Voice actors have gone from relative obscurity to cultural powerhouses in very little time; what was once a niche profession filled with relative unknowns now sports its own share of household names. With a history that spans over 100 years, you can bet all sorts have made the voice acting profession their home. Today, we’ll take a look at some of those distinguished personalities that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Some started as voice actors and then went all the way into becoming movie stars. That was definitely the case for Seth McFarlane, creator or cultural behemoths Family Guy and American Dad. Seth is not only well-known for his brand of droll, acid humor, but also for his insane talent as a voice actor. To date, he’s won four Emmy Award for voice acting out of a total of five.
After all, what can’t Seth do? He can voice a talking dog who likes waxing philosophical one minute, and a Hannibal-Lecter-inspired infant the next; he can write, act, sing, dance, and he’s certainly found a way into our heart of hearts. For all of these talents, but especially his knack for voicing memorable characters, he’s well-suited to this list.
Even if Family Guy’s endlessly mocked for its endless torrent of “Remember that one time when…” cutaways, never change, Seth. Never change.
James Earl Jones
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 45 years (how’s the weather down there?), you know Darth Vader. But while British bodybuilder David Prowse played the hulking Sith Lord onscreen, it was James Earl Jones who truly made Anakin Skywalker fearsome.
With his booming, earth-shaking bass, Jones made even Vader’s simple commands a thunderous force to be reckoned with. What’s even more puzzling is that he initially didn’t even want to be credited for his performance, considering it “special effects” — talk about humble! Thankfully, George Lucas finally listed him as Darth Vader’s voice in Return of the Jedi, and the rest is history. (Or should we say canon?)
Many voice actors would kill for half of Jones’s varied and prolific career as a thespian. From stage to film, he’s had his share of iconic, challenging roles that should never be forgotten. Still, it’s his enduring legacy as the Dark Lord of the Sith that gives him his well-deserved place on this list.
Garfield, anyone? That alone should have most of you kowtowing, but that’s not all! Over his career spanning more than six decades, he’s done plenty. From impressions to stand up and voice acting, Frank’s been around the block; heck, just mentioning he’s voiced Fred in Scooby-Doo since the show’s 1969 inception should be more than enough to garner insane respect. Can you imagine more than 50 years playing the same character? That’s more than most of us have been alive!
But if you’re a little hard o’ heart, no worries. Knowing he’s voiced Megatron, Soundwave, and Galvatron in the Transformers franchise should warm you up a little bit. But overall, as a stalwart among voice actors, Frank Welker certainly deserves all the praise he can get.
Hey, you didn’t think we’d leave video games out of the running, did you? While not everyone grew up playing them, they’ve certainly become one of the prime mediums for storytelling in current times. If one had to think of the voice of videogames in the 2000s, 2010s, and beyond, it’s definitely Nolan North.
Born in 1970, Nolan North has been in everything and played everyone from Oswald Cobblepot to the Prince of Persia. Still, it’s probably his role as Nathan Drake in Naughty Dog Studios’ Uncharted that’s earned him his biggest claim to fame. After all, who else could play such a rogueish, chummy take on the Indiana Jones trope and come out with an award-winning character that stands on his own merits?
North’s turn as Drake not only sold millions of Playstations and won Naughty Dog many well-deserved accolades; it also cemented North’s fame and brought renewed attention and respect for voice actors in general. He not only gave voice to the character but famously mo-capped most of his moves in Naughty Dog’s now-famous “total performance” style, second to none among studios specializing in cinematic games.
Nolan himself shows no signs of slowing down and continues to voice everything from bit parts in gaming and animation to main characters in major projects. One thing’s for sure: if you check out a video game’s cast list, chances are you’ll find him somewhere in there.
Remember what we said above about famous voice actors and actors with famous voice-over careers? Mark Hamill is the physical embodiment of doing everything right. Sure, yeah, he’s played Luke Skywalker and become the internet’s putative cool uncle on Twitter. But something not everybody knows is just how much of a talent Mark is behind the mic. (And we don’t mean he’s droppin’ rhymes.)
Hammil’s main claim to voice acting fame is, without a doubt, his majestic turn as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series. He’s informed so much of how the character is portrayed both in and out of animation that it’s hard to think of a vocal take that does not take after Mark’s in some way, shape, or form. He’s continued to imbue the character with life for decades, both in animated films and shows and in the award-winning Arkham video game trilogy.
For now, it seems Hammil’s done with the character. While his easing back into Luke Skywalker’s shoes has us saying “never say never,” it was a legendary run. That alone makes him worthy of his spot on this list.
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