The Best Classical Music Movies, Ranked

Films lend themselves to artistic visions. The camera lens follows, captures, releases and follows a story over and over again. Moving pictures are poetry in motion, holding our attention through dreams and hell. Awakened to the life that flashes before our eyes, we are absorbed in a second life and can experience many lives through the cinema. The slice of life in movies can take many forms, but filmmakers tend to see beyond the audience’s disbelief. Movies help us see how these ideas and emotions mix and mingle frame by frame, picture by picture and sound by sound.

Music influences the way many films work. They set the tone inherent in the story and the characters’ fall from grace and rise to redemption. Music also sets themes in stone just as easily. John Williams composed star Wars saga soundtrack with memorable themes such as “Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” and “Main Theme” during the opening, scrolling credits. Classical music plays with our emotions; “Beautiful Dreamer” presents a nice contrast between the fantasy and the grim reality of the Joker in Batman (1989). Films about music are about the poetry between the lines, and the classics, with their composers, have created some of the best soundtracks of their lifetime.


7 Death in Venice (1971)

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogard) is a fictional writer in this adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella. He is surrounded by impending death in the Italian city due to a cholera epidemic, which he combats nonchalantly. In addition, Aschenbach has a heart condition that further limits his peace and quiet. He finds a new life in the tourist and a young Polish boy named Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen). Although the film does not focus on a music composer, it does feature classical music by names such as Gustav Mahler, Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Mussorgsky. The abstractness and objectivity of Gustav’s emotions is understood through the music. They lull the viewer into the story of a repressed and troubled artist and the dying yearning of a disciplined man.

6 Listomania (1975)

Led by Roger Daltrey, lead singer of rock group The Who, Listomania says the world’s first rock star, the Hungarian composer, Ferenc Liszt. The surreal and zany biographical comedy is inspired by the coins of the German romantic and literary critic Heinrich Heine, which feature accounts of women rushing the stage during Liszt’s piano performances. The film features synthesized versions of the music of Liszt and composer Richard Wagner made by progressive rock band Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Before the encounter with Beatlemania, Ringo Starr naturally appeared as the Pope.

5 Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a 30-year-old music teacher at John F. Kennedy High School and an aspiring composer. He composed his symphony at a time of great change in American society, like this one Forest Gump did in his vignettes from each era. The film features many pieces of non-Western classical music, including Holland’s title song, called “American Symphony,” composed by Michael Kemann. Despite Dreyfuss’ script and Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, Kemann’s orchestral score won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.

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4 Immortal Beloved (1994)

Gary Oldman plays German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven in this historical drama. Through a series of flashbacks, personal letters and his biographer Anton Schindler, the film attempts to unravel the mystery of who Beethoven’s Unsterbliche Geliebte or Immortal Beloved was. Oldman’s performance is passionate and perverse; a solid fit of dissonance for the primal classics.

3 Amadeus (1984)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulse) is given a fictional rivalry with the Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham by Ray Bradbury The lovely ice cream suit). Mozart was a depraved musical genius (listen to his “Leck mich im Arsch” or “Lick me in the arse”), while Salieri, once a devout Catholic, turned his nose up to heaven in denial of God for bestowing such a man with more talent than him. Instead of suffering from a God complex or taking responsibility for his own artistry, he conspired to kill Mozart. The film is considered one of the greatest ever made, winning many awards. Both actors were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor; Abraham took home the gold, but both lived the music.

2 Glitter (1996)

Australian concert pianist David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush) is an aspiring musician who has suffered mental breakdowns and has been institutionalized for most of his life. His father was both protective and abusive, schooling and tormenting David into perfection and conformity. Instead of settling into his father’s controlling family dynamic, David continued to compose and perform his music, eventually finding his way to America. Rush won the Oscar for best actor in Shine and is the tragic triumph of a true blue virtuoso.

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1 The Pianist (2002)

Adrien Brody plays Holocaust survivor and Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. The film is based on Szpilman’s autobiography of the same name, about his time living with his family in the Warsaw Ghetto of Nazi-occupied Poland. Its survival and history are both remarkable and terrifying. Every note she hits her keys is a bittersweet tear of joy, a celebration of life’s easily fleeting beauty.