Composer Hans Zimmer -- the first creative to raise Variety's Billion-Dollar milestone 20-fold since the series was introduced in 1993 -- likes to take chances.

Who else would have:

» Recorded a London brass section, electronically processed their sounds, then played them back through speakers placed in the studio's stairwells for an even stranger soundscape in "Inception"?

» Solicited choral contributions from fans via the Internet to create a 100,000-voice chant that would eventually appear in "The Dark Knight Rises"?

» Traveled to Eastern Europe to record Roma gypsy violinists and accordionists to incorporate into his music for "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"?

» Defied comicbook, heroic-music tradition by creating "drum circles" of renowned percussionists creating grooves that he could then employ in his "Man of Steel" score?

» Recruited South African singer Lebo M. to create authentic-sounding choral chants for "The Lion King," Australian singer Lisa Gerrard to compose and perform the haunting vocals of "Gladiator," and guitarist Johnny Marr to play on "Inception"?

» And most recently, convinced a supergroup of rock 'n' rollers, including Marr, Junkie XL and Pharrell Williams, to jam with him for three days to come up with themes that he would adapt into the score of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2?"

"One of the things that always separated Spider-Man from all the other superheroes was, he was young," Zimmer says. "I suddenly had the thought that it's perfectly appropriate to have Wagnerian horns for Batman, but the way a young person expresses emotion is in rock 'n' roll."

It's among the most unconventional scores ever for a superhero film (Variety's reviewer called it "house-infused"), incorporating electric guitars, electronica, dubstep, industrial sounds and whispered voices (plus a smattering of orchestra and choir).

"I've worked with Hans on many projects over many years," says Sony president of worldwide music Lia Vollack, "and I learned early on that, when Hans comes in and he's excited about an idea, you should just say 'OK, we're going to do this.' He really understands that the function of film score is to tell the story. To infuse ('Spider-Man 2') with that youthful energy was really inspired."

Adds "Spider-Man" director Marc Webb: "It's very different for Hans, and certainly different for 'Spider-Man.' It was by far the most fun component of making the movie."

Zimmer, sitting in his plush Santa Monica studio on a recent afternoon, says the challenge is always "to find a specific sound for every movie. What's the sonic landscape?"

But it's not just the relentless search for fresh approaches that has made him Hollywood's most in-demand composer.

Admirers and detractors alike say Zimmer has irrevocably altered the film-music business over his 20-plus years in the U.S., partly because of his use of technology in music-making, partly because of his frequent use of collaborators and because of the comfort filmmakers find in working with him and with his process.

Zimmer's studio, says "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen, "was my refuge when I was in L.A. He had musicians from all over the world there. It was a place to think and have conversations. He's amazing in the way he can facilitate that environment."

Adds producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a collaborater on nearly a dozen films with Zimmer including "Crimson Tide" and four "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies: "On just about every film, he comes up with something you've never heard before or an approach that's totally unique."