Best Oscar sci-fi movie soundtracks, ranked

Gravity - Best Oscar sci-fi movie soundtracks, ranked
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

With the 94th Academy Awards ceremony airing on the ABC Television Network on Sunday, March 27, we're revisiting the best Oscar sci-fi movie soundtracks that ensnared our senses and stole our hearts.

Atmospheric original scores from the best space movies provide transportive soundscapes that punctuate out-of-this-world visuals to ignite our imaginations and stir the emotions. So, let’s look back at a very elite musical club representing the six science fiction films to win a coveted Oscar for Best Original Score.

There’s a certain type of endearing magic that surrounds original soundtracks, especially when its on-screen source material is injected with alien creatures, rocket ships, time travel, exotic planets, and ray guns. The absorbing notes conjured up by this talented group of international composers provide an added dimension to viewers’ experiences sitting in a dark theater. 

These vital scores can make or break a film with their interpretive tracks linked to a director’s vision. Looking over our best sci-fi movies list, many of those entries wouldn't be nearly as memorable without their iconic soundtracks to elevate them.

Listen in to our ranking of 6 Oscar sci-fi soundtracks that all struck the right chord with Academy voters and grabbed the ultimate prize. And, in case you were wondering, here's a list of the 10 most successful sci-fi movies at the Oscars, too.

6. The Shape of Water

  • Release date: December 1, 2017
  • Composer/Conductor: Alexandre Desplat

Director Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi horror fairy tale was the first of its kind to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and a major reason for its success is the Oscar-nabbing Euro melodies conceived by Desplat. The thematic notions of water and its transparency and power were foremost on the French composer’s mind when entering the project. 

At its core, the film is a love story and Desplat wanted to convey a romanticism within the thematic beats of the story. A flowing intermingling of fantasy and reality lulls one into the embrace of this odd union of souls using accordions, flutes, and whistles that crest in waves resembling the aquatic environments.

5. Gravity

  • Release date: October 4, 2013
  • Composer/Conductor: Steven Price

How to replicate the awe and immensity of space was a particularly difficult task for Price as he created the score for Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi survival movie about two astronauts struggling to live in an inhospitable environment high above Earth. 

Price’s job was to teleport viewers into the cold silence of space with haunting ambient tracks that imitate the balletic motions of the imperiled astronauts and their seemingly impossible plight after a collision with space junk wrecks their shuttle. His music perfectly underscores the harmonies of hope and fear existing in a vacuum as stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney grapple with unimaginable challenges, hence its inclusion in our top Oscar sci-fi soundtracks list.

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

  • Release date: June 11, 1982
  • Composer/Conductor: John Williams

After creating the acclaimed musical score for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman: The Movie, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, John Williams was back with Steven Spielberg for this sentimental sci-fi fable about a peaceful marooned alien and a young boy who welcomes him into his home and protects him. 

Williams knocks this one out of the park with his sonic interpretation of friendship, alienation, and the soaring paths of the heart. Just recall the famous bicycle flying scene and the masterful composer’s strings and woodwinds will carry you away through the forests once again.

3. Black Panther

  • Release date: February 16, 2018
  • Composer/Conductor: Ludwig Göransson

With a jungle-themed rush of primal drums and Africa-inspired folk instruments, Göransson’s enjoyable score for this hit Marvel Studios movie elevates the film into much more than just a comic book superhero outing. Its compositions evoke the energy and emotion of the King of Wakanda’s journey to honor his father’s legacy and become the guardian of his Afro-futuristic kingdom hidden away from the rest of the world. 

Black Panther’s musical force is an impressive fusion of authentic African beats, emotional choral tracks, and traditional orchestral pieces that honor the continent’s exotic pulses. The result is a well-researched score by Göransson that is as distinct and unique as anything offered or heard in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

2. Star Wars

  • Release date: May 25, 1977
  • Composer/Conductor: John Williams

An instant classic from a galaxy far, far away, so of course this was going to be one of the top Oscar sci-fi soundtracks of all time. Though often criticized for its Main Theme being nearly identical to the score from the 1942 movie Kings Row, Williams’ rousing fanfares, marches, and strings make for a good old-fashioned score that harkens back to iconic matinee serials starring Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. 

And with the London Symphony Orchestra providing the heroic, space-bound music, it’s no wonder this soundtrack became the best-selling symphonic album ever. The double-LP set was a Platinum-certified wonder, so popular that the disco crowd embraced its title track when Meco delivered a groovy dance mix version in 1977.

1. The Wizard of Oz

  • Release date: August 25, 1939
  • Composer/Conductor: Herbert Stothart

Even though songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” get most of the credit for the award-winning musical numbers in this seminal sci-fi fantasy classic, it’s the majestic musical score that ties it all together. Stothart conducted the MGM Studio Orchestra to obtain the wide range of ageless themed tracks based on the catchy songs by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. 

Evocative interludes like “Cyclone,” “Munchkinland,” and “March of the Winkies” deliver a swirling soundscape that invites audiences into the many fantastical lands and oddities of Oz. A truly marvelous score that ranks among the finest.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.