American pianist and composer John Williams, who started in the music business in the 1950s and is still active at the age of 85, is likely the most prolific composer of film scores in the history of cinema. After earning his degree from the Juilliard School, one of the most renowned performing arts conservatories in the world, he began his career as a pianist in the jazz clubs of New York City.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, he worked as a session musician for Henry Mancini and began composing themes for television shows, including the popular crime-drama series M Squad. Williams’ work on TV soundtracks caught the attention of prominent Hollywood producers, and he soon got the chance to employ his skills in composing film scores.
Many iconic movies of the second half of the 20th century have been marked by Williams’ composing genius. His music was often a major factor in the shaping of a movie’s atmosphere, and he never failed to deliver.
The recognizable scores of films such as Jaws, all eight of the core Star Wars films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, E.T., the Indiana Jones series, first two Jurassic Park films, first two Home Alone films, first three Harry Potter films, and many more have emerged from Williams’ vast vault of creative ideas. Also, in 2005, the American Film Institute listed his soundtrack to the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope as the single greatest American film score of all time.
Since he was the mastermind behind the scores of a number of beloved films, it’s no surprise that he has received a significant number of Academy Award nominations. However, that number is even more impressive than many might think: Williams’ original soundtrack for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest core installment of the Star Wars franchise, was recently nominated for an Academy Award, and this marked his 51st Oscar nomination.
Not many people in the history of cinema have received more than 20 Oscar nominations, and Williams currently holds two records: he is the living person with the most Academy Award nominations and the person with the second-highest number of nominations in the history of cinema.
The prolific composer received his first nomination in 1968, exactly 50 years ago, for his original score for Mark Robson’s acclaimed Valley of the Dolls, an adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s novel of the same name.
However, he didn’t win his first golden statuette until 1972, when he was awarded the Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score Oscar for his work on Norman Jewison’s musical Fiddler on the Roof. Since then, Williams has been nominated almost every year and has received a total of five awards, for his original music scores for the films Jaws, Star Wars: A New Hope, E.T., and Schindler’s List.
The only person in the history of cinema who has received more nominations than Williams is none other than the great Walt Disney, who was nominated a staggering 59 times during his life and received a total of 26 Oscars. Since Williams is still an active composer, he might even surpass Disney’s number of nominations if he remains in good health and doesn’t retire in the following 10 years.
Throughout the 20th century, several people have come close to matching Williams’ record: Alfred Newman, another visionary film composer, received a total of 43 nominations; Cedric Gibbons, a prominent art director and production designer, received 39 nominations; and Edith Head, a groundbreaking costume designer, was nominated 35 times. The only actress who came even remotely close is Meryl Streep. Jack Nicholson and the late Katharine Hepburn were both nominated 12 times.