Meet the Female Composers Behind Some of the Most Iconic Film Scores

by Sherif M. Awad

Meet the Female Composers Behind Some of the Most Iconic Film Scores

The History of Women Film Composers

Film music is a powerful and expressive art form that can enhance the emotional impact and storytelling of a movie. But who are the creative minds behind the soundtracks that we love and remember? While most people can name a few famous male film composers, such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer or Ennio Morricone, how many can name a female film composer?

The truth is that women have been composing music for films since the dawn of cinema, but their contributions have often been overlooked, marginalized or forgotten. In this blog post, we will explore the history of women film composers, from the silent era to the present day, and celebrate some of their remarkable work in different periods and genres.

One of the first women to compose music for films was Josephine Caroline Lang (1815-1880), a German pianist and songwriter who wrote songs for several short films in the 1860s. Another pioneer was Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968), a French filmmaker who is considered to be the first female director in history. She also composed music for some of her films, such as The Cabbage Fairy (1896) and The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ (1906).

In the silent era, women film composers often worked as accompanists or orchestrators for live performances of film music. Some examples are Frances Pelletier (1879-1969), who composed and conducted music for over 300 films in France; Carola B. Goya (1891-1979), who composed and played guitar music for Spanish films; and Germaine Dulac (1882-1942), who composed and directed avant-garde films such as The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928).

In the sound era, women film composers faced more challenges and discrimination in a male-dominated industry. However, some women managed to break through and create memorable scores for various genres. Some examples are Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983), who composed music for horror films such as The Skull (1965) and The Earth Dies Screaming (1964); Nora Orlandi (born 1933), who composed music for spaghetti westerns such as A Pistol for Ringo (1965) and The Return of Ringo (1965); and Angela Morley (1924-2009), who composed music for musicals such as Scrooge (1970) and The Little Prince (1974).

The Achievements of Women Film Composers

Despite the obstacles and difficulties that women film composers have faced throughout history, they have also achieved remarkable success and recognition for their work. In this section, we will highlight some of the most iconic and influential film scores by women composers, and how they reflect their creativity, innovation and style.

One of the most successful female film composers is Rachel Portman (born 1960), who became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Original Score for Emma (1996). She has also composed music for films such as Chocolat (2000), The Cider House Rules (1999) and Never Let Me Go (2010). Her music is known for its lyrical melodies, rich orchestration and emotional depth.

Another female film composer who has won an Academy Award is Anne Dudley (born 1956), who won for her score for The Full Monty (1997). She has also composed music for films such as The Crying Game (1992), Black Book (2006) and Poldark (2015-2019). Her music is known for its versatility, diversity and originality.

A female film composer who has made history in recent years is Hildur Guðnadóttir (born 1982), who became the first woman to win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Grammy for the same score, for Joker (2019). She has also composed music for films such as Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), Mary Magdalene (2018) and Chernobyl (2019). Her music is known for its minimalist, atmospheric and experimental style.

The Challenges and Opportunities for Women Film Composers

Despite the achievements and recognition that some women film composers have received, they still face many challenges and difficulties in their career and industry. In this section, we will discuss some of the obstacles and barriers that women film composers encounter, and how they can overcome them and create more opportunities for themselves and others.

One of the main challenges that women film composers face is gender bias, discrimination and stereotypes. According to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only 6% of the top 250 grossing films in 2019 had a female composer. Women film composers are often underrepresented, underpaid and undervalued in the film industry. They also face more scrutiny, criticism and rejection than their male counterparts.

Another challenge that women film composers face is the lack of mentorship, networking and support. Women film composers often have fewer opportunities to learn from, collaborate with and be inspired by other women in their field. They also have fewer chances to showcase their work, connect with filmmakers and producers, and access resources and funding.

However, there are also some opportunities and initiatives that women film composers can take advantage of to overcome these challenges and promote more diversity and inclusion in film music. Some examples are:

  • The Alliance for Women Film Composers, a non-profit organization that advocates for the inclusion of women composers in media.
  • The Women in Film Music Initiative, a program by the Sundance Institute that supports female composers through mentorship, workshops and grants.
  • The Female Composer Mentorship Program, a project by the Society of Composers & Lyricists that pairs emerging female composers with established mentors.
  • The Women Who Score: Soundtracks Live, a concert series that showcases the work of female composers in film, TV and video games.


In conclusion, women film composers are an important and valuable part of the film industry and culture. They have contributed to the art and craft of film music with their talent, creativity and innovation. They have also faced many challenges and difficulties in their career and industry, but they have also overcome them with their resilience, perseverance and courage. They deserve more recognition, respect and support for their work.

If you are interested in learning more about female film composers, here are some resources that you can check out:

  • The Women Film Composers List on IMDb, a comprehensive list of female film composers with their credits and biographies.
  • The List of Women Film Score Composers on Wikipedia, a list of female film composers with links to their works and articles.
  • The Score: The Podcast, a podcast that features interviews with film composers, including many women.
  • The Female Composers Database on Spotify, a playlist that features music by female composers from various genres and media.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post and learned something new about female film composers. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. And don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family who love film music!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who is the first female film composer?
  • There is no definitive answer to this question, as different sources may have different criteria for defining a film composer. However, some possible candidates are Josephine Caroline Lang (1815-1880), Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) or Carola B. Goya (1891-1979).

  • Who is the most successful female film composer?
  • Again, this question may have different answers depending on how success is measured. However, some possible candidates are Rachel Portman (born 1960), Anne Dudley (born 1956)
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