Sometimes a movie is only worth watching for its stars — and sometimes a star is only memorable for his or her voice. filmcritic.com thought this phenomenon was so peculiar that we decided to rank the top 100 movie star voices of all time. Of course, we didn’t just limit ourselves to bad actors (though you’ll find plenty on the list). Some of cinema’s best voices belong to the greats of the profession, too. (Some, like #96, won an Oscar based on a quirky voice alone.) These are the actors whose distinct voices (or special voice work) have made movies transcend what they otherwise might have been.
100. Chris Rock – His brash indignation at the horrors of life never fails to make us perk up and pay attention.
99. Arnold Schwarzenegger – Anyone who has a soundboard that’s this much fun deserves a spot on the list.
98. Mel Blanc – Probably the most versatile and well-known animation voice actor. His name was always a mark of quality.
97. Ossie Davis – Check out his work in Bubba Ho-Tep to see how Davis continued to dominate the soundtrack with his classic Georgia drawl.
96. Mira Sorvino – Her voice work in Mighty Aphrodite won her an Oscar. That’s something, ain’t it?
95. Elvis Presley – More of a crooner than a speaker, he still made the ladies swoon every time.
94. Russ ‘Mr. Moviefone’ Leatherman – He’s not in the movies, but he talks about them daily on the Moviefone system. (Russ is a company founder who never shook the job of saying, ‘Press one ’)
93. David Duchovny – His pensive, dazed voice work always lends an air of mystery to a movie.
92. Harry Belafonte – Another fabulous singer-to-actor transition.
91. Ed Asner – How pissed off can one man be? Asner’s scowl is invariably matched by his angry delivery.
90. R. Lee Ermey – The infamous drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket is probably the reincarnation of General Patton.
89. Charo – ‘Coochie coochie coochie!’
88. Jerry Orbach – Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors offers Orbach’s rocky voice at its best.
87. Whoopi Goldberg – She has the timber in her voice to be either calming or authoritative. She can also miraculously be effective as both a female and male character in animated films.
86. Piper Laurie – Her voice is throaty, deep, and full of repressed lust, and when she tells her blood-covered daughter in Carrie, ‘I should have killed myself the first time he put it in me,’ it’s a peerless moment of black comedy.
85. Steven Tobolowsky – Nasal and geeky, Tobolowsky is invariably a show-stealer. We’ll watch a movie just because he’s got a minor role in it.
84. Kris Kristofferson – You would never imagine that the resonant, dusty twang belongs to a guy who attended Oxford. It belongs to that of a tough hombre who is at more house in a bar than taking the bar exam.
83. Jean Reno – When Reno speaks English, he manages to blend a ‘how you say’ uncertainty with a deep sense of confidence and wisdom. And, you know, he’s not too Frenchy.
82. Mercedes McCambridge – Best known as voicing the possessed Regan in The Exorcist. Yeah, you feel the creep up your neck already.
81. Hugo Weaving – ‘Mister Anderson ’
80. Elizabeth Hurley – One of modern cinema’s most seductive voices, not all bubbly and saccharine like the legion of bimbos who file out of Hollywood daily.
78. Peter Boyle – Memorable in straight-up comedy. Unforgettable singing ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ in Young Frankenstein.
77. Patricia Clarkson – Sexy and musky, Clarkson’s growl is one of the most enchanting in today’s cinema.
76. Louis Armstrong – ‘Satchmo’ actually starred in over 40 films — too bad his smooth voice was usually hidden behind a trumpet.
75. Jon Heder – His single film so far, Napoleon Dynamite, is one of the most quotable works ever. Gosh!
74. Jennifer Tilly – Probably the only female voice in cinematic history that can make you hot, while driving you crazy at the same time.
73. Lauren Bacall – The predecessor of Kathleen Turner.
72. Frank Oz – Voice of Yoda he is.
71. Ben Kingsley – Whether voicing Gandhi or a sadistic killer, Kingsley makes you pay attention.
70. Lee Marvin – A classic gravel-voice primarily working as the most memorable guy in a pile of westerns.
69. Crispin Glover – A favorite ‘odd duck’ voice. Too bad he doesn’t make more movies. Now get your damn hands off her, Biff.
68. Gary Cole – ‘Yeah, we’re gonna have to ask you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too.’ It makes us want to hate him.
67. Don ‘Thunder Throat’ LaFontaine – The #1 voice of movie trailers, LaFontaine’s growl and inimitable delivery make those 15 minutes before the movie bearable.
66. Sidney Poitier – Learned and assured, Poitier makes you feel like you’re in school and he’ll whack you if you don’t pay attention to him.
65. Robert Evans – His voice (and that cadence) epitomizes the Hollywood player: seductive, battled by late nights, and cocky enough to tell you all about it.
64. Cary Grant – He never said ‘Judy! Judy! Judy!’ but we really, really, really wish he had.
63. Katharine Hepburn – That quivering lilt is inimitable, not even by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, whose Aviator imitation strikes us as false and creepy.
61. Patrick Stewart Star Trek captains have to have memorable voices. (See also #60.)
60. William Shatner Star Trek captains have to have memorable voices. (See also #61.)
59. Scatman Carothers – When your name is ‘Scatman,’ your voice better frickin’ rock.
58. Jimmy Durante – ‘Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!’ ‘The Great Schnozzle’ made a ton of movies in addition to his radio and TV spots.
57. Peter O’Toole – Always sounds drunk (see also #99) but also British.
56. Debra Winger – Not for anything she did in, say, Legal Eagles. But Winger was unforgettably the voice of E.T.
55. Steve Buscemi – Has whining ever been more endearing?
54. Alec Baldwin – Baldwin’s got a great voice, but when he uses it in Glengarry Glen Ross to pretend he’s a dweeb has-been, it takes on a whole new level of intrigue and oddity.
53. Humphrey Bogart – ‘It’s the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.’ You can see the trenchcoat and feel the fog just by reading his quotes.
52. Hal Holbrook – He wasn’t the voice of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men for nothing.
51. Jack Lemmon – Like Jimmy Stewart or Paul Newman, there was always something about Jack Lemmon’s voice that made you root for him. Where everyone else was spinning at 33 1/3, Lemmon was at 45.
50. Kathleen Turner – One of modern cinema’s most famous female voices, Turner trained her voice lower by learning to talk with erasers stuck between her teeth.
49. Groucho Marx – Even without the cigar, Groucho stole the scene from his brothers and hapless co-stars.
48. Zero Mostel – At his height in The Producers, his deep voice is a strangely perfect match for his bug-eyed visage.
47. Bill Murray – ‘Licensed to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations. Man, free to kill gophers at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit — ever. They’re like the Viet Cong — Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that’s all she wrote.’
46. James Mason – Coolly British and elegant, yet with an edge. As Lolita‘s Humbert Humbert, Mason was perhaps the only guy that could play a borderline pedophile who you still wanted to get the girl.
45. Max Von Sydow – In his more than 100 roles, Von Sydow has defined Swedish stoicism. Whether battling Lucifer in The Exorcist or manipulating Tom Cruise in Minority Report, Von Sydow’s baritone exudes toughness and authority weathered by decades of war and tragedy.
44. Joseph Cotton – Southern gentleman or New England gangster? Cotton’s cadence sucked you in with its smoothness, then sprang an awful secret on you, making chills run down your spine every time.
43. William H. Macy – A self-described ‘odd duck,’ his Fargo accent is probably his most recognizable voice work. The rest of the time he’s a high end Tobolowsky (#85).
42. Christopher Plummer – The Canadian answer to Von Sydow (#45).
41. Robert Duvall – Nestled in permanent middle age, Duvall’s voice tells more of his confederate heritage than his California birth. In The Apostle, Duvall actually made proselytizing both hopeful and sexy.
40. Bette Davis – Impossible to imitate, Davis’s voice was alternately halting and seething, and invariably delivered through a haze of cigarette smoke.
39. Omar Sharif – His self-deprecating work in Top Secret! is a hysterical send-up of his own unmistakable accent.
38. Faye Dunaway – Even in D-grade thrillers, Dunaway plays perfectly the corporate ballbuster or the femme fatale.
37. Don Knotts – The man’s a legend. We’re using ‘man’ loosely.
36. Jeff Goldblum – Nervous, with an ‘I told ya so’ subtext, Goldblum sounds like your college physics professor after a week-long bender.
35. Maximilian Schell – The tenor from Vienna. Well, he’s probably not a tenor but it rhymes well enough.
34. M. Emmett Walsh – Walsh’s unique southern speech (he’s actually from New York) manages to sound friendly and menacing at the same time.
33. Paul Giamatti – Aggressive whining has never sounded so cool. Giamatti’s Sideways schtick stands as his most earnestly frustrated performance.
32. Mr. T – We pity the fool who doesn’t dig T’s kick-ass voice.
31. Woody Allen – Incredibly distinctive, he paved the way for neurotics like Jerry Seinfeld, Wallace Shawn (#25), and Paul Giamatti (#33).
30. W.C. Fields -His unique (and almost perpetually drunken) delivery was crucial for the development of comedy.
29. Dennis Hopper – It’s 2005, and Dennis Hopper still sounds like he’s awesomely stoned.
28. Gene Hackman – If I had to entrust my life savings with one movie star, it would be Hackman, whose calming voice is matched only by his ability to go suddenly nuts on you in films like The French Connection.
27. Walter Matthau – A classic New Yorker, and not with that grating Brooklyn accent, either, Matthau imbued his fools, politicians, judges, and everyday schlubs with the same level of smooth sophistication.
26. Peter Lorre – Cinema’s first truly menacing voice, the German Lorre sounds more like a snake than a man.
25. Wallace Shawn – When your voice is a screechy, lispy mess, how do you get half the dialogue in a feature film? Make My Dinner with Andre. ‘Inconceivable!’
24. Jimmy Stewart – Famously imitable, the stuttering Stewart is one of cinema’s most iconic voices.
23. Scarlett Johanssen – Scarlett, we love you. You know we love you. So let’s stop this messing around and just get together already. We’ll let you order dinner for the both of us.
22. Robert De Niro – You talkin’ to him? There’s no one else here, so you must be talkin’ to him.
21. Malcolm McDowell – Broke out with his innovative approach to Alex and his ‘droogies’ in A Clockwork Orange, and soon devolved into a clichéd Brit-talkin’ villain alongside Terence Stamp. Now he’s alternately playing characters like a corporate boss (In Good Company) or a dance troupe leader (The Company) in what has become a welcome revival of McDowell. Horrorshow!
20. Fred Gwynne – Deepest. Voice. Ever.
19. Sam Elliott – His gravelly narration of The Big Lebowski practically steals the show.
18. Sean Connery – Connery is always funnier in parody than in real life, but he’s still the iconic voice of Bond. ‘I’ll take the penis mightier for $400, Alex.’
17. Paul Lynde – Lynde’s whine is one of cinema’s most unmistakable lilts. For the quintessential Lynde character, check out the rat in Charlotte’s Web.
16. Vincent Price – Uncle Vinnie wasn’t just the voice of horror for his generation, he was also the face of Creamettes macaroni.
15. Alfred Hitchcock – Deep, mushy, and deadpan, the notorious Hitchcock was always ready with an off-color joke or a quip in horribly bad taste. Wonderful.
14. Samuel L. Jackson – Remember how we all quoted him from Pulp Fiction for like, five years? Yeah, it didn’t sound the same coming out of your pasty white face.
13. Marlon Brando – It was the voice, the quiet and slithery tones oozing from the tape player, speaking of a dream of a snail, that defined the dark mission of Apocalypse Now. And it was that brutish and powerful cadence that gave On the Waterfront its muscle. And, oh yeah, ‘STELLLLAAA!’
12. John Houseman – Famously imitated by Jerry Seinfeld, and for good reason. Houseman’s work in The Paper Chase sets the standard for crusty university types who really, seriously, aren’t gonna take any of your shit.
11. Anthony Hopkins – Always elegant, his distinctive eloquence brought chills to Hannibal Lecter.
10. Peter Sellers – A master of voice disguise, you can hear Sellers’ natural voice plus dead-on American and German accents in Dr. Strangelove. His far-off mutter in Being There is also a classic cadence.
9. Holly Hunter – The southern belle’s lisp is incredibly distinctive and sexy. Ironic then that she won her Oscar for playing a mute.
8. John Wayne – You know it, Pilgrim. He had the most recognizable voice in old Hollywood.
7. Al Pacino – Hoo-ah! Always over the top, and we wouldn’t have him any other way.
6. Marilyn Monroe – Rarely sober, Monroe is the archetype for dippy blondes with syrupy voices. Mira Sorvino (#96) is really just a pale imitation — and in fact, she even played Monroe in an HBO movie.
5. Jack Nicholson – Whether threatening his family through a chopped-up door or demanding a particular type of chicken sandwich from an unfortunate waitress, Nicholson’s growly cadence has become an unmistakable element of the American soundscape. It’s also become the unforgivable back-up material for unoriginal stand-up comics everywhere.
4. James Earl Jones – Jones steals the show every time he’s on screen — and every time his voice is echoing over the speakers. ‘I am your father ’ remains one of cinema’s most chilling lines ever.
3. Christopher Walken – Cinema’s most unique voice, Walken reportedly taught himself his halting manner of speech by deleting all the punctuation out of his scripts when learning his lines. You can. Understand. What that could do to your. Speech. Right? Anyway, we could use a little more cowbell.
2. Orson Welles – No one else has ever sounded so good on screen while eating so much at the same time.
1. Clint Eastwood – He wants to know if we feel lucky. He wants us to know that we all got it comin’. Somehow, just thinking of Eastwood brings to mind a piece of straw clenched between his teeth, a sneer on his face, and a big gun in his hand. Now 75 years old, Clint is looking a little frail, but he still strikes fear in our hearts whenever we hear the old man speak. Even in The Bridges of Madison County. OK, especially in The Bridges of Madison County.