Many happy returns Christopher Lee! The venerable actor turns 90 this month (27 May to be precise), but he’s still going strong.
He’ll be donning a big white beard to play Saruman in ‘The Hobbit’ this year after Peter Jackson had sets rebuilt in blighty so the actor wouldn’t have to fly to New Zealand. Lee’s evil wizard stole every scene in ‘Lord of the Rings’, thanks the way he magisterially delivered lines like “The power of Isengard is at your command, Sauron!”.
[Related feature: How movie music makes you cry]
Yes, he’s blessed with a superb set of vocal chords alright, but where does he stand in the pantheon of movie mouthpieces? We investigated...
The man: 90-year old man of legend: Dracula, Frankenstein, Count Dooku and Scaramanga are but four names on a CV longer than Saruman's beard.
The voice: When Christopher Lee talks, the world listens. His is an epic baritone that booms from generations gone by – one that has been the mouthpiece of evil in 'Lord Of The Rings', hissed from behind fangs in countless 'Dracula' movies and put the willies up James Bond in 'The Man With The Golden Gun'. Lee's pipes aren't just put to good use in Hollywood, either – in 2010, he released 'Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross', a "symphonic metal concept album" in which he voiced the Emperor's ghost alongside a 100-piece orchestra. Because he's Christopher Lee, that's why.
The man: Bearded overlord of Britain, star of 'Flash Gordon' and voted Most Likely To Burst Ear-Drums by his school classmates.
The voice: Ever since he bellowed "GORDON'S ALIIIIIIVE!" in the campy 80s cult classic (albeit with a few more 'i's), Brian Blessed has gleefully played up to his public persona of one-man noise engine: the man packs more decibels than a jet plane. Voice like a typhoon, Blessed's dulcet tones are instantly recognisable, not just through sheer volume, but because it sounds like he's been gargling rocks and Marmite for breakfast. He looks and sounds exactly like a salty sea dog, which is exactly why he was the perfect fit to voice the The Pirate King in Aardman's 'The Pirates'. If you listen extremely carefully, you can hear him off in the distance somewhere, laughing, right now.
James Earl Jones
The man: Elder statesman of cinema, voice of space tyrant Darth Vader, Mufasa the lion king and, er, CNN.
The voice: How deep is James Earl Jones' distinctive intonation? The only person truly able to appreciate the bottomless tones of his voice was James Cameron while visiting the Mariana Trench. The man who gave Darth Vader his menace and Mufasa his majesty, JEJ has arguably the most identifiable vocal styling in the business: his is a voice capable of sending shivers down your spine or wrapping you up in a big aural cuddle. He's also the only man to ever voice Maggie Simpson, which, granted, is an odd accolade.
The man: Director, stand-up comedian and manically-pitched star of the 'Police Academy' movies – the one that wasn't Steve Guttenberg or the one who did helicopter noises.
The voice: Though he played it up for the cameras, poor Bobcat (real name Robert Francis Goldthwait) was cursed with a voice that sounded like it was always on the verge of breaking, giving the characters he played a manic edge. Combined with the kind of face that peers into windows, Goldthwait was the perfect oddball to play Zed in 'Police Academy 2' and two subsequent sequels. He's since been quiet behind the camera as director of films like 'World's Greatest Dad' and the forthcoming 'God Bless America', but we're sure he still talks like a Fraggle having an epileptic fit.
The man: Saint, safari suit model and occasional actor – his eyebrows starred in no less than seven Bond movies.
The voice: Moore was Alan Partridge's favourite 007, and with good reason; Norwich's premier afternoon DJ spoke of his fondness for Rodge's "lovely, warm, brown voice". With speech as velvety smooth as chocolate ice cream, Roger Moore made for a less jagged Bond than ex-boxer Connery – he was suave, sardonic and oh-so good at sweet-talking the young ladies. Now 84, he's wisely decided to let his vocal chords do all the heavy lifting, sticking to voiceover work in movies like 'Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore' – rather that than another 'Boat Trip', eh? It is a well-known fact that it is impossible to imitate Roger Moore's voice without raising your eyebrow.
The man: Unsung hero of cinema, with 676 titles to his name on IMDb – yes, that's even more than Samuel L Jackson.
The voice: You could probably live next door to Frank Welker your whole life, waving at him every morning, and never realise you've been nicking the WiFi of a bona fide movie legend. You won't know the face, but you'll know the voice: as well as assorted screams and squeals (fun fact: he provided the mews for Uni in TV toon 'Dungeons & Dragons'), Welker has voiced Transformers, Smurfs, Ghostbusters (and ghosts), Scooby-Doo, Spock, Nibbler from 'Futurama', King Kong, Curious George, Godzilla, Dr Claw in 'Inspector Gadget', the anaconda in 'Anaconda', Woof the Hyena-Man in Batman Beyond and, most importantly, The New Shmoo. He's the first voice actor to feature in two billion-dollar movies – 'Alice In Wonderland' and 'Transformers: Dark Of The Moon'. Not bad, Uni.
The man: He's no man. He's Optimus Prime. That's all you need to know.
The voice: When Michael Bay announced he was directing a big-screen 'Transformers' movie, the fans that weren't calling for his head because he put flames on Optimus' truck were reasoning with him: Peter Cullen MUST play Prime. Bay could have hired any number of big names to provide his lead Autobot's voice (alternate universe: Martin Lawrence got the gig and never made another Big Momma's House movie – trade or not?) but to his credit, he realised there was no other person who could give Prime the same degree of robo-gravitas. Frankly, the thought of anyone else decreeing the battle cry "Autobots... roll out!" makes our inner child cry.
The woman: Greenwich-born luvvie, Oscar-winner and matriarch of the most distinguished acting dynasty in Britain.
The voice: To hear her talk, you'd think Vanessa Redgrave was from a bygone era – her imperious tones are capable of transporting you back to a golden age. Whether she's sternly chiding Tom Cruise in 'Mission: Impossible' or telling Ralph Fiennes how it's gonna be in 'Coriolanus', Redgrave is the owner of the quintessential plummy British tongue – one that instantly poshes up any movie by at least three social classes. It's quite probable your ears should curtsey before listening to her speak.
The man: Director, actor, German. Madness magnet, documentarian, friend of Nicolas Cage. Almost certainly a little bit insane.
The voice: Werner Herzog is officially the most Germanic man on the planet. He's more German than Herman the German. His teutonic twang is one of the most identifiable accents in the film industry; an instantly recognisable voice, complete with a delightfully lyrical cadence that makes you think you've been pronouncing vowels wrong this whole time. He'll project nastiness opposite Tom Cruise as 'The Zec' in Jack Reacher adventure 'One Shot' this Christmas, but its arguably his documentaries that are the bigger draw – thanks no doubt to Herzog's mesmeric voice. If he wants to read us a bedtime story, he's more than welcome. It might give us nightmares, though.
The man: One of the coolest dudes in Hollywood, possessor of the silkiest voice in cinema and purveyor of low-cost car insurance (we think).
The voice: Almost every famous actor has an instant synonym that applies to them. For example, Jim Carrey is always referred to as 'rubber-faced funnyman'. Ricky Gervais used to complain he was always tagged 'roly-poly comedian'. Morgan Freeman is, and always will be, 'the voice of God' - and that was the case even /before/ he played God in 'Bruce Almighty'. Freeman's warm, comforting vocals are the aural equivalent of that lovely fresh bread smell when you walk into a Tesco – a sign that everything is going to be all right for the next hour and a bit. We aren't even joking when we'd say we'd pay to see a movie which consisted of Morgan Freeman reading the ingredients off the back of a packet of Shreddies. Just imagine how he'd pronounce "Riboflavin". Go on. Mmm.
Are there any superior voices we've missed off our list? Liam Neeson's Irish brogue? Christopher Walken's oddball delivery? William Shatner's golden tongue? Let us know in the comments below!