Where were you when the best Coachella set since Beyoncé happened? When Danny Elfman took the stage at Coachella shirtless in April 2022 to perform the music of his band Oingo Boingo as well as the soundtracks to ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’, ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and, of course, ‘The Simpsons,” was Twitter ablaze. The sometimes goofy, undeniably epic performance was a delight that reminded people of a universal fact: Danny Elfman rocks.
Elfman made his debut as a film composer in 1980 with “Forbidden Zone,” directed by his brother Richard Elfman and based on the work of Danny’s experimental musical theater group “The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.” The Mystic Knights were soon reformed into the (somewhat) more conventional new wave band Oingo Boingo, and their music found a fan in director Tim Burton, who recruited Elfman to score his first feature film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” . A partnership formed from there, and Elfman has since written most of Burton’s work, including iconic themes for films such as ‘Scissorhands’, ‘Batman’ and ‘Beetlejuice’.
Composing quickly became Elfman’s main task, and he would retire Oingo Boingo in 1995. His non-Burton credits include the scores for the first two ‘Spider-Man’ films, ‘Dick Tracy’, the first ‘Mission: Impossible’ , all from the films “Men in Black” and “Nightmare Before Christmas” by Henry Selick, which also featured him as the singing voice for Jack Skellington. Elfman has shockingly never won an Oscar, but he does have two Emmys for his work on the subject of “Desperate Housewives.”
One of Elfman’s most recent projects has seen him reunite with Burton for “Wednesday,” an “Addams Family” spin-off that sees Jenna Ortega play the famously emotionless teen as she develops psychic powers and heads off to boarding school. Elfman scored the hugely popular Netflix series, and is one of the creative team members preparing for IndieWire’s annual Consider This Event ahead of this year’s Emmys. Joining him on a panel of Netflix craft professionals are his “Wednesday” co-composer Chris Bacon and music supervisor Jen Malone, as well as members of the “Beef” and “Stranger Things” teams.
Here’s a look at the 13 best songs Elfman has written for the big and small screens, from musical numbers to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” to the main theme of “The Simpsons.” Entries are listed chronologically and selections have been limited to one track per title.
With editorial contributions from Christian Blauvelt and Christian Zilko.