Hans Zimmer is a German-Jewish film score 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 the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1995, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, and The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Zimmer was born in Frankfurt am Main, West 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. In one of his Reddit AMAs (
Ask Me Anything sessions), he said
My formal training was 2 week(s) of piano lessons. I was thrown out of 8 schools. But I joined a band. I am self-taught. But I've always heard music in my head. And I'm a child of the 20th century; computers came in very handy. He moved to London as a teenager, where he attended Hurtwood House school.
In a speech at the 1999 Berlin Film Festival, Zimmer spoke of his connection to his Judaism, and talked about his mother surviving World War II thanks to her escape from Germany to England in 1939. 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. 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.
Zimmer began his career playing keyboards and synthesizers in the 1970s, with the band Krakatoa. 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 their 1979 smash hit song
Video Killed the Radio Star. 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.
While living in London, Zimmer wrote advertising jingles for Air-Edel Associates. 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. Some of the films on which Zimmer and Myers worked are Moonlighting (1982), Success is the Best Revenge (1984), Insignificance (1985), and My Beautiful Laundrette (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.
A turning point in Zimmer's career occurred with the 1988 film Rain Man. 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. 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? Zimmer’s score for Rain Man was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989, and the film won four Academy Awards including Best Picture.
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.
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 also includes K2 and Drop Zone. Zimmer wrote the theme for Tony Scott's 1993 film True Romance, which he based on Carl Orff's Gassenhauer.
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. 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. As of 2018, the musical version of The Lion King is the highest grossing Broadway show of all time, having grossed $1.397 billion.
In the 2000s, Zimmer 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). Other work in the 2000s included the Spanish language film Casi Divas, 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.
In 2012, Zimmer composed and produced the music for the 84th Academy Awards with Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes. He also composed a new version of the theme music for ABC World News.
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. Zimmer also composed the music for Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar, which earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. 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".
Zimmer composed the main theme for the 2016 BBC nature documentary Planet Earth II, presented by David Attenborough. Zimmer composed the main theme for the 2016 Netflix production The Crown. He also composed the score for Christopher Nolan's 2017 film Dunkirk, basing part of the score on a recording of a ticking watch that he had been given by Nolan. Zimmer also worked on the score for Blade Runner 2049. Hans Zimmer and co-composer Benjamin Wallfisch took over scoring duties after Jóhann Jóhannsson left the project. On November 1, 2017, it was announced that he will return to score the upcoming 2019 CGI live-action adaptation of Disney's The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau. It was reported in January 2018 that Zimmer would compose the score for X-Men: Dark Phoenix directed by Simon Kinberg, contrary to his 2016 statements of not scoring another superhero film following his experience working on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In November 2016, Zimmer released an online course teaching the basics of film scoring.