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John Debney
Reviews in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Traffic Ranks:
#97.  The Passion of the Christ
(updated daily)

Scores in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Voting Ranks:
#21.  Cutthroat Island
(updated daily)

Filmtracks Editor's Recommendations:
Cutthroat Island
End of Days
The Passion of the Christ

Related Pages of Interest:
SeaQuest DSV
(1993, television series)
(Cond. Debney, 1998, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
Amazing Stories
(Cond. Debney, 1999, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
Back to the Future Trilogy
(Cond. Debney, 1999, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
The Towering Inferno
(Cond. Debney, 1999, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
Remember the Titans
(1999, rejected score)

Born in 1956 in Burbank, California, John Debney started playing guitar at age of six and began his classical training. His father worked as a musician and producer at Disney Studios for over 40 years, introducing his teenage son to the industry of animated pictures. He would bring Disney films and their written musical scores home for his son to compare while watching the films, including Sleeping Beauty. During his maturation, he went through a rock band phase during which his band was signed on to a contract. But after working the rock band scene out of his system, Debney earned his Bachelors Degree from Cal-Arts and continued to study music composition privately. In the following years, he worked mostly as an orchestrator for other composers before slowly getting his own assignments (mostly in television). His performance and expertise is in piano and guitar, though he has experimented with the cello and sax. He also sings and has done professional singing work.

Although Debney began his career scoring primarily films for television, he made an effort in the mid-1990s to seek more feature film assignments. His association with Disney has led to several of his large scoring opportunities (though many of the films themselves have not enjoyed blockbuster success), including several theme park works around the world. He has co-written and re-scored themes for EuroDisney, Epcot, and The Magic Kingdom. Not to forget the importance of his early television music, Debney received three Emmy awards in the 1990's, including "The Cape" (1997), "SeaQuest DSV" (1993), and "The Young Riders" (1990). He also established his name in the "Star Trek" genre with multiple episodes scored on both "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." As the decade of the 90's came to a close, Debney's assignments were of a strictly feature-film basis. His robust score for Cutthroat Island is his achievement best-known by fans of the film score genre.

If Debney has a specialty, it's that he can and does handle any kind of assignment, from child-oriented adventure films (Spy Kids II: Island of Lost Dreams, Inspector Gadget), suspense (Swimfan, I Know What You Did Last Summer), animation (The Emperor's New Groove, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), comedy (Bruce Almighty, Liar, Liar), action/martial arts (The Tuxedo, Sudden Death), sprawling epic (The Scorpion King, Cutthroat Island) and nearly every other sub-category. In addition to his composing projects, Debney has embarked on a series of recordings of classic film scores for Varèse Sarabande, conducting works like Superman, The Towering Inferno, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Titanic and Back to the Future with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He enjoys retaining as much of the original scores' personalities as possible.

Among the composers who he most admires are Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, and Max Steiner from the Golden Age, as well as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams (who he claims has had the most profound effect upon him). Most recently, he enjoys the works of Elliot Goldenthal, Danny Elfman, Thomas Newman, Robert Folk, and Randy Newman. Specifically, his favorite scores are those from the Goldsmith 1970's era, and E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Williams. His collaboration with Steven Spielberg on Little Giants and SeaQuest DSV was among his most memorable, and would enjoy working with Spielberg again. Debney was the most productive Hollywood composer in the year 2002, with seven projects in that year alone, and the demand for his talents remains very high. His collection of eight scores in 1999 remains a personal highlight in his output. He resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and children.

Debney in 1998
Additional Quotes:
"I'm still learning how to score films. I don't think there's any right way to score a film because just when I think there's a right way to do a certain scene, somebody like Danny Elfman comes along and does something that's different." -- 1998, on the diversity of film scores

"I think it was my score to The Relic that was very difficult for me. That type of score is not as enticing. People like Chris Young and now Marco Beltrami... they're so good at it. They seem to flourish with it, especially Chris. I'm just blown away by what he does." -- 1998, on the horror genre

"The Varèse recordings have been very exciting and gratifying. Bob Townson and I have tried with all our hearts to stay as true to the original performances as humanly possible. I would never presume to contact any of the living composers I've conducted. I just hope that at the end of the day they will be pleased with the final product." -- 1999, on conducting classic scores

"I think for any composer to write for a pirate movie, a big cowboy movie, or a space epic like Star Wars, that's a dream job. The Scorpion King was right up there because it was really fun to dive into all the elements that go into something like that." -- 2002, on dream assignments

"As the most challenging and rewarding, the one that comes to mind is Cutthroat Island. That may seem strange because the film is known as this huge failure. When we were doing it, it was this amazingly glorious experience because it required me to compose over two hours of huge swashbuckling-type music... I was given this huge canvas to paint." -- 2002, on his most rewarding score

"When I was a kid, I remember my dad bringing home some of the classic Disney films on 16 mm film. Once I'd learned how to read music, I'd sit with the written score for Sleeping Beauty, for example, and follow along while watching the film. I always had a keen interest in that." -- 2003, on his childhood

"I've already seen instances where the technology can really overshadow the craft. You can get someone who's barely knowledgeable of music fundamentals doing big film scores. My hope is, with the advent of technology, that we never lose sight of the craft involved." -- 2003, on technology and composer talents

"I only have a problem with a song idea when the studio is jamming the songs down the throat of the film. I've had many directors tell me that they don't want this or that song as part of the film. But the reality is that if you get a hit soundtrack, quite frankly, some of those do better than the movies." -- 2003, on score albums versus song albums

John Debney at the Bruce Almighty premiere in 2003

"I love writing melodies. I love writing memorable and emotional music. In my heart, I'm not really into big, bombastic stuff, even though I like to write it. I'd like to one day be nominated for an Oscar."
-- John Debney, 1993

With his numerous popular scoring achievements of the 1990's and beyond, John Debney has established himself in Hollywood as well-known, well-respected, first rate feature film composer. Beginning his career with a variety of small budget television and theme park assignments, as well as a family connection to Disney's studios, Debney has built a reputation that has led to his involvement with a wide range of Disney films and a continuous string of popular animated cartoon assignments. These works have expanded to include projects very much in the mainstream, including the horror thriller End of Days in 1999, the action sequel Scorpion King in 2002, and the box office juggernaut Bruce Almighty in 2003. His flawless methodology of producing his scores, including extensive knowledge of temp tracking, fast deadline techniques, and working with groups of composers has caused him to become one of the industry's most in-demand composers. It is not unusual for Debney to be involved in five or six projects per year, clearly out-producing all other major Hollywood composers active today.

Due to the financial system of re-use fees and declining label margins, scores of films for which Debney provides his music are often deemed unreleasable by major record labels. Thus, many of his best works are available in promotional form only. These promotional releases, such as Hocus Pocus, I Know What You Did Last Summer, My Favorite Martian, and Inspector Gadget, have been seen exchanged on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars. Of Debney's (roughly) 50 scores written before the turn of the century, only 20 of them have been made available on CD in some form or another. That trend has continued into the 2000's, although about half of his works now receive some soundtrack release (whether by itself or flanked by songs). The production of promotional CDs continues, however, and Debney still believes that this format of releasing his music is a viable and affordable method of preserving his own works. With his career passing fifteen years in length, the sheer number of these rare scores keeps Debney collectors on their toes.

Debney in 2002
This unfortunate reality of so few album releases of Debney's work is made even more troublesome for film music fans by the high quality of Debney's talents. With consistently creative and melodic scores, Debney has developed a strong following over the past decade. Among his most popular works are a range from the momentous and grand Cutthroat Island to the heartfelt beauty of Not Since Casanova... from the sharp and overwhelming The Relic to the wacky and cartoonish My Favorite Martian and Inspector Gadget. Also among his highlights is his haunting rescoring of the music for the EuroDisney Theme Park's haunted house, "Phantom Manor," in Paris. In the latter half of the 1990s, Debney also become a regular conductor for the Varèse Sarabande label's re-recording of such classics as Superman, Back to the Future, The Towering Inferno, and Amazing Stories. His diverse skills are matched by his enthusiasm for the scoring of all sorts of creative entertainment venues, and his name can be read in the credits of productions around the world.

As the second generation of his family to be involved in the Los Angeles entertainment industry, Debney is one of film music's citizen-advocates, immersed in the genre's history and concerned about film music's future. A true believer in the craft of film scoring, he worries about the production of film scores by people who aren't highly trained musicians (in harmony, theory, and counterpoint), a phenomenon that has caused the quality of film music as a whole to potentially be diminished. He blames technology mostly for this industry trend, but Debney himself is able to fuse the synthetic and orchestral into highly effective scores without abandoning his own high standards of excellence. He also believes in the value of conducting his own scores, seeing that endeavor as a dying art in an age when machines are producing all of the sounds for emerging artists. Debney continues to utilize both his classical training and a strong knowledge of contemporary sounds in order to easily adapt to any assignment, making him the composer to watch in the next few decades.

 Filmography/Reviews at Filmtracks:  

(see legend below for information on abbreviations and codes)
 Title FRVRVT CTRD TR DatesNotes
Dream House****3.222043|||1,41210/11
A Thousand Words
No Strings Attached***2.681620||1,58502/11
Yogi Bear
Machete (co-wrote)
Iron Man 2**2.785475|||1,29807/10
Valentine's Day***2.791311||1,72105/10
Old Dogs
Aliens in the Attic***2.861651||1,48409/09
Hannah Montana: The Movie
Hotel for Dogs
My Best Friend's Girl
The Stoning of Soraya M.****3.381900||1,53306/09limited
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (co-wrote)
Swing Vote
Meet Dave
Evan Almighty***3.011954|1,34311/07
Spider-Man 3 (co-wrote)
Georgia Rule
Everyone's Hero
The Ant Bully****
Keeping Up with the Steins
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
Chicken Little***2.665385||66211/05
Venom (co-wrote)
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (co-wrote)**2.251753||96312/05
Sin City (co-wrote)****3.0675944|||29104/05 - 09/11
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (co-wrote)
The Pacifier
Christmas with the Kranks
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Raising Helen
Spider-Man 2 (co-wrote)
The Whole Ten Yards
The Passion of the Christ (AW)****2.9714,447422||||9702/04 - 02/15
Welcome to Mooseport
Malibu's Most Wanted (co-wrote)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (co-wrote)****3.311,16832||27811/03 - 03/09
Elf***3.1561619||34911/03 - 03/09
Bruce Almighty***3.181,67072|31006/03 - 03/09
The Hot Chick (co-wrote)
The Tuxedo (co-wrote)**2.482345||93812/02 - 02/09
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (co-wrote)***2.834616||83203/03 - 01/09
The Scorpion King****3.508337||36607/02 - 01/09
Swimfan (co-wrote)
Dragonfly****3.6783411||81404/02 - 02/09
Snow Dogs
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The Princess Diaries***3.456596|30301/02 - 02/09
Cats & Dogs***3.204133|89608/01 - 02/09
Heartbreakers (co-wrote)
Spy Kids (co-wrote)***2.931,86912|||39304/01 - 01/09
See Spot Run
The Emperor's New Groove (co-wrote) (AW)***3.071,2902||35311/00 - 08/08all albums
Running Mates (TV)
The Replacements*2.304501||48904/01 - 07/08
Michael Jordan to the Max (IMAX)***
G-Saviour (TV)
End of Days****3.702,2705|||37411/99 - 05/08
The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Dick***2.262160|1,21108/99 - 06/08promotional
Inspector Gadget***3.001,0904||40007/99 - 10/07promotional
Lost and Found***2.621612|1,25108/99 - 04/07promotional
My Favorite Martian (co-wrote)****2.965150||83803/99 - 10/07promotional
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Paulie***2.432030|1,02405/98 - 03/07
I Know What You Did Last Summer***3.002711||63601/99 - 08/08promotional
Liar Liar (co-wrote)***3.126302|83606/99 - 02/08
The Relic**2.712457||64411/99 - 03/13multiple albums
Justice League of America (TV)
Getting Away with Murder
Cutthroat Island*****4.254,27063|||12503/98 - 02/08all albums
Sudden Death**2.622201|1,34406/99 - 04/07
Runaway Brainanimated short
Kansas (TV)
In Pursuit of Honor (TV)****3.081580||1,20610/99 - 06/07promotional
Little Giants***3.002411|79211/99 - 09/06promotional
White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf****3.263242|91010/99 - 05/07promotional
Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby (TV)
For Love and Glory (TV)
Hocus Pocus
Class of '61 (TV)***3.081580||1,20610/99 - 06/07promotional
Jonny's Golden Quest (TV)**2.691941|78111/99 - 06/07promotional
I Yabba-Dabba Do! (TV)
Praying Mantis (TV)
The Halloween Tree
Sunstroke (TV)
Still Not Quite Human (TV)
Vidiots (TV)
Into the Badlands (TV)
The Face of Fear (TV)
Jetsons: The Movie**2.691941|78111/99 - 06/07promotional
The Yum Yums: The Day Things Went Sour (TV)
The Eyes of the Panther (TV)***3.331550||1,17910/99 - 05/07limited
Trenchcoat in Paradise (TV)
Seven Hours to Judgment
The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck
Not Since Casanova****3.331550||1,17910/99 - 05/07limited
The Wild Pair
Sport Goofy in Soccermania (TV)
Rose Petal Place: Real Friends (TV)
Donald Duck's 50th Birthday (TV)
The All-New Adventures of Disney's Sport Goofy (TV)
Deer in the Works
(reviews listed with a "co-wrote" indicate that either the composer wrote the score with another person or that more than one composer worked separately to provide a score for the production)

- indicates a new review that has been published in the last 90 days
- indicates an older review that has been significantly revised in the last 90 days
Awards: AW - indicates that the music won or was nominated for a major award
Ratings: FR - Filmtracks Rating ("Varied" indicates a split rating with no overall designation)
VR - Viewer Rating (overall average)
VT - Vote Total (for viewer ratings)
Comments: Comment Total (the number of messages posted in the review's comment area)
Review Depth: ||||| - Massive Review (over 4,000 words)
|||| - Very Long Review (between 2,200 and 4,000 words)
||| - Long Review (between 1,200 and 2,200 words)
|| - Average Review (between 800 and 1,200 words)
| - Short Review (under 800 words)
Traffic Rank: Popularity Rank (lower numbers indicate more cumulative reads; new reviews take time to climb the ranks)
Dates: 1st - indicates the month and year during which the review was first published
2nd - indicates the month and year of the review's most recent significant revision (if any)

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