Sound Recording in Movies

by Satantangoandcash | created - 29 Jun 2016 | updated - 24 minutes ago | Public

I used to work in studios recording sound then cutting it up, mixing it around, and spitting it out, so I enjoy seeing this in movies, no matter how trivial. Your results may vary. This list does not include all of the documentaries or fiction I've watched that show musicians being recorded, and it doesn't include movies with recorded phone messages unless they're important to the plot.

If spoilers spoil you, then ignore my comments.

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1. Diva (1981)

R | 117 min | Thriller

Two tapes, two Parisian mob killers, one corrupt policeman, an opera fan, a teenage thief, and the coolest philosopher ever filmed. All these characters twist their way through an intricate and stylish French language thriller.

Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix | Stars: Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Frédéric Andréi, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu

Votes: 10,890 | Gross: $0.11M

A young man smuggles his Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder into an Opera house and records an opera singer who does not want her performances recorded and has never been recorded before. The tape becomes mixed up with a cassette tape that is proof that a police chief is mixed up with the mob. The tape is also sought after by some foreign men who want to make a bootleg recording out of it.

2. Les vampires (1915)

Not Rated | 421 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.

Director: Louis Feuillade | Stars: Musidora, Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque, Jean Aymé

Votes: 3,864

In one episode (5 or 6?) arch French criminal Irma Vep poses as a woman who records local celebrity visitors on an old sound-recording device (probably some sort of wax cylinder recorder.) In a very elaborate scheme, she records the voice of a foreign millionaire on the device - using what the papers have reported is the only French phrase he knows. Another one of Les Vampires gets his signature which they use to forge a check. When they present the check at a bank, the bank manager calls the millionaire at his hotel room. Irma Vep has taken over the receptionist post at his hotel and she plays the recording back to the bank manager through the telephone and the manager believes it is the millionaire, so they are then able to cash the check. Of course, in 1915, the movie is silent so we can't hear anything, only read the words on screen.

3. Upstream Color (2013)

Not Rated | 96 min | Drama, Sci-Fi

81 Metascore

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.

Director: Shane Carruth | Stars: Amy Seimetz, Frank Mosley, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig

Votes: 28,511 | Gross: $0.44M

A man records sounds in nature and sounds he makes himself then turns them into music.

4. Café Lumière (2003)

108 min | Drama

80 Metascore

The story revolves around Yoko Inoue, a pregnant woman in search for a cafe that's frequented by a Taiwanese composer whose life she is researching.

Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou | Stars: Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano, Masato Hagiwara, Kimiko Yo

Votes: 2,606

A bookstore emplyee records the sounds of trains in Tokyo with a mini disc recorder and a small handheld microphone.

5. Blow Out (1981)

R | 108 min | Mystery, Thriller

85 Metascore

A movie sound recordist accidentally records the evidence that proves that a car accident was actually murder and consequently finds himself in danger.

Director: Brian De Palma | Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz

Votes: 37,490 | Gross: $13.75M

While he is recording sound effects outdoors with a parabolic mic for a movie, a sound recordist witnesses a car crash. Back in his studio, after he syncs the sound up to video of the car crash, he figures out that somebody shot out the car's tires and murdered the passengers.

6. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

GP | 96 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

An American writer and his English girlfriend are stalked by a serial killer terrorizing Rome after the former witnesses a murder attempt on a woman's life.

Director: Dario Argento | Stars: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi

Votes: 15,602

A conversation recorded on a tapped phone contains a strange sound in the background. A sound lab analyzes it but they can't figure it out. The protagonist has a friend who is a bird expert. He hears the recording and realizes it's a bird so rare there is only one in all of Italy and it is at the Rome zoo. This detail leads them to the identity of a mass murderer.

7. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Not Rated | 92 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

80 Metascore

A sound engineer's work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.

Director: Peter Strickland | Stars: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni, Susanna Cappellaro

Votes: 12,940

In the 1970s, an English foley artist works in an Italian film studio recording voice and sound effects for a Giallo film.

8. Soundman (1998)

R | 105 min | Comedy

An over-zealous and under-appreciated sound mixer on a low budget sci-fi western movie titled "Dead Cowboys", based on "Hamlet", falls in love with an untalented violinist. To win her favor... See full summary »

Director: Steven Ho | Stars: Wayne Pére, Eliane Chappuis, William Forsythe, Wes Studi

Votes: 207

9. Nobody Walks (2012)

R | 83 min | Drama

51 Metascore

A Silver Lake family's relaxed dynamic is tested after they take in a young artist so she can complete her art film.

Director: Ry Russo-Young | Stars: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga

Votes: 4,588 | Gross: $0.02M

10. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

PG-13 | 125 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

53 Metascore

After a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend time with his children held in custody by his former wife.

Director: Chris Columbus | Stars: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein

Votes: 220,932 | Gross: $219.20M

Robin Williams dubs voices for cartoon characters in a recording studio. We also see some foley being recorded.

11. The Postman (Il Postino) (1994)

PG | 108 min | Biography, Comedy, Drama

81 Metascore

Simple Italian postman learns to love poetry while delivering mail to a famous poet; he uses this to woo local beauty Beatrice.

Directors: Michael Radford, Massimo Troisi | Stars: Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Renato Scarpa

Votes: 30,630 | Gross: $21.85M

The Postman and his boss take Pablo Neruda's tape recorder outside to record sounds of the island, music, and a message to Neruda from the postman, which thy plan to send to Neruda.

12. Brighton Rock (1948)

Not Rated | 92 min | Crime, Drama

Pinkie Brown is a small-town hoodlum whose gang runs a protection racket based at Brighton race course. When Pinkie murders a journalist called Fred Hale whom he believes is responsible for... See full summary »

Director: John Boulting | Stars: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Harcourt Williams

Votes: 4,740 | Gross: $0.22M

Pinkie's new wife Rose asks him to go into a recording booth on the boardwalk to make a recording of his voice for her. He does, telling her that he knows she wants him to say "I love you" but instead can only tell her that he hates her. After he dies, she finally listens to the record, but it is scratched and skips after he says the words "I love you" and the movie ends with that phrase repeated again and again. (The book ends with her just about to listen to the recording, which presumably will not skip.)

13. Sudden Fear (1952)

Approved | 110 min | Film-Noir, Thriller

After an ambitious actor insinuates himself into the life of a wealthy middle-aged playwright and marries her, he plots with his mistress to murder her.

Director: David Miller | Stars: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett

Votes: 4,327

Playwrite Joan Crawford uses an elaborate dictation system that uses multiple microphones set up around her office so she can walk around the room and dictate her plays and always be recorded clearly on one of the microphones. One day she uses it to dictate some changes to her will, but she leaves the room and forgets to turn it off. Her husband and his girlfriend come into the room shortly after she leaves and close the door so they can talk in private, while the machine is still recording. The next day Crawford listens to their conversation and learns that they plan to kill her. The dictation disc skips and the last thing we hear is Gloria Graham's voice saying "I know a way... I know a way" over and over again.

14. Lisbon Story (1994)

PG | 100 min | Drama, Music

The director Friedrich Monroe has trouble with finishing a silent b&w movie about Lisbon. He calls his friend, the sound engineer Phillip Winter, for help. As Winter arrives Lisbon weeks ... See full summary »

Director: Wim Wenders | Stars: Rüdiger Vogler, Patrick Bauchau, Vasco Sequeira, Canto e Castro

Votes: 3,961

A German sound engineer in Lisbon with a portable DAT records records sound effects and voices for a movie. He also records foley sounds in a studio.

15. The Conversation (1974)

PG | 113 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

85 Metascore

A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest

Votes: 87,639 | Gross: $4.42M

Gene Hackman is a survailance professional who is hired to record a conversation between two people who are walking around in a crowded public square because they think that someone might be trying to record them. He uses a mic hidden in a bag held by a man who follows them around, a second long-distance directional mic in the window of a building on one side of the square, and a third even more long distance mic that looks like a sniper's rifle on the roof of a building across the other side of the square. He takes the three tape recordings, syncs them up, and uses the best parts of each recording to make a composite tape. Then he freaks out when he thinks the tape will be used to convince a man to murder his cheating wife.

16. The Lives of Others (2006)

R | 137 min | Drama, Thriller

89 Metascore

In 1984 East Berlin, an agent of the secret police, conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives.

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck | Stars: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur

Votes: 324,078 | Gross: $11.29M

People are spied on and recorded by electronic surveillance devices in East Germany.

17. Three Colors: Red (1994)

R | 99 min | Drama, Mystery, Romance

100 Metascore

A model discovers her neighbor is keen on invading people's privacy.

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski | Stars: Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit

Votes: 80,375 | Gross: $4.04M

We hear some important telephone answering machine recordings.

18. Nixon (1995)

R | 192 min | Biography, Drama, History

66 Metascore

A biographical story of former U.S. President Richard Milhous Nixon, from his days as a young boy, to his eventual Presidency, which ended in shame.

Director: Oliver Stone | Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris

Votes: 27,026 | Gross: $13.56M

The Nixon Tapes. Need I say more?

19. Shoah (1985)

Not Rated | 566 min | Documentary, History, War

99 Metascore

Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary recounts the story of the Holocaust through interviews with witnesses - perpetrators as well as survivors.

Director: Claude Lanzmann | Stars: Simon Srebnik, Michael Podchlebnik, Motke Zaïdl, Hanna Zaïdl

Votes: 7,597 | Gross: $0.02M

The filmmaker uses illicit surveilance videotaping and sound recording from van parked outside his interview subjects. We wonder if what he is doing is unethical even though the subjects are ex-Nazis talking about the terrible things they did during the holocaust.

20. Brighton Rock (2010)

R | 111 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

57 Metascore

Charts the headlong fall of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a razor-wielding disadvantaged teenager with a religious death wish.

Director: Rowan Joffe | Stars: Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt

Votes: 5,790

This film uses the same exact scratched record skipping happy ending used in the 1947 movie, which was not part of the novel.

21. Zootopia (2016)

PG | 108 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

78 Metascore

In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush | Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate

Votes: 384,223 | Gross: $341.27M

Judy Hopps the bunny cop uses a tape recorder disguised as a carrot to record Nick Wilde the conman fox when he tells her about his criminal activity. Then she plays the recording back to him and threatens to use it to put him in jail unless he helps her. Later they use the recorder to record the mayor explaining her wrongdoings which leads to her getting arrested.

22. Pygmalion (1938)

Not Rated | 89 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

A phonetics and diction expert makes a bet that he can teach a cockney flower girl to speak proper English and pass as a lady in high society.

Directors: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard | Stars: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr

Votes: 7,166 | Gross: $3.05M

Henry Higgins molds a lower class girl Eliza Doolittle into an upper class aristocrat by changing the way she speaks. He records her voice on some type of discs and plays back the recordings to her in order to let her hear herself and improve.

23. My Fair Lady (1964)

G | 170 min | Drama, Family, Musical

95 Metascore

A snobbish phonetics professor agrees to a wager that he can make a flower girl presentable in high society.

Director: George Cukor | Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White

Votes: 79,779 | Gross: $72.00M

Henry Higgins is a phonetics professor who has several wax cylinder recorders that he uses to record people's speech and play it back to help them learn to change the way they speak. In one scene he plays several of the gramophones back simultaneously at high speed to act as the irritating sounds of a group of women talking.

24. Songcatcher (2000)

PG-13 | 109 min | Drama, Music

63 Metascore

After being denied a promotion at the university where she teaches, Doctor Lily Penleric, a brilliant musicologist, impulsively visits her sister, who runs a struggling rural school in ... See full summary »

Director: Maggie Greenwald | Stars: Janet McTeer, Michael Harding, Michael Davis, Michael Goodwin

Votes: 3,071 | Gross: $3.05M

A musicologist carries heavy Edison cylinder recorders into isolated mountain locations to record Appalachian mountain songs so she can introduce them to the rest of the world.

25. Public Enemies (2009)

R | 140 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

70 Metascore

The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.

Director: Michael Mann | Stars: Christian Bale, Johnny Depp, Christian Stolte, Jason Clarke

Votes: 261,866 | Gross: $97.10M

The Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor of the F.B.I.) uses machines that record sound to lacquer discs to record tapped phone calls. These recordings help them find John Dillinger.

26. Narc (2002)

R | 105 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

70 Metascore

When the trail goes cold on a murder investigation of a policeman an undercover narcotics officer is lured back to the force to help solve the case.

Director: Joe Carnahan | Stars: Ray Liotta, Jason Patric, Chi McBride, Dan Leis

Votes: 36,829 | Gross: $10.46M

A cop turns on a micro cassette recorder to record a forced murder confession from two men he tortures and plans to kill after they confess. Before they can confess the cop's partner shoots him and forces him to confess that he was the real killer. But the dying cop tells the partner that he didn't shoot the man who shot himself in a suicide. The last shot in the movie is a close-up of the cassette recorder still recording, which made me assume that the truth about the suicide was recorded to tape and will be heard by others in the police department. Of course, there could be other interpretations.

27. Atomic Blonde (2017)

R | 115 min | Action, Mystery, Thriller

63 Metascore

An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Director: David Leitch | Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan

Votes: 150,764 | Gross: $51.57M

In the late 1980s, Charlize Theron is a spy who wears a small recording device on her body with a small microphone taped under her bra to document her conversations. At the same time, she is being recorded by enemy spy agencies, by her corrupt colleagues, and by her superiors in the interrogation scene that frames the movie with a large reel-to-reel recorder continually running in the background.

28. One False Move (1992)

R | 105 min | Crime, Drama

87 Metascore

A small town police chief awaits the arrival of a gang of killers.

Director: Carl Franklin | Stars: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams, Michael Beach

Votes: 8,892 | Gross: $1.54M

Killers enter a home where a man is making a home video on a VHS camera, which records them talking before they shut it off. Then they rob and kill several people. L. A. police isolate the sound in the background of the movie and hear someone say the name of the home town where one of the murderers is planning to go, which helps lead them to him.

29. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

PG | 104 min | Comedy, Mystery

A middle-aged couple suspects foul play when their neighbor's wife suddenly drops dead.

Director: Woody Allen | Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jerry Adler, Lynn Cohen

Votes: 34,356 | Gross: $11.29M

A man is getting away with a perfect murder. A group of people want to make him give them information they can take to the police to convince them of his crime. They write a fake script for a theater play and call an actress who is involved with the murderer to audition for the play so they can get her to say certain phrases that they record on the video that is supposedly documenting her audition. They take the sound of her voice from the video and edit it into short phrases, each of which they put on tapes put into five tape recorders. They call the murderer on a speaker phone and press play on one of the five recorders to play back selected phrases in a conversation with him.

30. Thunderheart (1992)

R | 119 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

A young mixed-blood FBI agent is assigned to work with a cynical veteran investigator on a murder on a poverty-stricken Sioux reservation.

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Graham Greene, Fred Ward

Votes: 12,927 | Gross: $22.66M

An FBI agent investigating a murder uses a handheld cassette recorder to secretly record a conversation that incriminates his boss. After the man who was recorded is murdered, the agent plays the tape back over his police radio to his boss who is chasing him in another vehicle, to let his boss know that he knows he's guilty.

31. The Two Jakes (1990)

R | 137 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

56 Metascore

The sequel to Chinatown (1974) finds J.J. "Jake" Gittes investigating adultery and murder, and the money that comes from oil.

Director: Jack Nicholson | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe

Votes: 10,032 | Gross: $10.01M

In 1948, private detectives use a wire recorder to record an adulterous affair in a motel room that turns into a gun homicide after the husband enters. The wire recording becomes a major story element in the movie. We hear it played several times, so when the recording is played as evidence in a courtroom, we can tell that important incriminating details have been removed.

32. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

G | 103 min | Comedy, Musical, Romance

99 Metascore

A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound.

Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly | Stars: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen

Votes: 197,821 | Gross: $8.82M

One of the best musicals ever made is also one of the best depictions of recording sound for film at the beginning of the talking picture era, including the invention of dubbing speaking and singing parts.

33. In a World... (2013)

R | 93 min | Comedy

79 Metascore

An underachieving voice coach finds herself competing in the movie trailer voice-over profession against her arrogant father and his protégé.

Director: Lake Bell | Stars: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry

Votes: 29,416 | Gross: $2.96M

Recording voice overs for movie trailers.

34. LFO (2013)

94 min | Drama, Sci-Fi

A man experimenting with sound discovers he can use it for mind control. He begins testing it on his neighbors, with increasingly unforeseen consequences.

Director: Antonio Tublen | Stars: Patrik Karlson, Izabella Jo Tschig, Per Löfberg, Ahnna Rasch

Votes: 1,005

A man can hypnotize people with sound.

35. Nobody Walks (2012)

R | 83 min | Drama

51 Metascore

A Silver Lake family's relaxed dynamic is tested after they take in a young artist so she can complete her art film.

Director: Ry Russo-Young | Stars: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga

Votes: 4,588 | Gross: $0.02M

36. Soundtracker (2010)

Not Rated | 82 min | Documentary

Pure sound unaltered by human hands is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Gordon Hempton is an Emmy Award-winning sound recordist who has spent the last 30 years trying to find and ... See full summary »

Director: Nick Sherman | Star: Gordon Hempton

Votes: 26

Gordon Hempton records nature sounds and complains about airplane noise. Don't we all.

37. Baby Driver (2017)

R | 113 min | Action, Crime, Drama

86 Metascore

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Director: Edgar Wright | Stars: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González

Votes: 365,488 | Gross: $107.83M

Baby constantly listens to music on a variety of iPods, and he also makes cassette mixtapes from conversations and sounds he records on various vintage machines incluing a micro-cassette recorder, small electronic keyboards, digital drum pads, a dual cassette recorder, a reel-to-reel deck, an ancient mini synthesizer, and an old Califone educational recorder that records onto a magnetic strip on a card which can then be played and scratched like an LP.

38. Cold War (2018)

R | 89 min | Drama, History, Music

90 Metascore

In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski | Stars: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza

Votes: 33,658 | Gross: $4.57M

In postwar Poland see some ethnomusicologists recording people in rural Poland singing traditional folk music with portable reel-to-reel tape recorders. They hire folksingers and create a huge national folklore ensemble to sing the songs.

39. River's End (2005)

Not Rated | 90 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

Corbin plays a fictional Menard County sheriff who uses country savvy and cowboy logic to straighten out his angry teen-aged grandson, Clay, a high school senior who can't seem to stay out of trouble.

Director: William Katt | Stars: Barry Corbin, Sam Huntington, Caroline Goodall, Charles Robinson

Votes: 253

A county sheriff records himself on cassette tapes to teach his grandson survival tips for a canoe trip in the wilderness. The boy plays the tapes each day on a portable tape player as he makes his way down the river.

40. True Lies (1994)

R | 141 min | Action, Comedy, Thriller

63 Metascore

A fearless, globe-trotting, terrorist-battling secret agent has his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife might be having an affair with a used car salesman while terrorists smuggle nuclear war heads into the United States.

Director: James Cameron | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton

Votes: 220,075 | Gross: $146.28M

Secret agent Arnold Schwarzenegger has a French man record his voice onto a small tape recorder. Arnold obscures his face and hides the tape machine, then plays bay phrases on the tape recorder to his wife, who doesn't know her husband is the man across the hotel room because she hears another man's voice asking her to strip and do a sexy dance.

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