Type to search

Soundtrack review: Dances with wolves (John Barry – 1990)

Composer of the month John Barry month perfect scores Top 10

Soundtrack review: Dances with wolves (John Barry – 1990)


Who doesn’t know or like “Dances with wolves”…? Kevin Costner’s brightest moment and one of the most beautiful and emotional westerns of the past 25 years is still a pleasant viewing experience to this day. I love the story, I love how Costner wrote and directed the movie and it has aged very well. The story of Captain John Dunbar who is left behind in Native American territory and becomes so enamored with the people that he joins their fight against his former friends has been replicated since in various forms (“Avatar”, even “The last samurai”) but this one still holds a very special place. I remember I saw it when I came out and my young self remained impressed and inspired. I bought the book as well and always kept a fond memory of it. The echoes of the story have the form of John Barry’s music inside me. This was his fifth Academy Award win and got an expanded release some years later.

The opening sees a Barry darker than usual. This wasn’t the romantic beginning he usually went for but a serious and even scary at times theme which blends slow military fanfare sounds with an almost mournful motif. This is the introduction to the character of John Dunbar to me. It presents us with the many faces of this character we will grow very fond of during the course of the movie. The cue also evokes, as it ends, the vastness and echoes of the wilderness where the story will take place. It’s all in this magnificent opening “Main title – Looks like a suicide” which fills me up with joy.

As I embark on the fulfilling journey of listening to this masterpiece I find myself grateful to be able to hear such a composition. This is one of the most timeless and memorable scores John Barry ever wrote and it has the poignancy and sensitivity of a beautiful painting. The music needs no alterations because it’s perfect just the way it is. It is a blend of tender and epic, of bold and intimate, of inspiring and touching and it plays with all these feelings in almost every cue. This version of “Dances with wolves” is 76 minutes long but so rich and layered that it feels like much more. I get lost in the music and all its nuances play hide and seek with me.

“The John Dunbar theme” is probably one of the most beautiful pieces John Barry has ever written. It shows me how much he cared for the character whose story he completed and it makes the listener love John Dunbar and be very involved in his tribulations. There’s a hint of the magic from “Somewhere in time” in this theme and it makes it even more special to me. I almost don’t want it to end; I want to stay forever in that moment. There’s another version of it which is the most Western sounding cue from this score and is just as superb. “Two socks – The wolf theme” stems from the same root as if to show how man and animal are connected. Ah I remember that wolf from the movie… Dunbar’s faithful and eternal companion, the one who saves him and help him and never leaves his sight.

“Dances with wolves” is hypnotizing and the kind of composition which will warm your heart and entice your imagination. John Barry was in a state of grace when we wrote it. He poured emotions that could reach even the coldest of hearts in cues like “The buffalo robe” or the unbelievable “Journey to the Buffalo Killing Ground”. The latter has a sweeping and epic beginning which for me is among the most beautiful pieces of film music ever written. It continues with an unreal flute motif and ends up as the only advertisement orchestral music could ever need.

Of course a story like this can’t be just romantic and dreamy. The dramatic moments are presented by John Barry with his usual elegance and joy. Action pieces like the famous “The buffalo Hunt” earn their place in Western music history. This one has the trumpets, the riding feeling and it brings a smile to my face. It’s a playful and addictive theme which makes me happy, pure and simple…

These are just bits and pieces, glimpses and impressions. My words couldn’t possibly describe the magnitude and beauty of “Dances with wolves”. This ode to melancholy will bring something to each listener. I will let each one of you make his or her own journey and discover what this score means to him. But please, enrich your life by listening to this score; it’s one of those compositions which transcend film music and can unite people who otherwise wouldn’t have anything in common. It is written in the most universal language of them all…

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 76 / 76

Album excellence: 100%


Main Title – Looks Like A Suicide [Expanded]

Ride To Fort Hayes

Journey To Fort Sedgewick – Shooting Star – John Dunbar Theme – Arrival At Fo…

The John Dunbar Theme

The Death Of Timmons

Two Socks – The Wolf Theme

Stands With A Fist Remembers

The Buffalo Robe

Journey To The Buffalo Killing Ground

Spotting The Herd

The Buffalo Hunt [Film Version]

Fire Dance

Two Socks At Play

Falling In Love

Love Theme

The John Dunbar Theme

Pawnees – Pawnee Attack – Stone Calf Dies – Toughest Dies


The Death Of Cisco

Rescue Of Dances With Wolves

The Loss Of The Journal – The Return To Winter Camp

Farewell – End Title

The Buffalo Hunt [Album Version]

The John Dunbar Theme [Film Version]






Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

  • 1

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.