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With John Williams seemingly retiring after ‘Indy 5’, let's celebrate his 5 greatest film scores

From Jaws to Star Wars to Superman and more, Williams shaped the sound of the modern movie blockbuster.

John Williams Getty

John Williams, one of the few living creators whose work continues to define its genre, will reportedly let his upcoming musical score for the fifth Indiana Jones movie stand as his last. In an interview with the Associated Press, the legendary 90-year-old composer reluctantly admitted he plans to follow star Harrison Ford’s example (a claim unsubstantiated by Ford himself) by making Indy 5 his final feature film.

“At the moment I’m working on Indiana Jones 5, which Harrison Ford — who’s quite a bit younger than I am — I think has announced will be his last film,” Williams told AP. “So, I thought: If Harrison can do it, then perhaps I can, also.” But, he added, “I don’t want to be seen as categorically eliminating any activity. I can’t play tennis, but I like to be able to believe that maybe one day I will.”

Williams said he intends to keep composing music even after his work is finished on the yet-untitled Indiana Jones movie, though it likely won’t be for the big screen. Assuming he means it, Williams’ retirement from movies would leave generations of fans with countless musical treasures to reflect on from his incredible seven-decade career as a film composer.

It’s more or less impossible to narrow down Williams’ greatest scores from a body of work as prodigious as his. With five Academy Awards and a total of 52 lifetime Oscar nominations, Williams’ work has set the musical mood for a mind-boggling list of films (and entire franchises) including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Minority Report, Hook, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, SpaceCamp, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jaws — and that list only covers his genre highlights.

Still, a look back at his best work is worth a ranking, if for no other reason than to revisit Williams’ deep library and reflect on the awe it’s inspired. We’re keeping our movie picks to a manageable list of five — so hum along and see how our favorites stack up next to yours.

5: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Williams and director Steven Spielberg were already in a productive musical groove thanks to their prior collaborations on blockbusters like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But Williams’ score for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (now streaming on Peacock!) became the unofficial summer soundtrack of 1982. Equal parts heartfelt and haunting, Williams’ music managed to bring out the wide-eyed kid in everyone while evoking the surreal majesty of making first contact with a mysterious alien species…one with a totally relatable human weakness for candy.

4: Superman

Williams’ score for Richard Donner’s 1978 Man of Steel movie was every bit as key to its blockbuster success as the casting of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. The staccato-laced wash of brass and percussion that announces Superman has become a permanent part of Clark Kent’s identity, one that creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster might as well have penciled in from the start when they first conceived DC’s iconic hero in 1938.

3: Jaws

You know you’re onto something good when it only takes two notes for your music to strike a deeply disturbing nerve. That’s Williams’ eternal accomplishment with Jaws (now streaming on Peacock!), whose sinister da-dum theme set the perfect mood for Steven Spielberg’s sharky, box office-shattering scarefest. Almost 50 years after its 1975 debut, the score for Jaws has pervaded pop culture so thoroughly that it still signals universal dread — even for younger fans who’ve never seen the actual movie.

2: Jurassic Park

Perhaps the most memed of all of Williams’ film compositions, the soaring score for Jurassic Park might just mark the pinnacle of his productive career-spanning creative relationship with Steven Spielberg. The many moods evinced by Spielberg’s original 1993 film find ideal reflections in orchestral swells that perfectly suit every on-screen occasion — from Dr. Alan Grant’s first astounded sighting of the long-extinct beasts, to the terror of keeping quiet while they hungrily stalk the kitchen in search of a child-sized snack.

1: Star Wars

Remember when Luke blew up the Death Star? Or when Han descended into the steamy hiss of Bespin’s carbon freezing chamber? What about the Rebels’ victory party among Endor’s Ewoks? Yep — when it comes to the Skywalker saga, what you hear is equally as vital to the overall experience as what you see. The bright blast of horns that signal the opening crawl of Episode IV – A New Hope (and every mainline Star Wars movie since) invites fans into an imagined universe whose every visual moment remains inseparable from the music that accompanies it. If there really is a Force, Williams may be the one genius who’s managed to channel it — because across the entire Star Wars franchise, George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away would feel like a very different place without him.

Suddenly in the mood for a big blockbuster summer movie? Jurassic World Dominion is out now, and Jordan Peele's sci-fi horror mystery Nope opens July 22 in theaters.

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