There are few voices in Hollywood more instantly recognizable than the smooth vocal chords of Morgan Freeman. The veteran actor, who has earned acclaim on the stage and screen — both big and small — has prided himself in using his commanding voice on a number of big projects. That includes several documentaries, based on space, nature, biographical figures, grave tragedies and historical accounts. Freeman's voice lends an air of authority and gravitas which should never go wasted. Thankfully, there are several documentaries out there that have made good use of Freeman's cool voice.
In this article, we'll break down just a small handful of the acclaimed documentaries featuring Morgan Freeman's voice as the narrator. While Freeman can often be celebrated for his acting, even his voice alone can inspire awe and confidence, and there are only a few figures in show business who can instantly make something feel grand and important just by the way they utter words. Freeman is one such talented voice performer.
The Story Of God
It takes a powerful voice to convey the power of God. Who better to tell the story of the Lord than the man who played God twice before (at least)? Indeed, in this National Geographic series, The Story of God, the Oscar-winning actor explores the meaning of life and God, while also searching for the big meaning in how we view society through the ways in which religion has been changed and reformed throughout centuries.
Throughout the series, Freeman is seen traveling the world, visiting historical landmarks and speaking with famous figures, in his search for the big answers. It's an intriguing concept. In its third season, which aired earlier this year, he continues his search for life and meaning. It's unclear if there are plans for another season.
March Of The Penguins
How could we not include one of the biggest documentaries of all-time? The movie that solidified Morgan Freeman as a mainstay in the documentary narration department, March of the Penguins was meant to be a kind-hearted look at the everyday life of penguins, and how they seek to survive in dire climate changes. The 2005 documentary appealed to audiences everywhere not only through its cuteness, but through the urgency through which it spoke about its topic: global warming.
Unlike, say, the equally popular and important (if not more so) An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins won people over through its disarmingly adorable penguins, then hit them with the cold hard truth. Freeman's commanding voice guided the narrative, but it also stressed the importance of providing proper care and treatment for these disadvantages animals, and it certainly struck a chord with people.
Born To Be Wild
Sharing no relation to the Steppenwolf song of the same name, Born To Be Wild is, instead, the 2011 IMAX documentary centered around orphaned orangutans and elephants. In addition to being as cute and charming as all heck, Born To Be Wild is a captivating and well-made story through the eyes of these misfortunate creatures and the humans who do what they can to save them.
It is entirely family appropriate and works well at appealing to a broad audience, while also stressing the point of animal preservation. Morgan Freeman's gentle, soothing voice eases us into this wilderness story.
The Long Way Home
The Oscar-winning documentary on the plight of Jewish refugees after World World II that contributed to the State of Israel, The Long Way Home is widely acclaimed as a powerful and haunting depiction of the atrocities of war and the pitiful conditions on Jewish refugees ever after the war. The film does not shy away from showing the terrors of poverty and antisemitism, and how emigration to the British Mandate of Palestine was carried out, but the immigration rules resulted in many poor souls being detained into the Cyprus campus.
While the documentary features the voice talents of several notable stars, including Ed Asner, Sean Astin, Michael York, the late Martin Landau and more, Morgan Freeman's voice is also there to guide the narration, help emphasis the humanity amid depravity, and how the will of these wounded souls helped to eventually form the State of Israel, as seen in the film.
Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon
The moon landing is one of the most monumental events in human history. No longer were we restrained to our Earthly plains. A man walked on the moon, and history was never the same again. Sure enough, there are several documentaries centered around this historical moon landing, but there is only one that is graced with the voice of Morgan Freeman as Neil Armstrong himself, recounting the voyage that changed the course of human history as we know it today.
Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon features the voice talents of Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Matthew McConaughey and several more high-profile talents, and that includes Morgan Freeman as Armstrong himself. It's a big role with big moon-landing shoes to fill, and Freeman handled the role dutifully. The IMAX documentary, then, was a chance to see history through a big new lens.
The C Word
Before we get ahead of ourselves: no, not that c-word. The 2015 documentary The C Word is, instead, centered around the other unpopular c word: cancer. Telling two different narratives, Meghan O'Hara's film tells her tale from the perspective of French neuroscientist/cancer revolutionary Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, as well her own side of the story. After surviving stage three breast cancer, O'Hara set out to make this movie with Dr. David Servan-Schreiber to discuss the failures of western medicine when it comes to proper medical care in cancer patients, as well as the four factors that reduce the risk of cancer, including diet, exercise, stress management and toxin avoidance.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this personal, autobiographical and educational documentary was given the boost it needed to speak to the masses, and it has since earned wide acclaim and notice in regards to its subject matter and frankess through someone who has lived through the trials and tribulations of cancer and wants to help others avoid its fatalities.
March Of The Penguins 2: The Next Step
Did you know they made a sequel to March of the Penguins? Evidently the sequel to this well-acclaimed 2005 documentary didn't get as much notice or notoriety as its predecessor, but that doesn't mean March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step went unnoticed or without praise. Released exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., the documentary was once again a call to action for the distressed, endangered penguins in the Arctic.
Though the tale remains as cute and plushy as before, it's clear that conversation efforts haven't been as urgent as they should be, and the white icy landscapes which serve as the home of these frosty creatures are in even more danger than before. Nevertheless, Morgan Freeman once again served as the narrator on this doc, and while this sequel isn't as known or well-seen as its original, that doesn't make it any less good or — more importantly — any less vital as a movie.
Breaking The Taboo
A Brazilian documentary centered around The War on Drugs, Breaking The Taboo is a story that resonates in America as well as South America. When it came to the American release of this documentary, it was important to have a documentary who would recount — and stress — the importance of this ongoing story.
While actor Gael Garica Bernal took on these duties in the Spanish-language version of this documentary, the American release of Breaking the Taboo found Morgan Freeman recounting the history of drugs, beginning in 1961 and continuing through the release of the documentary.
BB King: The Life Of Riley
The late Riley B. King, known professionally as B.B. King, was one of the most celebrated and triumphant American blues musicians. He introduced a new sophisticated style to the masses, and there's no shortage of worthy accolades to be thrown his way.
That's why, in the 2012 documentary, B.B. King: The Life Of Riley, it took a figure with a voice as well-known and celebrated as Morgan Freeman's to recount his legacy and his influence on the world of music, and allow the filmmakers to recount his successes, his failures and his way into the high ranks of musical history. While B.B. King was on hand to tell his story, as the movie was made and released a few years before his death, Freeman narrates the doc, playing a hand in its resonance.
Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar
When it comes to your documentary about the threat of endangered creatures, you basically have Morgan Freeman on speed dial. The actor is the go-to guy when it comes to tell your story to the masses. And sure enough, the 2014 documentary Island of Lemurs: Madagascar was no exception to this rule.
The IMAX documentary takes place in Madagascar, as the title would suggest, and centers around the ongoing efforts of Dr. Patricia C. Wright to help lemurs survive and thrive in the modern world. A population of lemurs have found their lives at risk due to agricultural fires, and this documentary helps to bring awareness to the efforts of Dr. Patricia C. Wright and those who want these Madagascar lemurs to continue living in freedom in the wild.
These are merely among the most well-praised and well-known of Morgan Freeman's documentaries. But there are certainly many more movies that we haven't listed. If you feel there is a glaring omission from Freeman's giant resume, be sure to let us know what we missed in the comments below.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.