Heard Music

6 Films with the Best Sound Design of All Time

The tradition of keeping sound design “invisible” is one of the reasons behind its obscurity. The best sound design in film is one that the audience does not notice, but still feels strongly. The final and most critical component in creating an immersive experience for the viewer is sound design.

The importance of sound in “selling the illusion” of a movie cannot be overstated. The term “movie magic” surely relates to the role of sound designer. The audience will have a far more difficult time engaging with the film if the sound isn’t good. 

What is the definition of sound design?

Sound design today is a broad term that encompasses anything from innovative recording and mixing techniques to sampling, synth preset altering, and effect chain tuning. It also encompasses methods such as foley and special effects in cinema composing and soundtrack work.

  1. Joker – 2019

Hildur Gunadóttir, Alan Robert Murray, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, and Tod Maitland contributed the sound design.

This film is all about atmosphere, and the audio is crucial to the development of the many suspenseful moments that have helped it become one of the best films of recent years. The sound design of this film, which is based on Gunadóttir’s incredible music and Murray, Ozanich, Zupancic, and Maitland’s effects and editing, is a work in itself that progresses along a well-defined trajectory: the interiors and exteriors are perfectly illustrated, and the train scene is a great example of these artists’ work coming together.

  1. The Godfather – 1972

Walter Murch contributed the sound design.

Sound designer Walter Murch added frantic, screeching elevated subway train noises to the soundtrack as Michael (Pacino) prepares for the murder that will put an end to his dream of breaking free from the family business: It’s the sound of “his neurons colliding with one another.” Murch had been doing work like this on small, independent films like “THX 1138,” but with this sequence, he realised he could accomplish it on major studio pictures as well.

  1. Whiplash – 2014

Thomas Curley, Ben Wilkins, and Craig Mann contributed the sound design.

A tale about music necessitates excellent sound design. Because of the high quality in every detail, this film earned an Oscar and a BAFTA for best sound design. This illustrates the dedication with which this group of artists approached dealing with high-volume situations, music, and debates.

  1. Only God Forgives – 2013

Cliff Martinez contributed the sound design.

Cliff Martinez’s ambient soundtrack, as well as the usage of Italo-disco tunes by various singers, contributed significantly to the film’s fame. But it wasn’t just the score’s excellence that made it stand out; it was also how well it fit into the film.

The soundtrack is employed to not only dramatize a scene, but also to guide the pace and manner of editing in many of the film’s important sequences. In “Only God Forgives,” the same element is employed and improved, this time with Cliff Martinez as the main musician.

This dark background accompanies the protagonists’ plodding motions, while a techno ambient beat covers the bursting violence. But it’s not just the soundtrack that makes the film’s sound design stand out; it also has some of the most intricate Foley work ever seen in a picture. Every footfall sounds loud enough to upset the audience’s brains in the midst of this sacred calm, and this produces the film’s mesmerising rhythm.

  1. The Third Generation – 1979

Hartmut Eichgrün contributed the sound design.

Whether or not we think “The Third Generation’s” sound design experiment was a success, it is one of the most daring and bizarre designs ever created. It was Hartmut Eichgrün’s first sound work, and he would go on to work on Wim Wenders’ famous “Wings of Desire,” which uses some of the techniques seen in this film. Fassbinder has always placed a high value on media and how it is continually present in our background sound.

One of many examples is the ending of “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” which features loud radio transmissions. This film takes this concept to its logical conclusion. Every meeting is disrupted by radio or television noises, thanks to a terrorist group inspired by the RAF.

The fascinating part is that they are conversing at the same level, making it difficult to follow up. However, this only occurs in a few situations; more than half of the sequences contain this distracting background noise. In the film, there are two types of terrorism: armed and informational, with the latter winning out in the end.

  1. Selma – 2014 

Christopher Assells, Bobbi Banks and Zane D. Bruce contributed the sound design.

Making historical events feel immediate and approachable is one of the challenges with historical films. The visceral, authentic sound of people fleeing for their lives on the bridge in “Selma” is a perfect illustration of how sound may assist in this endeavour. The sound grabs the audience’s attention in a way that feels nothing like the distant past, as movement, emotions, and violence flow through the picture.

Honourable Mentions  

Bottom Line

Sound design is an important aspect of filmmaking. It does more than just accompany the images; it conjures moods, affects, emotions, and more that can’t be done with only photos. It can damage or save a film by using audio effects and creating soundtracks.

Each in this selection of 6 films with the best sound design is worth a watch and a listen.

Check out more selections by Sneha here.

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