Heroes With A Thousand Voices: The 20 Best Voice Actors

homer210Looking for good things to say about Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is like trying to find your contact lenses at Glastonbury – it’s really hard and if you do find something, you’re likely to get an eye infection.

Well, something that is decent is the voice acting, particularly from the stentorian Peter Cullen who has long been the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon series.

A few voice actors have become well-known by name- usually those from The Simpsons who’ve been playing iconic characters for years. But there’s just as many that provide a surprising number of your cartoon favourites that you’d walk past in the street.

With that in mind, it’s time to celebrate the men and women who provide the voices behind your favourite characters.

1. Mel Blanc

bugs150The king of all voice actors, Mel Blanc voiced almost all of Warner Bros’s iconic cartoon characters – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales as well as some notable characters for Hanna Barbera including The Flintstones’ Barney Rubble and The Jetsons’ Mr Spacely.

He died in 1989 leaving a hole in the vocal talent business which can never be replaced. Warners released a touching poster commemorating his life and his headstone reads “That’s All Folks!” Magic.

2. Frank Welker

megatron150Frank Welker’s vocal credentials are almost too long to list. His more notable characters include the villainous leader of the Decepticons Megatron as well as over 30 other Transformer voices, Fred from Scooby Doo, Ray from The Real Ghostbusters, Doctor Klaw from Inspector Gadget and Nibbler from Futurama but the list is almost endless.

Even though you might never have heard of Frank Welker he’s been in over 93 films with a gross revenue of $5.7 billion. That’s more than any other actor, so you’ve almost certainly seem one of the films he’s in, surely ranking him as the greatest movie star you’ve never heard of.

Michael Bay overlooked him for Megatron in the live action films, ditching him for Hugo Weaving, but he reprised his role for the video game.

3. Hank Azaria

moe150Hank’s a gifted live action actor appearing in roles as diverse as The Blue Rajah from Mystery Men and Phoebe’s love interest David in Friends. But his voice will be more familiar than his face as it includes a whole raft of characters from The Simpsons including Moe Syzlak, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson, Cletus Spuckler, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick Riviera, Lou, Snake, Kirk Van Houten, the Sea Captain, Superintendent Chalmers, Disco Stu, Duffman and a load of other one shot characters.

Because of that he’s probably got more catch phrases up his sleeve than any other voice actor.

4. Billy West

zoidberg150Billy West is a marvel to see at work. If you’ve ever seen Futurama, you’ll be familiar with his vocal range as he’s the talent behind Fry, Professor Farnsworth and Dr Zoidberg, not to mention the egomaniacal Captain Zapp Brannigan.

He’s also behind some cartoon classics including the imbecilic chattering of Stimpy and the barely suppressed rage of Ren on The Ren & Stimpy Show, the placid tones of Nickelodeon classic Doug and the current voice of Popeye. He also stepped into Mel Blanc’s shoes to provide the voice for Bugs Bunny in Space Jam. Sadly, he’s not a household name.

5. Seth MacFarlane

peter150Seth will be familiar to anyone that’s a fan of Family Guy as he not only writes and produces the show but voices most of the principal characters including Peter Griffin, Brian Griffin, evil genius baby Stewie and libidinous sexual deviant Quagmire.

He’s also contributed his voice to a number of Robot Chicken sketches and is the voice of Stan Smith in American Dad. He’s also a rather fine singer.

6. Peter Cullen

optimus150As the stentorian voice of Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, Peter Cullen’s voice is so associated with the character that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Can you really think of anyone that could say “Autobots: roll out!” with quite the same gravitas?

Michael Bay wisely recast him in the Transformers movie franchise – no one else would do. But he’s not just a one trick pony; he’s voiced dozens of characters for Hanna Barbera, Venger from Dungeons & Dragons and Eeyore the pessimistic donkey from Winnie The Pooh for Disney.

7. Dee Bradley Baker

momo150Dee is easily one of the most talented voice actors working today. He’s the voice of every single clone in the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, Momo and Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender the voice of Klaus, the German goldfish from American Dad as well as Squillam Fancypants on Spongebob Squarepants.

But what he absolutely excels at is making the guttaral monster noises you can hear on numerous video games including Doom 3, Gears Of War and Halo (where he played Gravemind).

8. Jim Cummings

pooh150Jim has voiced dozens of characters primarily for Disney. He’s provided the soothing bemused voice of Winnie The Pooh as well as the hyperactive spring of Tigger. He’s also behind the deranged conniption fits of Taz, the insanity burbling of Ed Hyena in The Lion King and Darkwing Duck and the later incarnations of Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (originally voiced by James Avery – Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air)

Video game fans will also recognise him as an iconic character from Baldur’s Gate, the deranged ranger Minsc.

9. Tara Strong

bubbles150Tara’s got a list of voice over credits that could fill a fairly large notebook. She was the orginal voice of Hello Kitty when she was just 13 but since then she’s voiced dozens of characters including Timmy Turner from The Fairly OddParents, Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, Ben Tennyson in Ben 10, Dil from Rugrats, Princess Clara and Toot Braunstein in Drawn Together, Rikku from Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2…the list goes on and on.

She’s also got a huge number of anime credits to her name but to list even a fraction would take up the rest of this article. A true great.

10. Tress MacNeille

agnes150Tress has played nearly everything from teenage boys to old women. She’s got dozens of characters under her belt but notable voices include Gadget from Rescue Rangers, Dot on Animaniacs and Babs Bunny on Tiny Toon Adventures.

She’s also about a dozen voices on The Simpsons including Agnes Skinner, the lawyer Lindsay Neagle and Dolph. On Futurama, she can be heard as megalomaniacal magnate Mom.

11. Rob Paulsen

Yakko150“Raphael is cool” went the intro to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles . Well, so is Rob Paulsen who voiced the coolest turtle (who also sounds the closest to his normal speaking voice).

He’s renowned for playing Yakko Warner and Dr. Otto Scratchansniff from Animaniacs, Rev Runner from Loonatics Unleashed and Pinky from Pinky And The Brain for which he won a Daytime Emmy award but he’s voiced over 250 animated characters in his 30 year career.

12. Phil LaMarr

phil150Chances are you’ve heard Phil LaMarr’s voice if you’ve ever watched something animated. He’s got a brilliant range, able to play noble determination (The Green Lantern from Justice League and the titular character from Samurai Jack) as well as plain silly (Hermes from Futurama). He also plays various characters on Family Guy including Ollie Williams, the news reporter who typically gets only one line.

Look out for him in Pulp Fiction where he plays Marvin; the backseat victim of John Travolta’s itchy trigger finger.

13. Dan LaFontaine

dan150“In a world…”. The voice over for more than 5,000 film trailers and hundreds of thousands of commercials, it’s been almost impossible to go the cinema or turn on a television in the last 40 years without hearing the deep rich tones of Dan LaFontaine.

His output of work was staggering sometimes producing 35 promotions in a single day and at one point he had a near monopoly on film trailers. He sadly died in 2008 leaving many imitators but none that could stand up to the might of The Voice Of God.

14. Dan Castelleneta

homer150Mmm, voice acting… Seeing Dan Castellaneta perform as Homer Simpson is downright eerie. As a cultural icon, there’s no doubt that Dan deserves a place on this list – the catchphrase “D’oh” (always written in scripts as “annoyed grunt”) entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001.

He’s not limited to donut-eating and beer-guzzling buffoonery as he’s also the voice of Krusty the Clown, Itchy, Barney Gumble, Mayor Quimby, Groundskeeper Willie, Hans Moleman and Grampa Simpson. Before he gained international fame on The Simpsons, he was also the voice of everyone’s favourite worm superhero Earthworm Jim.

15. Grey DeLisle

azula150Grey is notable for her incredible range, able to play bubbly high-pitched characters like Lizzie Devine from Codename: Kids Next Door but also husky contemplation like Psylocke from Wolverine And The X-Men.

She’s also the current voice of Daphne from Scooby Doo, Vicky and Tootie on The Fairly OddParents, Mandy on The Grim Adventures Of Billy And Mandy not to mention the main antagonist Azula on Avatar: The Last Airbender. She’s also got a prolific videogame voice over career which spans the likes of Tomb Raider, Star Wars, Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect.

16. Maurice LaMarche

brain150A fantastic vocal range which includes the weary Kif Kroker, the alien newscaster Morbo and robot soap star Calculon from Futurama but also Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters and a memorable turn as Inspector Gadget (taking from Don Adams after his death in 2005).

He’s probably best known for starring opposite Rob Paulsen as the diabolical rodent mastermind The Brain in Pinky And The Brain. With a voice like that, why hasn’t he taken over the world yet?

17. Harry Shearer

mrburns150Harry was taken under the wing of voice acting legend Mel Blanc early on in his career, so it’s not a huge surprise that he’s voiced over a dozen characters for The Simpsons.

Notable roles include Principal Skinner, Mr Burns, Waylon Smithers, Kent Brockman, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Dr Hibbert, Lenny, Otto, Rainier Wolfcastle, Kang and the now deceased Marvin Monroe.

18. Nancy Cartwright

bart150Watching Bart Simpson’s voice come out of a Nancy Cartwright’s mouth for the first time is like watching a demonic possession. She’s been Bart for almost 25 years but did you know that she’s also the voices of Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum, Todd Flanders, Kearney and Database?

Outside The Simpsons she’s leant her voice to Chuckie from Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, Rufus in Kim Possible, Mindy in Animaniacs and Margo Sherman in The Critic. Aye Carumba!

19. Frank Oz

yoda150Not only the puppeteer but the voice behind some of Jim Henson’s best loved muppet creations, Frank Oz has a career spanning nearly 50 years.

His most famous role is of course as Yoda from the Star Wars universe but he’s also a host of muppets including, The Swedish Chef, Cookie Monster, Animal, Grover, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle, and would you believe it, even Miss Piggy.

20. Pat Fraley

Krang150Pat’s played everything from heroes, villains, animals and monsters. He’ll probably be most familiar to you as Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but he also played Vernon, Slash and Baxter Stockman.

He was also the voice of Bravestarr and had roles in Denver The Last Dinosaur, Rainbow Brite, Garfield And Friends, Batman: The Animated Series, Centurions and Ducktales.

Follow Jez Sands on Twitter.