The 10 Worst Films Scored by John Williams

Rebel scum.
Rebel scum.

News broke last week that John Williams, the prolific film score composer who's one of maybe three film score composers you've ever heard of, will almost definitely lend his talents to the all-new, all-Disney Star Wars film set to be directed by J.J. Abrams.

It was Abrams himself who threw out some strong hints as to Williams' involvement, but it would have been a pretty safe assumption even if he hadn't. Williams' "Main Title" theme and "Imperial March" from the original trilogy are among the best-loved music in film history, and Star Wars wouldn't be Star Wars without him.

The soundtrack to George Lucas' space opera is only one of many blockbuster feathers in Williams' cap, of course. He's equally well-known for the memorable scores to epics like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Superman: The Movie and even the Harry Potter flicks. Chances are, if you can hum the theme music to a billion-dollar film franchise, Williams penned it.

Despite his towering homeruns, however, he ain't exactly batting 1.000. Williams has written the music for dozens and dozens of films in his long career, including more than a few turds you've likely long since flushed from your memory. Just for fun, let's break out the toilet snake and dredge a few back up, shall we?

Some of these films were elevated a bit by Williams' skill. Some weren't. Whatever the case, trust us when we tell you you're better off reading about them than watching 'em.

10. War of the Worlds

John Williams has enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with director Steven Spielberg, but this less-than-inspired remake feels calculated to invade your wallet, not your imagination. Despite the skilled depiction of some genuinely terrifying alien attacks, War of the Worlds wasn't exactly begging to be re-re-re-adapted as a post-9/11 family-angst actioner starring Tom Cruise.

Indicating exactly where priorities lay with the production, Williams wasn't even given a complete film to work with. He composed the largely forgettable score with only the flick's first 60 minutes as reference in order to ensure that the tentpole could be stapled together in time for its all-important release date.

9. Sabrina

Well, here it is: The Harrison Ford movie scored by John Williams that nobody saw. Where the original Billy Wilder comedy starring three nobodies named Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden sparkled, Sydney Pollack's Sabrina sopped. It's a dull, perfunctory affair only marginally improved by Williams' score, which was (naturally!) nominated for an Academy Award.

8. Memoirs of a Geisha

Falling far short of the drama incited by its decision to cast three Chinese actresses in the primary roles of a Japanese period piece, Memoirs of a Geisha turned out to be a strangely sexless yawner that aspired to not much more than being pretty. Like the heroine's life as a geisha, the film's flat, puzzling plot feels exquisite only as an alternative to slavery. The movie's Tomatometer rating sits at a putrid 35 percent, and that's generous. Read the book, instead, if you must.

Williams's work here notched another perfunctory Academy nomination for Best Original Score. Hooray. It's a footnote at best.


7. The Patriot

Braveheart was such a big hit that Mel Gibson decided to just go right ahead and star in the remake himself: This time set in America (fuck yeah!). The star's trademark flair for barbaric violence was certainly retained in this self-aggrandized bit of Revolutionary War porn, but 'round about the time the villain locks a church congregation inside and torches the place, audiences began to wonder if avenging the evils of taxation without representation was really worth the carnage.

You guessed it: Williams notched another Oscar nom for his score. Mostly, though, the music tries to pass by nonchalantly without getting too much blood on it.

6. Star Wars Ep. II: Attack of the Clones

No two ways about it: John Williams' score is the very best thing about Attack of the Clones. In fact, it's pretty much the only thing that works. Plenty of ink has been spilled in the years since its release about the ham-fisted dialogue and flat performance by Hayden Christensen, and the movie deserves all of the criticism and more. When a Star Wars film starts to drag, somebody has fucked up badly, and many a childhood was ruined by the revelation that Darth Vader was just some... tool.

5. Superman Returns

It's not quite fair to dump the mess that was Superman Returns in John Williams' lap. Director Bryan Singer approached the composer about scoring the pseudo-sequel/homage to Richard Donner's Superman flicks, but Williams was busy scoring three other films at the time. Williams recommended composer John Ottman in his place, but the new film did make use of Williams' famous "Superman March" and other themes.

As it turned out, the classic theme was about as close as Superman Returns would come to capturing the magic of the Christopher Reeves films. Singer's movie was a decidedly downbeat affair, casting the Man of Steel as an absentee father compelled to silently stalk Lois Lane while another man raised his superson. It was a new twist on the mythology, perhaps, but not one that fans particularly cared for. The franchise will be completely rebooted this summer with Man of Steel.

4. Stepmom

Stepmom boasted a solid cast led by Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts, and it even features one of Williams' better soundtracks of the '90s. The problem is that the laughably contrived tearjerker's plot simply isn't worthy of any of them. Concerned, we imagine, that the maternal tension between ex-wife Sarandon and new hotness Julia Roberts simply wasn't melodramatic enough, the filmmakers went ahead and gave Sarandon's character terminal cancer to ensure that theatergoers wept tears of gold. Ed Harris, the dad around whom the whole story revolves, is nothing more than a cipher.

A too-obvious bit of Hollywood factory farming, Stepmom earned a dismal 44 percent Tomatometer rating. Stinky.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Despite featuring the return of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen to the roles they made famous in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved only that the magic was pretty much gone--happily retired in Florida, one hopes. John Williams' iconic Indy theme still sparkled during the big action scenes, but the humor and charm of the earlier films had grown cracked and dusty from disuse. A rumored spin-off franchise starring Shia LeBeouf mercifully never materialized.


2. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Home Alone 2 was nothing short of an economic certainty in 1992. Audiences loved the cartoon violence of the original, and by God, Chris Columbus was going to sell them more. Or, more accurately, the exact same violence in a slightly different setting.

It was only too appropriate that MacAuley Culkin's Kevin lay his too-ingenious traps to protect the eye-popping wares of the world's greatest toy store on Christmas Eve. Commerce is the real hero of Home Alone 2, a movie cynically designed to sell VHS tapes and Talkboys with which kids could torture adults.

John Williams' score? Purely incidental.

1. Heartbeeps

Some movies are so bad that they're good. And some movies are so bad that you'd rather peel your own skin off and go swimming in Buffalo Bayou than ever watch again. Heartbeeps falls into the latter category. Which is a shame, because, at first blush, it sounds like it could be interesting. The one and only Andy Kaufman and the pretty gal from The Jerk in a romantic comedy about robots? That idea's got potential! Horrifically executed, shamefully squandered potential.

The thing about good romantic comedies is that they're supposed to be funny. Heartbeeps, however, is a special kind of spatial anomaly from which no humor can escape. Maybe Kaufman, one of the funniest people ever, could have elevated the material a bit had he been able to act at all under 40 pounds of paint and plastic. Instead, the film is a punishing road-trip love story that goes nowhere, and by the middle (not even the end!), you're praying to silicon heaven that these 'bots get vivisected and reassembled into cassette decks.

The movie is widely considered to be the worst, most embarrassing thing done by everyone involved, John Williams included. He decidedly did not receive and Academy nomination for this electronic dreck.

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