Most of his work is known for his incorporation of the Ethereal Choir and Celtic instruments, string orchestras, rhythmic percussion, very multi-layered pieces, as well as synth sounds. However, listeners tired of his "cute" sound, heard most prominently on his scores for Titanic (1997), Legends of the Fall or Avatar, can find much more epic (and seminal) material in his music for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (his breakthrough within the industry), Krull, The Rocketeer and Willow, and dark, edgy and thrilling themes for the likes of Patriot Games, Gorky Park and Commando.
Known somewhat less fondly for reusing his music from previous films. Also along these lines, he had a habit of directly quoting themes and motives from 20th century Russian masters.
Horner, a private pilot in his spare time, was killed on June 22, 2015, when his airplane crashed near Santa Barbara, California. He was 61 years old.
Some of his scores include (reverse chronological order)
- The Magnificent Seven (2016) - Director Antoine Fuqua expected he would need another composer after Horner's death, but discovered he had already written the score and had intended to surprise him with it.
- South Paw (2015)
- The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
- The Karate Kid (2010)
- Avatar (2009)
- Apocalypto (2006)
- Troy (2004)
- A Beautiful Mind (2001)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000)
- The Perfect Storm (2000)
- Mighty Joe Young (1998)
- The Mask of Zorro (1998) and its sequel, The Legend of Zorro (2005)
- Titanic (1997) - The defining film for Horner, much like Star Wars for John Williams.
- Ransom (1996) - A last-minute score he wrote when Howard Shore's original music for the film was rejected.
- Balto (1995)
- Jumanji (1995)
- Apollo 13 (1995)
- Casper (1995)
- Braveheart (1995)
- Legends of the Fall (1994)
- The Pagemaster (1994)
- We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993)
- Hocus Pocus (1993) - with John Debney (Horner did one theme while Debney did the rest of the film)
- Swing Kids (1993)
- Once Upon a Forest (1993)
- Patriot Games (1992)
- The Rocketeer (1991)
- Glory (1989)
- Field of Dreams (1989)
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
- Willow (1988)
- The Land Before Time (1988)
- An American Tail (1986) - Also its sequel Fievel Goes West (1991). It was the first score that won him some awards.
- Aliens (1986) - He had such a hellish time scoring this due to the movie's famously troubled production and initially swore he'd never work with Cameron again. However, he relented on this, and had better experiences with the other Cameron movies.
- Commando (1985)
- Krull (1983)
- Gorky Park (1993)
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Star Trek II was his big break and launched him into the Hollywood scene; he later declined the offer to score later Trek movies. Debate still rages over whether his or Jerry Goldsmith's music is superior.
- Nicholas Meyer famously quipped that Horner was hired for Khan because they couldn't afford Goldsmith again, and then when he returned for the sixth film, he discovered he couldn't afford Horner.
- Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) - Ironically considering his later career, music from this film would be used in several other Roger Corman productions (Space Raiders, Sorceress, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom etc).note
Works for television include:
- Amazing Stories ("Alamo Jobe")
- CBS Evening News With Katie Couric (yep, that was him; the theme was replaced with the 1987 Trivers/Myers theme when Scott Pelley took over in 2011; he also did the theme for several other CBS divisions in that period)
- Fish Police (he not only did the theme for this short-lived cartoon, he also did one of his very few episodic TV scores for the pilot)