Best Sound Mixing - Featured - StudioBinder

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.

Best Sound Mixing 

20. Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls Clip

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Dreamgirls (2006)

  • Up Against: Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, Flags of Our Fathers, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
  • Tomatometer: 78%
  • Watch Now →

Best Sound Mixing Oscar

19. Gladiator (2000)

Gladiator - Maximus Kills Commodus Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Gladiator (2000)

  • Up Against: Cast Away, The Patriot, The Perfect Storm, and U-571
  • Tomatometer: 76%
  • Watch Now →

Musicals and Sound Mixing

18. Chicago (2002)

Chicago - Cell Block Tango Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Chicago (2002)

  • Up Against: Gangs of New York, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Road to Perdition, Spider-Man
  • Tomatometer: 86%
  • Watch Now →

Sound Mixing War

17. Black Hawk Down (2001)

Black Hawk Down combat scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Black Hawk Down (2001)

  • Up Against: Amelie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!, Pearl Harbor
  • Tomatometer: 76%
  • Watch Now →

Sound Mixing Oscar

16. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum - Bourne Evades Police Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

  • Up Against: 3:10 Yuma, No Country for Old Men, Ratatouille, Transformers
  • Tomatometer: 92%
  • Watch Now →

Mixing Music

15. Ray (2004)

Ray - I Might be Blind, But I Ain't Stupid Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Ray (2004)

  • Up Against: The Aviator, The Incredibles, The Polar Express, Spider-Man 2
  • Tomatometer: 80%
  • Watch Now →

Third Time’s the Charm

14. LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - Sound Mixing

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.

IN CONCLUSION

LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)

  • Up Against: The Last Samurai, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Seabiscuit
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

Sound Mixing Classic Characters

13. King Kong (2005)

The sound transition from fighter plane to Kong is incredible

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.

IN CONCLUSION

King Kong (2005)

  • Up Against: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Memoirs of a Geisha, Walk the Line, War of the Worlds
  • Tomatometer: 84%
  • Watch Now →

Sound Mixing Musicals

12. Les Misérables (2012)

“One Day More” scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Les Miserables (2012)

Best Sound Mixing

11. Hugo (2011)

How many sounds does this scene require?

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Hugo (2011)

  • Up Against: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

Academy Award for Sound Mixing

10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

  • Up Against: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Wanted
  • Tomatometer: 91%
  • Watch Now →

Best Sound MIxing Oscar

9. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Hear Ray Beckett talk sound mixing

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.

IN CONCLUSION

The Hurt Locker (2009)

  • Up Against: Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • Tomatometer: 97%
  • Watch Now →

Best Sound Mixing

8. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Watch a masterclass from the sound team themselves

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

  • Up Against: La La Land, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Arrival
  • Tomatometer: 85%
  • Watch Now →

3D Sound Mixing 

7. Gravity (2013)

3D Sound Mixing in Gravity

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. 

IN CONCLUSION

Gravity (2013)

  • Up Against: Captain Phillips, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor
  • Tomatometer: 96%
  • Watch Now →

Music and the Mix

6. Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash - Not Quite my Tempo Scene

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Whiplash (2014)

  • Up Against: Interstellar, Birdman, American Sniper, Unbroken
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

Mixing Three Different People

5. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Behind the Scenes - Sound Mixing in Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

  • Up Against A Star is Born, Black Panther, Roma, First Man
  • Tomatometer: 61%
  • Watch Now →

Best Sound Mixing

4. The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix - Bullet Dodge Sound Mixing

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.

IN CONCLUSION

The Matrix (1999)

  • Up Against: The Green Mile, The Insider, The Mummy, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace
  • Tomatometer: 88%
  • Watch Now →

Complicated Sound Mixing

3. Inception (2010)

Inception - Oscar winner for Best Sound Mixing

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Inception (2010)

  • Up Against: The King’s Speech, Salt, The Social Network, True Grit
  • Tomatometer: 87%
  • Watch Now →

Sound Mixing War Films

2. Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk - Sound Mixing

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Dunkirk (2017)

  • Up Against: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Shape of Water, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

Best Sound Mixing

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

How many different sounds can you identify in this scene?

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.

IN CONCLUSION

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

  • Up Against: The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian, Bridge of Spies
  • Tomatometer: 97%
  • Watch Now →

Up Next

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.

Up Next: Sound Recording Basics →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows. 

Learn More ➜

550 Shares
550 Shares
Copy link