Many screen-writers consider the use of a voice-over narration to be a cheat tactic, but when used right it can be an emotive and powerful contribution to story. Here’s some of the best examples of the narrative technique.
10. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Robert Downey, Jr.
**Clip below is from the END of the movie- EPIC SPOILER**
Robert Downey, Jr. extends his cool-guy vibe to the mic while playing con-man turned Hollywood actor turned private eye Harry. What makes this such a fun story is what a terrible narrator he is – Harry frequently fumbles his lines, explains scenes out of order, looses track of what he’s talking about and keeps apologising for swearing. Adding another layer of cool and funny to an under-rated and awesome crime thriller, this is a must see. You can’t help but laugh and Harry’s manic ramblings.
9. The Princess Bride – Peter Falk
The late Peter Falk plays the quintessential Grand-dad in this classic adventure, putting the viewer in the same position as the stubborn grandson listening to a hokey tale. He sells is brilliantly, with warmth, passion and sarcasm. Breaking the fourth wall to deal with interruptions from Fred Savage and explain what happens at the end simply adds to the charm.
8. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – Linda Hamilton
Linda Hamilton’s signature character – Sarah Conner – is cemented by her careful intoning of past and future prophecies. So good is her delivery that she makes a much of mumbo-jumbo about time-travelling killer robots not only sound like serious business, but weighty dramatic material.
7. The Royal Tenenbaums – Alec Baldwin
Wes Anderson is an odd man who makes odd movies with a healthy dash of cool. With his virtually dialogue free opening montage to his second feature, we get trotted through the history of lives of the Tenenbaum family. For this task we need an odd narrator with a healthy dash of cool. Enter Alec Baldwin and his dry, charming delivery.
6. Stand By Me – Richard Dreyfuss
The strength of this movie, and the reason it sits so close to the hearts of many, is the way it manages to invoke the feelings of childhood innocence from an adult perspective. Bridging this gap as the older Gordie is Richard Dreyfuss (the younger played by Will Wheaton). A small role largely bookending the movie, he adds emotion and weight to a near-perfect film.
5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Hugh Ross
Put on the first scenes of this film and you get treated to a trifecta of film-making awesomeness. Dominik’s amazing direction, Pitt’s deep performance and the smooth tones of narrator Hugh Ross introducing us to one of our title characters in a simple but unforgettable manner. Viewer, hooked.
4. The Shawshank Redemption – Morgan Freeman
This one is a given, and will frequently be a go-to choice for most people when looking for their favourite narrator. Morgan Freeman did so well in this role that he has made frequent vocal contributions since, and has become something of a cliché in this field. Although Tim Robbins plays the lead role, it’s this observer of his story that walks the viewer through it, keeping in the dark whether or not Andy Defune is guilty and his escape plan. Freeman becomes the emotional weight of the film, often remembered as the best part of an exceptional movie.
3. Stranger Than Fiction – Emma Thompson
Harold Crick, played by Will Farrell, is a very mundane man – something we are informed of in no uncertain terms by narrator Emma Thompson. The kicker occurs when Harold starts to respond to this mysterious disembodied voice that tells the story of his life as it happens, including dropping in a mention of his upcoming death. A brilliant examination of the relationship between narrative and character, and heart-warming to boot.
2. Fight Club – Edward Norton
I’m just going to assume that you, the reader, has seen ‘Fight Club’ and I don’t need to dodge spoilers. Edward Norton as the nameless protagonist of this attack on consumerism provides a deadpan delivery that speaks directly to the Gen X target audience. What makes it even more memorable is the fact that the character suffers from a split personality, and while the voice-over narration is usually an omnipresent figure we don’t find out until the end that we’ve only caught half the story.
1. Goodfellas – Ray Liotta & Lorraine Bracco
“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be gangster.”
It’s not often that the most quoted line from a movie comes from the narrator, and that’s just one aspect of this film narration that helps it stand out. Not only does Ray Liotta tell Harry Hill’s side of the story in his trademark dry manner, but the viewer gets the flip side of the coin in the form of narration by Lorraine Bracco playing his on-screen wife, Karen. Innovative and effective.