The 25 greatest voice actors of the past 25 years

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Sep 28, 2017

September 2017 is SYFY's 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.

Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!

When a voice actor is good, they get a lot of work. When they are great, they never stop working. Some of the performers on this list are famous for one role that they can do better than anyone else, but others can seemingly find no end to the range of voices they can do. The world of voice acting is small, so many of these actors appear in the same projects, and most of them know each other. Shut up and take our money, get ready to squanch, and try to take over the world as we jump into our list of the 25 greatest voice actors from the past 25 years!

X-Men The Animated Series - STORM GOES MAD

Alison Sealy-Smith

The creators of the animated X-Men series brought in Alison Sealy-Smith to take over the role of Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, in the second season. The result was a powerful, grounded performance that gave full gravitas to the character. This version of Storm is the most memorable, even without uttering any kind of line about toads being struck by lightning. For many of us, Storm has never been portrayed better than she was here.

Anthony Daniels

Yes, the famous Anthony Daniels was physically in the suit for most of his on-screen work as everyone’s favorite protocol droid, but this bacce-speaking actor’s contributions to the character do not end there. Besides providing ADR for the films, Daniels has performed the voice of C-3PO in every iteration of the character, including animated portrayals in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales, and the recent (and wonderful) Forces of Destiny. If you are hearing C-3PO, you’re hearing Anthony Daniels — even in the short lived Droids cartoon and the original Star Tours theme park ride. Honestly, who else could do it?

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Arleen Sorkin

The masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series gave us many gifts, and one of the biggest was the character of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn. She was not intended to recur on the show, but the unhinged, manic genius of Arleen Sorkin’s vocal performance kept the character around. Her chemistry with Mark Hamill’s Joker was incredible, but Harley also proved great on her own. People loved Harley so much that she started to appear in the comics, and she is now a mainstay of the Bat-canon. Sorkin went on to voice Harley in pretty much all of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini DC projects, and even some of the video games, including the first of the brilliant Arkham series. Arleen Sorkin created an iconic character that continues to delight in every medium, even after she passed the mantle on to other talented actors.

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Barbara Goodson

She has turned in memorable vocal performances in classics like The Legend of Korra and she’s also created the creepily enigmatic Mother Talzin on Star Wars: The Clone Wars — but there is one role for which Barbara Goodson is known above all others. With the words, “AHHHH…AFTER 5000 YEARS I’M FREE!!!!” the evil Rita Repulsa escaped imprisonment, and began to menace the Power Rangers in 141 episodes of their series. Goodson was originally told to voice Rita as some kind of Wicked Witch knock off, and when that didn’t work, she was asked to re-audition. They requested that she use an “angrier” voice, and they certainly got what they wanted. The job was hers, but Goodson has said that she was not considering the implications of doing Rita’s angry screech voice long-term. She went through a good deal of water and cough drops as a result.

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Billy West

Starting with such classic characters as Doug Funnie (Doug) and Stimpy (Ren and Stimpy), Billy West is perhaps best known these days as one of the powerhouse voices behind Futurama. He voices the hero, Phillip J. Fry, but he also voices Fry’s ancestor, the grumpy Professor Farnsworth. Oh, and he also voices Dr. Zoidberg. Oops, almost forgot he also plays Zapp Brannigan, Richard Nixon’s Head, and countless other characters. His vocal versatility is truly astounding, because no one person should be able to talk like all of those characters do. Billy West manages to do it, however, and he has proven himself to be one of the best artists in the industry.

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Charlie Adler

Before voicing the evil Starscream in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, Charlie Adler lent his voice to countless animated projects. The most notable in the bunch would be Tiny Toon Adventures, in which he played Buster Bunny, and 55 other characters. He’s since popped up in many Disney TV classics (TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop) and has become the preeminent voice of any animated version of M.O.D.O.K. If you really want to go deep, Adler did the uncredited voice of “The Mastermind” in Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989).

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Cree Summer

Her career goes all the way back to voicing Penny in Inspector Gadget in 1983, but that’s well past our 25-year mark. Thankfully, that was only the beginning — she’s since been heard as the spoiled Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures, as well as characters in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Batman Beyond, Rugrats, the dementedly weird Drawn Together, and Rick and Morty. Most recently, she is the voice of the Exo Female player character in both Destiny and Destiny 2.

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Elizabeth Daily

With a varied career both behind and in front of the microphone, Elizabeth Daily (sometimes credited as EG Daily) is best known for making two huge contributions to the world of voice acting. The first is the voice of Buttercup in the original Powerpuff Girls, and the second is the voice of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats. Whether it’s the original show, a spin-off TV event, or a big screen Rugrats adaptation, Tommy Pickles’ voice is always her creation.

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Frank Oz

Frank Oz is one of the original legends behind the Muppets, but he might be even more popular as the man behind fabled Jedi Master Yoda. He was the man behind the puppet, as well as the voice in the original trilogy, and though they originally tried to use a puppet for the first of the Star Wars prequels, Yoda soon became a fully digital character. This made Frank Oz even more necessary than ever before, as his unforgettable Yoda voice was our last connection to anything that seemed real. Though he did not voice Yoda for his many appearances in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he has voiced Yoda in Star Wars: Rebels on two occasions. We are very much hoping to hear his Yoda again, in any shape or form.

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Grey DeLisle

With an astounding 476 credits, Grey DeLisle is known for her work on Cartoon Network as well as Nickelodeon. She’s appeared on Samurai Jack, LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and gives voice to a fantastic iteration of Selina Kyle in the Arkham video games. Her most popular character, however, is arguably Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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James Earl Jones

This is a little unfair, but we’re doing it anyway. The great James Earl Jones is one of the all-time great actors, full stop, but his deep, booming voice has certainly helped him attain that status. He gave depth and feeling to Mufasa in The Lion King, which made it all the more difficult when that character passed on, but his vocal performance of another famous cinematic father may manage to top it. Since we’re only going back 25 years, we can’t include his work as Darth Vader in the original Star Wars films — but his work with the character since then is not just limited to screaming “NOOOOOOOOO” at the end of Episode III. He reprised the role in last year’s Rogue One, and also voiced the Sith Lord on Star Wars: Rebels to scary perfection. Also helping him gain a spot on this list: he’s James Earl Jones. Come on.

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Jim Cummings

A legend in the business, Jim Cummings’ voices many classic characters, including the '90s version of the Tasmanian Devil, as well as the terror who flaps in the night, Darkwing Duck. He is another one of the chameleon-voiced geniuses who appear on this list, and he disguises his voice so fully that you often don’t realize that it’s him behind the microphone. Most recently, Cummings was the comically perfect voice behind the pirate Hondo Ohnaka on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He created such a memorable character that he was brought back for Star Wars: Rebels.

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John DiMaggio

Before he was makin’ bacon pancakes as Jake the Dog on Adventure Time, John DiMaggio gave life to the non-stop fun machine that was Bender on Futurama. For those two performances alone he attains royal status, and he’s still going strong. A champion for other voice actors in the industry, he helped to create the excellent documentary on voice acting, Hey, I Know That Voice.

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Keith David

With the feel of deep gravel and perhaps a pale hint of sadness, Keith David’s voice is not hard to recognize. His booming cadence was a perfect fit for the Shakespearean Goliath on Gargoyles, but he can also cut loose from time to time, playing various characters of wackiness on shows like Rick and Morty.

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Kevin Conroy

Another gift from Batman: The Animated Series! Forget debates about Bale vs, Keaton — for many of us, Kevin Conroy is the definitive Dark Knight. Giving equal weight to Bruce Wayne and Batman, Conroy played the Bat across the entire Timm/Dini universe and beyond. Part of the reason the Arkham series of Batman video games is so great is that Kevin Conroy provides Batman’s voice, because, quite simply, he IS Batman. If you need another reason why the Arkham games work so well, it’s coming right up ...

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Mark Hamill

Here’s the biggest and best of the many gifts from Batman: The Animates Series. Though many people thought that Mark Hamill had just “gone away” after Return of the Jedi, he didn’t. You may not have seen his face as often (that changed soon enough), but you were hearing his voice. He always brought quality, but it was his performance as Batman’s greatest foe that hit the stratosphere. It is a perfect match of voice and character, and though Heath Ledger’s on-screen brilliance is hard to beat, Hamill’s voice of the animated Joker is as good as it gets. He’s funny, he’s crazy, he’s turn-on-a-dime scary, and he has a perfect foil in Arleen Sorkin’s Harley Quinn. His mad cackle is matched only by his deep menace, and Hamill’s Joker voice soon became the go-to pick for any animated project that was using the character. Hamill has mostly retired his Joker these days (once again, the Arkham series benefited greatly from his vocal performance), but he did return to the character “one last time” for the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke. The adaptation is what it is, but Hamill is as brilliant as ever.

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Maurice LeMarche

Another vocal veteran of great renown, Maurice LaMarche made lasting impressions with his work on Animaniacs and Futurama. In the latter, he famously gives life to Morbo, Lrrr, Calculon, and the hapless Kif. On Animaniacs, he is almost certainly best known as the smarter half of the mouse duo, Pinky and the Brain. With a villainous, Orson Welles-ian menace, Brain plots to take over the world every night. He never succeeds, he never stops trying, and it never stops being funny. Maurice LaMarche still regularly contributes to the world of voice acting, Rick and Morty being one example.

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Nolan North

He is the voice of adventurer Nathan Drake in the Uncharted video game series, and is at least partially responsible for the popularity of that character. Aside from Drake, Nolan North is a vocal mainstay in video games as well as animation. He’s another actor that regularly pops up on Rick and Morty, and was famously chosen to replace Peter Dinklage as the Dinklebot. The Nolanbot came on board the Destiny game series with more urgency, and soon Nolan’s voice was dubbed over any and all traces of Dinklage’s. Not an easy thing to accomplish, but Nolan North managed it. He continues to be the voice of the Nolanbot in Destiny 2.

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Peter Cullen

HE IS OPTIMUS PRIME, AND HE SENDS THIS MESSAGE. Peter Cullen owns the role of Optimus Prime. It’s another situation in which, if we heard anyone else do it, it just wouldn’t feel right. With a voice seemingly coated with iron and powered by dragons, Peter Cullen gives depth to the Autobot leader, even when he is made to say unfortunate things like, “my bad.” Whether he’s animated or a CGI creation for live action, the character is always grounded by Peter Cullen. It doesn’t matter how silly some of these movies get — we still get tingly whenever we hear him say any variation of “I am Optimus Prime....” His voice work isn’t all Prime all the time, though — oddly enough, one of the other voices he does most often is that of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. Being able to make the change from “giant alien robot leader” to “small manic depressive donkey” is possible proof that Peter Cullen is a wizard.

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Rob Paulsen

Here’s the other half of that famous team from Animaniacs, the Pinky to Maurice LaMarche’s Brain in “Pinky and the Brain.” The perfect foil to the calm plotting of Brain, Rob Paulson’s Pinky is loud, crazy, stupid, and hilarious. He’s never funnier than when he “thinks he knows what Brain’s plan is,” but doesn’t know “where they can find (insert random list of objects) at this time of night.” Manic and unhinged, Pinky was a delight back in the day, and he still is. Rob Paulson is still at it, too, most recently joining so many of the actors on this list by appearing on, you guessed it, Rick and Morty.

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Steven Blum

With his over 669 listed credits, we have a new winner! Another industry legend, Steve Blum has lent his deep and versatile voice to a truly epic number of projects. These days, he is probably remembered most fondly for being the voice of Spike in the English dubbing of Cowboy Bebop. As the down on his luck bounty hunter, Blum’s Spike was a fun character to follow, but he also had a hidden wealth of sadness. A hidden past was never far behind him, and Blum often managed to let that affect the character. Blum can currently be heard playing Zeb on Star Wars: Rebels. Though he often does the comic relief there, his ever-shifting relationship with David Oyelowo’s Agent Kallus is one of the show’s highlights.

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Susan Eisenberg

Before we had Gal Gadot, we had Susan Eisenberg — and she played Wonder Woman on both Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited. It was a fantastic take on the character, and Eisenberg didn’t have the benefit of a solo show coming before it like Batman or Superman. Her voice was a perfect fit for the noble Diana, and she had great chemistry with the rest of the league. She played off of Kevin Conroy’s Batman particularly well, and their friendship on the show became a highlight. Eisenberg has lately joined a few others on this list in working on the Destiny video games — she is the voice of the Human Female player in both the original and the sequel.

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Tara Strong

If you’re hearing Harley Quinn and it isn’t Arleen Sorkin, then chances are it’s Tara Strong. She doesn’t just do Harley, though — she also does about half of the voices in the DCU. She’s been heard in plenty of other projects as well, from playing Raven in Teen Titans to Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, to playing alongside Cree Summer on the very, very odd Drawn Together. She has even been heard on ... wait for it ... Rick and Morty.

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Tom Kenny

The voice of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, for crying out loud! There is no way that cute little sponge would be half as successful as he is without the delightful lunacy of Tom Kenny’s voice. That show is still running, but that’s not all there is to Tom Kenny. Getting into the world of voice acting after remarkable live appearances on the brilliant Mr. Show, he’s given us plenty of vocal gifts over the years, but the Ice King of Adventure Time would have to be a favorite of ours. Another favorite would be his insanely odd voice for Squanchy, a character on… you know it… here it comes…Rick and Morty!!!

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Tress MacNeile

Here’s another Tiny Toons veteran (Babs Bunny and tons more) that went on to lend her majestic voice to such classics as Animaniacs, Futurama, and is still going strong on The Simpsons. Joining that show in its first season, she can be heard in all 28 seasons thus far, voicing Agnes Skinner, the Crazy Cat Lady, and many others in 490 episodes. We feel it is our duty to inform you that she has also done a few voices on… Rick and Morty. That show really knows how to pick the best of the best!

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