and derring-do battled it out in 2001, with Howard Shore’s score for Frodo & company winning out against Williams’ music for the J.K. Rowling-penned series.
Once again, Williams came up short with his wizard score, this time losing to the music for the 2004 biopic of playwright J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan.
18 & 19. 2005—Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich vs Brokeback Mountain
Despite representing 40% of the field in 2005, Williams lost to Gustavo Santaolalla for Brokeback Mountain. Santaolalla also won in the following year for Babel.
20. 2012—Lincoln vs Life of Pi
Mychael Danna’s score beat out Williams music accompanying Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln.
21. 2015—Star Wars: The Force Awakens vs The Hateful Eight
The Force was not enough for Williams against Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the 2015 Western, directed by Quentin Tarantino.
22. 2017—Star Wars: The Last Jedi vs The Shape of Water
Boo! Don’t get us wrong, but… Williams last won for a Star Wars score 30 years ago! STAR WARS ALL THE WAY!!!
Williams has announced that his soundtrack for Star Wars: Episode IX, due for release later this year, will be his last for the much-loved Star Wars franchise. Surely the members of the Academy will award him a golden statuette in 2019?
As Darth Vader might have put it, “It is useless to resist…”
The California Symphony performs ALL JOHN WILLIAMS, featuring music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superman and more on Saturday, Mar. 16 at 8 PM and Sunday, Mar. 17 at 4 PM at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.