Danny Elfman

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Danny Elfman
Danny Elfman cropped.jpg
Elfman at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2010
Born Daniel Robert Elfman
(1953-05-29) May 29, 1953 (age 61)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation Composer, singer-songwriter, record producer, actor, voice actor
Spouse(s) Bridget Fonda (2003–present; 1 child)
Musical career
Genres New wave, alternative rock, film music
Instruments Trombone, violin, guitar, percussion, vocals, piano, keyboard[1]
Years active 1972–present
Associated acts Oingo Boingo, James Newton Howard

Daniel Robert "Danny" Elfman (born May 29, 1953)[2] is an American composer, record producer, and actor. He is known as the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band Oingo Boingo, from 1976 to 1995 and later for scoring music for television and film and creating The Simpsons main title theme as well as the 1989 Batman movie theme. He has scored the majority of his long-time friend Tim Burton's movies.

Elfman re-entered the film industry in 1976, initially as an actor. He made his film scoring debut in 1980 for the film Forbidden Zone directed by his older brother Richard Elfman. He has since been nominated for four Academy Awards and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media for Tim Burton's Batman[3] and an Emmy Award for his Desperate Housewives[4] theme. Elfman was honored with the Richard Kirk Award at the 2002 BMI Film and TV Awards. The award is given annually to a composer who has made significant contributions to film and television music.[5]

Early life and career[edit]

Danny Elfman was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Blossom Elfman (née Bernstein), a writer and teacher, and Milton Elfman, a teacher who was in the Air Force.[6] Elfman grew up in a Jewish family.[7] He was raised in a racially mixed community in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles.[8] He spent much of his time in the local movie theatre, adoring the music of such film composers as Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. Stating that he hung out with the "band geeks" in high school, he started a ska band. After dropping out of high school, he followed his brother Richard to France,[9] where he performed with Le Grand Magic Circus, an avant-garde musical theater group. Violin in tow, Elfman next journeyed to Africa where he traveled through Ghana, Mali, and Upper Volta, absorbing new musical styles, including the Ghanaian highlife genre which would eventually influence his own music.[citation needed]

He contracted malaria during his one-year stay and was often sick. Eventually he returned home to the United States, where he began to take Balinese music lessons at CalArts. During this time, he was romantically involved with Kim Gordon, who would later go on to form Sonic Youth. He was never officially a student at the institute; nonetheless, the instructor encouraged him to continue learning. Elfman stated, "He just laughed, and said, 'Sit. Play.' I continued to sit and play for a couple years."[10] At this time, his brother was forming a new musical theater group.

Oingo Boingo[edit]

Main article: Oingo Boingo

In 1972 Richard Elfman founded the American new wave band/performance art group, originally called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They played several shows throughout the 1970s until Richard Elfman left the band to become a filmmaker. As a send-off to the band's original concept, Richard Elfman created the film Forbidden Zone based on their stage performances. Danny Elfman composed his first score for the film and played the role of Satan (the other band members played his minions). By the time the movie was completed, they had taken the name Oingo Boingo and begun recording and touring as a rock group. From 1976 and on, it was led by Danny Elfman, until 1995 when they suddenly retired. The semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe had transformed into a ska-influenced new wave band in 1979, and then changed again towards a more guitar-oriented rock sound, in the late 1980s.[citation needed]

Elfman and Tim Burton[edit]

In 1985, Tim Burton and Paul Reubens invited Elfman to write the score for their first feature film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Elfman was apprehensive at first because of his lack of formal training, but with orchestration assistance from Oingo Boingo guitarist and arranger Steve Bartek, he achieved his goal of emulating the mood of such composers as Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann.[11] In the booklet for the first volume of Music for a Darkened Theatre, Elfman described the first time he heard his music played by a full orchestra as one of the most thrilling experiences of his life. Elfman immediately developed a rapport with Burton[11] and has gone on to score all but two of Burton's major studio releases: Ed Wood which was under production while Elfman and Burton were having a serious disagreement,[12] and Sweeney Todd. Elfman also provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and the voices of both Barrel and the "Clown with the Tear-Away Face". Years later he provided the voice for Bonejangles the skeleton in Corpse Bride.

Burton has said of his relationship with Elfman: "We don't even have to talk about the music. We don't even have to intellectualize – which is good for both of us, we're both similar that way. We're very lucky to connect" (Breskin, 1997).

Musical influences[edit]

Modern classicist composers, including Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Carl Orff, Harry Partch, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky have influenced the style of Elfman's music.[13] Elfman cited his first time noticing film music being when he heard Bernard Hermann's score to The Day the Earth Stood Still as an eleven-year-old and being a fan of film music since then. Other influences based in film music include Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, David Tamkin, and Franz Waxman.[13][14] Also, Nino Rota served as a significant influence and was the main inspiration for Elfman's score to Pee-wee's Big Adventure.[14]

Hearing damage[edit]

When asked during a 2007 phone-in interview on XETRA-FM if he ever had any notions of performing in an Oingo Boingo reunion, Elfman immediately rejected the idea and stated that in the last few years with the band he had begun to develop significant and irreversible hearing damage as a result of his continuous exposure to the high noise levels involved in performing in a rock band. He went on to say that he believes his hearing damage is partially due to a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, and that he will never return to the stage for fear of worsening not only his condition but also that of his band mates.

Recent works[edit]

Elfman recently composed the music for the Cirque du Soleil Show IRIS, which was performed at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The production began on July 21, 2011, and ended on January 19, 2013.[15] This is Elfman's most significant non-film work since he composed Serenada Schizophrana for the American Composers Orchestra. It was conducted by John Mauceri on its recording and by Steven Sloane at its premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 23, 2005. After its premiere, it was recorded in studio and released onto SACD on October 3, 2006. The meeting with Mauceri proved fruitful as the composer was encouraged then to write a new concert piece for Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Elfman composed an "overture to a non-existent musical" and called the piece "The Overeager Overture". He also continues to compose his film scores in addition to these other projects. In November 2010, it was reported that Danny Elfman is writing the music for a planned musical based on the life of Harry Houdini.[16] But, as of January 2012, he was no longer attached to the project.[17]

In October 2013, Elfman returned to the stage to sing his vocal parts to a handful of Nightmare Before Christmas songs as part of a concert titled Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton.[18][19] He composed for the 2013 hit film Oz the Great and Powerful.

Personal life[edit]

Elfman has three children: Lola, born in 1979; Mali, born in 1984; and Oliver, born in 2005. On November 29, 2003, Elfman married film actress Bridget Fonda. In 1997 he scored A Simple Plan – his only score for one of her films to date (although he did compose a cue for the film Army of Darkness, in which Fonda has a cameo). He is the uncle of actor Bodhi Elfman, who is married to actress Jenna Elfman.

Political views[edit]

Describing his politics during the 1980s, Elfman said, "I'm not a doomist. My attitude is always to be critical of what's around you, but not ever to forget how lucky we are. I've traveled around the world. I left thinking I was a revolutionary. I came back real right-wing patriotic. Since then, I've kind of mellowed in between."[20] In 2008, he expressed support for Barack Obama and said that "Sarah Palin was my worst nightmare."[21]


Appearances by Elfman as a composer, or as a member of Oingo Boingo:

Year Film Role/Directed by Type of recording / Album Released by Notes / Accolades
1977 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Yri drummer Also featured Richard Elfman
Hot Tomorrows Singer / Directed by Martin Brest
1981 Urgh! A Music War Himself Part of Oingo Boingo
1982 Forbidden Zone Satan / Directed by Richard Elfman Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
1984 Good Morning, Mr. Orwell Himself Part of Oingo Boingo
1985 Pee-wee's Big Adventure Tim Burton Original soundtrack released as part of the Elfman/Burton box set
1986 Back to School Himself / Directed by Alan Metter Original soundtrack released as part of the Elfman/Burton box set Part of Oingo Boingo
1987 Summer School Carl Reiner Soundtrack (includes one Elfman song; no score) Only unreleased Elfman film score to date
Wisdom Emilio Estevez Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
1988 Beetlejuice Tim Burton Soundtrack Geffen Records
Midnight Run Martin Brest Soundtrack MCA
Big Top Pee-wee Randal Kleiser Soundtrack (including dialogue) Arista (reissued by PEG); expanded album without dialogue released by La-La Land Records
Hot to Trot Michael Dinner Suite included on Music for a Darkened Theatre, Vol. 1
Scrooged Richard Donner Suite included on Music for a Darkened Theatre, Vol. 1; complete score released by La-La Land Records
1989 Batman Tim Burton Batman (score) Soundtrack re-released with complete score from La-La Land Records Won his only Grammy 32nd Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
Nightbreed Clive Barker Soundtrack MCA
1990 Dick Tracy Warren Beatty Soundtrack Sire Records Nominated for 33rd Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television
Darkman Sam Raimi Soundtrack MCA
Edward Scissorhands Tim Burton Soundtrack MCA Nominated for 34th Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television
1992 Article 99 Howard Deutch Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
Batman Returns Tim Burton Soundtrack Warner Bros. Records;
re-released with complete score from La-La Land Records
1993 Sommersby Jon Amiel Soundtrack Elektra
Army of Darkness Sam Raimi "March of the Dead" theme by Danny Elfman.
Rest of the score by Joseph LoDuca
Varèse Sarabande
Nightmare Before Christmas, TheThe Nightmare Before Christmas Henry Selick Soundtrack Walt Disney Records
1994 Black Beauty Caroline Thompson Soundtrack expanded edition released by La-La Land Records
1995 Dolores Claiborne Taylor Hackford Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
Dead Presidents Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes Soundtrack (one Elfman track; suite also included on Music for a Darkened Theatre Vol. 2)
To Die For Gus Van Sant Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande (score + songs)
1996 Mission: Impossible Brian De Palma Soundtrack (songs + three brief Elfman suites) Phillips
Score album Point Music
Frighteners, TheThe Frighteners Peter Jackson Soundtrack MCA
Freeway Matthew Bright Suite included on Music for a Darkened Theatre Vol. 2
Extreme Measures Michael Apted Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
Mars Attacks! Tim Burton Soundtrack Atlantic;
expanded edition released by La-La Land Records
First Elfman score to get an expanded release
1997 Men in Black Barry Sonnenfeld Soundtrack (two Elfman cues) Nominated for 70th Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score &
for 40th Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television
Score album Columbia
Flubber Les Mayfield Soundtrack Walt Disney Records
Good Will Hunting Gus Van Sant Soundtrack (two Elfman cues); score album released by Music Box Nominated for 70th Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score
1998 Simple Plan, AA Simple Plan Sam Raimi Soundtrack Compass III
A Civil Action Steven Zaillian Soundtrack
1999 Instinct Jon Turteltaub Soundtrack
Anywhere But Here Wayne Wang Soundtrack (includes one score suite) Atlantic
Sleepy Hollow Tim Burton Soundtrack Hollywood Records
2000 Proof of Life Taylor Hackford Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
The Gift Sam Raimi Cameo appearance
Family Man, TheThe Family Man Brett Ratner Soundtrack (two Elfman cues) Sire Records
2001 Planet of the Apes Tim Burton Soundtrack SME;
complete score released by La-La Land
2002 Spider-Man Sam Raimi Song album Nominated for 45th Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
Score album
Men in Black II Barry Sonnenfeld Soundtrack Columbia Records
Red Dragon Brett Ratner Soundtrack Decca Records
Chicago Rob Marshall Soundtrack (two Elfman tracks)
2003 Hulk Ang Lee Soundtrack Columbia Records
Big Fish Tim Burton Soundtrack Nominated for 76th Academy Award for Best Original Score,
for 61st Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score &
for 47th Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
2004 Spider-Man 2 Sam Raimi Soundtrack
Score album
2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Tim Burton Soundtrack Nominated for 48th Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (Wonka's Welcome Song)
Corpse Bride Tim Burton Soundtrack
2006 Deep Sea 3D Howard Hall Serenada Schizophrana
Nacho Libre Jared Hess Soundtrack (score suite)
Charlotte's Web Gary Winick Soundtrack
2007 Meet the Robinsons Stephen Anderson Soundtrack
Kingdom, TheThe Kingdom Peter Berg Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
2008 Standard Operating Procedure Errol Morris Soundtrack
Wanted Timur Bekmambetov Soundtrack
Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
Milk Gus Van Sant Soundtrack Decca Records Nominated for 81st Academy Award for Best Original Score &
for 52nd Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
2009 Notorious George Tillman, Jr. Soundtrack (one Elfman track) Universal Music Group
Terminator Salvation McG Soundtrack Warner Bros. Records
9 Shane Acker Soundtrack. Elfman's music themes only, score composed by Deborah Lurie. Rhino Records
score album Lakeshore Records
Taking Woodstock Ang Lee Song soundtrack with four Elfman cues Rhino Records
score album La-La Land Records
2010 Wolfman, TheThe Wolfman Joe Johnston Soundtrack Varèse Sarabande
Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton Soundtrack Walt Disney Records Nominated for 68th Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score &
for 53rd Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
Next Three Days, TheThe Next Three Days Paul Haggis Soundtrack Lionsgate
2011 Restless Gus Van Sant Soundtrack La-La Land Records
Real Steel Shawn Levy Song album with one Elfman cut Interscope
score album Varèse Sarabande
2012 Dark Shadows Tim Burton Song album with two Elfman cuts
score album WaterTower Music
Men in Black 3 Barry Sonnenfeld Soundtrack Sony Classical
Frankenweenie Tim Burton Soundtrack Walt Disney Records
Silver Linings Playbook David O. Russell Song album with two Elfman cuts
score album Sony Classical
Hitchcock Sacha Gervasi Soundtrack Sony Masterworks
Promised Land Gus Van Sant Soundtrack Relativity Music Group
2013 Oz the Great and Powerful Sam Raimi Soundtrack Walt Disney Records
Epic Chris Wedge Soundtrack Columbia Records
American Hustle David O. Russell Song album with one Elfman cut Madison Gate Records
2014 Mr. Peabody & Sherman Rob Minkoff Soundtrack Relativity Music Group
The Unknown Known Errol Morris Soundtrack La La Land Records
Big Eyes Tim Burton Song/score album with six Elfman cuts Interscope
2015 Fifty Shades of Grey Sam Taylor-Wood Song soundtrack with two Elfman cuts Republic Records
score album Republic Records
Sea of Trees Gus Van Sant Soundtrack
Tulip Fever Justin Chadwick Soundtrack
2016 Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass James Bobin Soundtrack Walt Disney Records
  • When sorted by "Type of recording / Album", some of the rows are duplicated if each contains more data; score albums are an example of this, and are in addition formatted with text aligned right.

In addition, Elfman has supplied thematic material - except where noted - for movies scored by others (names in brackets):

Elfman also composed the music for the Hollywood Pictures logo (an excerpt from his main title for Sommersby was subsequently used as the logo music for Regency, the company that made it).

He has also written the theme music and occasional episodic scores for several television series, including:

His other work includes:

Awards and nominations[edit]

Danny Elfman awards and nominations
Award Wins Nominations
Academy Awards
0 4
Annie Awards
1 1
BMI Film & Television Awards
24 24
British Academy Film Awards
0 2
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
0 2
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
0 4
Emmy Awards
1 2
Golden Globe Awards
0 2
Grammy Awards
1 11
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards
0 1
Satellite Awards
1 6
Saturn Awards
5 12
Sierra Awards
1 2
World Soundtrack Awards
0 2
Awards won 33
Nominations 75

American Film Institute[edit]

Elfman's scores for Batman and Edward Scissorhands were nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Danny Elfman interview". Bluntinstrument.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-02. 
  2. ^ "Daniel Robert Elfman - California, Birth Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Batman (1989) Awards, IMDB.com". Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Composer Danny Elfman Scores First Emmy Award". 
  5. ^ "Top Film, TV, Cable Composers Honored at BMI's Annual Film/TV Awards". bmi.com. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  6. ^ "Danny Elfman profile at FilmReference.com". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  7. ^ "Interview: Danny Elfman | The Jewish Chronicle". Thejc.com. 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  8. ^ "Elfman in L.A.". Elfman.filmmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  9. ^ "Buzzine". Buzzine. 2009-05-07. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  10. ^ "Video Entertainment Magazine interview, April 4, 1996". Boingo.org. 1996-04-04. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  11. ^ a b "Fanfare Article". Boingo.org. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  12. ^ Salisbury, Burton, pp.137-144
  13. ^ a b Lustig, Jessica. "An interview with composer Danny Elfman". American Composers. Retrieved May 7, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Florino, Rick (December 14, 2010). "Danny Elfman Talks Tim Burton Scores, Bernard Hermann's Influence and More". ARTIST direct. Retrieved May 7, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Cirque du Soleil website". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  16. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon (November 2, 2010). "Aaron Sorkin writing Hugh Jackman's Houdini musical: Composer Danny Elfman has 'high hopes'". Popwatch.EW.com. Retrieved December 4, 2010. 
  17. ^ Potts, Kimberly (January 4, 2012). "Hugh Jackman, Aaron Sorkin Teaming for 'Houdini' musical". thewrap.com. 
  18. ^ Ng, David (September 18, 2013). "Danny Elfman concert of Tim Burton film music adds third performance". September 18, 2013. Retrieved October 10, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton". BBC Concert Orchestra. Retrieved October 10, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul". Boingo.org. 1955-05-29. Retrieved 2013-02-02. 
  21. ^ "Battling Our Greatest Fear". Huffington Post. 2008-10-30. 

External links[edit]