Movies That Would Play Great With a Live Orchestra

By  · Published on April 17th, 2014

Radio City Music Hall

Would bringing live music back into theaters improve your experience of watching a film? Or would it feel like an old timey distraction? Eight-seven years ago, before movies were able to synchronize sound to the actual picture, having live musicians and orchestras perform as the film played was the norm.

The Artist showed audiences how silent films relied on the music to convey the feelings and emotions of the actors on screen in lieu of dialogue. But as film (and the film industry) moved into 1927 – film technology began to advance and recorded dialogue and sound synchronization became the way of the future as theaters began swapping out orchestras for speakers.

But should theaters bring live music back to the movie going experience?

We say yes.

There is so much competing for audience’s attention these days with movies going straight to VOD (bypassing theaters completely) and a mini “theater” in most people’s hands thanks to smart phones – something that has some theaters even considering allowing phone use during a film just to keep people in the theater!

Going to the movies is meant to be an escape from reality for a few hours. It was a magical journey to lands unknown and stories untold that you experienced with a group of a people in unspoken participation. A comedic moment reverberates more in a packed theater just as hearing sniffles as you are dabbing your own eyes makes you feel like you’re not alone even if you do not know those seated around you.

But adding more to the experience may not be what keeps that magic and that immersive feeling alive. We don’t need a text message with insider info about a scene we are watching to make us feel more involved – we need a way to reconnect with that scene.

The Dissolve reported last week that J.J. AbramsStar Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness will be hitting the road to have different local orchestras play the film’s music live as the film screens – a rare experience these days. Those who live in Los Angeles are lucky enough to experience hearing film scores played live thanks to The Hollywood Bowl’s tradition of having John Williams conduct his iconic film scores live each year, but not all movie fans have that option.

Michael Giacchino’s scores for both Star Trek films are certainly impressive, but the idea of getting to hear them performed live alongside the film is a throwback idea, but one that actually feels fresh and exciting.

This idea got us thinking about other recent releases we would want to watch as their scores were performed live.

The Dark Knight

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score made The Dark Knight feel like an epic event as it punched up the action and helped round out one of Gotham’s most unpredictable villains. Imagine listening to this score, which combines orchestral and industrial elements, live as the music more than jumps off the screen, it lives in the room with you.

The Social Network

The idea of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor taking to the conductor’s stand was an intriguing one and the score he created with long-time collaborator Atticus Ross proved he was more than up to the task. The score for The Social Network mixes Reznor’s signature electronic style with orchestration to create a film that became more than “the story of Facebook,” it is a story about struggle – for power, for respect, for connection.



Skyfall brought the Bond franchise back to its roots and Thomas Newman’s score kept pace with Daniel Craig and all the action on screen while also adding in musical nods to the different locations Bond travels to throughout the film. Most people harbor a Bond fantasy and wish they could be a part of his exciting world and having the music played live while you watch the film could further bridge that gap between our world and the one Bond lives in.


It has become more and more common to hear electronic elements weaved into the orchestration of a score, but Nathan Johnson took things a step further and manipulated found sounds, like industrial fans and a treadmill, to create “new” instruments for his score. It may not be possible to have this score performed live since many of these sounds had to be processed to get their desired effect, but the idea of seeing someone running on a treadmill as its sound is fed through the board and “performed” alongside the other musicians would be a sight to see. (But hopefully not one that would distract from the effect of the film itself!)


To create a futuristic world with roots in our current reality, Oblivion turned to popular band M83 who, along with composer Joseph Trapanese, created a score that sounds like it is from the future while still retaining the needed human elements to connect the story to our current world. While the film had a mixed reception, the score was a highlight and hearing it live might help the film resonate more with audiences. Plus M83 frontman, Anthony Gonzalez, apparently already takes on the role of “conductor” during the band’s live shows so it seems like performing his score live might be a natural next step.

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What score would you like to hear performed live alongside the film?