For many viewers, Best Sound Mixing is often overlooked by all of the other categories at the Oscars. But it is a highly technical craft that is also incredibly creative. Mixing is the process of matching audio levels of every single sound in order to make the film sound seamless, realistic, and sharp. Sound mixers add their touch to the story. Movies that require a ton of sounds in a single scene, (music, explosions, even unique ways to capture silence), demand a kind of precision and artistry not always appreciated by the typical movie-goer. This post ranks the Academy Award winners for Best Sound Mixing from the last 20 years.
Watch: Pixar Storytelling with Sound Mixing
Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.
Best Sound Mixing
20. Dreamgirls (2006)
It’s not easy to beat action, or war films in any sound category. But of course, a musical, might change the game. Music Editor, Paul Rabjohns said that his work on the film was actually closer to traditional recording than for a film. The work for Rabjohns began way before wrap. Pro Tools, tempo mapping, and sampling was used to adjust the music during the course of production. By the dubbing stage, the mix had over 200 tracks. Luckily, Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer, Willie D. Burton were up to the task and the final mix ended up an Oscar winner.
Best Sound Mixing Oscar
19. Gladiator (2000)
Director Ridley Scott brought us an Oscar winning movie on many fronts. From Best Picture to Best Actor, Gladiator reigned supreme at the 2001 Academy Awards. But let’s not forget that half of that movie was what we heard. The agonizing pain, battles of the Roman Empire, came to life thanks to Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, and the late Ken Weston.
Musicals and Sound Mixing
18. Chicago (2002)
Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella, and David Lee beat out some heavy weights, but if you’ve seen, or really, heard the film, it’s no real surprise. Chicago is one of the films that you might not notice the sound mixing because it’s so seamless and clean that unless you’re a sound mixer yourself, you may not notice.
Sound Mixing War
17. Black Hawk Down (2001)
War films typically have sounds working for the story that are layered precisely to avoid a noisy, cluttered, mess. The dramatic music and desperate sounds of war, demand master mixers. Michael Minkler, Myron Nettinga, and Chris Munro made this sound easy.
Beating out Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down is a great example of a war movie that mixes its many sounds so well. It has some magic moments in the sky and on the ground, and the silence, music, dialogue, and gunshots let us experience the war zone.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Sound Mixing Oscar
16. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The third movie in the Bourne film series, was mixed in Gary Summers, David Parker, Scott Milan, and Bob Beemer’s dub stage. The sound team for this film included Parker, Milan, and Kirk Francis, and they nailed it. Action movies experience a similar struggle to that of war films regarding sound. Clarity is crucial and this team made it happen.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
15. Ray (2004)
When a character is playing a real musician, there are sometimes “sound alike” artists that come in and sing for the actor. While Jamie Foxx does a pretty great Ray Charles impression, the vocals for this film were all Mr. Charles himself. Jamie however, is the one playing the piano in each scene.
There are some obvious challenges to mixing all of these sounds on the final mix. But Scot Millan, Greg Orloff, Bob Beemer, and Steve Cantamessa made it sound seamless.
Third Time’s the Charm
14. LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)
Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, and Hammond Peek, draw us into the final confrontation between the fantastical forces of good and evil. Finally taking home the Best Sound Mixing Oscar for the third and final installation.
LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)
Sound Mixing Classic Characters
13. King Kong (2005)
This re-make of a classic demands a near perfect sound team. It was up against some pretty heavy hitters, but the same mixers that brought amplified the story with their sound in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, do it again.
King Kong (2005)
Sound Mixing Musicals
12. Les Misérables (2012)
A few films under this name, the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing went to the film from 2012 at the 2013 Oscars. In a film where music is everything, we can thank Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes, for perfecting the quality of age old favorite.
Les Miserables (2012)
Best Sound Mixing
11. Hugo (2011)
Scorsese’s Hugo, is a kind of forgotten favorite. It’s endearing and sweet, and uses sound to heighten much of the story. The scene above incorporates a slew of different sounds that needed to be edited, re-created, or and matched perfectly, to create not only the perfect sound for the shot, but the feeling it elicited. Tom Fleischman and John Midgley are responsible for this feat.
Academy Award for Sound Mixing
10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Not a terribly easy category for Slumdog, The Dark Knight was a pretty intimidating competition, but Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, and Resul Pookutty couldn’t help but rise to the occasion.
Jamal Malik is an Indian teen living in poverty who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ He wins, but no sooner is he suspected of cheating. The film cuts to periods in his life, revealing particular life experiences to show how he truthfully, was able to answer each question.
And it’s this sound mixing that was especially noticeable because it was especially seamless, and creative, making an already interesting story much more robust.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Best Sound MIxing Oscar
9. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Paul N. J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett captured much of the sound on location, rather than in a studio, and brought us into the war zone of The Hurt Locker in a very real, unique way.
Beckett’s filmmaking career includes documentary filmmaking, which he says helps him tremendously when it comes to recording sound for feature films. For this film, he came extra prepared for when the Boom malfunctioned, was ready to suit anything or anyone up with extra mics, all just to ensure preparedness and as much material as possible for the mixing process.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
Best Sound Mixing
8. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Peter Grace, and Robert Mackenzie bring us a beautiful sonic landscape that remind us mixing is just as much of an art as it is a craft. Each and every sound in Hacksaw Ridge was replaced or polished.
Battle scenes are especially tricky for period pieces. The explosions and gunshots are just props, they need to be tailored to sound like actual explosions and guns from that time period. In an an article, sound mixer Kevin O’Connell says, “the only parts of the original tracks that we were able to keep were very small pieces of the dialogue.
Other than that, every single explosion, gunshot, ricochet, bullet whizzing sound, footstep, everything has been recreated with period authentic weaponry to create what was essentially the Battle of Okinawa.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
3D Sound Mixing
7. Gravity (2013)
Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro took home the gold with their 3D sound mixing techniques. If you saw Gravity in a standard theatre, you may have not experienced the movie the way intended.
But if you saw the film in a theater with Dolby Cinema, designed with Dolby Atmos technology, you may have had a different experience. Dolby uses “object-based” sound.
It places more speakers throughout the theater⏤the floor, the ceiling⏤to give a fuller experience. So once the mixers do their job, they work with a 3D computer simulation placing individual pieces of audio in specific locations in the theater. This is arguably another level of artistry and creativity. Gravity also features an original score.
It exists over the silent sound of space. It helps to heighten the complete nothingness, it breaks it up a bit.
Music and the Mix
6. Whiplash (2014)
Sound mixers, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley, were in for a difficult road at the start. The feature was adapted from the short film. It’s not easy to record a near perfect jazz number. But it’s definitely not easy to record a polished scene to that song.Echoing similar feat of Mr. Holland ‘s Opus. Whiplash’s mixing was on point. Though, I do feel this award should’ve went to Birdman. With such a focus on the long take, the audience easily forgets the near perfectly seamless sounds that exist in each scene.
Mixing Three Different People
5. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Beating out A Star is Born for Best Sound Mixing, John Casali, Tim Cavagin, Paul Massey (led by supervisor, John Warhurst), let us hear Bohemian Rhapsody the way it should be heard.
The most interesting part of their process is that they used three different voices for capturing Freddie Mercury’s vocals. Freddie himself, Rami Malek, and a Mercury sound alike, Marc Martel.
The sound team was concerned how having three different people make up the lead. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t notice. A well-deserved Academy win.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Best Sound Mixing
4. The Matrix (1999)
Sound team, John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David E. Campbell, and David Lee were the brains behind some of the best “bullet sounds” to ever hit Hollywood. A big challenge to a film like this is making sure all of the music, sound effects, and various nuances were sharp and clear. The late Gregg Rudloff, who mixed most of the film, focused on retaining clarity during some of the biggest fight scenes.
The Matrix (1999)
Complicated Sound Mixing
3. Inception (2010)
The layered sounds of Inception are almost as complicated as the layered dream world in the film. And managing those sounds with the intricate story made for an impressive soundscape. Trio, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, and Ed Novick, also won for the Dark Knight two years earlier.
Sound Mixing War Films
2. Dunkirk (2017)
Because war movies usually demand multiple sounds firing at the same time, the quality of the mixing is generally more noticed. And Dunkirk’s sound crew had their work cut out for them.
But Mark Weingarten’s, Gary Rizzo’s, and Gregg Landaker’s final product is highly impressive. And right from the opening scene, the sounds of Dunkirk, doesn’t disappoint.Saving Private Ryan is the best comparable example of near perfect sound mixing in a war film, but it’s just a tad bit dated to make the list.
Best Sound Mixing
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A more than deserved win for Gregg Rudloff, Chris Jenkins, and Ben Osmo. The film came out in 2015, making it one of the greatest “car chases” of all time. The soundscape of vehicles terrorizing the deserts of Namibia, was something otherworldly.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Sound Recording Fundamentals
It’s always fun to drive down memory lane and celebrate the pro’s. But if you’re someone who’s actually interested in how sound works in film, you’ll need something much more practical. Next up, we have some techniques on how to record sound for video production. Whether you’re early in your film career, or just want the basic know-how for your promo videos, give it a go.