Beyond the Legendary Voice: 4 Must-See James Earl Jones Movies
James Earl Jones has enjoyed an acting career that’s spanned TV, stage and movies for six decades and counting. Ironically, Jones’ difficult upbringing was plagued by a severely debilitating stutter; now he’s most recognizable for his rich, resonating voice. (In case you’ve forgotten: “This is CNN.”) Get a glimpse of his career in these four movies, all of which can be found in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
1. Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Jones’ first movie role was a minor one in Stanley Kubrick’s satirically dark doomsday comedy. He plays Lieutenant Lothar Zogg, a bombardier in a B-52 with a nuclear bomb payload bound for the Soviet Union. As the “Leper Colony” bomber plane approaches its target (with the plane’s theme song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” playing on the soundtrack) Zogg and Major Kong (Slim Pickens) are making final bomb-run technical checks. Then Kong, in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, decides to personally ride the bomb like a bucking bronco.
2. Field of Dreams
In this sentimental, baseball-themed fantasy, idealistic Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice urging him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield to “ease his pain.” Amid throngs of non-believers and threats of foreclosure, Ray meets disillusioned, reclusive writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones). After kidnapping Mann and taking him to a ballgame and then to his farm, Ray listens to the writer’s dreamy monologue about baseball’s place in American history: “This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” (Spoiler alert: They come.)
3. Star Wars
One of Jones’ most iconic characters relied solely on his commanding voice: Darth Vader, the ruthless cyborg of the Empire intent on purging the Galaxy of the Jedi in George Lucas’ sci-fi classic. Jones went on to voice Darth Vader in three other Star Wars franchise installments, including The Empire Strikes back, Return of the Jedi and the 2005 prequel Revenge of the Sith. For his work on the original Star Wars, Jones spent a scant two-and-a-half hours in the recording booth and earned a mere $7,000 for his work—which wasn’t even credited.
4. The Lion King
In Disney’s hit animated film, Jones once again delivered a voice-only performance as Musafa, the authoritative, imposing and majestic “Lion King” of the African Pride Lands and the father of lion cub Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas in his younger years, and later, Matthew Broderick). Although dark-maned, tall and muscular, Mufasa also serves as a doting and playful father, offering wise words for his son. “I’m only brave when I have to be,” he tells his cub. “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
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