I’ve always had a fetish for movies with voice-over narrations. To me, it is the most compelling and effective technique used in storytelling. In many ways, the voice lets us pierce into the mind of the character. Voice-over narration, while being told from the perspective of the narrator, gives us a clear picture of the story. Having said that, it could also turn out to be the most annoying distraction that hampers the entire viewing experience of the film when overused or could render the movie ineffective when not used proficiently. This article takes a look at the list of top movies with voice over narrations. You can some of these narrative movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s stylish noir tells the story of a faded silent film star and her strange, bizarre relationship with an unsuccessful screenwriter. The film features one of the best uses of voice-over narrations in cinema as Joe (Played by William Holden) narrates his story and the events leading to his death. With a voice that is immensely powerful and truthful, Holden’s voice-overs guide us into his mystical past life with Norma Desmond as the film explores the themes of love, lust and desperation.
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9. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Steven Spielberg once described Stanley Kubrick as, “a chameleon who never made the same picture twice.” And there couldn’t have been a better description of the man. With every film, Kubrick created a universe of his own; with every film, he challenged his audiences with complex, unconventional narrative structures. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is one of the few instances where Kubrick stuck to a conventional voice-over narrative. Kubrick draws us into his disturbing dystopian world through Alex DeLarge’s eerie voice-overs, making it impossible for us to look away from the film for the slightest moment. The film is told from Alex’s perspective as his character goes through a plethora of complex emotional and psychological changes while Kubrick ensures his connection with the viewers via the voice overs.
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8. Fight Club (1999)
Oh boy! Not a single day goes by without seeing at least a post or a quote from this masterpiece of a film. Even after almost two decades since its release, the echoes of Edward Norton’s famous voice-overs in the film are still vivid and fresh. ‘Fight Club’ is a raw portrayal of a disturbed man’s psyche and Edward Norton plays an everyman who has grown increasingly tired and saturated of his corporate job and life of luxuries. The film has a resounding impact on today’s generation; a generation shackled and slaved by the evil of technology. It uses a classic deception technique via the voice-overs as we are almost forced to believe the narrator until the final dramatic revelation takes place, boggling our minds forever.
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7. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Bryan Singer’s 1995 cult classic mystery thriller features one of the most famous voice-over narrations in cinema history. The film follows Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), a cripple who narrates the story of a shootout to a customs agent and tells stories about a mysterious drug lord named, Keyser Soze. The narrations are quite revealing as the story Verbal tells gets increasingly complex and convoluted. The film outsmarts its viewers with the technique and Kint’s apparently gentle and innocuous look of innocence skilfully deceives the audience. Kevin Spacey’s infectiously powerful and enigmatic voice-over in the film is one of cinema’s most iconic and memorable ones.
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6. Goodfellas (1990)
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” This is the first line of Ray Liotta’s voice-over narration that we get to hear in Martin Scorsese’s iconic gangster flick, ‘Goodfellas’. And right from then, we are instantly hooked to Henry Hill’s life as we see him go through the many ups and downs of his life that is embroiled in crime and violence. ‘Goodfellas’ romanticizes the glamorous lives led by Italian-American gangsters in New York and we see them all through the eyes of Henry Hill. Hill’s narration of the events of his life is engaging, compelling and powerful.
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5. Adaptation (2002)
If ever there has been a man who could perform an autopsy of the human mind, he is Charlie Kaufman. The man has written some of the greatest screenplays of the 21st century and is regarded as one of the finest screenwriters of all time. This 2002 Spike Jonze directed comedy drama chronicles Kaufman’s own struggle to adapt ‘The Orchid Thief’ into a film. In one of the most profoundly affecting and moving uses of voice-overs in cinema, the film pulls us deep into the minds of the characters as we experience and connect with the delicate intricacies of the complex human psyche through the characters’ voices tinged with emotions of pain, rejection and confusion.
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4. Taxi Driver (1976)
Voice-over narrations have been a prominent part of Martin Scorsese films over the years. And he is one of the few filmmakers who has often succeeded in using voice-overs masterfully as a powerful storytelling technique. But it was in his 1976 magnum opus, ‘Taxi Driver’, where he used the technique to astonishing effects. ‘Taxi Driver’ tells the story of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a lonely, insomniac Vietnam veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York City. Through his voice-overs in the film, we learn that Travis is torn by the city’s surging crimes and violence and is desperate to revolt against the society and the government. Bickle’s timely voice-overs get creepier and intriguing as we see him gradually getting ensnared in the web of madness and paranoia.
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3. The Thin Red Line (1998)
It takes a sheer eccentric mind to turn something as dreadful and horrifying as war into a memorably beautiful and hauntingly surreal experience. Terrence Malick, one of cinema’s greatest visionaries, is a maverick who valiantly defies the conventional cinematic norms with his visually stylistic narratives brimming with philosophies of human isolation and the ethereal beauty of nature while often incorporating meditative voice-overs in his films. But perhaps his most effective use of voice-overs came in this 1998 masterpiece, ‘The Thin Red Line’; a war film that is not really about war but about those shattered spirits behind guns and bullets. The voice-overs from various characters throughout the film help us pierce into their psyche as their longing and desperation for love and solace amidst bullets and bombs become palpable.
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2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The easiest pick for the list. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is perhaps the most beloved film of all time and for a number of great reasons; the most important one being the film’s enthralling use of voice-over narration. Morgan Freeman’s exquisitely hypnotic and eloquent vocal narrative style immensely contributes to the world’s undying romance with the film. In Red, Freeman gave us the most lovable prisoner in cinema. And I can hardly recall any other film that makes the lives in prison so intriguing and absorbing. The sporadic use of voice-over narration entangles us with the fettered lives and souls of the prison as we see through them throughout their years of fun, laughter and tears. Some might argue that the voice-over in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is the best ever in cinema. But wait..
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1. Apocalypse Now (1979)
You realize the power of cinema when a single shot encapsulates the whole story. The madness of ‘Apocalypse Now’ is seen through those eyes and felt through his voice. The greatest movie ever made on the darkness of human minds also features the best use of voice-over narration in cinema. Right from his iconic “Saigon” opening line, Captain Willard is the man whom we identify with the most in a number of ways. We may never have or will probably ever witness what Willard has in our lives. But he renders us a voice; a voice that ceaselessly haunts us, a voice that paints the schizophrenia of Vietnam. Through him, we question the moralities created by a civilized society masked with hypocrisy and megalomania. His journey into an obscure village in Cambodia to assassinate an enigmatic renegade army officer serves as a visual metaphor for a human being’s gut-wrenching voyage into the minds of darkness. Martin Sheen’s cold narration captures the enigma, the madness and the pain of what we fear the most: “The Horror…..”
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