Top 10 Voice-Overs In Film

By April 9, 2011Top 10 Lists

In Adaptation, Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) cries, “God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That's flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.”

To a certain extent, he is correct. A lot of films use voice-over to no real effect. They tell you what you already see on the screen. Or they explain something that, with a little bit of brainpower and imagination, you could have worked out for yourself. Or they inform you about something that would have been better off left alone, for the audiences to stew on. But no. Some filmmakers just think we’re idiots and insist that every single bit of information is spoon-fed to us.

“Everything I have written is genius. I don’t want them to miss a single, clever bit of it. But they’re morons, so I’ll shove in some voice-overs to really hammer it on home.” I’m not saying that all filmmakers who use voice-over in this way are that patronizing; most of them probably don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s just safer for them to assume that we won’t be able to figure it out.

But then there are some screenwriters and filmmakers that’ll use voice-over to compliment the work, and without it, I would argue that the film would not be as good. Their use of voice-over challenges the viewer, in some cases even upset the viewer. Either way, they will expect the viewer to do something with this narration, rather than just mindlessly breathe it in.

Some writers will use voice-over to add a bit of reality to a situation that seems fantastical. Some will use it to create ironic tension. One of my favourite uses is to lull the viewer into a false sense of security. And then, boom. The character you’ve put your faith in, the character you’ve trusted throughout the film and started to like… well, he’s actually a serial killer. And most of what he’s said didn’t actually happen. And he’s dead. How do you feel about that? Cheated? Horrified? Violated? Good. You shouldn’t always believe everything you hear!

But before we dive into these Top 10 films, it’s important to clarify what I mean by “Best Movie Voice-Overs.” I do NOT mean the Top 10 best films (and screenplays) that have some voice over in them. More importantly and specifically, I mean the Top 10 best uses of a voice over in film.