What do Hellboy 2 (on DVD this week) and Milk (in theaters Nov. 26) have in common, aside from flamboyantly controversial main characters? Musical scores by Danny Elfman, that's what.

Like many people, I was first aware of Elfman as the frontman for Oingo Boingo, a band that had a few songs I liked and an abundance of songs that annoyed me -- may I never hear "Dead Man's Party" again as long as I live -- before I was awestruck by his score for Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Even if you haven't seen the film I bet you'd recognize the factory-like main theme, officially titled "Breakfast Machine," which starts at 1:15 in the YouTube clip embedded below. It's still my favorite piece of Elfman music, and it typifies his work: whimsical, rhythmic, slightly dark, and heavy on the mechanical noises.

It was Elfman's first orchestral score for a film (he and Oingo Boingo had made something called Forbidden Zone five years earlier), and the beginning of a partnership with Pee-wee director Tim Burton that lasts to this day. Many of Elfman's scores, for Burton and for other directors, have been for films that readily lent themselves to his Halloweenish sensibilities -- comic book/sci-fi/superhero capers like Dick Tracy, Batman, Men in Black, Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks!, Spy Kids, and Spider-Man. And let it not be forgotten what Burton's [correction: Elfman's] most famous composition is: the theme from The Simpsons, surely one of the most recognizable TV songs in the world.
But Elfman has written scores for non-genre projects, too, including A Civil Action, Anywhere But Here, and The Family Man. He earned Oscar nominations for Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, and Big Fish, an Emmy nomination for The SImpsons, and an Emmy win for his Desperate Housewives theme. He even contributed an ominous score to Errol Morris' Abu Ghraib documentary Standard Operating Procedure.

So what's your favorite Elfman score? How does he compare to other notable film composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and James Newton Howard? Feel free to share your comments below, and enjoy the opening sequence from Pee-wee's Big Adventure.