Hans Zimmer

From Frankfurt to Hollywood

Hans Florian Zimmer is not as well-known as his familiar film music. Few moviegoers are aware that it is this German-born film-music composer who created the scores for such Hollywood hits as Driving Miss Daisy, The Lion King, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Interstellar.


Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey star in INTERSTELLAR (2014), with a score by Hans Zimmer.
PHOTO: Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures

Hans Zimmer was born in Frankfurt am Main and grew up in Germany, but he moved to the United Kingdom as a young man. He began his career as a composer working on advertising jingles in London. He was a pioneer in the use of computers and digital synthesizers to produce film music with a punch. In his rock-music-band days in the 1970s, Zimmer was involved with the hit song “Video Killed the Radio Star” (composed by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes) and produced an album for the music group The Buggles (“The Age of Plastic”).


Hans Zimmer in 2008.
PHOTO: JNH et HZ, Yann de la marne. Wikimedia Commons

In the 1980s, after touring in Europe with groups known as Krisma and Ultravox, Zimmer began to work on film music. His very first film score was for a 1982 British film starring Jeremy Irons. Moonlighting was about Nowak (Irons), a Polish worker leading a team working illegally in London at the time of the Polish Solidarity movement. Among his early successes was the score for the British box office hit My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). He also co-produced the soundtrack album for Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987). Zimmer’s biggest break came when Hollywood took note of his music for a small-budget film about South Africa, A World Apart (1988). His next project was the Oscar-nominated score for the highly acclaimed Hollywood production Rain Man (1988). The following year he earned another nomination for Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Since then, Zimmer has been steadily at work on musical scores for many notable films, among them such Hollywood hits as Thelma & Louise (1991), The Lion King (1994), Crimson Tide (1995, Grammy Award), The Rock (1996, two themes), Gladiator (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014). It was Zimmer’s score for The Lion King that finally won him his first and only Academy Award. (Other Oscars went to the film’s Elton John/Tim Rice hit songs.)

Hans Zimmer Highlights
Hans Zimmer has created music for well over 100 films and other productions. He has earned eight Oscar nominations, but only one Academy Award. Zimmer has received many other honors for his work, including Golden Globes and Grammy Awards (see below).

1957 Hans Florian Zimmer is born September 12 in Frankfurt, Germany.
1979 Collaborates in London on the hit song “Video Killed the Radio Star”
1982 First film score for the British film Moonlighting (not the TV series)
1988 Oscar nomination for Rain Man
1989 Grammy nomination for Driving Miss Daisy
1994 Wins Oscar for The Lion King score
1995 Golden Globe Award for The Lion King score
1995 Grammy Awards for The Lion King: 1. Best Instrumental Arrangement With Accompanying Vocals, 2. Best Musical Album For Children
1996 Grammy Award for Crimson Tide score
1997 Oscar nomination for As Good As It Gets
1998 Golden Globe nomination for Prince of Egypt
2001 Golden Globe Award for Gladiator score
2009 Grammy Award for The Dark Knight (shared with James Newton Howard)
2010 In December Zimmer gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Later he also gets a star on the Boulevard der Stars in Berlin.
2011 World Soundtrack Award for Inception
2012 Composes new theme music for the ABC World News (USA).
2014 In a May interview Zimmer acknowledges that he is Jewish and “proud of his people.”

In 1997 Zimmer was nominated for his musical contribution to As Good As It Gets (Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score), but the Titanic tidal wave that year left him empty-handed. Two more Zimmer-scored films premiered in 1998: The Thin Red Line with Sean Penn, and an animated feature by DreamWorks SKG, The Prince of Egypt, featuring the voices of half of Hollywood. For his Prince of Egypt score, Zimmer (with songwriter Stephen Schwartz) received a Golden Globe (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) nomination.

On October 10, 2000, Zimmer took time off from his film work to open the 27th Flanders International Film Festival with a live concert along with the Flemish Radio Orchestra in Ghent, Belgium. In 2003 the composer branched out into another medium with the musical theme for the ABC/Touchstone television series “Threat Matrix.”

Hans Zimmer and synthesizer

A young Hans Zimmer and an early synthesizer.
PHOTO: The Hans Zimmer Worship Page

Hans Zimmer lives in Los Angeles with his wife Suzanne and their four children, but he works in nearby Santa Monica. At his large, sumptuous studio complex in an office tower in Santa Monica, Zimmer and his associates at Remote Control Productions have access to a huge suite of computers, musical keyboards, and other electronic gadgets that the German composer favors for the creation of his music. It has been a highly successful formula. Zimmer can now claim credit for work on numerous feature films, shorts, video games, and television productions.

Zimmer is well known for his synth and electronic composing. For his score for the 2010 sci-fi film Inception, Zimmer manipulated parts of the French song “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I regret nothing” – music by Charles Dumont, lyrics by Michel Vaucaire). According to Zimmer, the resulting horn sound is “like huge foghorns over a city.” It was prominently featured in the film’s trailers. Zimmer adds, “It’s funny how that sort of thing becomes part of the zeitgeist. But I suppose that’s exactly what trailers are looking for: something iconic, lasts less than a second, and shakes the seats in the theater.”[1] The film’s main theme is also derived from a slowed down version of the French song, made most popular by Edith Piaf in 1960.

Hans Zimmer

The INTERSTELLAR CD features the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Get it from Amazon.com: Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Interstellar Score
Unlike his music for any other film, Zimmer’s score for Interstellar (2014) sparked complaints about the music being too loud and overpowering the film’s dialog. One Hollywood sound professional, who saw the film in a well-known Beverly Hills cinema, was quoted in Billboard as saying: “Any professional would have spoken up and said, ‘We can’t hear the dialogue,'” adding that the biggest problem could be that “it takes you out of the movie.”[2]

But director Christopher Nolan has vigorously defended his “impressionistic” sound mix for Interstellar, saying that he and his team, working with Zimmer, intentionally allowed the music to obscure some of the dialog. He wanted the audience to have trouble hearing some of the dialog, reflecting the reality of trying to hear people talking in a noisy environment in real life. In a Hollywood Reporter article the director said, “There are particular moments in this film where I decided to use dialogue as a sound effect, so sometimes it’s mixed slightly underneath the other sound effects or in the other sound effects to emphasize how loud the surrounding noise is. It’s not that nobody has ever done these things before, but it’s a little unconventional for a Hollywood movie.”[3] Nolan also praised theaters for showing the film the way he intended.

Zimmer has worked successfully with Nolan earlier on other films, including The Dark Knight trilogy. In another unusual move, Zimmer delayed the release of the Interstellar soundtrack album until two weeks after the film’s November release, stating that he wanted film viewers to first experience the music in a cinema, as it was meant to be heard.

1. Itzkoff, Dave (28 July 2010). “Hans Zimmer Extracts the Secrets of the ‘Inception’ Score” in The New York Times
2. From Billboard.com – Bad Sound Mix (2014)
3. Hollywood Reporter: Christopher Nolan Breaks Silence on ‘Interstellar’ Sound (11/15/2014 by Carolyn Giardina)

Continued below…


Hans Zimmer: Songs, Albums


Also see the German Way Store for more Zimmer DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs and MP3s.

Hans Zimmer Filmography
A selected list of films and TV shows with music by Hans Zimmer.

    • Moonlighting (1982, UK) Score, electronic effects
    • Success is the Best Revenge (1984, UK) Score
    • My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, UK) Music
    • Burning Secret (1988) Score
    • A World Apart (1988) Score
    • Rain Man (1988) Score – Oscar nomination
    • Black Rain (1989) Score composer, song composer
    • Driving Miss Daisy (1989) Score – Oscar nomination
    • Bird On a Wire (1990) Score
    • Days of Thunder (1990) Score, song composer
    • Green Card (1990) Score
    • The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter (1990) Score
    • Backdraft (1991) Score
    • Thelma & Louise (1991) Score composer
      Amazon.com: Thelma & Louise: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
    • A League of Their Own (1992) Score
    • Radio Flyer (1992) Music
    • Toys (1992) Music
    • Aspen Extreme (1993) Song composer
    • Cool Runnings (1993) Music
    • The House of the Spirits (1993) Music
    • Point of No Return (1993) Music
    • Drop Zone (1994) Music
    • I’ll Do Anything (1994) Music
    • The Lion King (1994) Music, music supervisor, song arranger, song producer
      Academy Award for Best Original Score, Golden Globe, American Music Award, Tony, and two Grammy Awards
      Amazon.com: The Lion King: Special Edition CD or MP3
    • Renaissance Man (1994) Score
    • Something to Talk About (1995) Score
    • Nine Months (1995) Score
    • Crimson Tide (1995) Music – Grammy Award
    • The Rock (1996) Music, two themes
    • The Preacher’s Wife (1996) Oscar nomination for Best Musical or Comedy Score
    • Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997) Fräulein Smillas Gespür für Schnee by Danish director Bille August
    • The Peacemaker (1997)
    • As Good As It Gets (1997) Starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Academy Award nomination (Best Musical or Comedy Score)
    • The Thin Red Line (1998) Score
    • Prince of Egypt (1998) Animated reworking of “The Ten Commandments” by DreamWorks SKG, featuring the voices of Val Kilmer (Moses), Sandra Bullock (Miriam), Ralph Fiennes (Ramses), and other star voices. Golden Globe nomination (with songwriter Stephen Schwartz). > Buy the Soundtrack CD
    • The Road to El Dorado (1999) Animated feature
    • Gladiator (2000) Score
    • Mission Impossible 2 (2000) Score
    • The Pledge (2001) Score
    • Hannibal (2001) Score
    • Pearl Harbor (2001) Score > Buy the Soundtrack CD > Buy the DVD
    • Riding in Cars with Boys (2001) Score
    • Black Hawk Down (2002) Score
    • Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) Score. Animated feature
    • The Ring (2002) Score
    • Tears of the Sun (2003) Score. Stars Bruce Willis.
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Music editor, music programmer, score producer, soundtrack producer; with music composed by Klaus Badelt > Buy the Soundtrack CD > Buy the DVD
    • “Threat Matrix” (2003, TV series, ABC/Touchstone) Theme music
    • Matchstick Men (2003) with Nicolas Cage. Score
    • The Last Samurai (2003) Score, musical producer. > Buy the Soundtrack CD > BUY the DVD
    • Something’s Gotta Give (2003) Score
    • King Arthur (2004) Score
    • Shark Tale (2004) Score
    • Madagascar (2005) Score
    • Batman Begins (2005) Score
    • The Da Vinci Code (2006) Score
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) Score
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) Score
    • Iron Man (2008) Executive music producer
    • The Dark Knight (2008) Score

  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) Score
  • Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) Executive music producer
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Additional music
  • Angels & Demons (2009) Score
  • The Pacific (2010, TV mini-series) Score
  • Despicable Me (2010) Score producer
  • Inception (2010) Score, synthesizer programmer
  • Rango (2011) Score
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Theme music; score producer
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) Score
  • “The 84th Annual Academy Awards” (2012) TV special; music consultant
  • Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) Score
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Score, synth programming
  • The Lone Ranger (2013) Score
  • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) Executive music producer
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013) Score
  • Winter’s Tale (2014) Score
  • Divergent (2014) Executive music producer
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Additional music
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) Score
  • Interstellar (2014) Score
    Amazon.com: Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  • Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015) Score
  • Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Score

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