Revival House: Seven Great Rejected Film Scores

Composing the music for a film is one of the last creative stages of the filmmaking process. If there’s still something in the movie that’s not quite working, rejecting the score and replacing it with another is often a desperate last-minute attempt to see if there’s anything that can be done to “fix” the movie.

But it’s interesting that regarding most of the films on this list, the scores were rejected for creative reasons. A few were thrown out in favor of temp tracks — previously existing music that’s “temporarily” tracked into a soundtrack during the editing process. Another score was rejected because of a famous falling out between director and composer. And in one example, the score was tossed in favor of no music whatsoever.

Torn Curtain (1966, composed by Bernard Herrmann). We’ll kick things off with a legendary confrontation between composer and director who had previously collaborated seven times on such classics as Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960) and North By Northwest (1959) — eight times if you include the “sound consultant” credit on The Birds (1963). For Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock (rumored to be under pressure from the studio) was looking for a pop-sounding score, but Herrmann delivered a striking, aggressive work composed for french horns, flutes, trombones, cellos, basses, two sets of timpani and two tubas. According to several accounts, Hitchcock actually stopped the recording sessions before the first day’s work was completed. Hitchcock then turned to Tom Jones (1963) composer John Addison to score the film, who delivered more or less what the director wanted. The following sample cue was written for a brutal fight scene, which is unscored in the finished film.

Torn Curtain – The Killing

My final verdict? Herrmann knew exactly what the film needed and it’s a shame these two never worked together again. An account of this is addressed in the 1992 documentary Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann, beginning at 3:12 in the first clip and carrying over to the next clip.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, composed by Alex North). Perhaps the most famous example of an original score being replaced by a temp track is this seminal science-fiction classic. Alex North, who had previously worked with director Stanley Kubrick on Spartacus (1960), composed music for The Dawn of Man, the space station sequence and the voyage to the moon base. North never wrote anything for the Jupiter Mission and Beyond the Infinite sequences. As film music historian Jon Burlingame points out in his liner notes for the Intrada CD release, after recording music for the first half of the picture, Kubrick informed North that no further music would be necessary, and that the remainder of the film would remain unscored, featuring mostly breathing effects. But when North attended a studio screening of the film, he was shocked to discover that all of his music had been tossed. The Dawn of Man sequence is mostly unscored in the finished film. The scene where the Moon-Watcher ape discovers that bones can be used as weapons is famously tracked with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss and the space docking sequence with “The Blue Danube” waltz by Johann Strauss II. The second half of the film ended up being tracked mostly with music by avant-garde composer György Ligeti (notably “Atmosphères” for the Star Gate sequence). It’s a telling sign that on Alex North’s sheet music for a cue called “Moon Rocket Bus” (written for the Moonbus’s journey to the moon base) is a hand-written note by his orchestrator Henry Brant: “Stanley hates this but I like it!” The following sample cue “Bones” was written for the Moon-Watcher’s discovery of weapons (and also was apparently supposed to double for the main title).

2001 – Bones

My final verdict? While I love Alex North’s score very much, Kubrick’s music choices have become so iconic it’s hard to dispute them. But here’s an interesting approximation of what might have been:

Frenzy (1972, composed by Henry Mancini). Though Mancini is best-known as the composer of hit tunes like “The Pink Panther Theme” and “Moon River,” he’s also written some intense, challenging music for thrillers like Wait Until Dark (1967) and Nightwing (1979). My best guess is that Mancini delivered a darker score than Hitchcock wanted. It’s unclear exactly how much of Mancini’s score was recorded, but after hearing some of it Hitchcock reportedly said, “If I had wanted Bernard Herrmann, I would have hired him.” Hitchcock turned to British composer Ron Goodwin, who scored Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), to write the music that’s in the finished film. Mancini’s score remains unheard to this day, except for the main title which he recorded as “Frenzy Rejected (Main Title)” for his 1990 Mancini in Surround album.

Frenzy – Main Title

My final verdict? It’s difficult to say without hearing the rest of the score, but it sounds like Mancini pretty much nailed it.

The Exorcist (1973, composed by Lalo Schifrin). Director William Friedkin’s original choice was Bernard Herrmann, but according to Friedkin, Herrmann wanted to record in London which would have created logistical problems for the director. So Lalo Schfrin was hired, who wrote one of the most challenging, dissonant, atonal works of his entire career. But Friedkin felt that Schifrin’s score was too obvious, that it was too big and scary, and that it was exactly what he didn’t want. On the DVD documentary, special sound effects artist Ron Nagle says that Friedkin “went apeshit” at the recording sessions, and editor Bud Smith recalls that Friedkin threw the tape reels into the studio parking lot saying, “That’s where that music belongs.” The final music in the film ended up being all temp track music, mainly pieces by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and of course “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. The unused sample cue here was written for the film’s trailer and is very characteristic of Schifrin’s score for the film.

Exorcist (Lalo Schfrin) – Unused Trailer

My final verdict? Schifrin’s score is awesome and I think delivers pretty much exactly what Friedkin thought he wanted, but it’s very difficult to imagine the film without the music that’s there. Ultimately, Friedkin was right.

The China Syndrome (1979, composed by Michael Small). One of the most unsettling aspects of this excellent thriller is its lack of a music score. But it turns out that composer Michael Small — who was noted for writing disturbing atonal scores for such films as The Parallax View (1974) and Marathon Man (1976) — had written and recorded a score for The China Syndrome that was never used. If anyone were to write a score for Syndrome, it seems Small would have been the perfect choice. So what went wrong? In an interview on the DVD, actor-producer Michael Douglas recalls that during the dubbing process, as they began to add the music, what was already dramatic was becoming melodramatic, adding “When we laid the music in, it didn’t work.”

China Syndrome (Michael Small) – Meltdown!

My final verdict? I love this score, but it was the right decision to toss it. This is a case where the film plays beautifully without any music.

Legend (1985, composed by Jerry Goldsmith). For director Ridley Scott’s Legend, Goldsmith felt he’d written one of the finest scores of his career. The film opened in Europe with Goldsmith’s score intact, so what happened with the U.S. release? Universal Pictures, who controlled the U.S. rights, cut the film from 125 minutes to 89 minutes, and in the interest of making the film more “commercial,” Goldsmith’s score was jettisoned in favor of an electronic score by Tangerine Dream. In 2002, a 113-minute “director’s cut” version was released on DVD with Goldsmith’s score restored. What’s interesting is that Goldsmith had also scored Scott’s Alien (1979) and had been frustrated that they ended up using two selections from Goldsmith’s own score to Freud (1962) in the final mix. And even in the director’s cut of Legend, there’s a cue from Goldsmith’s Psycho II (1983) in there — and it’s entirely out of character with the rest of the score. The sample cue was written for the final confrontation between the forces of good and Darkness.

Legend (Jerry Goldsmith) – Darkness Fails

My final verdict? I’m biased because Goldsmith is my favorite composer, but next to Tim Curry’s awesome performance as Darkness (and Rob Bottin’s amazing makeup), Jerry’s score is the best thing in the movie. But you can judge for yourselves:

Gangs of New York (2002, composed by Elmer Bernstein). Bernstein has had his share of rejected scores in his career, notably The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) and The Scarlet Letter (1995). Supposedly, Bernstein sent a letter to actress-producer Demi Moore thanking her for rejecting the score for The Scarlet Letter so he could use it in a better movie. But the rejected Bernstein score that really stands out to me, especially after hearing it, is the one he wrote for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Scorsese and Bernstein had previously collaborated on The Age of Innocence (1993), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), The Grifters (1990, which Scorsese produced) and Cape Fear (1991, where Bernstein had adapted Bernard Herrmann’s music from the 1962 original). It seems to me that Bernstein’s brutal, haunting, Celtic-flavored score would have suited Gangs of New York perfectly, but it was tossed in favor of temp track — mainly excerpts from a Howard Shore concert piece called “Brooklyn Heights.” It’ll remain a mystery to me why Bernstein’s score wasn’t used, but according to rumor it was mainly due to the insistence of Harvey Weinstein. Scorsese had also apparently done a lot of additional editing to the picture after Bernstein had recorded his score. In a 2003 interview conducted by Roger Friedman, Bernstein had this to say about it: “On Gangs of New York, Marty could never quite make up his mind about what he wanted. Then, he got into this long, painful edit. I wrote way back, nine months ago, some music for the film. I went over it with him. But as he went along, he began to have some other concept of what he wanted. He winds up with a Scorsese score, a pastiche.”

Gangs of New York (Elmer Bernstein) – Battle

My final verdict? Bernstein’s score seems dead-on perfect to me.




  • David_E

    Thanks. Terrifically interesting read.

  • David_E

    Thanks. Terrifically interesting read.

  • Bigfrog6

    While Troy hardly ranks with any of these movies (well, maybe Legend…) the rejected soundtrack by Gabriel Yared is awesome. Its better than any of the LOTR soundtracks as well as anything John Williams has done since the original Star Wars trilogy.

  • http://www.filmenjoyer.com John C.

    Thank you, for this was very interesting not only to read, but to listen to what could have been. I understand why Kubrick went for his choices, but Alex North did a bang up job with the score. Schrifin’s rejected theme is very haunting enough, but “Tubular Bells” did the job just fine. As for Elmer’s rejected score, he captures the essence of the scene involved and I am sure it would have made the film more effective than it was.

  • Robert_D

    An interesting, little-known sequel to the ‘2001’ music saga: For Peter Hyam’s follow-up, ‘2010: The Year We Make Contact’, Tony Banks (keyboard player with Genesis) was asked to provide the music. But his contributions ended up being rejected (they ultimately turned up in an obscure film called ‘Lorca and the Outlaws’) and the producers went with a score by David Shire….

  • http://www.facebook.com/growlithe Brandon James

    I still want to know what Howard Shore was going to do with Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/growlithe Brandon James

    I still want to know what Howard Shore was going to do with Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I’ve been attempting to get North’s 2001 and Herrmann’s Torn Curtain, but without much luck.

    I’m always surprised by the angst that goes on between producers, directors and composers. You’d think none of them communicated with each other until all the work was done (and that is likely the case most of the time).

  • Shark On Steroids

    Can’t agree with you at all. Yared’s TROY is a lousy, overwrought, mess of a score. Even Williams at his dullest his more talent in his little finger than Gabriel Yared and James Horner combined.

    Williams, Goldsmith, Herrmann, Bernstein, Schifrin, Rosza, Barry, Mancini, North etc… They’re in a completely different league.