Men Not Too Busy Making, Starring In Movies to Tell You to Go See Them

Going to see a movie in theaters is a special event. It’s not an event I’m currently willing to dish out $15 for, but it’s an event nonetheless. There’s something special about being surrounded by people who want to see a film the way it’s intended — on a huge screen with pristine audio and an unidentifiable sticky substance under your chair attempting to remove your shoes to give a home-y feel to a public experience. Forget the popcorn and resisting the urge to look at the cute girl you’re with every five minutes, I enjoy the previews the most.

There’s nothing better than the ups and downs that come with harshly judging an expertly crafted two minute clip of a film you probably won’t see for another 1-2 years when it becomes available on Netflix. So when I read a New York Times piece about the lack of female voice-overs in movie trailers, it made me reflect on my movie going experiences. I couldn’t remember a single movie trailer with a voice-over off the top of my head but I knew the voice, the distinctly male voice, because it’s everywhere. It’s omnipresence is an accepted movie trailer trope. So much so that I’d never picked up on the fact that it’s rarely a woman. Not ever noticing this bothered me as much, if not more, than there not being a female equivalent to speak of.

While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock – John Leader VO

The voice ingrained in my (and probably your) mind is that of Don LaFontaine. As far as I can tell, every other male VO artist is just trying to be him because the only other voice guy I remember is Mr. Moviefone, Russ Leatherman. The reasons the “Voice of God” is male are bullshit, of course, yet those supposedly in touch with the way things work can justify it in any situation.

Most movie trailers are loud and strong, and film studios want that male impact, vocally and thematically. Even if it’s a romantic comedy or nonaction movie, they still want that certain power and drama that men’s voices tend to convey on a grander scale. – Jeff Danis, Voice-Over Agent

Now and Then with Rosie O’Donnell – Nick Tate VO

Is that what they want? Because I think it boils down to the fact that a movie trailer has to incite you to action (which is explored in the meta Miracle on 34th Street trailer). The trailer is telling you to do a series of things that eventually leads to you, and hopefully other people you’ve told about the movie, sitting in a theater waiting to see if the movie holds up to the promise of the trailer. And as with most things, Hollywood doesn’t think anyone wants to listen to a woman, let alone do what she says.

Of the movies currently in theaters that I’d bother watching at some point, none of them (Shame, Man on a Ledge, Red Tails, The Descendants) use non-character voice-overs in the trailer. The few films that still employ its use tend to stick to the standard. In a lot of ways, I think the male voice-over is a product of tradition.

The competitive nature of pitching means trailer houses are often pressured to present safe, salable options, which means female voices are risky. There might be three other trailer houses trying to get the same job, so often it’s a matter of staying within the comfort zone. – Debi Mae West, Voice Actress

The Comedian trailer uses Hal Davis to spoof voice-over

It’s interesting that the same people worried a woman’s voice in the trailer would make it even more difficult to convince men to see romantic comedies or “chick flicks” don’t worry that a male’s voice could operate in the same negative way for women and action movies. Obviously women know nothing about badassery and are incapable of expressing the full range of emotions clearly present in these voices that I can’t even tell apart.

Femme Fatale with Rebecca Romijn – Male VO

I have a hard time imagining hearing a female voice on the trailer of, say, The Dark Knight; maybe a Pixar production or an out-and-out comedy, but not a badass action flick or anything in the fanboy category. Romantic comedies could prove viable – though you’d risk alienating male participants even more – and films targeted solely at women (e.g. Sex and the City, The Women). – Kevin Powers, firstshowing.net

The most popular example of a female voice-over is for Gone in 60 Seconds which grossed $25,336,048 in its opening weekend, leading all films. Abandoning the usual style altogether, Melissa Disney challenged the typical action voice with a sultry rendition on the voice-over. Valentine, an erotic thriller, followed suit quickly after. One of the best trailers of all time used both a male and female voice-over only to announce the (long) title of the film. Unsurprisingly, the woman’s voice was used for the “love the bomb” portion which was said in a  manner that leads one to believe the woman is sexually stimulated or aroused. When someone dares to use a woman, it’s only to sell a certain aspect of the film: sexiness.

After watching a bunch of trailers, I still don’t know if I previously failed to pay attention to the sex of the voice because it’s all I’ve ever known or if it’s because the voiceover is irrelevant and doesn’t inform how I process my opinion of movies. It seems absurd that female voices are trusted to safely guide you to your destination, to voice high tech systems and gadgets in Sci-Fi, to make sure the terrorists don’t win by reminding you not to leave your bags unattended, and to thank you for your patronage but when it comes to inspiring you to get off your ass and into a theater, we’ll only listen to a dude with a deep voice. I think it’s unlikely that anyone important enough to influence others in such a profound way will be brave enough to eschew tradition in favor of a woman’s voice. More likely is that voice-overs will continue to fade until their only use in trailers is to elicit nostalgia.


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Brittani

Brittani Nichols is a Los Angeles based comedy person. When she's not tweeting about white people or watching television, she's probably eating pizza. Actually, she's probably doing all three of those things concurrently and when she's not doing THAT, she's sleeping. Brittani also went to Yale and feels weird about mentioning it but wants you to know.

Brittani has written 329 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Yeah actually as I was waiting for the (American) Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to start i noticed that, not only were all the VOs male, but that all of the movies they were advertising consisted of male leads with women playing rather pathetic subordinates to fulfill the necessary sexiness requirement of typical action movies. Kind of baffling considering the movie I was about to watch was supposed to herald a strong female lead. Hollywood, ugh.

  2. While the patriarchy frustrates me generally, its presence in the film industry particularly frustrates me, being a gay female film-maker. I mean, just for a start, it took eighty years for a female to win best director at the Oscars (not that the Oscars are hugely relevant these days, but still, what the fuck?) Basically we need more females in the industry, let alone queer females, though obviously more queer females would be excellent (representation and all).

    • Regardless….thank you Brittani for a very insightful article.

      “It seems absurd that female voices are trusted to safely guide you to your destination, to voice high tech systems and gadgets in Sci-Fi, to make sure the terrorists don’t win by reminding you not to leave your bags unattended, and to thank you for your patronage but when it comes to inspiring you to get off your ass and into a theater, we’ll only listen to a dude with a deep voice. ”

      THIS YES THIS. I don’t think I would have necessarily noticed, being so used to hearing female voice artists in such contexts (and in the purpose of selling sexiness) rather than in a wide variety of kinds of VOs, especially trailers.

  3. Just to add to the point about female voices being used in high tech systems, years back the military and aerospace industry concluded that aircrew would pay more attention to automated warnings if they were voiced by a woman, thus the nickname of ‘Bitching Betty’ for assorted cockpit systems.
    Here’s a youtube vid by one of the vo artists who’ve done it:

    Here’s a forum thread with the woman who originally voiced the warnings for the F16 fighter:

    http://www.f-16.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&p=67255#67255

    I wonder, given that those original studies were done back when aircrew was an all-male domain, if things have or will possibly shift now that there are plenty of women flying both military and civilian aircraft?

  4. Australian actress Rachael Blake has done quite a lot of voiceover work for SBS, a TV network in Australia. She has a voice similar to Cate Blanchett in his depth, strength and sexiness.

  5. It’s pretty important to notice ingrained sexism, huh? The most obvious I feel is the voices of devices, etc. I’ve always been fond of the fact that GPSs have female voices, but now that I think of it, can’t men be ingratiating enough to be listened to? Is the female voice acceptable because it isn’t threatening?

  6. It’s pretty important to notice ingrained sexism, huh? The most obvious I feel is the voices of devices, etc. I’ve always been fond of the fact that GPSs have female voices, but now that I think of it, can’t men be ingratiating enough to be listened to? Is the female voice acceptable because it isn’t threatening to our sense of independence?

  7. I posted upthread about cockpit voice warnings and there have been multiple reasons put forward for the choice of female voices. 1) the higher frequency of a woman’s voice cuts through the cabin noise of an aircraft in flight (although wearing comms headsets or a ‘bone-dome’ helmet with built-in headphones puts that in question). 2) Aircrew having historically been a sausage-fest led folks to reason that men talking amongst themselves would perk up and notice a non-male voice saying things like “(DON’T DO THAT)You will crash” or “(BAD THING HAPPENING)Do X to make it stop”. The many male voices thing doesn’t add up in situations like single-seat fighters (which are becoming a thing of the past anyway – too much shit going on for one person to keep track of, even with automation), and more women are on flight crews now as well. There was also this:

    http://www.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2011/110817gucci-girls-fly-air-force-tanker.html

    recently, which, while a one-off deal, still raises questions about established notions of who will pay attention to what voice.
    3) This reasoning seems a bit less gendered but veering close to evo psych stereotyping: ‘mommy’ is the voice everyone hears the most from the moment of birth, therefore we’re ‘wired’ to automatically pay attention to a female voice. Not saying any of this is ‘right’ or ‘true’ – just what I’ve heard and read over the years.

    • To this point, when something EVIL needs to warn you that something terrible or death-inducing is about to happen, why is it always a little British girl.

      The Red Queen from Resident Evil Narrates my Nightmares like Morgan Freeman narrates a story about Freedom and Enlightenment.

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