Thursday, December 27, 2007

15 Most Iconic Voices in Cinema

Some films are actor-driven, being vehicles for the artistic expression of cinema's finest. The Brandos, Pacinos, Davises, and Streeps of film have such cinematic presence that they practically jump out of the screens, often making their film more emotionally resonant than it would otherwise be. Some actors need not be seen at all; they have voices that have been so ingrained in the collective memory of the film-going public that there is no mistaking who they are even if their faces are concealed. By virtue of memorable voice-over narrations or animation dubs, theatrical performances of bombast, or the sheer distinctiveness of their tones, they have become icons simply because they have spoken. Some actors like James Stewart, Jennifer Tilly, and Michael York may have unmistakable voices (who wouldn't recognize Basil Exposition?), while others like Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett may astound (and puzzle, in Jolie's case) with bizarre accents with varying degrees of believability, but not many have done enough with their laryngeal vibrations to dominate the soundscapes of film and other media. Here is Film-Otaku's tribute to the 15 Most Iconic Voices in Cinema:


Who exudes as much smarmy and sarcastic wit with just his voice as Jack Nicholson? His voice and devilish grin have become so etched in our minds that just hearing him would invoke visions of Jack Torrance or Joker (not very comforting images, those). There is, easily, no one like Jack. He would have ranked higher had he done more voice-overs in his career.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent is among the most imitated for the simple reason that it's among the most recognizable. No one else, at least in Hollywood, talks the way he does. With lines like "I'll be back" and "Hasta la vista, baby," his voice has certainly made him as much of a pop culture fixture as his most popular movies have become.

As soon as Elastigirl speaks in The Incredibles, you immediately know that it's Holly Hunter behind all the animated wonder. The southerner's intonation and lisp are all her own, both defiant and sexy, and usable in both dramatic and comedic scenarios with equal success. Despite having won an Oscar as a mute in The Piano, her voice is surely one of her biggest assets.

Hannibal Lecter. Van Helsing. C.S. Lewis. And most recently, often drunk and nearly naked King Hrothgar. Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins easily has one of the most famous non-American accents, a halting, thoughtful cadence of words that you instinctively know hold a lot of wisdom. He'll be playing legendary director Alfred Hitchcock in a film to be released next year. It will be interesting to see how his unique vocal signature translates into Hitchcock's own characteristic drawl.

Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for having been able to capture the nuances of the great Kate’s bodily movements and vocal rhythms. It would not have been a very easy thing to do. Many of the roles that won Hepburn 12 Oscar nominations are memorable because she played them, and playing a big part in her iconic structure are her physicality and her confident, no-nonsense delivery of words. Like Nicholson, Hepburn may not have been known for voice-overs, but her voice, with its almost cartoonish yet in no way powerless quality, is as legendary as its bearer.


"I am your father" and "This is CNN International." Iconic lines in film and television. A voice that's unmistakable (who could confuse Darth Vader's voice with anyone else's?). Add to that King Mufasa from The Lion King, and you have a voice that, in popular culture, is recognized more than the actor who bears it.

Bored, deadpan, uninterested…yet stinging and so full of meaning. While Jim Carrey and Jack Black use their bodies and facial expressions to be funny, Murray usually uses nothing more than his dropping eyes and caustic vocal delivery. This comedian extraordinaire can invoke the wildest laughs even before he opens his mouth, but when he does, his voice takes funny to an all new level. Peter Venkman, Phil Connors, and Garfield owe their cinematic fame to the one-of-a-kind voice of this one-of-a-kind comedian.


With the roles of Agent Smith, Elrond, and Megatron in his impressive resume, Hugo Weaving’s films have collectively made more money than many other actors’. He is a very good actor, but what truly makes his roles interesting and so iconic is his voice, regal and often cutting with some dark streak. There is something mesmerizing about the way he says things, lending them more weight than lesser actors would have been able to.

Jeremy Irons has one of the crispest, raspiest, and most quickly recognizable voices among cinema’s most acclaimed British thespians. While he is a highly competent and multi-awarded actor in dramas, his vocal talent has proven most effective in science fiction and fantasy films, such as The Lion King (where he memorably voices the villainous Scar), The Time Machine, Eragon, and Dungeons & Dragons. His exaggerated acting in the latter is generally considered a major misstep, but who could forget (among those who bothered watching the film, at least) how he growled and hissed his way through that train-wreck of a role?


Where Bill Murray is droll and dry, Robin Williams is wild and crazy. This outrageously funny comedian is known for spontaneity and unstoppable energy, and a big part of his humor manifests itself in his trademark rapid-fire, multi-accented, delirious burst of words and sounds. He has lent his signature voice to several animated characters, the most memorable of which is Genie in Aladdin, for which he won a special Golden Globe award in 1993. Whether or not you’ve gotten tired of Williams’s attention-grabbing antics, there’s no denying that you’d recognize that voice anywhere.

Many of Sean Connery’s most famous lines come from his early stints as the first James Bond, but each and every one of his films has been blessed with the actor’s Scottish drawl that many of them have been made more memorable than they deserve to be. Whether cast as a master immortal (Highlander), a king (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, First Knight), or a dragon (Dragonheart), the character is made distinctly, signature Connery because of his oft-copied voice. It is unfortunate that with his recent retirement, we will likely not be hearing too much of him in the years to come.


Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music. Two iconic movie musicals, both of which star Dame Julie Andrews. Notwithstanding the sheer catchiness of the songs in both films, Andrews’s distinctly British tone, femininely powerful, has made a lasting impact on the audiences touched by her music on stage and in film. It is still agonizing to remember that she lost much of her singing ability in the late 1990s due to a throat operation, but it is always comforting to hear her playing queens (Princess Diaries and its sequel, the second and third Shrek installments) or simply narrating a fairy tale story (Enchanted) so like those that she had made at the height of her career.


By virtue of his roles, sheer number of film appearances, and his record-setting height among actors, few film stars are as iconic in every sense of the word as Christopher Lee. He has played the Hammer Films’ Dracula, Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels, and Saruman (who surely has a magical way with words) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s easy to understand why he is cast in so many popular roles. Aside from being so physically imposing, he has that distinctive basso delivery that has made him one of cinema’s most vocally recognizable and chilling actors.


Unquestionably one of the greatest living actors, Peter O’Toole has eight Oscar nominations, and yet he has never won a competitive statuette. What an injustice! Then again, if this were a world where actors were honored as they deserved, O’Toole would have won some recognition for just sounding the way he does. His slow, deep tones lend a tragic, Shakespearean feel to every role that he plays, making one not wonder why his T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia is widely considered to be one of the greatest cinematic performances of all time. Neither is it surprising that he has played so many kings and lords on stage and in film; few can give characters such a burdened yet all-too-regal bearing. One of the most memorable characters in the critically acclaimed 2007 release Ratatouille is restaurant critic Anton Ego, who is mean and cold yet never overly reprehensible or distancing. It is unlikely that the character would have made such an impact had he been voiced by someone other than O’Toole.


Take this example: The line “Is that what they say?” from X2 is just a regular quote not meant by any stretch of the imagination to be one of cinema’s most memorable. But who can forget how Magneto said it, and several other lines in that same film? The sophisticated inflection. The way each word holds meaning. Sir Ian McKellen is first and foremost a master of the theatre, but since he started getting noticed in movies, his voice has transcended the media through which he entertains his audience. Gandalf would not have been as vulnerably regal and powerful had he not been played by McKellen. Magneto would not have been so charismatic with just his words. Just this year, he voices the bear Iorek Byrnison in The Golden Compass and narrates Stardust. There is no doubt that he will be getting as many voice-over and narration jobs in the future as he will the more traditional roles that have convinced audiences of his magnificence as an actor.


jenna said...

sir roooon! i love this entry sobra! i KNEW i recognized mrs. incredible's voice but i didn't realize it was holly hunter! james earl jones is the number one voice for me, but i also love kate hepburn since i grew up watching her films. :D

evermoon said...

Thanks, glad you liked it. James Earl Jones would have ranked higher had be done more recent voice-over work. And sadly, while many would probably remember having heard his voice somewhere, not a lot of people actually know who he is. At least not nowadays. Kate the Great...there's no one like her :p

Unknown said...

james earl jones did a skit on the letterman show (actually he just read the top ten list) during the time of the nagano olympics, check it out i think you'll like it ~.^ cate blanchett has a pretty distinctive voice too, androgynous and unique (and she played katharine hepburn so that makes it cooler. hahaha). but she happens to be my favorite actor so im probably biased :p on a final note, i think jeremy irons is fantastic. but dungeons and dragons (Ridley: "DAMODAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!!!!!!!!!" Damodar: ~salacious "manyak" grin in reply~ the sequel was even more horrible. yes i saw it. tsk) was, well...sad...

evermoon said...

Cate Blanchett is my personal acting god, so believe me, I was tempted to include her. But against all the others in my list, her voice isn't really THAT distinctive (except for us Blanchett fanatics hehe). Irons was terrible in the D&D movie. I have to disagree about the sequel, though. As a D&D player, I appreciated it much more since it stayed true to the RPG spirit of the game.

JPY said...

You've got to make an "honorable mention" list. Liam Neeson has to be there somewhere. And maybe Sylvester Stallone. Wala lang. :P