Nominations voting is from January 11–16, 2024, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 23, 2024. Final voting is February 22–27, 2024. And finally, the 96th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 10, and air live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT. We update predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2024 Oscar picks.
The State of the Race
It’s a wide-open race for Best Original Score with many genres and musical styles — and four animated films in the mix. But “Oppenheimer” (Universal) is the favorite with other current frontrunners consisting of “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple TV+/Paramount), “Barbie” (Warner Bros.), “American Fiction” (Amazon/MGM), and “Spider-Man: Across the Universe” (Sony). This pits “Black Panther” Oscar winner Ludwig Göransson against the late, great Robbie Robertson, British and American rock duo Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, Laura Karpman, and Daniel Pemberton.
Also in contention are “Society of the Snow” (Netflix) from Michael Giacchino, Past Lives” (A24) from Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen of indie rock band Grizzly Bear, “The Zone of Interest” (A24) from Monica Levi, “Saltburn” (Amazon/MGM) from Anthony Willis, “Poor Things” (Searchlight) from English musician-turned film composer Jerskin Fendrix, “The Color Purple” (Warner Bros.) and “Origin” (NEON) from Kris Bowers, and Hans Zimmer for “The Creator” (20th Century/Disney).
In addition, there’s “Napoleon” (Apple TV+/Sony Pictures) from Martin Phipps, “Wish” (Disney) from David Metzger, “The Holdovers” (Focus Features) from Mark Orton, “Dicks: The Musical” (A24) from Marius de Vries and Karl Saint Lucy, “The Killer” (Netflix) from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Rustin” (Netflix) from Branford Marsalis, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Lucasfilm/Disney) from Hollywood legend John Williams, “A Haunting in Venice” (20th Century/Disney) from Hildur Guðnadóttir, “Nyad” (Netflix) from Alexandre Desplat, “Elemental” (Pixar/Disney) from Thomas Newman, and “The Boy and the Heron” (GKids) from Joe Hisaishi.
For Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” the biopic thriller about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), Göransson wrapped his crucial musical theme around the actor’s nuanced performance as the “father of the atomic bomb.” That meant reflecting the mood of every emotion surrounding his obsession with quantum physics, the pressure to build the bomb to end the war, the fear of ending the world, and the aftermath of the war and the ensuing Cold War nuclear arms race. It all began with a solo violin, at the director’s request, which the composer transformed into a series of romantic, manic, neurotic, or horrific musical changes that underscored Oppenheimer’s intense journey. As IndieWire’s Sarah Shachat noted, “Göransson places electronic distortions, pounding percussion, and howling synths onto the soundtrack with perfect scientific accuracy.”
The recent passing of Robertson makes his brilliant final score for “Killers of the Flower Moon” even more poignant. He becomes the sentimental favorite to win the Oscar. It’s a career-defining score that caps his special collaboration with Martin Scorsese. Their association began with “The Last Waltz,” the farewell concert of The Band filmed by the director in 1976, and continued with Robertson serving as musical consultant, soundtrack supervisor, and composer. For this celebration of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma in the 1920s, when they were systematically murdered for their oil-rich land and accumulated wealth, Robertson tapped deeply into his Native American roots. His score “pounds along with the beat of drums and shakers, chords splashing on acoustic and electric guitars, accented with banjo twangs and the birdlike cries of various flutes.”
Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar blockbuster “Barbie” provided emotional and whimsical inspiration to composers Ronson and Wyatt in conveying Barbie’s (Margot Robbie) existential journey in and out of Barbie Land and the real world and her interactions with Ken (Ryan Gosling) and the other dolls. Ronson and Wyatt reverse-engineered the score from such key songs as “I’m Just Ken” and “Dance the Night, using the rise and fall of disco as a metaphor for Barbie. Not only were there an assortment of harmonies and melodies to layer in but also textures, sonics, and rhythms. They also balanced analog synths and orchestra. Thus, the connection between the score and songs became its own creative journey. The biggest challenge is not being overshadowed by the Oscar-contending hit songs (which also include “What Was I Made For?”).
Karpman brings a variety of whimsical and more dramatic jazz flavors to Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction” (the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner adapted from Percival Everett’s novel “Erasure”), which skewers “Black” entertainment’s tired and offensive tropes, in which Jeffrey Wright’s out-of-touch author anonymously mocks the state of “Black” storytelling in a provocative pseudo autobiography and becomes a celebrity.
With “Spider-Man: Across the Universe,” producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller introduced several new dimensions and characters to expand the epic journey of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). These include Gwen’s (Hailee Steinfeld) watercolor home and the exotic Mumbattan. Pemberton got to expand his score with new themes but also have his existing themes pay off in different ways. There are more experimental sounds, including whistles recorded in a graveyard in Peckham, London, and the return of record-scratching. “Pemberton’s score makes masterful use of repetition, repurposing the main theme throughout its over 30 tracks,” IndieWire’s Proma Khosla noted.
Giacchino reunites with J. A. Bayona (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) for “Society of the Snow,” the Spanish-language survival thriller that retells the true-life story of the Uruguayan rugby team, which crash-landed on a glacier in the heart of the Andes in 1972. He delivers a folk-driven score with guitar and strings that evokes the sadness and hope of their perilous journey.
Director Celine Song’s bittersweet “Past Lives,” about the reunion between two childhood friends (played by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo) as they contemplate their relationship and destiny, gets an enchanting, multilayered score from Bear and Rossen. “A fresh blend of guitars, winds, loose snares, and bells all create a very tactile musical language,” wrote Shachat.
Levi reunites with director Jonathan Glazer on “The Zone of Interest,” the acclaimed Holocaust drama about the banality of evil. Loosely based on the Martin Amis novel, it explores the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel ) and his wife (Sandra Hüller), an avid gardener, as they attempt to build a dream life with their family in the surrounding countryside next to the camp. Levi’s angular, arresting, disquieting score suggests a descent into hell in contrast to the placid exterior drama.
Willis follows up his BAFTA-nominated “Promising Young Woman” score with a dream-like, electronic reverie for Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” which finds Barry Keoghan’s Oxford misfit spending a summer of debauchery at the aristocratic estate of alluring classmate Jacob Elordi and his eccentric family.
Fendrix makes his film score debut with Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” and his dissonant and melodic fusion perfectly captures the delirious state of mind of Emma Stone’s Bella, who’s reanimated by unconventional scientist Baxter (Willem Dafoe) with the brain of her unborn child, and is transformed into a Victorian free spirit in this “Frankenstein” gender-bender. He creates biomechanic music with woodwinds, pipe organs, uilleann pipes (similar to Irish bagpipes), a lot of synthesized breath, and vocals to evoke the child-like sense of wonder and tactile garishness and poisonous textures.
Bowers gets to explore his arsenal of jazz, soul, hip-hop and classical for Blitz Bazawule’s “The Color Purple,” adapted from the Broadway stage musical, and Ava DuVernay’s “Origin,” inspired by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s nonfiction book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which examines segregation and inequality.
In Gareth Edwards’ sci-fi thriller, “The Creator,” about a future war between humanity and AI, Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro create a lovely score that’s organic, orchestral, and choral, which predominantly evokes the emotional bond between hardened ex-special forces assassin Joshua (John David Washington) and his target: the powerful AI simulant Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
As for the rest: Phipps (“Peaky Blinders,” “The Crown”) provides a fitting classical score for Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” which explores Napoleon Bonaparte’s (Joaquin Phoenix) ruthless climb to emperor and his obsessive, volatile relationship with the Empress Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby). “Wish,” in celebration of Disney’s 100th anniversary, explores the origin of the fairy tale wishing star from the “Frozen” team of Jennifer Lee (writer/executive producer and Animation chief creative officer), director Chris Buck, and animator-turned-director Fawn Veerasunthorn. Composer Metzger underscores the mystery, innocence, and enchantment associated with the wishing star.
Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” a wacky 1970 Christmas dramedy about the misadventures of a despicable teacher (Paul Giamatti), who remains at school over the holiday to supervise students unable to journey home, covers a lot of aesthetic ground in Orton’s thematic score. From spare underscore (solo piano, string quartet, and acoustic guitar-based cues), to chamber orchestra cues (with nods to the Christmas setting), to cues based on an early ’70s classic rock sound, it balances between comedy and drama.
Larry Charles’ “Dicks: The Musical,” a riff on “The Parent Trap,” based on Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp’s off-Broadway show “Fucking Identical Twins,” in which they star as gay parodies of straight white men, features a score by Saint Lucy and de Vries that’s attuned to the show’s anarchic and demented spirit.
David Fincher’s passion project “The Killer” (Netflix), based on the graphic novel by Alex Nolent, finds Michael Fassbender’s assassin questioning his nihilistic worldview after missing a target for the first time. The score from Reznor and Ross occupies a weird zone of low and upper registers in keeping with the subjective POV and as part of an immersive sound mix. A highlight: his escape in Paris for its counter-intuitive use of choir.
Marsalis provides an inspirational jazz score for George C. Wolfe’s “Rustin” biopic about Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo), the openly gay advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. (Ami Ameen) who organized the landmark 1963 March on Washington.
Although “Dial of Destiny” was a major box office failure, Williams hit all the right emotional musical moments for Indy’s (Harrison Ford) final adventure. The elderly archaeologist struggles to find his heroic place in a world that has passed him by, haunted by demons from the past, and Williams balances the familiar iconic themes with new ones built around his mood swings and relationships with Marion (Karen Allen) and goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
For “A Haunting in Venice,” in which actor and director Kenneth Branagh returns for his third outing as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who investigates a murder while attending a Halloween seance at a haunted palazzo, Guðnadóttir imagined writing music for a post-World War II world without romantic melodies. She applied her specialty for abstract musicality, experimenting with tonalities that were mathematically rigid yet free of structure through methods of chance composition.
Desplat creates the musical mindscape of legendary marathon swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) in the “Nyad” biopic, directed by “Free Solo” Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. With the support of partner and trainer Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), she achieves the lifelong dream of completing the 110-mile open ocean swim from Cuba to Florida at 60.
With “Elemental,” Newman’s first Pixar score, he creates a vast assortment of musical colors to convey the theme of otherness in Peter Sohn’s fantasy about the elements of water, air, earth, and fire trying to co-exist in the same city. Hisaish provides a sublime score for Hayao Miyazaki’s most personal film, “The Boy and the Heron,” about grief and protecting the planet.
Potential nominees are listed in alphabetical order; no film will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
“A Haunting in Venice”
“Dicks: The Musical”
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”
“Society of the Snow”
“The Boy and the Heron”
“The Color Purple”
“The Zone of Interest”