Voiceover is used in most TV and online advertisements, as well as in cartoons and explainer videos. But voiceover narration is also used in countless films to help tell the story. When used badly, voiceover narration feels hackneyed or unnecessary; when used well, voiceover narration talks directly to the viewer, creating an immersive cinematic experience. In this article, we’re going to discuss our top 5 films that use voice-over narration perfectly. Give it a read to see if your favourite voiceover performance makes the list!
Goodfellas makes good use of voiceover narration throughout, but its intro is the most memorable part and perhaps one of the most memorable film intros of all time. It starts with ‘As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster…’ and it goes on to describe how the main character (played by Ray Liotta) began his life of crime. This intro works well because it sets the tone for the entire story in the first line and in perfectly introduces the film’s protagonist. The tone is friendly, light, and informative. Starting the film from Ray Liotta’s perspective ensures that the audience is on his side from the start, even though he’s going to do many terrible things throughout the story. Good voiceover speaks directly to the audience and can help them side with the bad guys, and sometimes even root for them!
As with almost every Christopher Nolan film, much of Memento’s success relies on mystery and the gradual revelation of new information, so we’ll keep this section free of spoilers. Memento follows Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), a man who cannot maintain new memories for long, due to a head injury. Leonard is trying to find his wife’s killer. Leonard forgets everything that has happened the previous day when he sleeps and voiceover narration is used to great effect as it helps the audience get an idea of what’s going on in his head. Voice-over narration is absolutely crucial to the story, as so much of the drama is concerned with Leonard’s internal struggle to remember what’s happening — who’s good and who’s bad, etc. Voiceover gives us a direct line to Leonard’s mind, showing us what he doesn’t understand or can’t remember. A lot of the drama comes from the fact that we know something Leonard has forgotten — without voiceover, this would be impossible.
American Psycho is a disturbing story of a mentally unhinged psychopath called Patrick Bateman who goes on a murder spree in the New York yuppie scene in the 80s. Much of the film’s best moments involve voiceover, as Patrick (played by Christian Bale) talks us through his skincare routine or frets about his co-workers’ superior business cards. The voiceover work is often funny, despite the film’s dark themes. And, just as with Goodfellas, the voiceover pulls us closer to the narrator and makes us almost root for him, despite his evil deeds. As the film is more about Patrick’s unhinged thoughts, the voiceover allows the audience to hear his thoughts and understand his motivations. It’s impossible to imagine American Psycho without Bale’s excellent voiceover performance!
Fight Club is one of director David Fincher’s masterpieces, and many of the best scenes make use of voiceover narration. Fight Club was originally a bestselling novel, written by Chuck Palahniuk, and the challenge was to carry over the successful complexity of the novel to the big screen adaptation. Voiceover is often used in Fight Club to outline the narrator’s (played by Edward Norton) reflections about society, consumer culture, etc. It’s a vital tool used to tell us more about the main character. However, the best aspect of the film’s voiceover narration is that is also misses vital information! In Fight Club’s voiceover, we get such a close look at the main character that we can’t see the big twist coming! Fight Club has one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator in film and it wrongfoots the audience several times. But rather than annoying the audience by misleading them, they are delighted and impressed that the film could surprise them so much. In this way, it works much like a magic trick done right under your nose, while the magician’s sleeves are rolled up!
Morgan Freeman’s voiceover work is legendary. Since The Shawshank Redemption, he has done voiceover work for the CBS Evening News show, the narration for March of the Penguins, and several Discovery Channel documentaries. You could say that The Shawshank Redemption was the start of Freeman’s illustrious voiceover career, and it’s easy to see why... Freeman isn’t the film’s main character; he’s a secondary character, and it is with this secondary perspective that we see the story unfold. This perspective is key to the film’s success as there are key bits of information that the audience can’t know until right at the very end of the story. Another reason the voiceover narration works is because Morgan Freeman’s voice as the character Red is warm, wise, and inviting; this helps the audience feel at least slightly more comfortable in a film set almost wholly in a prison. Ultimately, despite its depressing setting, The Shawshank Redemption is about hope and about changing your life, and Morgan Freeman’s rich voice helps evoke and explore these themes perfectly. It’s impossible to imagine The Shawshank Redemption without voiceover narration, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Morgan Freeman in this role!
I hope you enjoyed our top 5 list of films that use voiceover narration perfectly! Guy Harris is an experienced voiceover artist with a wide repertoire of voices to offer different productions and commercial brands. If you’d like to work out whether Guy’s voice is right for your brand, listen to his character voiceover show reels or get in touch and ask Guy to sample your script for free!