Voice Force

Where the industry listens.

March 26, 2020

7 Movies with Excellent Narration

And where to stream them!

Every screenwriting book and teacher will tell you, you’ve got to have a great reason for narration in your film. It must add a new dimension of story that couldn’t otherwise be shown onscreen. And even then, narration is often used sparingly. This list has some of our favorite inner monologues, omnipotent storytelling, and wry commentary. Enjoy these excellent examples of film narration you can stream today!

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Thus Ray Liotta’s voice sets in motion the classic mob movie Goodfellas. Director Martin Scorsese is known for deftly incorporating narration into his films; other exemplars include Wolf of Wall Street and Taxi Driver. Those films and this one succeed in no small part because the narration deepens the context of each scene and simultaneously makes you mistrust the information given.

Liotta, playing ambitious mobster Henry Hill, gives the audience a bait-and-switch multiple times—leading us to believe the story will turn out one way when the visuals take a very different turn. His inner thoughts becomes progressively more ragged and worn-down until they unite with his testimony in trial: the ultimate unreliable narrator recounting his misdeeds. It’s a roller coaster of tension, playing out a second story to what we’re seeing on screen.

Where can I watch?

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Goodfellas can be found on Netflix

The Shawshank Redemption

Morgan Freeman

Much has been said (and impersonated) about Morgan Freeman’s calm, shrewd voice. In The Shawshank Redemption, we can hear where that all started. He underscores each scene with poignance and a wry wit. He highlights what we’re seeing with an extra layer of depth and humanity that enhances our understanding of his character Red rather than telling us what we already know.

In opposition to the unreliable narrator, Red is the storyteller we need to help process what we’re feeling from the visuals. He controls the tone of the film, uplifting a story about whether Tim Robbins’s Andy Dufresne committed murder into a cathartic experience of self-reckoning and, yes, redemption.

Where can I watch?

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The Shawshank Redemption can be found on Netflix

Winnie the Pooh Franchise

Sebastian Cabot, David Ogden Stiers, John Cleese, and many others

Winnie the Pooh, a bear with a penchant for honey and kindness in equal measure, has been captivating the young and young at heart in animation for over 50 years. He and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood get up to adventures in shorts, feature films, and TV series spanning the decades.

One thing that unites nearly all of these mediums is the voice of Mr. Narrator. He’s reading to us from the storybook, which occasionally the characters themselves comment on, popping out of the illustrations, tumbling down the margins, and playing with the letters themselves. Always keeping things on track with good-natured humor, the Narrator is as essential to the stories of Pooh as pots of honey.

Where can I watch?

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Winnie the Pooh can be found on Disney+

Sunset Boulevard

William Holden

In Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic, Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) begins the story as a corpse in a pool. His disembodied voice then guides us into the past, into a world as peculiar and off-putting to midcentury audiences as to those of us in the modern day: the corrosive influence of wealth and celebrity. We all know of famous people, but what happens when our image of them becomes the only identity they themselves know? And what happens to those caught in collateral damage?

Gillis, a hack screenwriter, becomes acquainted and the codependent on fading silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), and his narration of her inevitable instability, and his indifference, is unflinchingly honest. What he’s seeing grounds us and blows away the stardust of Hollywood in a gripping noir thriller that absolutely holds up 70 years (!) later.

Where can I watch?

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Sunset Boulevard can be found on Prime Video

In a World...

Lake Bell

Actor, writer, director Lake Bell noticed a pattern—the omnipresent narrator for trailers was with few exceptions a male voice. This inspired her to craft an insightful screwball comedy that also probes deeply into a male-dominated profession that hadn’t received much scrutiny. 

Her character, Carol Solomon, is a voice coach who makes it her goal to be the first female voice for a major film trailer—you know the kind: “in a world…” Bell’s voice is superbly suited for an exploration of the voice industry, and the film’s skewering of the personalities we all know and love (and love to hate) is just superb.

Where can I watch?

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In a World... can be found on HBO Go and HBO Now

Apocalypse Now

Martin Sheen

“The horror… the horror.” Apocalypse Now is a legendary film, and stories about its making have surpassed the popular knowledge of the film itself (see Animaniacs episode “Hearts of Twilight”). In a bid to rescue a production gone long over budget and over schedule, director Francis Ford Coppola hired Vietnam War journalist Michael Herr to write narration for Michael Sheen’s protagonist Captain Willard. 

This narration simultaneously deepens our understanding of the trauma and existential angst Willard was facing in deployment, but also distances us from the action, allowing us to wonder if what we’re seeing is ethical, accurate, or even attached to reality. Much like the war itself, the film is a harrowing journey into moral ambiguity and truth itself.

Where can I watch?

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Apocalypse Now can be found on HBO Go and HBO Now

Raising Arizona

Nicolas Cage

The Coen brothers have a penchant for riding a line between mania and sanity in their storytelling, between caricature and realism. Nicolas Cage’s narration of his character Hi McDunnough is no exception. He’s the final layer of varnish on a painting of exquisite weirdness.

McDunnough and his wife (Ed, played by Holly Hunter), two down-and-out Tempe, AZ, residents, devise a plan to kidnap a wealthy couple’s baby after discovering they can’t have a child of their own. These are sympathetic characters, and Hi’s narration increases our fondness for them and their situation. What could be a madcap romp about two scofflaws becomes a fantasy about family and devotion.

Where can I watch?

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Raising Arizona can be found on HBO Go and HBO Now