Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer receiving his star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010
Background information
Birth name Hans Florian Zimmer
Born (1957-09-12) 12 September 1957
Frankfurt am Main, West Germany
Genres Soundtrack
Occupation(s) Composer, record producer
Instruments Piano, keyboard, synthesizer, guitar
Years active 1977–present
Labels Remote Control Productions
Website hanszimmer.com

Hans Florian Zimmer (German pronunciation: [hans ˌfloːʁi̯aːn ˈtsɪmɐ]; born 12 September 1957) is a German composer and record producer. Since the 1980s, he has composed music for over 150 films. His works include The Lion King, for which he won Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1994, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar.

Zimmer spent the early part of his career in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States. He is the head of the film music division at DreamWorks studios and works with other composers through the company that he founded, Remote Control Productions.[1]

Zimmer's works are notable for integrating electronic music sounds with traditional orchestral arrangements. He has received four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award. He was also named on the list of Top 100 Living Geniuses, published by The Daily Telegraph.[2]

Early life

Zimmer was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. As a young child, he lived in Königstein-Falkenstein, where he played the piano at home, but had piano lessons only briefly as he disliked the discipline of formal lessons.[3] He moved to London as a teenager, where he attended Hurtwood House school.[4] In an interview with Mashable in February 2013, he said of his parents "My mother was very musical, basically a musician, and my father was an engineer and an inventor. So, I grew up modifying the piano, shall we say, which made my mother gasp in horror, and my father would think it was fantastic when I would attach chainsaws and stuff like that to the piano because he thought it was an evolution in technology."[5] In an interview with the German television station ZDF in 2006, he commented: "My father died when I was just a child, and I escaped somehow into the music and music has been my best friend."[6] In a speech at the 1999 Berlin Film Festival, Zimmer revealed that he is Jewish, and told about his mother's escape to England in 1939.[7]


Early career

Zimmer began his career playing keyboards and synthesizers in the 1970s, with the band Krakatoa.[8] He worked with the Buggles, a new wave band formed in London in 1977 with Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley. Zimmer can be seen briefly in the Buggles' music video for the 1979 song "Video Killed the Radio Star".[9] After working with the Buggles, he started to work for the Italian group Krisma, a new wave band formed in 1976 with Maurizio Arcieri and Christina Moser. He was a featured synthesist for Krisma’s third album, Cathode Mamma. He has also worked with the band Helden (with Warren Cann from Ultravox).[10] Both Zimmer (on keyboards) and Cann (on drums), were invited to be part of the Spanish group Mecano for a live performance in Segovia (Spain) in 1984. Two songs from this concert were included in the "Mecano: En Concierto" album released in 1985 only in Spain. In 1985 he contributed to the Shriekback album Oil & Gold.[11] In 1980 Zimmer co-produced a single, "History of the World, Part 1," with, and for, UK punk band the Damned, which was also included on their 1980 LP release, "The Black Album," and carried the description of his efforts as "Over-Produced by Hans Zimmer."

While living in London, Zimmer wrote advertising jingles for Air-Edel Associates.[10] In the 1980s, Zimmer partnered with Stanley Myers, a prolific film composer who wrote the scores for over sixty films. Zimmer and Myers co–founded the London–based Lillie Yard recording studio. Together, Myers and Zimmer worked on fusing the traditional orchestral sound with electronic instruments.[12] Some of the films on which Zimmer and Myers worked are Moonlighting (1982), Success is the Best Revenge (1984), Insignificance (1985), and My Beautiful Launderette (1985). Zimmer's first solo score was Terminal Exposure for director Nico Mastorakis in 1987, for which he also wrote the songs. Zimmer acted as score producer for the 1987 film The Last Emperor, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.[10]

One of Zimmer's most durable works from his time in the United Kingdom was the theme song for the television game show Going for Gold, which he composed with Sandy McClelland in 1987. In an interview with the BBC, Zimmer said: "Going For Gold was a lot of fun. It's the sort of stuff you do when you don't have a career yet. God, I just felt so lucky because this thing paid my rent for the longest time."[13]

Hollywood film scoring

A turning point in Zimmer's career occurred with the 1988 film Rain Man.[12] Hollywood director Barry Levinson was looking for someone to score Rain Man, and his wife heard the soundtrack CD of the anti-Apartheid drama A World Apart, for which Zimmer had composed the music. Levinson was impressed by Zimmer's work, and hired him to score Rain Man.[14] In the score, Zimmer uses synthesizers (mostly a Fairlight CMI) mixed with steel drums. Zimmer explained that "It was a road movie, and road movies usually have jangly guitars or a bunch of strings. I kept thinking don't be bigger than the characters. Try to keep it contained. The Raymond character doesn't actually know where he is. The world is so different to him. He might as well be on Mars. So, why don't we just invent our own world music for a world that doesn't really exist?".[15] Zimmer’s score for Rain Man was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989, and the film won four Academy Awards including Best Picture.[16]

A year after Rain Man, Zimmer was asked to compose the score for Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy which, like Rain Man, won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Driving Miss Daisy’s instrumentation consisted entirely of synthesizers and samplers, played by Zimmer. According to an interview with Sound On Sound magazine in 2002, the piano sounds heard within the score come from the Roland MKS–20, a rackmount synthesizer. Zimmer joked: "It didn't sound anything like a piano, but it behaved like a piano."[17]


"I listen to [Zimmer's] music and I don't even have to shut my eyes. I can see the pictures. And that's why, in many respects, I know I can talk pictures with Hans. He responds to pictures."

Ridley Scott, director and producer and frequent collaborator with Zimmer.[18]

The soundtrack to Ridley Scott's 1991 film Thelma & Louise by Zimmer featured the trademark slide guitar performance by Pete Haycock on the "Thunderbird" theme in the film. As a teenager, Zimmer was a fan of Haycock, and their collaboration on film scores includes K2 and Drop Zone.[19]

For the 1992 film The Power of One, Zimmer traveled to Africa in order to use African choirs and drums in the recording of the score. On the strength of this work, Walt Disney Animation Studios approached Zimmer to compose the score for the 1994 film The Lion King. This was to be his first score for an animated film. Zimmer said that he had wanted to go to South Africa to record parts of the soundtrack, but was unable to visit the country as he had a police record there "for doing 'subversive' movies" after his work on The Power of One. Disney studio bosses expressed fears that Zimmer would be killed if he went to South Africa, so the recording of the choirs was organized during a visit by Lebo M.[20] Zimmer won numerous awards for his work on The Lion King, including an Academy Award for Best Original Score, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys. In 1997, the score was adapted into a Broadway musical version which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1998.[21][22] As of April 2012, the musical version of The Lion King is the highest grossing Broadway show of all time, having grossed $853.8 million.[23]

Crimson Tide – "Roll Tide"
A clip from the score of the 1995 film Crimson Tide.

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Zimmer's score for Tony Scott's 1995 film Crimson Tide won a Grammy Award for the main theme, which makes heavy use of synthesizers in place of traditional orchestral instruments. For The Thin Red Line (1998), Zimmer said that the director Terrence Malick wanted the music before he started filming, so he recorded six and a half hours of music.[15] Zimmer's next project was The Prince of Egypt (1998), which was produced by DreamWorks Animation. He introduced Ofra Haza, an Israeli Yemenite singer, to the directors, and they thought she was so beautiful that they designed one of the characters in the film to look like her.[15]

Gladiator – "Battle"
A clip from the score of the 2000 film Gladiator.

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In the 2000s, Zimmer has composed scores for Hollywood blockbuster films including three Ridley Scott films, Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down and Hannibal (2001), followed by The Last Samurai (2003), Madagascar (2005), The Da Vinci Code (2006), The Simpsons Movie (2007), Angels & Demons (2009) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). While writing the score for The Last Samurai, Zimmer felt that his knowledge of Japanese music was extremely limited. He began doing extensive research, but the more he studied, the less he felt he knew. Finally, Zimmer took what he had written to Japan for feedback and was shocked when he was asked how he knew so much about Japanese music.[15]

Hans Zimmer at The Dark Knight premiere in 2008

During the scoring of The Last Samurai in early 2003, Zimmer was approached by the producer Jerry Bruckheimer, with whom he had worked previously on Crimson Tide, Days of Thunder, The Rock and Pearl Harbor. Bruckheimer had finished shooting Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl but was unhappy with the music composed for the film by Alan Silvestri and wanted a replacement score.[24] Bruckheimer wanted Zimmer to rescore the film, but due to his commitments on The Last Samurai, the task of composing and supervising music for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was given to Klaus Badelt, one of Zimmer's colleagues at Media Ventures. Zimmer provided some themes that were used in the film, although he is not credited on screen.[25][26] Zimmer was hired as the composer for the three subsequent films in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), collaborating with Rodrigo y Gabriela for the latter.[27]

For the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, "The Daily Variety" reported that Zimmer purchased an out-of-tune piano for 200 dollars and used it throughout the scoring process because of its "quirkiness".[28] For the 2011 sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Zimmer and director Guy Ritchie incorporated authentic Romani gypsy music, which they researched by visiting Slovakia, Italy and France. The gypsy music in the film is played by Romani virtuoso musicians.[29][30]

Zimmer is also noted for his work on the scores of Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), on which he collaborated with James Newton Howard.[13] For the soundtrack of The Dark Knight, Zimmer decided to represent the character of The Joker by a single note played on the cello by his long-time colleague Martin Tillman. Zimmer commented "I wanted to write something people would truly hate."[31] The scores for these films were disqualified from receiving Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score due to too many composers being listed on the cue sheet.[32] Zimmer succeeded in reversing the decision not to nominate The Dark Knight in December 2008, arguing that the process of creating a modern film score was collaborative, and that it was important to credit a range of people who had played a part in its production.[33] Zimmer explained his approach to scoring with other musicians in an interview with Soundtrack.net in 2006:

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard – "Now We Are Free"
A clip from the score of the 2000 film Gladiator.

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"Originally I had this idea that it should be possible to create some kind of community around this kind of work, and I think by muddying the titles – not having "you are the composer, you are the arranger, you are the orchestrator" – it just sort of helped us to work more collaboratively. It wasn't that important to me that I had "score by Hans Zimmer" and took sole credit on these things. It's like Gladiator: I gave Lisa Gerrard the co-credit because, even though she didn't write the main theme, her presence and contributions were very influential. She was more than just a soloist, and this is why I have such a problem with specific credits."[34]

Zimmer works with other composers through his company Remote Control Productions, formerly known as Media Ventures. His studio in Santa Monica, California has an extensive range of computer equipment and keyboards, allowing demo versions of film scores to be created quickly.[35] His colleagues at the studio have included Harry Gregson-Williams, James Dooley, Geoff Zanelli, Henning Lohner, Hugh Marsh, Steve Jablonsky, Mark Mancina, John Van Tongeren, John Powell, Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen.

In October 2000, Zimmer performed live in concert for the first time with an orchestra and choir at the 27th Annual Flanders International Film Festival in Ghent.[36] He has received a range of honors and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in film Composition from the National Board of Review, the Frederick Loewe Award in 2003 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, ASCAP’s Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement, and BMI's Richard Kirk Award for lifetime achievement in 1996. Other work in the 2000s included the Spanish language film Casi Divas,[37] Sherlock Holmes, and The Burning Plain (2009). He composed the theme for the television boxing series The Contender, and worked with Lorne Balfe on the music for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which was his first video game project.[38] Zimmer also collaborated with composers Borislav Slavov and Tilman Sillescu to create the score for the video game Crysis 2.[39]


For the 2010 film Inception, Zimmer used electronic manipulation of the song "Non, je ne regrette rien". The horn sound in the score, described by Zimmer as "like huge foghorns over a city" became a popular feature in film trailers, with Zimmer commenting "It's funny how that sort of thing becomes part of the zeitgeist. But I suppose that's exactly what trailers are looking for: something iconic, lasts less than a second, and shakes the seats in the theater."[40][41]

Zimmer's Star on the "Boulevard der Stars" in Berlin

In December 2010, Zimmer received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He dedicated the award to his publicist and long term friend Ronni Chasen, who had been shot and killed in Beverly Hills the previous month.[42]

In 2012, Zimmer composed and produced the music for the 84th Academy Awards with Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes.[43] He also composed a new version of the theme music for ABC World News.[44]

Zimmer also composed the score for The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. The film was released in July 2012.[45] Zimmer described himself as "devastated" in the aftermath of the 2012 Aurora shooting, which occurred at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, commenting "I just feel so incredibly sad for these people." He recorded a track entitled "Aurora", a choral arrangement of a theme from the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack, to raise money for the victims of the shooting.[46]

He co-composed the music for the television series The Bible, which was broadcast in March 2013, with Lorne Balfe and Lisa Gerrard, and the score for 12 Years a Slave, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in March 2014. Zimmer composed the Tomorrowland Hymn for the Tomorrowland festival to celebrate its tenth anniversary in July 2014.[47]

Zimmer composed the music for the 2014 film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 alongside "The Magnificent Six", which consisted of Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, Junkie XL, Andrew Kawczynski, and Steve Mazzaro.[48][49] Zimmer also composed the music for Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.[50] He partnered with Junkie XL to compose the music for the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In an interview with BBC News in March 2016, Zimmer said that he was retiring from composing the music for superhero films, saying of Batman v Superman "This one was very hard for me to do, to try to find new language".[51]

Zimmer composed the main theme for the 2016 BBC nature documentary Planet Earth II, presented by David Attenborough.[52]

Personal life

His first wife was model Vicki Carolin with whom he has a daughter, model Zoe Zimmer.[53] Zimmer lives in Los Angeles with his second wife Suzanne Zimmer, and has four children.[54][55]

Discography and awards

Academy Awards

Golden Globe Awards

Grammy Awards

Satellite Award

Saturn Awards

  • 2009: The Dark Knight (shared with James Newton Howard)
  • 2011: Inception
  • 2014: Interstellar

Classical BRIT Awards

  • 2008: The Dark Knight (shared with James Newton Howard)
  • 2013: Best Composer of the Year (for The Dark Knight Rises and Man Of Steel)
  • 2013: Outstanding Contribution to Music in association with Raymond Weil

WAFCA Awards

BFCA Awards

  • 2000: Gladiator


World Soundtrack Awards

  • 2011: Inception


  1. "Hans Zimmer". Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  2. "Top 100 living geniuses". The Daily Telegraph. London. 30 October 2007. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  3. "MTV biography – Hans Zimmer (in German)". Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  4. "Hurtwood House Performing Arts – Hans Zimmer". Retrieved 2010-09-27.
  5. "Hans Zimmer: The Computer Is My Instrument". Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  6. "ZDF Infokanal interview, June 2006 (in German with English subtitles)". Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  7. "Hans Zimmer: Proud to say 'My people'". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  8. Krakatoa at Myspace Music. Zimmer is second from right. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
  9. "DebiDoss". Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  10. 1 2 3 "Hans Zimmer biography". Starpulse.com. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  11. Sound: Dialogue, Music, and Effects. Edited by Kathryn Kalinak, Rutgers University Press, 1 May 2015, Ch.5, p.120. ISBN 9780813564289
  12. 1 2 "Biography". Hans Zimmer. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  13. 1 2 "Talking Shop: Hans Zimmer". BBC. 28 July 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  14. Stewart, D.R. (4 August 2008). "Zimmer and Howard discuss remote collaboration". Variety. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Young, John (5 August 2008). "2008 Interview with Entertainment Weekly". Ew.com. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  16. "Best Picture Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  17. "Media Adventures". Sound on Sound. October 2002. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  18. Heaf, Jonathan (10 October 2014). "Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark". GQ. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  19. "Hans Zimmer Reflects on 15 of His Memorable Film Scores". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  20. "Hans Zimmer Reflects on 15 of His Memorable Film Scores". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  21. "The Lion King: The Broadway Musical". Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  22. "Women, 'Lion King' rule at 1998 Tonys". CNN. 6 August 1998. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  23. Trueman, Matt (10 April 2012). "Lion King rules Broadway as highest grossing show of all time". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  24. "Badelt and Zimmer to replace Silvestri on Pirates". Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  25. "Breaking the Rules – interview with Hans Zimmer". Soundtrack.net. September 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  26. Binkley, Christina (25 February 2011). "The Maestro in the 'Batcave'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
  27. Cifani, Nicole (26 May 2011). "Zimmer And Rodrigo Y Gabriela Score One For Johnny Depp". Yahoo! Music. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
  28. D'Allesandro, Anthony. "Hans Zimmer, "Sherlock Holmes, "It's Complicated." "Daily Variety" 305.50 (2009): A4
  29. "Breaking the Rules – interview with Hans Zimmer". Collider.com. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  30. Gallo, Phil (9 December 2011). "Hans Zimmer Uses 'Sherlock Holmes' Soundtrack to Expose Slovakian Villager Musicians". Billboard.biz. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  31. Hart, Hugh (9 December 2008). "Creepy Joker Music Explained on Dark Knight DVD". Wired.com. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  32. Child, Ben (13 November 2008). "Dark Knight score disqualified from Oscar race". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  33. "Hans Zimmer to academy: I'm no liar!". Los Angeles Times. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  34. "Breaking the Rules – interview with Hans Zimmer". Soundtrack.net. 11 February 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  35. "Breaking the Rules – interview with Hans Zimmer". Soundtrack.net. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  36. "Hans Zimmer on...". Soundtrack.net. 27 June 2001. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  37. "Scoring Session with Hans Zimmer (video)". Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  38. "Composer Hans Zimmer game for "Call of Duty"". Reuters. 27 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  39. "Legendary composer Hans Zimmer works on Crysis 2". 16 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
  40. Itzkoff, Dave (28 July 2010). "Hans Zimmer Extracts the Secrets of the 'Inception' Score". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
  41. "Hans Zimmer reflects on scoring 'The Bible'". CNN. 3 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
  42. "Hans Zimmer gets star, dedicates it to Chasen". 8 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  43. Brown, August (24 February 2012). "The Oscars: Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams know the score for the telecast – they wrote it". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
  44. Mirkinson, Jack (2 October 2012). "'ABC World News' Debuting New Logo, Theme, Graphics (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  45. "Hans Zimmer Says 'The Dark Knight Rises' Score Will 'Invent And Reinvent'". MTV. 18 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  46. "'Dark Knight Rises' Composer Dedicates New Song To Aurora Victims". MTV. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-27.
  47. "Hans Zimmer Composes Theme Music to EDM Festival Tomorrowland". Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  48. "Pharrell, composer Hans Zimmer collaborate on 'Amazing Spider-Man 2′ opera". The Grio. 3 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
  49. "How Pharrell Helped Marc Webb Give Jamie Foxx a Killer Spider-Man 2 Theme Song". Vanity Fair. 2 May 2014. Retrieved 2015-10-11.
  50. Gallo, Phil. "Oscars 2015: Predicting the Best Original Score Category". Billboard. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  51. "Hans Zimmer retiring from scoring superhero films after Batman v Superman". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  52. "'Planet Earth II' Soundtrack Details". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  53. Vogue: "A NEW MODEL GENERATION" 29 August 2006
  54. "Hans and Suzanne Zimmer". Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  55. "Hans Zimmer, interview: Pharrell Williams cured my stage fright". Retrieved 2016-11-13.

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