Let Us Now Praise the Great Voices of the Movies…

Mel Blanc may have been the king of voice actors for cartoons. But who are the great “unseen voices” of live-action moviemaking?

James Earl Jones looms large. Is there any voice that gets your attention like Darth Vader’s? Christine Cavanaugh gave us the voice of Babe in Babe. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Dave Goelz brought our favorite Muppets to life, and Oz also gave us the voice of Yoda. But I’m inclined to disqualify voices applied to puppetry, since that’s so akin to voicing animated characters.

Why am I pondering this today? Because I just read Mike D’Angelo’s comments on Letterboxd about the new Spike Jonze movie Her. Describing Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the voice of an operating system in that film, D’Angelo writes:

… Scarlett Johansson has played an alien and a computer program this year and given her two best performances since Ghost World. What she does here is astonishing…and I don’t even know how to describe it, because there’s nothing remotely flashy or striking or unusual you can point to. She’s just incredibly alive, in a role for which that’s by far the most crucial attribute. … I’m confident that a computer will one day pass the Turing test, but the highest compliment I can give Johansson is that she hadn’t spoken more than maybe four or five sentences before I thought “there is no way any machine will ever seem this human.”

So think it over. Which voice-over work for live-action movies do you think was good enough to deserve acting awards?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • Bob Denst

    Douglas Rain as HAL 9000, perhaps. Along the same lines, Kevin Spacey as GERTY in “Moon” was also pretty good.


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