To be a voice actor, you must absolutely erase yourself and brand your character in Hollywood. There are some incredible voice actors who have poured all they have into a single character. These are well-trained and premier voice actors, but they are only known as the voice for one character.
For example, can’t you just hear Shaggy from Scooby-Doo in your head? His laid-back, half-baked, and puberty-stricken tones were iconic in the 1970s-1990s.
If you know your voice actors or even disc jockeys, you know those golden vocal cords belong to Casey Kasem, the original voice of “America’s Top 40“. For decades, he was the voice of syndicated radio and the “long-distance dedication.”
There are some reading this now who are saying, “Shaggy was a DJ?” Kasem’s voice was amazing and stereotypical…dramatic pause…radio. But was he a superior voice actor with only one role to his credit? Incomparable voice, yes. Stellar voice actor, not so much.
According to this list, versatility matters. Much like we discussed in another A-List, “The Top 20 Most Iconic Voices in Hollywood’s History,” that had parameters like resonance, timber, pitch, and diction.
To be a great voice actor in Hollywood, you need:
- The aforementioned versatility — Possessing a mastery of many different vocal abilities
- Adaptability — Becoming singularly suited to your environment
- Personality — Bringing innate talent, insight, and emotion to a vocal role
- And Agility — It’s not enough to have a great voice; you must become a vocal presence spanning film, TV, or recording
If phonation is about how the voice sounds, imagination is what the voice conveys. That is part of becoming a premier voice actor. But, due respect to Casey Kasem, Yeardley Smith, Anthony Daniels, and even the no. 1 seed in the “Best Voices” list, James Earl Jones, voice actors flex in numerous ways, not just get swole in one. That’s what we are here to discuss.
Here are the Top 15 voice actors in Hollywood history…
20. Tara Strong
To give you an idea of what a daunting task this particular A-List is, we are starting with Tara Strong. One of the voice actors whose name you may not recall, but a talent you definitely remember!
She has a voice that spans generations. “Bubbles” from The Powderpuff Girls? That’s her. “Raven” on Teen Titans? Her too. What about “Ben Tennyson” from Ben 10? All Tara Strong. Her talent is unrelenting and there are few V/O roles (voice over) she can’t do. if you watched that video, you know.
19. Cree Summer
The girl is a chameleon among voice actors, in that she transcends genres, cultures, and genders. If all of these other people haven’t had so much impact in the V/O world or legacy, she’d be in the Top 10. Cree Summers is that good!
From DC SuperHero Girls (Catwoman, Hippolyta) to DuckTales (Pink Terra-Firmian), Voltron (Witch Haggar) to Starcraft (Executor Selendis), you would be stunned to see who Cree Summers has voiced in the past. Some of her characters — Numbuh 5 / Abbigail “Abby” Lincoln, Princess Kidagakash Nedakh, and Medusa — are even studied in colleges because of the personality Cree can get from her craft. Her cartoon experience is among some of the most impressive in the voice actors industry.
18. Phil Lamarr
Currently, Phil Lamarr is one of the most celebrated voice actors. His popularity is incredible considering most voice actors don’t get much visibility in rolling credits. Fun fact: He attended Yale University, where he was a member of the Purple Crayon of Yale improvisational comedy group. That much be why his agility is phenomenal.
For starters, Phil Lamarr is Static Shock and Samurai Jack (and 44 other characters on that show). He is also one of the most sought after voices with adultish cartoons — Futurama (Hermes Conrad, Ben Rodriguez), Family Guy (Fat Albert, Ollie Williams), The Weekenders (Carver), Harvey Birdman (Black Vulcan), and Justice League: Unlimited (John Stewart).
And that’s why people are groaning that he is seeded so low. There are just so many legends in this list. You’ll see…
17. Jim Cummings
Okay, let’s talk about versatility. Imagine these voices bouncing off each other in your head: Darkwing Duck to Monterey Jack (Rescue Rangers). What about Goofy’s nemesis Pete to sweet honeypot Winnie the Pooh? That’s all the work of Jim Cummings. If you have watched a TV cartoon, odds are you have heard this voice actor on full display.
And if that range doesn’t impress you, how about this? Remember the sinister duet on The Lion King where Scar is singing with the hyenas “Be Prepared?” Legendary on soundtracks, right? Well, Jeremy Irons blew out his voice and couldn’t finish the song during taping. Cummings was called in to the rescue. How did they get him so fast? He was also the lunatic hyena, Ed.
16. Charlie Adler
As soon as you watch this video, you’ll be like, “Oh! He’s that guy?!” Charlie Adler isn’t a household name among actors, but as one of the best ever voice actors, he’s legendary. G.I. Joe fans? Meet Cobra Commander. Marvel Avengers (video game and cartoon) fans? Meet MODOK. Transformers (movies and cartoons)? He’s Starscream. Marvel Super Hero Squad? He’s Dr. Doom.
We could go on about his accolades, but if you need a villain…or a really cute character (e.g., Buster Bunny in Tiny Toon, Cow and Chicken from Got Milk, or even Spike from My Little Pony), Charlie Adler is usually the first call from Hollywood.
15. Billy West
Among the list of modern voice actors, Billy West is among the most diverse. For those who may recognize his name, yes…he is the same Billy West who was heard on The Howard Stern Show for many years.
Considering this guy is the one Warner Bros. asked to fill in the colossal shoes of the No. 1 seed on this list for Space Jam, that alone gives him street cred. Add to that, he was the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, and the oodles of voices on Futurama, Billy West is a voice that impresses everyone.
14. Nancy Cartwright
Don’t ever say a woman can’t do a man’s job. Ever. Well, at least a boy’s job. That is precisely what Nancy Cartwright has shown voice actors everywhere. In 1991, she landed the role for Bart Simpson and has been one of the world’s most famous petulant 10-year-old child ever since.
And if you think all she has done is Bart Simpson and other characters on the show, you’d be wrong. It wouldn’t matter because she is Bart effin’ Simpson, but Chuckie Finster on Rugrats and Rufus the mole-rate in Kim Possible would be here too. She is a legendary voice actor for providing gender doesn’t matter with skill among voice actors.
13. Seth MacFarlane
The guy may be an unconscionable douchenozzle in real life, but behind a mic, Seth MacFarlane is as talented as they come. He writes, acts, producers, and if you’re not paying attention, he’ll host the Academy Awards and sing like as platinum recording artist.
From Family Guy to American Dad, the guy has made an indelible impression upon today’s youth with his solid voice over work. There are even others you may not know was him, like Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, Dexter’s Laboratory, and I Am Weasel. Why does Seth attract so much? Before he was one of the great voice actors, he was an animator and writer for Hanna-Barbera. He’s pretty good.
12. Dan Castellaneta
Due respect to Yeardley Smith and the aforementioned Nancy Cartwright, The Simpsons may not be the same without Dan Castellaneta. Imagine someone else voice acting Homer and Grandpa Simpson, Barney Gumble, Groundskeeper Willie, Krusty the Clown, Mayor Quimby, and the Pimple-faced Teen. Unfathomable, right? In fact, he was 22 different characters in The Simpsons Movie.
You like the Robot Devil on Futurama? That’s him too. Did you play “Kingdom Hearts”? He was Aladdin’s Genie. Ever see The Cat in the Hat movie? Thing 1 and 2 featured Dan’s voice as well. The man is “stupider like a fox.” Woohoo!
11. Peter Cullen
Peter Cullen may, in fact, be a victim of his own stellar success. While he has done more than 200 characters in 82 shows and movies, he has made his stamp on two distinctive voices. May I present Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh fame. Yeah, depressed and dejected Eeyore. On the other side of the spectrum? This is Optimus Prime!
That baritone voice is incomparable among Saturday morning cartoons. Man, imagine that voice is your grandfather! Peter Cullen is exalted among voice actors because of his professionalism and dedication to his craft. In fact, he’s been Prime so long, he remembers when the leader of the Autobots was Orion Pax!
Yet, this is also Red Skull in various Spider-Man cartoons. He has been Venger in the ’80s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. Oh, and about Transformers, the voice of Prime was also Ironhide, Streetwise, Slugslinger, Wingspan, and Nightstick.
Another fun fact: Cullen was the original…eh, “voice” of The Predator.
10. Kevin Conroy
If Kevin Conroy hadn’t performed in other roles, he may not have been considered for one of the best voice actors in history based on these parameters. But that is friggin’ Kevin Conroy. The man is revered for making Batman in any animated series alive, tangible, and addictive. He’s already the best Batman actor to some people. But he is definitely a case study for a long and successful career among voice actors.
From Thomas Wayne to Bruce Wayne and Batman in more than 50 different animated TV shows, series, and video games, he is the definitive Batman. So much so, that when fans watch Ben 10, they have no clue Conroy is Bellicus or Alien X. Jonny Quest fans may be surprised to know “Batman” is also Hardman. Turbo F.A.S.T.? Conroy is Stinger. The Venture Bros.? Conroy is also Captain Sunshine.
The point is this: Listen up. Even though you are branded as one voice, doesn’t mean you can’t do others. Kevin Conroy is gratifying proof of that. (So is No. 8 on this list.)
9. John DiMaggio
John DiMaggio is one of the most respected voice actors working today. He has this gruff voice and uses its in supreme ways. Bender in Futurama. Dr. Drakken in Kim Possible. Rico in The Penguins of Madagascar. Jake on Adventure Time. And then, he waxes in gaming as the extremely popular Marcus Fenix in Xbox’s “Gears of War.”
He has worked for both comics: Marvel (Piledriver, Bulldozer) and DC (Chief Harvey Bullock, Arthur Curry, Mr. Freeze, Gorilla Grodd, Lobo). Star Wars picked him up in “Lego Star Wars: All-Stars” (Baash, Pru Sweevant). So did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Joey the Junkyard Dog). And on Ben 10, he was — we counted — 41 different characters. Incredible.
8. Mark Hamill
This may be surprising for those not in the know. That’s Luke Skywalker! But, that isn’t all he is. In fact, if you’re a fan of the DCAU, you know this Master Jedi is also a remarkable Joker. He does so much more than offers his voice; he becomes that character. It’s like Mark Hamill is the Daniel Day-Lewis of animated voice actors.
Yet, that is nowhere the end of his illustrious portfolio. Many geckaphiles are fans of Regular Show. They know Hamill was Skips. Did you know he has done work for Marvel also? Hamill was both Red Skull in Marvel Super Hero Squad, Klaw in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes, and Arnim Zola in Ultimate Spider Man. LEGO loves him too, where he was Joker, Trickster, and Sinestro. And then, there was Chucky in the Child’s Play reboot.
The Force is so with him!
7. Daws Butler
You may not know it, but Saturday morning cartoons wouldn’t sound the same without voice actors, namely Daws Butler. For many who never studied him in school (like I was asked to do), that name may mean nothing. But his voice does…
Yogi Bear. Huckleberry Hound. Snagglepuss. Quick Draw McGraw. Elroy Jetson.
Think about that legacy. What made Daws Butler unique is he created backstories for each of his characters. It helped him understand who they were, even if the audience never required that aspect of characterization. Many traditional and voice actors have Daws Butler to thank for the impact of storytelling, even if it was a Capn Crunch commercial (he was Crunch’s first voice).
6. Frank Welker
Near the middle of the Top 10 of voice actors is a man who has a nice living on giving non-living things a memorable voice. From tigers (Rajah from Aladdin) to crickets (Cri-kee in Mulan), Frank Welker has been the voice of the unspeakable.
Even a floating gun spraying havoc on the autobots. Yes, Frank Welker was Megatron in all those great cartoons from the 1980s and the Transformers video games from the 1990s forward. If you take all his voices from entertainment, his features have grossed more than $6 billion!
5. Tom Kenny
Much like previous entries in this illustrious list of voice actors, Tom Kenny is regarded for his long-standing and standard-breaking work as SpongeBob SquarePants. The guy is a legend and put a spotlight on work through his agility and diversity.
The Ice King in Adventure Time? Mayor in Powderpuff Girls? Spyro in Spyro the Dragon? Even Dog in CatDog. Tom Kenny was all of them. It seems like each character he does becomes a staple in animated characters. When you’re that good, it happens.
4. Don Messick
The illustrious career of Don Mesnick began with cereal. Yes, like he was the voice of both Snap and Pop. Actually, he began as a ventriloquist, which has helped one of the most prolific voice actors in history manage simplicity and effort with his work.
Don Messick has garnered a multitude of work from the span of a few franchises…that gave him a slew of opportunities. Think about this:
- The Adventures of Scooby Doo – 35 characters (including Scooby Doo)
- The Smurfs – 4 characters (including Papa Smurf)
- The Flintstones – 8 characters (including Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm)
- Yogi Bear – 3 characters (including Boo-Boo Bear)
- Jonny Quest – 3 characters (including Dr. Benton C Quest)
- Space Ghost – 8 characters (including Blip and Zorak)
- Wacky Races – 7 characters (including Muttley)
Among voice actors, few compare to this remarkable talent.
2b. Jim Henson
If the next guy is a “wizard”, Jim Henson is an absolute mage or sorcerer. No one can think of him and not hear Kermit the Frog (among 100s of other Muppets he created). As he says in this great video, “the Muppets appeal to the child in everybody.” Amen to that.
[Yes, at one time, Arsenio Hall had the most amazing late-night talk show on TV. And that will be Kermit sitting next to the great LeVar Burton of Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fame! P.S. Jim Henson “cusses” and it’s great.]
Honestly, Frank Oz and Jim Henson are tied. There is no separating these two stellar minds of imagination. Stop-motion and motion-capture and even CGI wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the work of puppeteering in Hollywood. These voices — Ernie, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, and more than 75 others in Muppets alone — allowed people to dream, and they still can’t keep up to Jim Henson’s big brain. And no one ever will.
2a. Frank Oz
The Wizard of OZ! There’s only one person who could ever come before Frank Oz and you’ll read about him next (in case you have never guessed it). This is the genius behind Yoda, Fozzie Bear, and even Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.
The man is a first class puppeteer. He and Jim Henson changed how movies were made with characters. Without him, Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Animal, Bert, and Grover would have never been seen in the Muppets or Sesame Street. To do all that he did and still invent some of the most iconic children characters in history?
He truly is a wizard above all else–a mastermind of what it means to look beyond a stuffed creature and see the imagination within. No wonder he was one of the most famous Jedi?!
1. Mel Blanc
If you think anyone would have led this other than Mel Blanc, you really should reconsider your nerd membership card. The man earned the moniker as “The Man of a Thousand Voices.” Among voice actors, few are considered as influential and respected as Mel Blanc.
If it weren’t for him and his prolific talent, many would disregard the work of voice actors. Back in the 1960s, Warner Bros. (and many other studios) thought it would be too “behind the curtain” to showcase voice actors. It would ruin the believability of the cartoon characters, they believed. Looney Tunes changed all that.
Mel Blanc was the original voice for Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, and even the “Beep Beep” from the Road Runner was Blanc. That untold talent forced WB’s hand and voice actors were given screen credits moving forward.
Oh, he was also many more characters voices you grew up loving, adoring, and impersonating. Mel Blanc is the absolute GOAT of voice acting. There will never be another.