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Danny Elfman
Reviews in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Traffic Ranks:
#8.  Edward Scissorhands
#14.  The Nightmare Before Christmas
#26.  Batman
#57.  Beetlejuice
#73.  Batman Returns
#81.  Chicago
(updated daily)

Scores in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Voting Ranks:
#4.  Edward Scissorhands
#11.  Batman
#63.  Alice in Wonderland
#83.  Sommersby
#89.  The Nightmare Before Christmas
#98.  Sleepy Hollow
(updated daily)

Filmtracks Editor's Recommendations:
Edward Scissorhands
Black Beauty
The Family Man
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Alice in Wonderland

Related Pages of Interest:
Music for a Darkened Theatre, Volume I
(compilation of original cues, 1983-1990)
Music for a Darkened Theatre, Volume II
(compilation of original cues, 1990-1996)
The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box
(compilation of original cues, 1985-2010)

Daniel Richard Elfman was born on May 29th, 1953 in Amarillo, Texas to Blossom and Milton Elfman. His father was a teacher and his mother was a novelist of children's stories who won an Emmy award for her writing in a TV movie. Elfman spent his childhood in Los Angeles, and when he turned 18, he moved with his older brother, Richard, to France (Richard's son Jimmy is married to actress Jenna Elfman). There, he joined a theater group and became acquainted with the many different instruments of the orchestra. After spending a few years in France, he moved to Africa. He eventually moved back to the U.S. after contracting malaria, though he still considers his time in Africa a great benefit to himself.

In 1980, Elfman worked with his brother once again on the film Forbidden Zone, which Richard directed. He formed a group known as "The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo" and they performed the score that Elfman wrote for Forbidden Zone (re-released in 1983). The group could be found in dark taverns and makeshift stages around Los Angeles performing musical/theatrical gigs with theatrical elements. Oingo Boingo, as it became known, blossomed into a permanent group and drew a large cult following until 1995, when the group dissolved. In 1985, Elfman met Tim Burton, who asked Elfman to score the music for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. This was Burton's first time directing and Elfman's first time composing for a big-budget film. Elfman called in his friend and fellow Oingo Boingo member, Steve Bartek, to orchestrate for him and the quirky project was a success. Thus began the friendship between Elfman and Burton. Elfman first became known by soundtrack fans in general with his funky, light-hearted score for Beetlejuice. Combined with Harry Belafonte's songs, the album was an enormous cult success.

Elfman would continue to score several Tim Burton movies in the following ten years, with the exception of Ed Wood. He won his only Grammy in 1989 for his magnificent theme to Batman. Elfman considers Batman to be one of his best scores, and believes that it should receive far more recognition. Countering notions that the Academy refuses to honor composers who are self-taught, Elfman finally received two Oscar nominations in 1998, for Men in Black and Good Will Hunting, but then would go several years again without a nomination. Standouts in his career include Edward Scissorhands in 1990, which contains a cue ("The Grand Finale") that is considered one of the best single tracks in the history of film. The Nightmare Before Christmas was a hit 1993 project for which Elfman wrote the songs, composed the score, and sang the leading role as Jack Skellington in the movie.

Besides Tim Burton, Elfman has worked with many other directors, including Brian DePalma, Emilo Estevez, Warren Beatty (who Elfman says is "insane" to work with), and the Hughes brothers. In 1996, he composed the score to Freeway which was directed by one of his high school friends. In return for his services, Elfman asked to be paid only a dollar. Danny Elfman is one of the few artists that have established themselves as both a composer and a rocker. He has drawn a large following of fans who find his works to be fresh and innovative. Although he is looked down upon by many of his colleaques, he still continues to be one of the most popular and sought-after film composers in the film industry. His last minute work on the Academy Award winning musical Chicago in 2002 was another testament to his abilities.

Elfman in concert, 1987
Additional Quotes:
"The music was such a blend of sentimental and peculiar. I could have done variations on Edward's theme forever." -- 1996, on Edward Scissorhands

"The kind of romance I love so dearly... slow and dark, with a hero hung by the neck at the end... joy!" -- 1996, on Sommersby

"What a sick, sick movie, God bless it... there aren't enough of them around." -- 1996, on Freeway

"Still the most pure fun I've had writing a score... It was like a musical roller coaster." -- 1990, on Beetlejuice

"When I found out they were doing a show hosted by a 'dead guy' I said 'this one's for me.'" -- 1990, on Tales from the Crypt

"It was a lot of fun too, because Halloween has always been my favorite night of the year. For me, writing something in the spirit of Halloween is like Mother Teresa writing on charity and sacrifice. It's just second nature to me." -- 1993, on The Nightmare Before Christmas

"It's a very elitist community, much more so than any other aspect of film." -- 1990, on the film music composing field in general

Danny Elfman poses at his studio in 1988

"If there's one thing I really love... it's sad music."
-- Danny Elfman in 1996, regarding Black Beauty

For two decades, Danny Elfman has masterfully scored the darker side of Hollywood. From monsters to super heros, innocence to malevolence, Elfman adds a mystical touch that distinguishes him from other newcomers of the 1980's and early 1990's. Born into a family of artists, Elfman has been known the longest as a flamboyant member of the rock band "Oingo Boingo," to which he belonged from 1979 to 1995. Mostly due to his connection with director Tim Burton, Elfman experimented in film scoring in the mid-1980's. After several blockbuster hits both on the screen and in record stores, Elfman established himself as a renegade personality in Hollywood's otherwise conservative film scoring community.

Even after his multiple Academy Award nominations in 1998, Elfman is considered by many to be an outsider in his own field. Extremely talented in musical theory and performing skills, Elfman is self-taught, a trait that distinguishes him from every other major composer of his era. He jokingly refers to himself as a "Graduate, with Honors, American College of Hard Knocks" with post-graduate studies at "Nose to the Grindstone University." Defending his art, Elfman states, "Film composition is a unique art with unique requirements. It is not the same as writing a symphony-- something I've never professed to be able to do. Film music is written for no other reason than to accentuate the images on the screen, to underline the emotions of the characters, and hopefully, when we're lucky, to help breathe life into a two-dimensional medium. A film score is not 'pure music,' and should be judged on its dramatic, emotional, and/or visually enhancing merits."

Elfman in 1996
No matter his training, his skill in thematic expression was exhibited in full force in 1989, when his Grammy-winning score for Batman became both a cult and popular classic. The same happened within the next few years, when Edward Scissorhands forever defined Elfman as a master of orchestral beauty. His most impressive display of raw talent was put into motion with The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993, for which he wrote the score and songs as well as performed the voices of multiple characters. While some fans were discouraged by Elfman's move towards rock and minimalism in some of his late-1990's efforts, the dauntless composer continued to tread closely to the dark side of film scoring. Even in his dramatic efforts, Elfman often finds himself composing for films that are demented, quirky, and abnormal. The popularity of his theme-making talents have caused his services to be rendered for the title themes of such programs as The Simpsons, My Favorite Martian, and Spy Kids.

No matter your opinion of his work, Elfman represents a much-needed wildcard in the film music industry. Even with much of his post-2000 work existing for mainstream projects such as Spider-Man, Red Dragon, and the musical Chicago, Elfman keeps his roots in the "Forbidden Zone." His personality is one which contains an infectious smile and a clever wit, both influencing his musical ideas. Expecting the unexpected from Elfman is a refreshing change from the majority of composers in the digital era who, with the help of synthetic sampling, often repeat themselves more often than not. Elfman isn't afraid to take a chance and have fun doing it.

 Filmography/Reviews at Filmtracks:  

(see legend below for information on abbreviations and codes)
 Title FRVRVT CTRD TR DatesNotes
Fifty Shades of Grey****2.581592||1,51203/15
The End of the Tour
Big Eyes**
Mr. Peabody & Sherman***3.02520||1,79302/15
The Unknown Known****3.36701||1,79202/15
American Hustle***
Oz the Great and Powerful****3.343254|||1,03003/13
Promised Land***2.981060||1,69708/13all albums
Silver Linings Playbook**3.021371||1,40212/12
Men in Black 3***3.142072||1,36406/12
Dark Shadows***3.602802|||1,35405/12
Real Steel*****3.578038|||91510/11
The Next Three Days***3.171902||1,52301/11all albums
Alice in Wonderland (AW)*****4.092,26010||||45203/10 - 06/11all albums
Do Not Disturb (co-wrote)
The Wolfman (co-wrote)****3.264945|||1,07203/10
Taking Woodstock**2.901700||1,67503/10
9 (co-wrote)***
Terminator Salvation***2.6983520|||70005/09
Milk (AW)***3.083454||1,30812/08
Hellboy II: The Golden Army****3.4249014||80007/08
Standard Operating Procedure***3.201490||1,62009/09
The Kingdom**2.722906||80610/07
Meet the Robinsons***3.035684||47102/07
Charlotte's Web****3.484875||63312/06
Nacho Libre (co-wrote)**
Deep Sea (co-wrote)***adaptation
Corpse Bride***3.421,54117|||38011/05 - 06/11all albums
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (AW)***3.471,2117|||55911/05 - 06/11all albums
No Experience Needed (co-wrote)
Spider-Man 2 (co-wrote)****3.482,137114||||21208/04 - 08/11
Big Fish (AW)****3.511,89672|||17212/03 - 06/11all albums
Hulk (co-wrote)**2.484,701138|||17606/03 - 03/09
Chicago (co-wrote) (AW)****3.544,514136|||8102/03 - 03/09
Red Dragon**2.652,50751||33609/02 - 01/09
Men in Black II**2.7181714||83403/03 - 01/09
Spider-Man (AW)****3.343,649225|||10206/02 - 01/09
Novocaine (co-wrote)**
Planet of the Apes (AW)***3.044,17472|||14207/01 - 03/12all albums
Mazer World
Spy Kids (co-wrote)***2.931,86912|||39304/01 - 01/09
Heartbreakers (co-wrote)**
The Family Man****3.931,67317|||41002/01 - 11/08promotional
Proof of Life**2.761,36933||35701/00 - 06/08
Sleepy Hollow****3.968,1146|||13411/99 - 06/11all albums
Anywhere But Here***
Instinct***2.646442||86006/99 - 08/08
My Favorite Martian (co-wrote)****2.965150||83803/99 - 10/07promotional
A Civil Action***2.975801||79601/99 - 04/07
A Simple Plan**2.631,0580||29002/99 - 05/08
Psycho (co-wrote)****2.911191||1,52911/09adaptation
Modern Vampyres (co-wrote)
Good Will Hunting (AW)***3.087060||29503/98 - 08/14multiple albums
Flubber**2.708292|27011/97 - 02/08
Men in Black (AW)***3.091,9743||15301/98 - 09/06
Mars Attacks!**3.136455|||37703/97 - 06/11all albums
Extreme Measures**3.071030||1,73603/10
The Frighteners*2.913436|56809/96 - 09/08
Mission: Impossible**2.8252816||22309/96 - 01/06
Dead Presidents*
To Die For**3.17930||1,68203/10
Dolores Claiborne***3.331312||1,65403/10
Black Beauty****3.831,41014|||30412/00 - 12/13all albums
Shrunken Heads (co-wrote)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (AW)****4.0014,668266||||1409/96 - 05/11all albums
Sommersby*****4.031,50710||49009/96 - 09/08
Army of Darkness (co-wrote)
Batman Returns**3.105,32834||||7309/96 - 05/11all albums
Article 99
Pure Luck (co-wrote)
Edward Scissorhands (AW)*****4.3218,453185|||809/96 - 05/11all albums
Darkman**3.211643|64609/96 - 01/06
Dick Tracy (AW)***3.2351910||43607/98 - 08/08
Nightbreed***3.191650|80407/98 - 01/06
Batman (AW)*****4.3013,23593||||2608/97 - 06/11all albums
Face Like a Frog**
Hot to Trot
Big Top Pee Wee
Beetlejuice****3.785,28013||||5703/99 - 05/11all albums
Midnight Run
Summer School
Back to School
Pee-wee's Big Adventure***3.701931|||1,53505/11multiple albums
Forbidden Zone
(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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  The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Page created 5/23/97 and last updated 6/16/09. Copyright ©1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.