Actions speak louder than words and nowhere is this truer than in the world of film. Some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history occur without a single word being uttered.
The ability to convey an emotion or feeling with a single look, grunt or movement is paramount to what makes the cinematic experience so unique.
Think about Al Pacino’s wandering eyes in The Godfather, as he sets about executing his father’s rivals and entering into a criminal world he can never escape from. Sometimes actions say everything but then sometimes there are characters in movies that can do and say so much to an audience without speaking a single world.
They might be mute, they might be unable to speak. Then again, they may simply wish to keep silent. Whatever the reason, these characters often stick out in the minds of moviegoers for the sheer fact they say nothing at all, yet play such an important role in proceedings.
They aren’t homages to the great era of the silent movie – these characters have been given no voice for very specific, dramatic reasons. The writers and directors have a specific purpose for them and, more often than not, it’s an important one. Here are 16 Amazing Movie Characters Who Never Spoke A Single Word
16. Oddjob – Goldfinger
Jaws may be the big, scary, and (mostly) silent James Bond villain that first springs to mind when most fans think of awesome movie characters that never say a word. But the big man totally blew it with Moonraker – a 007 movie in which his character not only shatters his super-scary image with his own lame love story, but also speaks! That just leaves Goldfinger henchman Oddjob as the only Bond baddie to never speak a single word.
Described by his boss, Auric Goldfinger, as “an admirable manservant but mute” , Oddjob does technically have four lines of dialogue in the film. They amount to little more that variations of the noise “ah” rather than any specific words, though. Played to perfection by actor and wrestler Harold Sakata, much of Oddjob’s menace stems from his strong and silent demeanor, as well as his attire and that bowler hat with the sharpened steel rim. He’s a cold and highly effective killer.
15. Michael Myers – Halloween
Imagine, for a moment, if Michael Myers had spoken in the first Halloween movie all those years ago; it just wouldn’t work. From the opening of John Carpenter’s original movie, when we see a six-year-old Michael stalk and kill his sister without saying a word, audiences are under no allusions — this is a very disturbed child.
Part of what makes Myers such a frightening presence in that first film is that he stalks and kills without explanation, without emotion, without remorse. The utterance of even a single word would change that. Donald Pleasance’s Dr Loomis describes Myers as possessing a “blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” To have the character speak would undo so much of that chilling aura. He’s a monster and yet, somehow, he’s human like all of us. It’s a brilliant portrayal that taps into our basest fears about serial killers.
14. Kevin – Sin City
Robert Rodriguez’s original Sin City movie often gets overlooked when it comes to discussing the great comic book movies of our time. Yet his first outing has plenty to be commended about, not least in the inspired casting of Elijah Wood as Kevin. It was a role that required an actor capable of turning from a seemingly harmless character into a dangerous psychopath at a moment’s notice. Wood, who would go on to showcase his penchant for playing psychos in Maniac, manages this balancing act well.
What makes it all the more impressive is that he does it while staying completely silent throughout the film. A mute menace, Wood’s actions speak louder than any words, making Kevin a cold and sadistic cannibal killer who feels no remorse or pain, whether he is taking a life, or having his life taken from him.
13. Mr. Shhh – Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead
Steve Buscemi has one of the most interesting faces in Hollywood. It’s not that he’s ugly, per se, more that his every feature seems to tell a story. Maybe that’s why he’s never been better as Mr. Shhh. He’s the silent assassin sent by Christopher Walken’s quadriplegic crime lord, “The Man With The Plan”, to dispatch the hapless crew led by Andy Garcia’s Jimmy The Saint in 1995’s Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.
The gang is sentenced to death by Walken’s character following a bloodily botched mission, with the crime boss handing out a sentence of “buckwheats” to all the gang barring Jimmy, which amounts to death in the most gruesome and painful manner possible. It’s then down to Mr. Shhh to stalk and kill them, one by one, with the mere presence of Buscemi’s character on the screen a portent of doom. He’s the assassin who never fails until … well, watch the movie.
12. Gromit – Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers
Every dual act needs a straight guy, and for Nick Park’s Claymation duo Wallace & Gromit, that role undoubtedly goes to the latter. While Wallace is the fall guy, often found talking too much and not paying attention to what really matters, Gromit is his anchor and voice of reason – albeit without a voice of his own. Park utilizes every inch of Gromit’s face to illicit a reaction and, in doing so, generates big laughs on the screen.
Gromit’s standout movie remains The Wrong Trousers, in which our canine hero finds himself usurped by a mysterious penguin, who movies into Wallace’s house and has sinister designs on the trousers he has invented to walk Gromit every day. Clever, funny and with a few knowing film parodies thrown in for good measure, Gromit is the glue that holds it all together, with the character showcasing the full range of emotions.
11. One-Eye – Valhalla Rising
Nicolas Winding Refn recruited his old chum Mads Mikkelsen for the brutal role of One-Eye, a mute Viking-era slave, in the bloody but brilliant Valhalla Rising. Refn rarely does things the easy way, and it’s the same with this movie, which amounts to a very violent adventure drama that revolves around the bond between One-Eye and the young boy who gives him food and water until he escapes slavery.
For a film that touches on the rise of Christianity in the Scottish Highlands, it’s interesting to note that the two characters are bound by an unspoken faith in one another. The film makes for an interesting religious allegory, as well as a bloody and brutal buddy picture – the boy speaks for both of them, while One-Eye fights for both of them.
10. The Xenomorph – Alien
Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror effort is built on the fine work of its stellar cast, who help generate much of the film’s tension and fear in the absence of any actual on-screen threat. While Aliens delivered Xenomorphs by the bucket load, Scott’s original drip-fed viewers glimpses of the titular Alien, and was all the better for it.
Even then, those brief glimpses of the film’s central antagonist needed to be pitch perfect. Credit for that goes to the late Bolaji Badejo, who did a fine job as the Xenomorph, only seen in glimpses throughout the film and rarely heard. Anything audible only amounts to a hiss or snarl here and there. The power of Badejo’s performance stems from his sheer physicality. Standing tall at 7’2, he was a truly imposing figure as the Xenomorph, which only added to the dread and threat that surrounded the character. Sadly, Badejo passed away at the age of just 39 in December 1993 from sickle cell anaemia.
9. The Magic Carpet – Aladdin
With Robin Williams’ Genie and Gilbert Gottfried’s Iago dominating things on the comedy front throughout Disney’s Aladdin, some of the movie’s other side characters took on altogether different, but similarly important, roles. Abu, for example, was Aladdin’s high-pitched kleptomaniac monkey of a best friend. But the real hero of the hour was surely The Magic Carpet. As much a plot device as a character, the Magic Carpet’s mere presence led the way to some of the film’s most memorable scenes.
After their initial meeting in the Cave of Wonders, it’s the Magic Carpet that helps Aladdin escape with the lamp in thrilling fashion. It’s also the facilitator for arguably the film’s high point: Aladdin taking to the sky with Princess Jasmine for a rendition of “A Whole New World.” Playful and fun without saying a word throughout, it’s the unsung hero of this Disney classic.
8. Chewbacca – Star Wars
A contentious choice perhaps, given that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo seems to understand every gargling growl that emanates from Chewbacca’s throat, but the Star Wars favorite never utters a single word of human dialogue. And there isn’t a Star Wars fan alive who would want him to, either. Chewie is the ultimate movie sidekick.
There whenever Han Solo gets in to trouble, he’s also on hand to provide support to the other characters in the movie, the occasional laugh, or to simply mix up the action a little. Essentially an eight-foot canine companion, the character was actually inspired by George Lucas seeing his own dog sat up in the passenger seat of his car. That only adds to the lovable, endearing quality Chewbacca continues to have with fans of the Force.
7. Lurch – The Addams Family
Yes, we’re aware that the Lurch from the original Addams Family TV show came complete with his catchphrase, “You Rang?” But hey, fun fact: when the character made his way to the big screen in the ’90s, he never said a word aside from a grunt or two.
The 7ft tall Carel Struycken has made a career out of playing impossibly tall, often sinister, characters on the big and small screen. He played the mystical guide character The Giant in the original series of Twin Peaks. He was also Arquillian in the first Men in Black movie – the giant guy with the tiny alien living and controlling things from within his head. His most memorable role came as Lurch, though, the faithful butler to the Addams Family in their two Barry Sonnenfeld-directed big screen outings.
Casting was a key component to the success of those Addams Family movies, and while the likes of Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, and Christopher Lloyd garnered plenty of praise for their pitch-perfect performances, Struycken deserves equal acclaim for creating a vivid and pitch-perfect portrayal of Lurch. It’s a funny, clever and an essential part of both movies.
6. The Thin Man – Charlies Angels
Crispin Glover is an actor who has always done things on his own terms. It’s part of the reason why he’s so great as George McFly in Back to the Future, but also why he failed to appear in either of the film’s sequels.
It’s also why he ended up being arguably the most memorable thing to come out of McG’s two rather mediocre Charlie’s Angels movies. Cast in the role of the mysterious Thin Man, the story goes that the character was originally cast as a speaking role. However, when Glover read the script for the first film, he quickly noticed that all of the lines were largely exposition.
Eventually, he was able to convince the producers to eliminate all of the lines, to create a character that represented a mute and mysterious assassin whose intentions were not always clear to the Angels. He’s the most intriguing thing on screen throughout.
5. Hattie – Sweet and Lowdown
Samantha Morton earned her first Oscar nomination and rave reviews for her role as the sweet and shy mute laundress Hattie, in Woody Allen’s underrated 1930s musical drama, Sweet and Lowdown. She’s the antithesis of Sean Penn’s loud and brash jazz guitarist; a mute character more in tune with her feelings and sense of self than Penn’s Emmet Ray will ever be. While Emmet toils, and exists in a state of near-permanent torment over his artistic endeavors, Hattie’s sweet demeanor sees her make the most of life and even enjoy a brief screen career.
4. Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th series
He may be a flagrant rip-off of his slasher movie rival, Michael Myers, but there’s a brute strength to Jason Voorhees’ silent killer that’s not quite as prominent in his Halloween rival and one that makes him an intriguing and consistently terrifying presence on screen.
Myers is the everyman stalk and slash killer by comparison, Jason is something more supernatural. He’s an undead, borderline zombified killing machine who has stalked and killed some 152 people in his career to date.
A hulking mass of a man, best played by original actor Kane Hodder, Jason is the Hunchback of Notre Dame turned bad. A deformed and neglected child who has grown into a vengeful, demon-like being. He’s pure brute force, and the classic example of actions speaking louder than words. If Jason ever opened that mouth of his, he could lose all credibility instantly. Thankfully, he never does.
3. Lil – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Fire Walk With Me is one giant, throbbing headache of a Twin Peaks movie, and one that poses more questions than it answers. Classic David Lynch fare in almost every respect, anyone hoping for answers to the great riddles at the center of Twin Peaks was left sorely disappointed. Entertained and enthralled, but sorely disappointed.
Lil, the woman identified as Gordon Cole’s cousin in the spin-off film, typifies that feeling. For reasons known only to Lynch, the character is on hand to brief detective Chester Desmond on what to expect during his investigation into the death of Teresa Banks. That she decides to offer up these clues through the medium of interpretative dance only adds to the absurdity of what follows. It’s weird and wonderful, and actress Kimberly Ann Cole doesn’t even say a word.
2. Navajas – Desperado
Danny Trejo has carved a career out of playing menacing (and often violent) Mexican badasses. He may be better known for movies like Con Air and Machete, but the film and role that really helped establish the Trejo archetype came with Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado. Essentially a big budget remake of his breakthrough effort El Mariachi, this version starred an inspired Antonio Banderas, with Trejo popping up with an all-too-brief but entirely memorable turn as Navajas.
He’s the knife wielding assassin out to get Banderas’s El Mariachi, and their fight scene together ranks among the most memorable. He’s also responsible for dispatching El Mariachi’s right hand man, Buscemi (played by, yep, Steve Buscemi.) Trejo doesn’t even have to say a word – his stern, weather-worn face tells us all we need to know.
1. Mahogany – The Midnight Meat Train
Hellraiser aside, Clive Barker fans have been largely starved of great movies based on the horror writer’s work. The Midnight Meat Train definitely isn’t a cinematic classic by any standards, but it does feature a fine central turn from Bradley Cooper, in the years before he hit it big with the Hangover movies.
It also includes a memorable performance from soccer star turned actor Vinnie Jones as the menacingly silent killer, Mahogany, the man who stalks the city’s subway system with murderous intent. A limited performer who arguably works better when seen and not heard, Jones excels as Mahogany, with his physicality a crucial asset. Jones grew up on the outskirts of London and was known as a troublemaker on and off the pitch. Never one to shy away from a fight, it’s this edge that imbues this silent killer with a particular sense of dread and menace.
Did we miss any strong but silent characters off the list? Have your say in the comments.
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