10 Great Actors Who Narrated Nature Documentaries: From Benedict Cumberbatch to Sandra Oh
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Often when you're a few minutes into a wildlife documentary, you think "hmm, that voice sounds familiar." That may even be the case with BBC America's new Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty, narrated by Anglo fave Bill Nighy. Here's a helpful guide to 10 other beloved actors who've narrated acclaimed nature docs over the years.
1. Benedict Cumberbatch
The Sherlock actor narrates South Pacific, a BBC series exploring the natural history of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Caroline Islands, and other remote locations in the region. His deep and dignified voice definitely adds gravitas, and fans love the unusual way he pronounces "penguins" as "pengwings."
2. Tilda Swinton
The Oscar-winning actress's super-varied résumé includes narrating Galápagos, a BBC series exploring the natural history of the Galápagos Islands and their important role in the formation of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Her soft Scottish accent gives the stunning shots of these historic volcanic islands an even greater sense of intimacy.
3. Kenneth Branagh
The BBC's visionary, Emmy-winning series Walking with Dinosaurs uses extensive CGI to portray dinosaurs in the style of a traditional nature documentary. It's a bold concept that needs a weighty narrator to help carry it off, so enlisting Branagh — a super-distinguished actor known for his Shakespearean roles — was a smart move.
4. Morgan Freeman
Freeman's instantly recognizable voice is beyond authoritative, so it's no surprise that he's become an in-demand narrator over the years. Among the nature docs he's voiced are the Oscar-winning March of the Penguins, which follows a group of emperor penguins as they leave their ocean habitat to walk inland to ancestral breeding grounds.
5. Sandra Oh
BBC America's She Walks with Apes tells the stories of three remarkable women – Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas – who embarked on lifelong journeys to live with some of humanity’s closest living relatives, the Great Apes. Very fittingly, it's narrated by another remarkable woman: Killing Eve's consistently awesome Sandra Oh.
6. Meryl Streep
When she isn't adding to her 21 Oscar nominations – more than any other actor – Streep takes on the odd narrating job, too. Among the projects she's lent her voice to is 2007's Ocean Voyagers, a touching feature-length doc that explores parenting in humpback whales.
7. Leonardo DiCaprio
DiCaprio has been a passionate environmentalist since the late '90s. In 2007, he created, produced, co-wrote, and narrated The 11th Hour, an acclaimed film about the grave problems facing the planet's life systems. It's a powerful and thought-provoking watch that was rather ahead of its time.
8. David Tennant
The Doctor Who favorite has contributed his familiar Scottish lilt to a range of nature docs. Among them: two seasons of the hit BBC series Spy in the Wild, which offers fascinating insight into the complex emotions of animals including kangaroos, dolphins, and orangutans.
9. Sigourney Weaver
In the U.S., Weaver provided the narration for the landmark 2006 nature documentary series Planet Earth. The following year, she presented Gorillas Revisited, a BBC documentary about Dian Fossey, the conservationist she poignantly portrayed in the 1988 movie Gorillas in the Mist.
10. Bill Nighy
As mentioned, the Love, Actually actor contributes his wry charm to Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty, a visually stunning series that follows three families of meerkats as they compete for food and resources in South Africa's Kalahari Desert. New episodes premiere Saturdays at 8pm ET on BBC America – or alternatively, you can watch the first episode online here.
Have we missed out on one of your favorite actor-narrators?