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« Tim's Toons: Some voice actors you should know| Main| X(avier) Marks the Spot for Jessica Chastain »
Thursday
Sep 11 2014

Team Top Ten: All Time Greatest Voice Performances

Amirhere,with this month's edition ofteam top ten.As the art of acting and our interpretation of it evolve,definitions of what we consider a good performance change.It's become an annual tradition to discuss whether a motion capture performance or some "alternative"form of acting deserves to be in the awards race.Last year's topic of conversation was Scarlatt Johansson's voice work inHerand that's the topic we've turned our attention to.(Thanks toMichael Cusumanofor his suggestion!)

Voice acting has existed since cinema found sound and it has contributed to the medium in more memorable ways than a list of ten entries can represent.We were not limited in our option to animated films or any genre.So long as the voice performance was not accompanied by visual aids from the same performer (e.g.Andy Serkis's work in LOTR was not eligible),it was fair game.Naturally,our list is animation-heavy,but there were others firmly in the race likeAlec Baldwin's exquisite narration ofThe Royal Tenenbaumsor especialy Marni Nixon –of whom The Film Experience is a big fan亚博主页– who received several votes butjustnot enough.

Without further ado,here the collective top ten created from the rankings of each contributor's individual ballot

Top Ten Voice Performances of All Time

10.Peter O'Toole (Ratatouille)
Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego doesn't have much screen time inRatatouillebut his contribution to Pixar's best film outside of theToy Storytrilogy is immeasurable.The final monologue by Ego – what an apt name for the food critic,or any critic,really – has become a reference point for film writers.The text is definitive,reminding us that "in the grand scheme of things,the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."Yet,the bitter truth in the text wouldn't strike the right chords had it not been for O'Toole's sombre,elegiac tone.Remarkably balancing his authority with a palpable sense of resignation,O'Toole's final words elevate the scene beyond criticism.
-Amir Soltani

9.Eleanor Audley (Sleeping Beauty)
Angelina Jo-who?While the voluptuous star brought sexiness and unnecessary warmth to the part of Maleficent in this summer's blockbuster adaptation,she still doesn't hold a candle to the incomparable work of Eleanor Audley in the 1959 animated version.The actress bookended the 1950s for Disney through two of their most iconic creations,having also voiced Cinderella's stepmother in the 1950 version.ForBeautyhowever,she was firing on all Machiavellian cylinders as she brought a sense of immeasurable dread to what was considered to be a children's film.Her Maleficent is barely in the film,but she makes every line count.We don't need to hear her entire (or any) backstory to know that she was truly evil in ways we could only begin to imagine.In a time before villains were cool,she's the most interesting character and when she says "listen well,all of you",you couldn't pay us to ignore her command.
- Jose Solis
(more on this performance)

8 more great vocal performancesafter the jump...

8.Jeremy Irons (The Lion King)
In key ways you can see where Irons draws inspiration for Scar from previous Disney work – like the slightly bored antagonist from excellent George Sanders as Shere Khan inThe Jungle Bookor the subtle hints of macabre sensuality from Pat Caroll inThe Little Mermaid.With that in mind,Scar is just one in a long line of Disney films overwhelmed and stolen by (the voice-work of) its villains.Still,Irons manages to even surpass those two.His drawling superciliousness could get old quickly but he succeeds in making Scar's ostensible detachment legitimately charismatic and even perversely sensual.He's clearly relishing every line and Scar's every intonation becomes essential idiosyncrasies informing his character motivations.WhenThe Lion Kingis over,it's likely that any random line-reading stuck in your head is one from Scar – not so much for the line itself,but for the skill with which Irons delivers it.
- Andrew Kendall

Kathleen Turner made two other movies in 1988 but the performance people remember from that year is Jessica Rabbit7.Kathleen Turner (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
Turner's feature film debut came in 1981'sBody Heat,playing an amped-up,hypersexual version offilm noir's traditionalfemme fatale.Which made her the obvious choice to voice the same character type in the form of an amped-up,hypersexual version of a '40s sexy girl cartoon in anoircomedy.Obvious,and absolutely perfect: the insinuating sexuality that the character wields like a broadsword is given added heat by Turner's smoky line deliveries ("I'm not bad,I'm just drawn that way"is surely one of the sexiest laugh lines ever).But there's more here than turning Jessica Rabbit into,forgive me,a cartoon character.In the moments that she expresses tenderness,or fear,or pragmatism,it becomes clear that Jessica's robust sexuality is a performance,not an identity,and Turner's layered emotions make this 2-D character one of the most rounded women innoir.
-Tim Brayton

6.James Earl Jones (Star Wars)
Darth Vader was famously played by multiple actors: David Prowse,who lent him his body (and got sole credit for the first two installments of the franchise),Sebastian Shaw,whose face was the one revealed at the end ofThe Return of the Jedi,as well as –shudder- Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen.But the actor most associated with the part will forever be James Earl Jones,whose legendary baritone proved even more character defining than John Mollo's iconic costume design.Originally dismissing his own voice work as ‘special effects' (comparing it to Mercedes McCambridge's devil voice inThe Exorcist) and refusing credit,Jones nevertheless shaped one of cinema's most memorable characters by managing to gradually infuse anger,fear and regret within the character's trademark menace,without ever breaking his creepily robotic,unflappable cadence.Forget those redundant prequels: all of Darth Vader's aching tragedy was already contained in James Earl Jones' unforgettable performance.
- Julien Kojfer

5.Scarlett Johansson (Her)
InHer,a man falls in love with a voice,technically that of a computer operating system.It is feminine;inviting,enticing and sometimes challenging.Alongside the protagonist Theodore (a bespectacled,mustached,high-waist panted Joaquin Phoenix),all we have is this voice (a disembodied Scarlett Johansson).The beauty is not only in how easily it is to see (hear) Theodore falling for her,but also her own development throughout their relationship.Without falling into vamp or wisp or bot,Johansson captures our hearts with arguably and ironically one of her most full-bodied performances,from helpmate to friend to lover.She not only suspends our disbelief (she is a computer!),but eases us into a meditation on love,relationships and understanding,however projected those may be.Without her,Theodore would just be a massively creepy geek.Her performance validates his humanity as well as that of the film.Go ScarJo!
- Diana Drumm

4.Douglas Rain (2001: A Space Odyssey)
"I'm sorry,Dave.I'm afraid I can't do that."There are a million ways to read this line,and probably half a million ways to read it as the voice of a computer.But,decades before emotionless android voices practically soundtracked our lives on our phones and in our cars,Douglas Rain somehow managed to create the perfect blank slate of a voice as HAL 9000.Other voices could have worked as HAL,but what makes Rain's work transcendent is that complete and total lack of affect,the absence of anything remotely human. How effective is Rain's voice?Siri is female for a reason.
- Daniel Bayer

3.Pat Carrol (The Little Mermaid)
The Supporting Actress Smackdown has recently wrapped up,and the performance from 1989 that looms largest wasn't even on the ballot,she was animated with a pair of eel henchmen twirling around her.The Disney animators must have been beside themselves with joy when presented with Carrol's performance as Ursula.

Pat Caroll regarding her now legendary performance in "The Little Mermaid"

Does the actress have a single line of dialogue in the whole of The Little Mermaid that she doesn't twist into a dark comic classic?I can imagine,for example,a lot of actresses giving a decent line reading of "Life's full of tough choices,innit?"but it's tough to think of any performer,living or dead,making the meal of it that Carrol does.Carrol's work didn't just become the gold standard for Disney Villains.Hers is the achievement towards which divas everywhere still aspire.
- Michael Cusumano

2.Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo)
While I was somewhat disappointed to learn the list leaned so heavily on animation – I made an impassioned pitch for Roger Jackson from theScreamfilms,but to no avail – it's hard to deny that there's something about the artform that allows certain people to shine.I repeat,certain people.While we're sadly long gone from the days of voice specialists in motion pictures,I imagine that Ellen DeGeneres could have made the job a fallback position if her talk show didn't take off the way it did that very same year.Unlike Eddie Murphy inShrek,DeGeneres' "Dory"feels like much more than just an extension of her own personality.Thanks largely to a wonderful screenplay,DeGeneres elevates it a sort of strange,absurd level that is constantly surprising and unexpected.Hilarious and affecting in equal measure,DeGeneres would've been an Oscar contender if I had a say.
- Glenn Dunks

1.Robin Williams (Aladdin)
The loss of Robin Williams casts a pall over this list in a way that's hard to even believe.But say this for Williams,and never forget it: his Genie is a miracle of spirited,jazzed-up,and finally poignant character embodiment that needn't any posthumous sentiment to warrant its place here.Williams' roadrunner showmanship was never employed to greater effect,carrying "Friend Like Me"and "Prince Ali"to giddy musical-comedy highs and making himself so generously available to the audience,while still insisting on Genie's layers: so genuine despite the fatigue in his devotion to Aladdin,so heartfelt amid the hysterics in his desire for freedom,and so grateful yet hilariously full of possibility when freedom is finally granted.Williams ensuredAladdin's legacy,as well as the artistry and hard-won ingenuity of voice-only performances,by imbuing Genie with all the surprise and exuberance that the screen can possibly hold,and,really,could ever hope to.
- Matthew Eng

Previously on Team Top Ten
Best Working Cinematographer|Directors of the 21stCentury
Oscar's Best Actress Losers|Oscar's Best Actor Losers
Comic Book Adaptations|Women For Honorary Oscar
Horror Films (Pre-Exorcist)|Horror Films (Post Exorcist)
Awards Season Flops

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Reader Comments (38)

Fun list.My goal in life is to learn French so I can hear Jean Reno play the titular character in 'Porco Rosso.'

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Some great choices here.James Earl Jones might be my favorite of these and Peter O'Toole's inclusion here is inspired.His flashback is a perfect example of the little things Pixar does really well.Kathleen Turner is great,too,and she delivers what's probably the best line by any animated character ever.

I always felt Ellen DeGeneres was annoying as Dory in Finding Nemo but I'm glad it helped resurrect her career.

I'd say Eddie Murphy's Donkey in Shrek is the best of those not on here,but I know how tired that franchise is now.The first one holds up though.

There are certainly a large number of voices to choose from,and I bet I'll be thinking of others all night now thanks to this list.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

I love Joanne Woodward's narration in The Age of Innocence.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Great list.You never forget Turner and the first time you hear the line.

I also like Banderas and Saunders in Shrek.

Lansbury in Beauty & the Beast

and just about everyone in Chicken Run.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Great list!Particularly great Hal write-up!
A top fifty would be hard to narrow down.But,Peter Ustinov as Prince John in 'Robin Hood' is pure vocal brilliance."I've got a dirty thumb"could not be sobbed to more perfection.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterCory Rivard

I don't think I've ever been more out of line with the team ballot.Only 3 of my choices overlapped.If anyone's curious,my ballot looked like this:

1.Pat Carroll – The Little Mermaid
2.Edward Brophy – Dumbo
3.Douglas Rain – 2001: A Space Odyssey
4.Mercedes McCambridge – The Exorcist
5.Levi Stubbs – Little Shop of Horrors
6.Robbie Benson – Beauty and the Beast
7.Scarlett Johansson – Her
8.Michael Collins - Goldfinger
9.Christine Cavanaugh – Babe
10.James Gandolfini – Where The Wild Things Are

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Favorites by characters:

Douglas Rain,HAL 9000

Robin Williams,Aladdin
Pat Carroll,The Little Mermaid
James Earl Jones,the Star Wars saga
Eleanor Audley,Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty
Mercedes McCambridge,The Exorcist
Jerry Orbach,Beauty and The Beast
Angela Lansbury,Beauty and The Beast
Jeremy Irons,The Lion King
James Gandolfini,Where The Wild Things Are

Favorites by narrator:
Orson Welles,The Magnificent Ambersons

Susan Tyrell,Wizards (somehow uncredited and so vivid and in-keeping with this weird adult animated film)
Robert Mitchum,Out of the Past
Linda Manz,Days of Heaven
Franco Nero,Querrelle
Jean Shepherd,A Christmas Story
Woody Allen,Radio Days
Robert DeNiro,Taxi Driver
Alec Baldwin,The Royal Tenenbaums
Joanne Woodward,The Age of Innocence

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I agree with Sean & Michael - Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek is probably your biggest omission here,with James Gandolfini in Where the Wild Things Are is a close second.

Other Great Ones:

Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc.
Tom Hanks as Woody in Toy Story
Nathan Lane as Timon in the Lion King
Jack Black as the panda in Kung Fu Panda
Samuel L Jackson (and everyone else really) in The Incredibles

I'd also probably have James Earl Jones as my number one,easily the most iconic 'voice' ever.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Here are a few vocal performances that are often overlooked

Julia Roberts in 'Charlottes Web'

Roberts brings a sense of warmth and sincerity to the character that no other version has.She doesn't just see herself as Wilbur's friend,but as his surrogate mother,because she most likely knows she won't live to see her actual children.Bonus points for her final scene.

Gerard Butler in 'How To Train Your Dragon'

One of he many,MANY things to love about the movie is Butler's performance.He brings such power and yet such subtlety to the role of Stoick The Vast,a role which so easily could have been played as a monster.Luckily Butler understood that Stoick wasn't a villain,or even really a bad man.He was just a man who made a few mistakes along the way.

Teri Hatcher in 'Coraline'

HOW DID THIS PERFORMANCE NOT GET ANY AWARDS TRACTION?It's one of my favorite performances of all time.In a dual role,Hatcher brings a grounded realism to Mel Jones perfectly offset by the terrifying Other Mother.It's the latter persona where she truly excels,with every line reading sending shivers up your spine Just watch how she takes an already creepy line from the book and takes it up to eleven."You may come out when you've learned to be a loving daughter."

And also,I know this is just for films,but...

Ellen McClain in 'Portal 2'

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterConMan

Alec Baldwin's narration inThe Royal Tenenbaum'sis absolute perfection;thanks for mentioning it.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Of course,the problem with this list is that it is almost entirely comprised of actors with household names,like Robin Williams,Scarlett Johansson,Ellen DeGeneres,and Peter O'Toole.My point is not that these actors don't deliver worthy performances,but rather that their celebrity earns them a disproportionate amount of acclaim.What's so great about DeGeneres's performance?Only that you can picture how much fun she had recording it.

Meanwhile,there is an EXTENSIVE body of acting by lesser known actors--some of them specialists in voice acting--that goes unrecognized because the faces and names aren't familiar.Sterling Holloway,to give one notable omission,lent his indelible voice to several characters in Disney movies.These include Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat,both of which are iconic performances that have been imitated countless times.

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

Mercedes McCambridge in The Exorcist?

September 11,2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

i hope peter sallis as wallace (of...and gromit) was on somebody's list

September 11,2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Teri Hatcher was impressive in Coraline indeed.Count me in as surprised as well that Mercedes McCambridge didn't make it here for her work in The Exorcist.

Other performances I thought would have more love: Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel and Brad Bird as Edna Mode.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

Michael- I've got you beat,just two of my picks made the top 10:

1.Eleanor Audley,Cinderella
2.Paul Winchell,The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
3.Douglas Rain,2001: A Space Odyssey
4.Sterling Holloway,The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
5.Pat Carroll,The Little Mermaid
6.Bob Peterson,Up
7.Brad Dourif,Child's Play and sequels
8.Robby Benson,Beauty and the Beast
9.Christine Cavanaugh,Babe
10.Lucille La Verne,Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

ConMan- 10,000 times yes on Ellen McLain.Proof positive that truly magnificent acting can happen anywhere.

September 12,2014 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

Five of mine were on the final ballot,but it still saddens me to see Nixon and Jackson missing.

1.Ellen DeGeneres,Finding Nemo
2.Roger Jackson,Scream Trilogy
3.Marni Nixon,West Side Story
4.Kathleen Turner,Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
5.Douglas Rain,2001: A Space Odyssey
6.Brad Dourif,Child's Play/Chucky series
7.Robin Williams,Aladdin
8.Mercedes McCambridge,The Exorcist
9.James Earl Jones,Star Wars Trilogy
10.Eartha Kitt,The Emperor's New Groove

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

there's so many good choices that i didn't even think of - love Woodword's narration in AGE OF INNOCENCE and Levi Stubbs as Audrey 2 in LITTLE SHOP.Our collective list does seem to favor big name stars and skews pretty modern...

I posted my ballot over at my blog:
The Film's the Thing

September 12,2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Glenn - ah,Eartha Kitt.She was on my long list.Even if I couldn't find room for her,I'm delighted to see she did receive some love.

September 12,2014 | Registered CommenterMichael C.

Great list!My number one pick is definitely Pat Carroll,The Little Mermaid.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Brad Bird as Edna Mode

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterRicopolo

I loved Joanne Woodward in "The Age of Innocence"too

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterManos

FORGOTTEN:
Mickey Rourke in Sin City
Cate Blanchett intro in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring
Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life
Judi Dench spicy dragon introduction in Notes on a Scandal
Liv Ullmann in the short The Danish Poet


My Favs:
Ellen DeGeneres - Finding Nemo
Scarlett Johansson - Her
Jeremy Irons - The Lion King
Whoopi Goldberg/ Cheech Martin/ Jim Cummings - The Lion King
Peter O'Toole - Ratatouille
Atsuko Tanaka - Ghost in the Shell
Jim Caviezel - The Thin Red Line
The cast of Waltz with Bashir

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

Joanne Woodward's voice work in The Age of Innocence is exquisite.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Manuel -- those people weren't forgotten.Performances which included the actor themselves,not just their voice,were ineligible.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My personal votes:

1.Pat Carroll,The Little Mermaid
2.Ellen Degeneres,Finding Nemo
3.Robin Williams,Aladdin
4.Angela Lansbury,Beauty and the Beast
5.Samuel E.Wright,The Little Mermaid
6.Betty Lou Garson,101 Dalmatians
7.Kathleen Turner/Amy Irving,Who Framed Roger Rabbit
8.Brad Bird,The Incredibles
9.Cliff Edwards,Pinocchio
10.Teri Hatcher,Coraline

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

I grew up on Winnie the Pooh before it was annimated.I thought the presentation dull compared to the wonderful drawing of E.H Shepard.But Sterling Holloway's voice made me forgive all that.
Please let's not forget another favorite (also from E H Shepard's illustrations but more true to his vision) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.This Disney bifurcation of two unrelated stories gave us both Bing Crosby narrating Washington Irving,but also Basil Rathbone narrating Kenneth Grahame.
Basil gets my vote for the best narration of all times.And who else had a voice and persona that could be recreated in animation almost 20 years after his death?
Robin Williams is truly Number 1,but Basil is Number 1 in narration.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

I grew up on Winnie the Pooh before it was annimated.I thought the presentation dull compared to the wonderful drawing of E.H Shepard.But Sterling Holloway's voice made me forgive all that.
Please let's not forget another favorite (also from E H Shepard's illustrations but more true to his vision) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.This Disney bifurcation of two unrelated stories gave us both Bing Crosby narrating Washington Irving,but also Basil Rathbone narrating Kenneth Grahame.
Basil gets my vote for the best narration of all times.And who else had a voice and persona that could be recreated in animation almost 20 years after his death?
Robin Williams is truly Number 1,but Basil is Number 1 in narration.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

John Hurt in Dogville is everything.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterNoecitos

Mercedes,Mercedes,Mercedes!That voice almost made you smell sulfur.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I think the casts of The Incredibles and The Emperor's New Groove could have filled up 10 slots on their own.Those actors are all vocal perfection.An overlooked performance: Susie Essman is by far the best thing about Bolt.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Also: Bob Balaban in Moonrise Kingdom is a delight.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Really good list.I would add Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max in "Mary & Max".

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

Par - Peter Sallis who is the voice of Wallace would be on my list.Pity Wallace & Gromit aren't more popular here,but his voice echoes in my head every time I have a "bit of cheese".

I'm pleased to see that Joanne Woodward's fine work on "The Age of Innocence"getting recognition,let's not forget Kim Stanley who was the voice of Scout (as an adult) in "To Kill a Mockingbird"Her narration is an indelible part of that classic film.

September 12,2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I always wonder with Ellen DeGeneres' voice performance (yes,I'm young hehe) if other countries who dub animated features got a very good version too.Mine (Portugal) was amazing.So I'm always curious about that.

From this list,I agree with the picks.My top two would be Pat Carroll and Eleanor Audley.And they would be followed by my personal additions Eartha Kitt who was just fantastic (and again the Portuguese dubbed version is also very good) and Tony Jay/Frollo from Honchback of Notre Dame.

September 13,2014 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

SO glad none of those noxious Dreamworks/Shrek voice-overs made the list.Instead every entry here is a true classic and the #1 choice is as poignant as it is unassailable.GREAT job with the list Nathaniel!

September 14,2014 | Unregistered CommenterJase

Jase -- well,it's a collective list so it's the team's input.my own list is somewhat similar but i had a few more non-animated things on mine (like Mercedes McCambridge and Alec Baldwin for starters)

September 15,2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Anybody else watching this Roosevelts documentary on PBS?Meryl really nails her Eleanor Roosevelt.Had to really listen to figure out she was the one doing it.

September 16,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Brad Bird's Edna Mode is such a delight!

July 20,2015 | Unregistered Commentermyke

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