Favorite Classic Films That Got Sound Right


Sound designers/editors/mixers didn’t always have all of the fancy and (VERY) precise tools that let us get as in depth as we do today, but there are still many films that hold up incredibly well…especially when you consider those that really used sound effectively as a story-telling element. There’s a lot we can learn from them though. Working within restrictions is such a big part of creativity (both as a source of inspiration and a challenge).

So what are some of your favorite classic films that got sound right. The older the better. Some of mine:

  • Fritz Lang’s M (1931)
  • Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956 – thank you Criterion, for finally bringing this to the U.S.!…original title – Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)

What else but Bergman’s Persona of course. He has a very specific way of using sound (and music) in his films, but Persona is my absolute favorite, which you can watch the beginning sequence here.


I was also going to say The Conversation, but of course Shaun got that:)


I don’t have a lot of films in mind, but there are three that came up immediately :

  • Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) – but I will also recommend Mon Oncle (1958) and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
  • Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959)
  • Andreï Tarkovski’s Stalker (1979) – they produced a 5.1 “remaster” version on the dvd where they added a lot of sounds compare to the original in mono and imho you lost a lot of the evocative aspect bring by the mono soundtrack. So watch it in mono (both version are on the dvd).

However I don’t know if Tati and Bresson’s films will be easy to find outside Europe.


I loved the sound for Citizen Kane. I found myself paying attention more to the sound than the cinematography of the film.

The Godfather II (1974)

This movie had a lot of great sounding moments particularly loved the sounds of the shoot out in the streets as we hear inside the bar then cuts to the shootout with the car tires squealing trying to get away and the flashback scenes of the ambience of Italy.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

I’m a bit biased on this one but I remember the first time watching it as kid on TV and my dad pointing out the punch sounds in the movie. It was the first time I realized that the sounds would have needed to be recorded by someone and added in.


Adding a few more (+1 for M, by the way!):

•    Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)
•    Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965)
•    Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)


Is this old enough to be considered classic?:


And all of the other Caro-Juenet films, for that matter.
Those guys pay attention!


I would like to suggest Gattaca (1997). It’s been out for nearly 20 years which I assume would make it a classic.

The sound is subtle and yet it helps drive the story. I like subtlety in storytelling, especially when sound is the topic of discussion.


I also am not sure what qualifies films as “classics”, but I think when considering this question it is important to consider the historical, technological and contextual perspectives of these films. Having said that, I think that THX 1138 (1971) had fantastic sound design that created a sense dystopian ambivalence towards the workers.  This then sat well with the music score by Lalo Schifrin to create a starkness and feeling of insignificance which works well the visuals and narrative.

Worth checking out if you have not seen it.


There is a lot of wonderfull movies with excelent sound works posted here, i can say

Otto Preminger – Laura 1944 (i like the use of leitmotiv with the music)

Alfred Hitchcock – The Birds 1963 (specially the scene when Melanie goes to the Cathy’s school)

Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in The West 1968 (a good script thinking in sound)

William Friedkin – The Exorcist 1973


Great list so far. Plus one for Tati, Sergio Leone, Orson Welles. I would add:

  • Stanley Kubrick – 2001 (silence is a creative choice)
  • Alfred Hitchcock – Rear Window (really almost all of his films)
  • Walt Disney – Fantasia (Jimmy MacDonald did amazing work for Disney throughout his career…if you haven’t seen this clip of the Disney sound department in action it is worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irZORCitadw )

My first go to is always The Birds by Aldred Hitchcock. No music. Just SFX. Dreamy

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