Plenty of people who think they don't like classical music nevertheless listen to and enjoy a good deal of it as accompaniment to movies, and even quite difficult musical styles have been successfully employed by film composers. Music has been used to accompany films since at least 1892. Many silent film showings featured live accompaniment improvised by an organist, but others featured live or recorded orchestral scores, and early animated films were often designed to accompany classical compositions. The experimental Disney classic Fantasia (1941) actually stood at the end of a long tradition.
With the advent of sound, the film score entered a golden age. Transplanted European composers such as Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin, and Erich Korngold created complex scores that were symphonic in scope. Tiomkin's score for High Noon (1952) indicated the ironically close symbiosis between the Western genre and European symphonic language. Film music attracted composers such as Aaron Copland (The Red Pony, 1940) who were better known for their work in other genres, and director Spike Lee's college-basketball film He Got Game used Copland's music in its soundtrack and paid homage to the profound influence Copland exerted over several generations of film music composers.
Film music since World War II has proceeded along a dual track, with many composers developing the essentially Romantic musical language of prewar scores while others experimented with modernist, electronic, and rock influences. Some composers became closely associated with the films of certain directors; the later films of Alfred Hitchcock, for example, seem almost inconceivable without the tense, psychologically probing scores of composer Bernard Herrmann. The 1969 film Easy Rider was perhaps the first film whose soundtrack consisted of popular songs, and by the century's end the film soundtrack had become a powerful generator of pop hits. Popular electronics gave birth to their own cinematic language, with the (1981) Vangelis score for Chariots of Fire and Maurice Jarre's Fatal Attraction music (1987) providing diverse examples.
These developments never came close to killing off the traditional orchestrally based film score, however, and film music with roots in the classical tradition may have entered a true neo-classical period with John Williams's scores for Jaws (1975) and the first Star Wars film two years later. Williams and competitors such as James Horner (the composer of the score to the most popular film of all time, Titanic) and Jerry Goldsmith became perhaps better known to the general public than any other classically trained composers of their time.