Citing influences that include Kurt Weill, Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Harry Partch, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, and Igor Stravinsky, composer Danny Elfman is best known for his endeavors in collaboration with director Tim Burton. Since the early 1980s he has created one of the most distinctive bodies of work in contemporary film music, bringing his talents to a dark fantasy world populated by superheroes (Justice League), monsters (Hellboy: The Golden Army), and freaks (Edward Scissorhands). Before that he fronted the popular new wave band Oingo Boingo, whose eclectic mix of pop, ska, rock, and world music spanned 17 years and spawned the hits "Dead Man's Party" and "Weird Science." After making his film music debut in 1980 with the musical/fantasy/comedy Forbidden Zone, Elfman embarked on a hugely successful career in film and television, earning Academy Award nominations for his original scores for Men in Black, Good Will Hunting, Big Fish, and Milk, a Grammy award for Batman, and an Emmy for his work on the television series Desperate Housewives. His 15th soundtrack, 1993's Golden Globe-nominated animated musical Nightmare Before Christmas, was a career highlight that saw Elfman deliver an ambitious amalgam of classical, musical theater, and pop that had him assume the lead role of Jack the Pumpkin King. While he continued to work with Burton well into the 2010s on efforts like Alice in Wonderland, Big Eyes, and Dumbo, he proved to be just as adept at scoring less fantastical fare, earning accolades for his work with David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and Gus Van Sant (Milk, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot), among others.
The son of novelist Blossom Elfman, he was born May 29, 1953 in Amarillo, Texas. Raised in Los Angeles, he and brother Richard relocated to France in 1971, where he joined a theatrical group. Elfman subsequently moved on to Africa, returning to the U.S. only after battling a bout with malaria; he then reunited with Richard, who had directed the 1980 film The Forbidden Zone and asked Danny to compose the score. Assembling a band dubbed the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, Elfman recorded the movie's soundtrack. Abbreviated to simply Oingo Boingo, the group remained a going concern following the project's completion, later earning a significant cult following during the new wave era, and eventually disbanding in 1995.
In 1985 Elfman met fledgling filmmaker Tim Burton; after collaborating on the score to the hit Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, they reunited frequently in the years to come, with Elfman composing the music to later Burton projects including Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks!, and the Grammy-winning Batman. In 1993, he also scored the Burton-produced Nightmare Before Christmas, dubbing the vocals of the animated musical's lead character Jack Skellington. Outside of Tim Burton's sphere of influence, Elfman also scored a number of other features in the '80s and '90s, most of them strange fables such as Darkman, Dick Tracy, and The Frighteners. His 1997 scores for the drama Good Will Hunting and that summer's biggest box office hit, Men in Black, garnered his first Academy Award nominations. Among his television work was his Emmy-nominated theme for The Simpsons and Emmy-winning theme for Desperate Housewives.
In addition to his marriage to actress Bridget Fonda in 2003, the new century brought continued professional accolades, among them new Burton collaborations, including 2003's Oscar-nominated Big Fish, and 2005's animated The Corpse Bride. In the meantime, he released a symphony on Sony Classical in 2006 titled Serenada Schizophrana, and earned his fourth Academy Award nomination for Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic, Milk, in 2009.
His steady workload also included Burton's 2010 rendering of Alice in Wonderland, 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, and 2013's American Hustle, the latter two of which were directed by David O. Russell, and 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Goosebumps. The 2016 sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass marked Elfman's 17th Tim Burton feature. That year also saw Sony Classical release his original music for the ballet Rabbit & Rogue, which had premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2008, as well as his score for the film thriller The Girl on the Train. The following year, he stayed busy delivering the scores for such high-profile films as Fifty Shades Darker and Justice League, the latter of which cracked the Billboard 200. In 2018, he teamed up again with Gus Van Sant for the comedy-drama Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. The following year, he provided the score for Tim Burton's live action version of the Walt Disney classic Dumbo. ~ James Christopher Monger