Voice acting doesn’t usually bring the level of fame and recognition as the other kind of acting (otherwise known as, well, acting.) Voice actors operate behind the scenes, and the characters they portray are remembered for the character in and of itself, rather than the man or woman who voiced it.
Here are ten voice actors who consistently show up in everything from Saturday morning cartoons to live-action blockbusters, bringing a world of talent and versatility that often goes completely unnoticed.
10. Andy Serkis
The Role You Know: Gollum/Smeagol (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit)
Before Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis was a relatively unknown stage and television actor working in England. Upon hearing that an upcoming fantasy film was looking for a voice actor, he sent an audition tape to Peter Jackson, and the rest is history. What makes Andy Serkis unique, is that he goes above and beyond simply voicing his characters. From Gollum, to King Kong, to Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the character’s entire style ends up based on him.
He uses motion capture to act out these incredibly difficult parts (like Gollum flopping through a river after a fish in The Two Towers – Andy Serkis actually did that, in freezing waters a few feet from a waterfall.) Everything, down to his facial expressions and eye movements, are used in the final CGI character. Even when the majority of his dialogue is ape grunts and roars, it all comes straight from him.
Fun Fact: Andy Serkis based Gollum’s voice on the way his cats sounded when they hacked up furballs.
9. Tim Curry
The Role You Know: Nigel Thornberry (The Wild Thornberries)
You might recognize the name and, if not, you probably recognize Tim Curry’s face from his roles as the hotel concierge in Home Alone 2 or Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show. But what you might not know is that Tim Curry made his real career in voice acting. His inflective British voice made him the go-to actor for any accent even vaguely un-American.
Maybe you remember Nigel Thornberry in The Wild Thornberries? Or Dr. Sevarius in Gargoyles? MAL in Captain Planet? They were all voiced by none other than the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania himself, Tim Curry. In addition to those major roles, Curry has also appeared as background characters in dozens of animated shows and films, such as Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Scooby Doo, Darkwing Duck, Samurai Jack, and Ben 10: Alien Force.
Fun Fact: Tim Curry was the original voice for the Joker in the 1992 Batman Animated Series, but the producers thought his voice was “too scary for kids,” so the role was given to Mark Hamill.
8. Rob Paulsen
The Role You Know: Pinky (Pinky and the Brain)
As you dig down into the grimy underbelly of animated children’s shows, one thing really stands out: All the “actioney” shows recycle the same voice actors over and over again, like a bizarre, family-friendly series of Monty Python sketches. Between The Batman, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Ben 10, practically the only thing that really changes is the character design. And at the center of it all is Rob Paulsen.
Rob Paulsen has been around the block, you might say. He got started with a series of random roles in The Smurfs in 1981, which led to the voicing of Snow Job in every incarnation of G.I. Joe. He then lent his voice talents to such varying shows as Duck Tales, Fraggle Rock, and Animaniacs, where he voiced both Pinky and Yakko.
Some of his more famous voice roles include Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Donatello in the 2012 series) and Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron; all said and done, Rob Paulsen has nearly 400 voice acting credits to his name.
Fun Fact: Whenever Jim Carrey isn’t available to re-dub his films for TV, Rob Paulsen takes care of it.
7. Patrick Warburton
The Role You Know: Joe Swanson (Family Guy)
Once you notice Patrick Warburton’s voice, you’ll be able to recognize it almost everywhere. His distinctive manly-and-sort-of-dumb style makes his characters more memorable than some of the shows and films they’re in. Among other roles, he’s probably most famous for Joe Swanson in Family Guy, as well as Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove and Brock Samson in The Venture Brothers.
Outside of voice acting, he also had recurring roles in Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond, and the currently-running Rules of Engagement.
Fun Fact: Patrick is one out of three people to have voiced Buzz Lightyear.
6. Peter Cullen
The Role You Know: Optimus Prime (Transformers)
First things first, with very few exceptions, Peter Cullen has been the voice – the only voice – of Optimus Prime, from the 1986 animated movie up to the recent Michael Bay films. He’s pretty much inseparable from the character and, although there are some editing effects applied in post-production, it’s mostly his deep, commanding voice you hear booming out of that robot.
Peter Cullen is also the voice of Eeyore, the lovably depressing donkey from Winnie the Pooh, as well as K.A.R.R., from Knight Rider. Basically, and this has been researched, if you were a child in the 80’s, Peter Cullen had more of a direct influence on you than your parents.
Fun Fact: Peter Cullen also voiced the Mogwai in Gremlins. So now it’s official; his larynx owned the ’80s.
5. Clancy Brown
The Role You Know: Mr. Krabs (Spongebob Squarepants)
Quick: name one thing Mr. Krabs from Spongebob has in common with the evil immortal guy from Highlander who kills Sean Connery. If you’ve been reading this list it shouldn’t be that hard: They hate spaghetti. And also, unexpectedly, they’re the same person.
Clancy Brown shows up all over the place, but in those roles where you never really notice him unless you’ve noticed him in the first place. Live-action roles notwithstanding, he has voiced characters in Godzilla, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Teen Titans, and Ben 10, as well as Lex Luthor in no less than four unconnected Batman and Superman series, three animated films, and three video games. His voice is distinctive, but not so distinctive that you could quickly pick it out, which is one of the reasons he’s picked to work on so many shows that run at the same time.
Fun Fact: In The Batman (2004,) Clancy Brown provided the voices for three of the major villains: Mr. Freeze, Lex Luthor, and Bane.
4. John Ratzenberger
The Role You Know: Hamm (Toy Story)
You might also know him everything else Pixar has ever made. John Ratzenberger has at least a small role in all of the feature films made by Pixar. Think of his voice as Hamm in the Toy Story films. Now try to picture that coming out of the circus flea in A Bug’s Life, or Underminder in The Incredibles, or John in WALL-E, or the construction worker at the beginning of Up that apologizes for the need to tear the old man’s house down. Once you know about Ratzenberger, you’re almost waiting for him each time Pixar makes a new movie.
In an interview, the director of Toy Story, Andrew Stanton, said that they had only planned to use John Ratzenberger in the one film, but the voice cast was out drinking one night and, “he was so much fun, I remember saying, ‘Let’s have him be in a film again.'” And so a legend began that’s equal parts in-joke and running tribute. Including their most recent film, Brave, John Ratzenberger has been a voice actor in all 13 of Pixar’s movies.
Fun Fact: Played Major Derlin in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.
3. Dee Bradley Baker
The Role You Know: Klaus (American Dad!)
Dee Bradley Baker is currently one of the most versatile voice actors in television. He’s been involved in over 100 episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, 122 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, almost 60 episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and chances are you’ve never even paid attention to anything he’s said. That’s because the majority of his roles aren’t even human characters: Dee Bradley Baker is responsible for the majority of animal and alien sounds in animated shows today. And it’s not like he has a zoo in his backyard – he makes all the sounds himself. His website has some bizarre clips of his sample work, where you can hear him roar like a bear, whine like a dog, or grunt and snort like two monsters fighting.
Fun Fact: His other work includes such versatile roles as Klaus the German fish in American Dad! and the Gravemind in the Halo 3 video game.
2. Mel Blanc
The Role You Know: Bugs Bunny
The period between roughly 1930 and the late 1960’s is often referred to as the “Golden Age of American Animation.” It was during these years that we were introduced to Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, and Marvin the Martian, and later shows like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Harvey Birdman (before he became an attorney,) and all the other stuff your parents watched when they were children.
What you didn’t know is that, like, all of them were voiced by the same person, a man named Mel Blanc. For starters, he WAS Looney Tunes: Speedy Gonzales, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester and Tweety, Porky Pig, Daffy, Bugs Bunny, Pepe le Pew, and Marvin the Martian. Episodes basically consisted of Mel Blanc talking to himself for eight minutes straight.
Later he voiced another now-famous role as Barney Rubble in The Flintstones, and he continued working until his death in 1989.
Fun Fact: It’s estimated that, at the time of his death, 20 million people were hearing Mel Blanc’s voice every single day.
1. Frank Welker
The Role You Know: Megatron (Transformers)
The undisputed heavyweight champion of voiceovers, Frank Welker has 682 voice acting credits under his name. Frank Welker started voicing Megatron in the 1986 Transformers film, and has even voiced Megatron in some Robot Chicken episodes. In the most recent Transformers films he voiced the role of Shockwave, because Michael Bay felt he didn’t have the right voice for Megatron.
Like Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker is also well known for his animal sounds. In another mind-blowing connection, he voiced both Abu in Aladdin (he also voiced the Cave of Wonders) and Nibbler in Futurama. Overall, Welker has been involved in more than 90 films, collectively grossing over $12 billion, which makes him the highest-grossing actor in Hollywood. That’s right, even more than those actors who actually, you know, act.
Fun Fact: Frank Welker, not Leonard Nemoy, did all the screams for Spock in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.