A-List | The Top 20 Most Iconic Voices in Hollywood’s History

A-List | The Top 20 Most Iconic Voices in Hollywood’s History

In Hollywood, we encounter a bevy of characters who come alive because of the amazing work of some actors and how they mold their voice. Andy Serkis‘ Gollum is unmistakable. So is Mark Hamill‘s Joker. Alec Baldwin makes his voice do flips in some of his roles. So can Cate Blanchett.

However, there are some who aren’t “voice actors.” They are simply “voices.” Individuals like Clint Eastwood, Holly Hunter, Alan Rickman, Julie Andrews, Christopher Lee, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Walken. These are the people — and honorable mentions to this austere list — who don’t need to “do things” to their voice, they just speak.

power of a voiceMost of it is recognition, but there are other things to make a stellar voice:

  • Timbre – An aspect given to sound by its overtones; a voice’s unique quality
  • Diction – The syllabic art of articulating and enunciating words
  • Tone – The character of a voice and how it sounds
  • Resonance – The quality of a sound coming from a voice

These are aspects of superb phonation, or how the voice speaks. These attributes are just not taught. Sure, a vocal coach can help improve on those things, but majestic vocal chords and golden diaphragms are just a gift from God.

Hundreds of actors in Hollywood’s history have clear voices and of those, many would be considered “unmistakable.” Yet, throughout the annals of time in La-La-Land, there are 20 that continue to keep directors, producers, and actors alike clamoring for buttery pitch and strumming chords like these people.

Their voices tell a story — not as in narration, but rather, if you listen carefully, there is sage wisdom, storied experience, and the ability to make you feel even the slightest pause. That’s the magic of the spoken word when done by these icons of inflection.

Here are the Top 20 most iconic voices in Hollywood history:


20. Tim Curry

When you’re cast as the original Pennywise or even a character named ‘Darkness‘ in Legend, you know your speaking voice has a certain flair for the macabre. Tim Curry, an Englishman whose creepy chords have been heard in TV, film, and theater — all of which gives any fan a little chill.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Dr. Frank-N-Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Judas Iscariot / The Serpent, Stories from the Bible
  • Darth Sidious, Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  • Prince Lotor, Voltron: The Third Dimension
  • Nigel, The Wild Thornberrys

19. Brian Blessed

I know what you’re thinking, “He looks familiar, but where have I seen him before?” Well, he must be acclaimed in some fashion because he’s on this list. Listen…

Prince Vultan in the flesh! Sure, he may not have the stateside acclaim you may attach to others on this list, he is one of the most respected actors — and voices — in the entire United Kingdom. Man, that is a voice made for oratory.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Grampy Rabbit, Peppa Pig (Yes, really!)
  • Santa Claus, The Amazing World of Gumball (Again, really!)
  • Narrator, A Christmas Carol
  • Clayton, Tarzan
  • Boss Nass, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

18. Sidney Poitier

The man oozes class and distinction, with a voice enriched of superior diction to match. He captured Hollywood with a slight but unrecognizable accent (it’s from the Bahamas) and instantly, the man known as “Mister Tibbs” has been revered as much as his voice has been recognized on screen and stage. Watch him speak and listen to the crowd…absolute stirred silence — the ultimate sign of respect. Hell, his speech here should have earned him an Oscar.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston, The Jackal (Sentimental Selection)
  • Walter Lee Younger, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Virgil Tibbs, In the Heat of the Night
  • Steve Jackson, Uptown Saturday Night
  • Homer Smith, Lilies of the Field

17. Max Von Sydow

A man beloved in nerd circles, he has appeared in every kind of sci-fi movie format available. From comics to book adaptations, video games to timeless fantasy, this man’s rich tone and smooth delivery influenced by a Swedish dialect has made him one of the most recognized characters in geekdom.

Here’s just a taste of why (and you could name others)…

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Father Merrin, The Exorcist
  • Emperor Ming, Flash Gordon
  • Doctor Kynes, Dune
  • Judge Fargo, Judge Dredd
  • Three-Eyed Raven, Game of Thrones

16. Sir Patrick Stewart

Talk about beloved by the nerd. This man requires very little introduction and five measly bullet points isn’t nearly enough to catch up with the list already running in your mind. His booming projectile voice of the arts is permanently attached to cinematic circles and theatrical troupes and we love him for it.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Professor Charles Xavier, X-Men franchise
  • Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Avery Bullock, American Dad
  • Vigorous Older Man / Number One, The Simpsons
  • Captain Ahab, Moby Dick

15. Avery Brooks

Avery Brooks has a voice made for voice mail. A bass-driven haze of timber and resonance. As it should be with a man who is classically trained as an actor and who plays jazz piano — even as the great Paul Robeson in a stage production about the historic pianist. His vocal presence demands attention, from stage, screen, or even the Captain’s chair. (Yes, he’s that guy. Now you get it, right?)

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • Dr. Bob Sweeney, American History X
  • Hawk, Spenser for Hire
  • Cletus Moyer, Roots
  • Nokkar, Gargoyles

14. Redd Pepper

Who? Watch the video.

You’ve heard this guy on hundreds of things — you just didn’t realize it. And when you have pipes blessed of God like Redd Pepper, you understand why he should be on this list.

(P.S. While he is one of the premier V/O guys in Hollywood, he isn’t “The Guy” of movie trailers. More on him in a minute.)

13. Lauren Bacall

When your grandfather — or otherwise older cinephile pals — thinks of “the quintessential smoky voice,” it’s her. Lauren Bacall sounds like she is a pack of Newport Menthols surgically implanted in her throat. A woman…with bass?! People could close their eyes and let her order a bag of french fries in the drive-thru all day long. This is irrefutably one of her most famous scenes. Back in the day, this was OMG viewing…and listening.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Slim Browning, To Have and Have Not 
  • Mrs. Hubbard, Murder on the Orient Express
  • Lillian Brooks, All I Want for Christmas
  • Vivian Rutledge, The Big Sleep 
  • Marcia Sindell, Misery 

12. Jeremy Irons

His voice is — above anything — versatile. Here he is actually teaching about using your voice. Genius.

Fitting, considering his multifaceted and award-winning work. He has been hero and villain; yet, his voice sounds the same. That is talent when you can convince fans of typecasting even though it has never been an issue. Most recently, if you have been watching HBO’s Watchmen, you may have already considered Adrian Veldt’s breathy delivery is one that could either rock to you to bed or lull you to psychosis.

P.S. I would mention his work as Alfred in Justice League, but…well, never mind.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Simon Gruber, Die Hard with a Vengeance
  • Scar, The Lion King
  • Tiberias, Kingdom of Heaven
  • Rodrigo Borgias, The Borgias
  • Aramis, The Man in the Iron Mask 

11. Vincent Price

The man made horror, cool. All by himself. Vincent Price has always been connected to the dark underworld of cinema, but when you are that good at being bad, why sweat it? Very few people have personified a genre as Price did with horror. The video is him reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. Damn, he’s amazing.

There is even a website dedicated to his voice. And, if you are still aren’t sure, go watch Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The narrator and that laugh… it’s him.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • The Inventor, Edward Scissorhands
  • Frederick Loren, House on Haunted Hill
  • Francois DeLambre, The Fly 
  • Egghead, Batman 
  • Professor Henry Jarrod, House of Wax

10. Charlton Heston

Fitting one of the most respected actors of this — or any — generation is largely known a voice of history. Charlton Heston has played historical figures of biblical and ancient times, better than anyone ever could. And the older he got, until he died until 2008, the better and more dignified his vocal delivery got.

If you are familiar with anything Shakespeare, you know the acclaimed speech from Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. This man knew how to capture a room. His voice was all he needed. His list of accolades could go on (and on and on), but here are five:

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Moses, The Ten Commandments
  • Judah Ben-Hur, Ben-Hur
  • John the Baptist, The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • George Taylor, Planet of the Apes
  • Henry Hooker, Tombstone

9. Sir Laurence Olivier

While compiling this post, I read a provoking quote from English playwright Charles Bennett, “Laurence Olivier could speak William Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if he were actually thinking them.” His career of Oscar nominations alone span more than 40 years (and this video is rewarding him for its culmination). In fact, the acceptance speech — beginning at 3:30 — sounds like an impromptu Shakespearean play. Really awe-striking oratory.

It’s a real shame that only classic cinephiles and film students (aside from just about every Great- or grandparent) recall his name, because his volce was plush velvet sounding above all his peers. And in the Golden Age of Hollywood, that’s saying something.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
  • Zeus, Clash of the Titans
  • King Richard III, Richard III
  • Crassus, Spartacus
  • Prof. Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula

8. Anthony Hopkins

Coming closer to our generations is a similar voice to Heston’s and Olivier’s (oddly enough, Hopkins was Olivier’s understudy in theater — this is him talking about his mentor). Anthony Hopkins can toy with his voice (see: The Silence of the Lambs or even his narration in Transformers: The Last Knight) but his vocal chords are just blessed. No ums, ehs, or butts, only a seamless recitation of copy. His soothing delivery embrace his audience, regardless of his role.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Dr. Hannibal Lector, The Silence of the Lambs franchise
  • Odin, Thor franchise
  • Dr. Robert Ford, Westworld
  • Hrothgar, Beowulf
  • Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, The Two Popes

7. Dame Judi Dench

Feminists. Incels. Man-haters. Rejoice because this woman knows how to dress a man down to his skivvies. Dame Judi Dench understands how to use her judicial oratory makes her sound part Oxford University professor, part speech therapist. Listen to her vocally smack James Bond around. She is surgical with her words, and without one stammer (or breath).

Notable Vocal Works:

  • M, ‘James Bond/007’ franchise
  • Philomena, Philomena
  • “Reader / Storyteller,” Jackanory
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Pride and Prejudice
  • Jean Hardcastle / Jean Pargetter, As Time Goes By

6. Sean Connery

Yes. If you consider what’s ahead outside of subjectivity or personal opinion, he’s only sixth on the list. And his voice is absolutely legendary. That buttery Scottish accent of his has established Connery’s voice as one of the most recognizable and distinctive in Hollywood. From 1962 to 1983, he was ‘James Bond’. That steel-jawed charisma followed him into each role he delivered to this day. Speaking of that role, listen to this interview on 60 Minutes. The man could explain origami and make it sound interesting.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • James Bond, ‘James Bond/007’ franchise
  • John Patrick Mason, The Rock
  • Ramirez, Highlander 
  • Professor Henry Jones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Jim Malone, The Untouchables

5. Sam Elliott

The mere visage of this overly mustachioed wrangler assures the audience of a bellowing Western drawl and a voice that reverberates whiskey, a box of nails, and a pack of Marlboros. A healthy amount of bass usually always makes for a memorable speaking voice (e.g., Issac Hayes, Barry White, Michael Clarke Duncan) but there is something about Elliott’s folksy delivery that livens up every script he’s ever read. Take this interview for instance:

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Virgil Earp, Tombstone
  • Gar, Mask
  • Wade Garrett, Road House
  • Bobby, A Star is Born
  • Beau Bennett, The Ranch 

4. Orson Welles

The year was 1938. And, arguably at no other time in history, people were convinced that aliens were truly attacking our humble abode here on Earth. Many people tuned into a simple radio show to hear some well-throated voice share about this extraterrestrial invasion. Panic ensued and even a few people committed suicide (true story).

NPR did some research about that fateful day when Orson Welles’ reading of The War of the World caused 12 million people to consider the thought of aliens attacking New Jersey.

According to Radiolab, about 12 million people were listening when Welles’ broadcast came on the air and “about 1 in every 12 … thought it was true and … some percentage of that 1 million people ran out of their homes.”

That is the power of oratory. That was the power of Orson Welles.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Kane, Citizen Kane
  • Macbeth, Macbeth
  • Othello, Othello
  • “Narrator”, Shogun
  • Unicron, Transformers: The Movie

3. Morgan Freeman

Arguably, the undisputed king of narration (see: The Shawshank Redemption), Morgan Freeman could be number one on a vocal talent list. He has a divine understanding of inflection, pause, and timbre. What makes his voice so pronounced is his control — the way he is able to establish emotion without raising his tone. Any time he has spoken on film as either narrator or actor, it is his semblance of control without being monotone.

He could literally read the phone book or even the U.S. Tax Code and make them interesting. What else would you expect from a man who has been both the President and God? From documentaries to major motion pictures, Freeman’s voice creates credibility and enhances authenticity. Don’t believe me? Have you even seen Shawshank? 

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
  • Lucius Fox, The Dark Knight trilogy
  • Thurgood Marshall/Frederick Douglass, Freedom: The History of Us
  • Somerset, Se7en
  • Hoke Colburn, Driving Miss Daisy

2. Don LaFontaine

When Freeman was listed as 3, there was probably a universal “huh” from those who skipped ahead and saw who’s next at number one. Yet, Don LaFontaine is the preeminent reason Hollywood is able to promote itself. Why? Three simple words…

“In. A. World.”

That iconic phrase has provided chills for cinephiles on countless movie trailers and LaFontaine is the man who not only bellowed that phrase, but also has it copywritten. It’s his, and we thank him for it. He truly is the voice of Hollywood.

1. James Earl Jones

Before we delve into the resonance and unmistakable tone of James Earl Jones’ voice, here’s a fun fact: Our Number 4 selection of Orson Welles was considered to voice the evil Sith Lord but George Lucas believed Welles’ voice was “too recognizable.” So… he went with the not-so-much voice of this Jones guy. (What?!)

The rest, as they say, is history.

Whenever his voice rumbles on a film, regardless of the content, people stop what they are doing and pay attention. That’s command in a way few people understand how to master their craft. So much so that people — many acclaimed movie fans — forget this man is a gifted actor from the sticks in rural Mississippi. A career that spans four decades on stage and screen.

And to think, if David Prowse’s voice wasn’t so mousey and unimpressive, Darth Vader would never know the supreme “pow-wah” of Jones’ pipes behind that mystical mask. A man renowned for his humility, James Earl Jones is unaccredited in the Star Wars’ or The Empire Strikes Back’s credits because he believed his “contribution” wasn’t significant enough to warrant one.

One last thing, don’t ever say you can’t achieve greatness conquering your fears — James Earl Jones took acting lessons to control a lifelong ordeal with severe stuttering.

Yes, he stutters to this day. Amazing.

Notable Vocal Works:

  • Mufasa, The Lion King
  • Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian
  • Admiral Greer, The Hunt for Red October
  • King Jaffe Joffer, Coming to America (Please, you know this has to be applauded)
  • Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

 

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