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While some people have difficulty imagining movies without spoken dialogue, the first few decades of film did extremely well without it, to the point that many filmmakers dismissed talkies as a gimmicky passing fad or a perversion of real cinema. To be honest, they initially had a point considering that film sound recording techniques were very crude in the beginning, making for some really stiffly staged and dull films until the combined talents of artists and technicians solved the problems. Regardless, perhaps it isn't such a shock to learn that, long after the end of the silent film era, many filmmakers and writers still think that silence is, well, golden.
Moreover, sound in art is actually a relatively recent innovation; very few old paintings come with any words attached to them other than the title. Even performance art has often relied more heavily on body language and visual expression than on spoken words. If the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is to be believed, shouldn't a whole series of pictures be able to speak for themselves? Silence in art has a long and distinguished history behind it.
Nowadays, however, in the presence of so many audible (or legible) artworks, silence has become a kind of innovation itself, often used to stimulate the viewer's imagination or add a vaguely brooding "cinematic" tone to the work. In television and films, running something "silent" usually means removing most or all of the dialogue, leaving just the music and/or sound effects; a few pieces remove even these. Some comics are likewise run completely silent with no dialogue, captions, or sound effects; in extreme cases, they may not even include any written words (e.g. if someone hands a character a note to read, we're not shown what it says). Others selectively cut the dialogue and/or captions while leaving sound effects present in order to have them tell the story.
Sister Trope of Deliberately Monochrome. Frequently used in surrealist films, and is sometimes combined with filmmaking techniques from the silent era for Retraux effect. Dialogue-free episodes are a popular form of Something Completely Different. Sometimes leads to Lull Destruction in adaptations. When used for horror, it overlaps with Nothing Is Scarier. When used temporarily to add poignancy to a dramatic scene, it's a Moment of Silence.
Contrast Dead Air, for situations where silence is absolutely not to be desired.
- When television advertisements are usually painfully loud, silence can be used very effectively. For an extremely obscure example, a local advertisement for a used car lot is completely silent for the whole thirty seconds it's on.
- One ad for Kotex was completely silent to show how quiet their new maxi pads are. It even lampshades it at the end with "Now back to your noisy commercial.".
Anime and Manga
- Mamoru Oshii's ~Angel's Egg~ has less than a page of spoken dialogue, most of which is in one scene.
- The surreal short film Cat Soup has no dialogue whatsoever.
- Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, set to the songs of the Daft Punk album Discovery, has no need for dialogue either. Even the sound effects are minimal.
- Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou actually needs a very high silence-to-dialog ratio to achieve its mellow, contemplative tone.
- The first episode of Texhnolyze has approximately ten lines of dialogue, all in a couple of scenes. While the rest of the series is more talkative, it's not uncommon to have several minutes without spoken dialogue in many episodes. The main protagonist Ichise is an extremely quiet man, who often lets others, including Ran, a girl only slightly less silent than him talk in his stead.
- Only two segments in Robot Carnival featured any dialogue. And it even had a Shonen and Shoujo segment that managed to be completely coherent despite this.
- Gon, fitting of a series staring a not-very-anthropomorphic dinosaur, has no dialogue.
- Puchi EVA has no dialogue whatsoever.
- In the Japanese Akira, the gigantic explosion at the end has organ music playing over it, but in the American dub, soft vocals are playing over the explosion. The noise of the explosion is absent in both.
- Impressively featured in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Of particular note is the infamous scene in episode 24 that is nothing but one frame held for a minute and a half with Beethoven playing over it.
- Koichi Mashimo and Bee Train are fond of long pauses without any dialogue but with lots of facial close-ups and background music by Yuki Kajiura. This is particularly prominent in the older series, e.g. Noir, .hack Sign, and Madlax.
- Used to utterly hilarious effect in Nichijou, such as the scene where Yuko is trying to build a tower of cards without people knocking it over (as can be seen here).
- Frank by Jim Woodring, not a word spoken by any of the characters.
- His graphic novel Weathercraft has copyright information on the dust jacket. The physical book itself contains no words at all.
- Age of Reptiles contains not a single word. Given that it's set in the Mesozoic, the lack of speech is unsurprising, but there are no sound effects or narration, either.
- Mister Amperduke was created deliberately as a comic with absolutely no Speech Bubbles at all, partly because the creator didn't like his artwork being broken by speech bubbles in other comics.
- Marvel Comics had a "'Nuff Said" promotion in which several of their trademark titles were released with stories that involved no spoken dialog, and no text boxes, whatsoever.
- Marvel Comics has also done a number of issues this way over the years, including an earlier G.I. Joe comic which inspired the "'Nuff Said" promotion.
- In one Silver Age Daredevil comic featuring the brilliant artwork of Gene "The Dean of Light and Darkness" Colan, Stan Lee Lampshaded this trope with a brief caption at the start praising the artist and stating that sometimes (as in this case) "superfluous words" were unnecessary, and therefore he was going to let the rest of the comic speak for itself.
- Most of Hawkeye #2 (1983) plays out not only without any dialogue but without any sound effects at all, due to the power of the assassin known as The Silencer to perfectly mute all sound.
- Sergio Aragones is a master of this trope, having drawn numerous wordless pieces for Mad Magazine. In some cases, he even draws Speech Bubbles with pictures in them.
- Boerke (roughly translates as: little farmer) is a Belgian comic by Pieter De Poortere that almost never has the characters speak. On the rare occassions that something is said, it's in symbols/drawings never in words. For example, the 60 pages comic book 'the son of' has a fairly complicated plot and has in total two whistling bubbles, two talk bubbles and one thinking bubble. Both speech bubble have the face of one of the characters in them and nothing else. The thinking balloon has an image of an A-Bomb.
- V for Vendetta has a four-page chapter, "Vincent." with no dialogue.
- Watchmen has no visual sound effects.
- In the short His Wife Is a Hen, nothing is spoken beyond whispers and exclamations. In addition, the short as a whole is lacking in any sound beyond the noise of daily life and a record player.
- While known for being one of the first truly great sound films, Fritz Lang's M actually contains very little dialogue and nearly a third of the movie is completely silent. Incidentally, this made it quieter than actual silent movies (which were almost always accompanied by music), making the moments with sound all the more striking.
- Carl Dreyer's Vampyr is another almost silent early sound film.
- ~2001: A Space Odyssey~ is 141 minutes long, but there's only forty of them where anyone says anything.
- The ending of Franco Zefferelli's version of Romeo and Juliet had very little in the way of dialogue compared to the original text's ending.
- Sergio Leone's movies were usually very sparse dialogue-wise, letting the visuals and Ennio Morricone's music tell the story instead.
- ~The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly~ is a good example; the film runs ten minutes before anybody speaks.
- Also, in the final climactic three way duel, there is no dialogue at all for over five minutes, and the film relies entirely on the score, and closeups of the three main character's faces, each trying decide whether to move first. It is widely considered to be one of the most dramatic moments in film history.
- ~The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly~ is a good example; the film runs ten minutes before anybody speaks.
- Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, of course. The only spoken word in the entire movie is said by mime Marcel Marceau.
- In addition to being in black-and-white, Eraserhead has very little music and keeps the dialogue to the barest minimum, while even the tiniest background noises are unusually audible, enhancing the eerie, nightmarish quality of the movie.
- The Call Of Cthulhu, based on the 1926 H.P. Lovecraft classic, which was intended to look it could've been made around the time that the original story was written.
- E. Elias Merhige's Begotten is completely silent.
- An afficionado of silent films, Guy Maddin has made several himself, including Brand Upon the Brain! and Cowards Bend the Knee.
- The black-and-white Japanese Body Horror film Tetsuo (sometimes known as Tetsuo: The Iron Man), which was influenced by Eraserhead, also uses minimal dialogue.
- The 1973 experimental film Themroc features no intelligible dialogue, but plenty of gibberish, screaming, and grunting.
- Conan the Barbarian has a deliberately sparse script to let the exquisite music do the talking. A wise move.
- Charlie Chaplin's first two sound films, City Lights and Modern Times, were essentially silent films with recorded soundtracks. The latter only had dialogue that came from either recordings or loudspeakers (i.e., not natural speech), Chaplin's way of pointing out what he felt was the artificiality of sound film.
- Chaplin himself never did a "Talkie" until The Great Dictator, and even then then, there are long segments of silent comedy
- No Country for Old Men has several long periods of silence, and no score until the credits.
- Into Great Silence, a documentary about life in the French monastery of Grand Chartreuse. Everyone in this film talk as much as the monks: zilch.
- Although there are plenty of silent moments, as the title suggests, it also shows the monks frequently speaking about their experiences in the monastery. They like to keep talking to a minimum, but they don't take vows of silence.
- The 1955 film Dementia is completely devoid of speech, although a version with narration by Ed Mc Mahon (but still no dialogue) was later released as Daughter of Horror.
- Luc Besson's directorial debut Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle in English) is completely dialogueless.
- The Thief, a '50s Cold War Spy Drama starring Ray Milland, is dialogue-free.
- Defenceless: A Blood Symphony features no dialogue, but extensive screaming to compliment the aggressively unpleasant imagery taking place on screen.
- Jan Švankmajer's 1996 Conspirators of Pleasure features no dialogue.
- The 1983 film Le Bal, which depicts 50 years of French history through a ballroom in France, includes no dialogue.
- The Illusionist (1983) has no dialogue other than some unintelligible mumbling.
- The Triplets of Belleville, which was heavily influences by silent comedies and classic cartoons, makes prominant usage of music, but is dialogue-free (except for a recorded TV interview of Charles de Gaulle). The lack of need for subtitles or dubbing may have contributed to the film's international popularity.
- The Illusionist, made by the same people, is very similar in this regard.
- WALL-E is quite sparse dialogue-wise. About half an hour of movie passes before the first line of dialogue is uttered (other than a recording here or there).
- Pixar may have totally topped themselves on this one, not in terms of length, but in terms of sheer intensity. In Up, the movie opens with a newsreel, Carl and Ellie meeting as kids, and a silent montage of their entire married life from their wedding, to her infertility, to her death. All without dialogue, just a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino.
- Carl never speaks a word, but Ellie says quite a lot while they're kids. Once the wedding happens though, nothing is said until Carl goes to his mailbox.
- If you do the math, not one word was said in 75 years.
- Carl never speaks a word, but Ellie says quite a lot while they're kids. Once the wedding happens though, nothing is said until Carl goes to his mailbox.
- The Hungarian film Hukkle has almost no dialogue, apart from a song at the end.
- The "sound" work of director Tod Browning is punctuated by extended scenes of silence and visual expressionism. By the time he did Freaks he figured out how to do this without resorting to the minimalistically stylized dialogue he used in Dracula.
- Vase De Noces, a Belgian arthouse film informally known as The Pig Fucking Movie on account of its zoophilic subject-matter, contains no dialogue.
- Compared to some of his other incarnations who just won't shut up; Bumblebee in the Transformers Film Series is a mute who uses the radio of his car form to communicate (by playing songs and broadcasting messages that fit his intentions).
- In the classic French film Mr. Hulot's Holiday, spoken dialogue is mostly limited to the role of background sounds.
- Just about all of Jacques Tati's films are like this (Jour de Fete being a major exception). Apparently, when they were released in theaters internationally, Tati insisted that there be no subtitles, as they would distract from the visual gags that make up his films.
- Moon is a very silent, very brilliant movie, with the characters consisting of one man in space and well...himself.
- The German film Tuvalu is a throwback to the silent era that even goes so far as to have monochromatic film. There is sound and music but no actual words spoken aside from the names of people and places (even then, it isn't very often).
- Kim Ki-Duk's 3-Iron (Bin-Jip) is nearly completely silent, it has only two lines of dialogue. And the protagonists don't need any more to convey very much.
- Documentary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio is possibly the contemporary king of this trope, considering that his -qatsi trilogy of films (beginning with 1983's Koyaanisqatsi) are all films with no dialogue in them and the only sound evident being the musical score. One of the -qatsi cinematographers, Ron Fricke, also made his own no-dialogue documentary in the same vein as Reggio's documentaries, 1992's Baraka.
- The 2002 film Marathon, directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Amir Naderi, features a young woman who is trying to complete as many crossword puzzles as she can in 24 hours while riding the New York City subway system. Shot in black and white, its other distinguishing feature is that it features very little dialogue (consisting of one brief interaction between the protagonist and a young man riding the subway and a few answering machine messages left by the protagonist's mother) and the only soundtrack running throughout the film is the background noise of the subway system.
- The famed Mirror Routine in The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup is performed without dialogue or sound effects of any kind.
- More generally, Harpo's characters - being The Speechless - were given a couple pantomime bits in each of the films.
- An episode of the Anthology Series General Electric Theater "The Great Jewel Robbery" starred Chico and Harpo Marx in an all-silent story, except one line at the very end delivered by Special Guest Groucho.
- The Artist is a 2011 silent black and white drama about a romance of two actors respectively falling and rising in Hollywood's difficult transition to sound. Subverted in that the lead character realizes that he feels trapped in silence and earns his happy ending when his love shows him that he has the talent to succeed when he accepts the reality of sound films.
- The French short film The Red Balloon has practically no dialogue.
- Lampshaded in the DVD commentary of How to Train Your Dragon. Some of the people involved in the film thought that the bonding sequence between Toothless and Hiccup would never work, because it was somewhere in the range of three minutes long and right in the middle of the movie. Luckily, the filmmakers insisted and even the skeptics changed their mind when the sequence was finished. The romantic flight scene with Astrid is also an aversion of this. Both moments are instead held up by wonderful animation and John Powell's hypnotizing score.
- Both speech and score cease during the final battle in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, only picking up again when a ship emerges and attacks making the fight far more dramatic.
- Composer James Horner did the same trick again in revealing the Alien Queen in Aliens.
Live Action TV
- The classic Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders, written by Richard Matheson, has no dialogue save for the final scene.
- As well as the parts of "Once Upon a Time" set in 1890, as a way to differentiate them from the 1960 scenes. Particularly odd to a modern viewer seeing "Very very old film style" segueing to merely "old" to say nothing of how it painted the 4th wall.
- The original Mr. Bean series is famous for its lack of dialogue. Not so The Movie, or its Animated Adaptation.
- The second movie was much more in keeping with this style. Which style works best in movie form is up for debate.
- Mr. Bean was inspired partly by acclaimed French comic Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot films.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" is without dialogue for over 27 minutes straight, nearly two thirds of the episode.
- The first act of the Frasier episode "Three Valentines" is done in almost complete silence. Niles has a few lines at the start of the scene, but the rest of the scene involves just a few barks from Eddie and a few mutterings from Niles as he prepares for a date.
- The episode "Justin's New Girlfriend" of Wizards of Waverly Place had a silent movie style segment.
- The first episode of Carnivale has a beautifully shot sequence, almost five minutes long, of Brother Justin rising from his chair, walking through town (either a single shot or a well edited sequence to give the impression of one) and having a vision in the snow. In all this time, the only dialogue is in the background music at the very start of the sequence. This continued in other episodes and is even used in the opening shots several times, most notably in the second episode where the only thing said in several minutes is a meaningful phrase.
- Yes, it's even been done in music: John Cage's 4'33.
- Type O Negative's The Misinterpretation of Silence and its Disastrous Consequences and the remix The Misinterpretation of Silence and Its Disastrous Consequences (Wombs and Tombs mix)
- This trope is part of the appeal of Stop and Go.
- For Better or For Worse mimes its dialogue in some of the more comedic Sunday strips. The effect is oddly like a Charlie Chaplin movie in comic-strip form.
- Bound and Gagged originally started with this premise: no dialogue, just pictures. As the strip went on, however, the author apparently wasn't able to keep coming up with these silent gags as it features more of the "audible" kind now.
- As seen above, several Calvin and Hobbes strips have been run silent this way.
- In one case Bill Watterson ran several consecutive strips silent this way featuring Calvin growing bigger and bigger. In one of his anthologies, he later explained that he wanted to keep doing this for a month and "see how long readers would put up with it." He ultimately decided to stop after two weeks, ending the last strip with a little dialogue as a punchline.
- Lio is one of the only (and possibly the only) newspaper comics to do this consistently. Every once in a while, writing from a notebook or letter will show up in a panel, but actual speech is mimed. Presumably, words distract from the Nightmare Fuel.
- The majority of Cirque Du Soleil shows, especially the earlier ones, have little or no dialogue. If the characters talk at all, usually they are Speaking Simlish or a non-English language. The background songs are much the same.
- Ballet is always wordless. In place of speech, there's a language in the precise miming motions of the dancers.
- The Lego Adaptation Game series uses no dialogue in cutscenes.
- Many Myst-style games are like this. You get a short speech in the prologue or opening scene, the occasional bit of dialogue when you encounter another character ... and most of the game is just exploring and playing with objects.
- Interactive Fiction takes this to the logical extreme: no graphics, no sound. Not only is the gameplay silent, the story often is too, because it's a pain to program NPCs who can talk and most creators don't bother to include descriptions of the auditory environment (more's the pity). With a typical parser, you can "say [dialogue]" if you wish, but you'll get no response.
- The story of Subspace Emissary mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl is told entirely without dialog (disregarding Calling Your Attacks). The only time anyone speaks is when Snake breaks the fourth wall. Once.
- The Caveman arc of Live a Live. Justified in the fact that language hasn't been invented yet.
- Another World is another game which uses dialogue-free cutscenes to tell its story.
- Everyone in Limbo are rather silent, unless they happen to be animals.
- Yume Nikki is also dialogue-free. Needless to say, this is a contributing factor to the staggering amount of Wild Mass Guessing it's become infamous for.
- There are no spoken lines in the first Metroid Prime series (besides a computer saying, "WARNING: SELF DESTRUCT ACTIVATED".) The beautiful environments of Talon IV show you the story of the fallen Chozo civilization, and there are plenty of written logs lying around in case you couldn't figure it out yourself. Samus is quiet, but you can tell she's thinking something.
- The Path has no speech at all; instead the tone of conversations is conveyed through character animation, music and color. The "tutorial" instructions are two lines long, and expected to be ignored. Textual descriptions of items encountered are also quite sparse.
- The Wii A Boy and His Blob has almost no dialogue or text at all. Aside from a few sound clips from the Boy, the story is told solely through animation, and the hint signs show pictures instead of words. The only non-system text in the game is in a small bonus unlockable storybook.
- The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom as a Homage to silent films has absolutely no dialogue or narration.
- Happens during some of the more Dramatic (and Heartbreaking) moments of Asura's Wrath.
- This amateur film, consisting of no sound other than background music.
- The Hitler Rants video where Hitler is informed of nothing and says nothing.
- Coffin Comics has many examples of this, especially in the earlier comics.
- What's Shakin does this as the final page in every issue. Some panoramic panels in some pages do this as well.
- The Intrepid Girlbot has only ever had dialog in a one-shot strip involving Nikola Tesla.
- The earlier strips of Nerf Now were mostly silent, largely because the creator speaks English as a second language.
- The Princess and the Giant A silent fairy tale.
- Freefall has the short "taking the emu to the park" arc that starts here.
- Quite a few classic cartoons (such as Tom & Jerry) featured non-verbal characters, focusing on visual gags and slapstick humor. See the Mime-and-Music-Only Cartoon page.
- Fantasia, being a collection of short animated films set to classical music, had no need for dialogue.
- Ditto its follow-up Fantasia/2000.
- Disney's The Little Match Girl 2006 short.
- Genndy Tartakovsky seemed to practice this often.
- Samurai Jack has many episodes with extended silences and little dialogue, and it works very well.
- The Dexter's Laboratory episode "DiM" made extensive use of silence. It had no dialogue at all (until the very end).
- He also did the original version of Star Wars: Clone Wars, which made excellent use of extended no-dialogue sequences.
- The holiday cartoon The Snowman, based on a similarly dialogue-less picture book of the same name.
- One episode of Batman Beyond has a silent segment when he's fighting Shriek. Batman enters a car factory to hide. Shriek responds by tuning out all noises in the area except Batman's footsteps, which he amplifies. The show makers did this because 1) they ALWAYS wanted to do a silent scene and 2) when the noise filter shorts out and Shriek is rendered deaf by the sudden onslaught of amplified noise it's more obvious.
- The original DCAU Batman movie Mystery of the Batwomen had a short piece called "Chase Me" featuring Batman pursuing Catwoman through Gotham which was run silent this way except for some soft jazz as musical accompaniment.
- The original Aeon Flux shorts had no dialogue, only music and sound effects.
- The Recobbled version of The Thief and the Cobbler (which most people are very thankful for).
- The final fight between Azula and Zuko has shades of this. When we cut from one scene to the ongoing fight in the Imperial City, all we see is waves of blue and yellow/red flames being fired through the by now scorched city. The sound effects of only the fire and the Soundtrack -aptly titled the Last Agni-Kai- make the scene all the more potent.
- In the Fairly Oddparents episode where Timmy wishes for quiet, there is no in-universe sound at all, but music accompanies every single moment of the "silence". Actually extremely well done.
- Utilized in the Re Boot season three episode "Game Over". When the system voice announces that the user has won and effectively killed Enzo, Andraia, and Frisket, no sound occurs for twenty seconds before Dot responds.