Sometimes you watch a film and everything seems to be solid. The story is great, the pacing is great, the shots are beautiful, the action is intense, but something just doesn’t seem right. Try as you might, you just can’t figure out what seems so “off” about it…and then it hits you: the main character is speaking with such a terribly fake accent that it puts the “space British” used in the original Star Wars trilogy to shame.
These bad accents don’t necessarily ruin a movie. Many times it’s hard to even catch it, especially if you don’t hear the accent on a regular basis. If you’re not from Scotland, you may not know enough to catch how often Gibson seems to go in and out of it in the film Braveheart.
Whether it was obvious to you or not, let’s take a look at some of the biggest misfires when it comes to accents in the movies.
10. Mel Gibson
The Film: Braveheart (1995)
Accent Attempted: Scottish…but it comes and goes.
Make no mistake; Braveheart is actually a really good movie with positive responses from both critics and the average movie-viewer alike. There really isn’t a bad thing about Braveheart except one thing: Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent.
It isn’t so much that the accent doesn’t sound Scottish, it’s just that the more volume Mel Gibson seems to put on his voice, the more of the accent he begins to lose. During the final powerful speech towards the end of the film when William Wallace delivers the famous “they will never take our freedom” line, the accent has all but left, save for a few instances.
In Mel’s defense, most attempts at a Scottish accent in film are pretty far off the mark.
9. Quentin Tarantino
The Film: Django Unchained (2012)
Accent Attempted: U.S. Southern or Australian..there’s no being sure.
Most folks that have seen the phenomenal Django Unchained couldn’t pin-point what accent Tarantino was actually trying to pull off for his character in the film. The film credit however confirms he was supposed to be playing an Australian miner. We would have had this information but the scene explaining the presence of the character was edited out of the film.
It’s also been said that Tarantino went with an Australian character because he couldn’t pull off the Southern drawl. Someone should have let him know he couldn’t pull off an Australian accent either.
For another example of Tarantino poorly pulling off an accent, check out the excellent film Sukiyaki Western Django from director Takashi Miike.
8. Kevin Costner
The Film: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Accent Attempted: British…if you can call it an attempt.
Once again we have a good film that wasn’t really hurt by the accent in question, but there is no denying how bad the accent actually was. If you had forgotten that Costner used an accent in the film there is a good reason for that: he pretty much gives up within the first twenty minutes.
At the beginning of the film it’s clearly there. It fades away so gradually you almost don’t notice that it’s disappeared. This disappearing accent might have been Costner doing the audience a favor; when the accent was there it was pretty terrible.
7. Keanu Reeves
The Film: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Accent Attempted: British
Reeves‘ accent in Dracula might very well be the reason the character of John Constantine was re-imagined as an American in the Constantine film.
Once again we have a good film, a good performance overall, but an accent that just missed the mark entirely. It really isn’t any fun taking cheap shots at Reeves’ acting ability as he’s so much better than anyone gives him credit for. That being said, his British accent in Francis Ford Coppola‘s take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably the second worst attempt at the British accent by a North American actor in a mainstream film. The worst attempt goes to one of his co-stars in the very same film…
6. Winona Ryder
The Film: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Accent Attempted: British
This attempt at a British accent was just a disaster. It was certainly worse than Keanu’s accent, and it may have even been worse than the gray dye job they gave Keanu to play the Jonathan Harker character in the film.
Once again, like most people that have made the list, Winona wasn’t giving an entirely bad performance; the accent just wasn’t on point. It was so off the mark that Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy has even taken a shot at Ryder’s attempts at the British accent in her films.
5. Christopher Lambert
The Film: Highlander (1986)
Accent Attempted: Scottish
If anything, this list goes to show how little a bad accent matters as long as everything else in the picture is strong and solid. Here we have another occasion of a highly revered, classic film that contains a rather sad attempt at an accent by a non-native actor.
Like Mel Gibson at the start of the list, Lambert had a problem with the accent coming and going. At times it would sound undeniably Scottish, morph into a light British, and on to Lambert’s American English. If you were to watch the trailer for the film back in 1986, you may not even be aware that Lambert’s character was supposed to be Scottish.
You would think that co-star Sean Connery, a Scotsman himself, would have given Lambert a few pointers on the set of the film.
4. Dick Van Dyke
The Film: Mary Poppins (1964)
Attempted Accent: Cockney English
Poor Mr. Van Dyke. He was really set up to fail with this one. Not only did he have to pull off an accent that wasn’t his own, but he had to perform tongue twisters and sing while doing it as well. Considering that most if not all of the cast was England born, it was a bit strange to stick Van Dyke into the cast instead of an actor that actually had the accent. The result sounded more like someone mocking the accent rather than seriously trying to pull it off.
Bad accent or not, Van Dyke’s “Bert the chimney sweep” character is one of cinema’s most lovable, and the film of Mary Poppins itself is bonafide classic. The nonsense word “supercalafradgalisticexpialidocious” still makes its rounds today.
3. Tom Cruise
The Film: Far and Away (1992)
Accent Attempted: Irish
Cruise’s Irish accent in the film Far and Away has been bashed repeatedly over the years. It may even be considered one of the most poorly pulled off accents of all time, as far as mainstream cinema goes. The accent itself fell victim to the same fate as Van Dyke’s cockney accent in Mary Poppins; it was a little over-done and came off as more of a mocking impression rather than an actor’s attempt at mastering the accent.
In April of 2013, Cruise was asked by the host of one of Ireland’s biggest television shows if his accent had gotten any better, shortly after Cruise had just been issued a certificate of Irish Heritage. Cruise responded by saying that his accent has come along “fine.”
2. Erika Peters, Judy Bamber, Lisa Lang
The Film: Monstrosity aka The Atomic Brain (1963)
Accent(s) Attempted: Austrian, British, and Mexican
The chances of anyone having seen this film are probably pretty slim. It’s the type of flick you find in $5 bins at supermarkets on a single disc with 10 other movies. If you have seen it, chances are you caught it on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The film is about a dying elderly woman that hires three women from overseas with no family to speak of as housekeepers in America. Her goal is to see which one has the best body, and then transfer her brain into the new, younger body. The three actresses were clearly American and each girl failed in her own way. The film just might boast the three worst attempts at accents anyone has ever seen.
The girl from “Austria” didn’t seem to even bother.
The girl from “England” sounded more like a child’s bad impression.
The girl from “Mexico” sounded more like a racist’s mocking impression.
The flick is worth a watch if you dig the “so bad it’s good” thing.
1. James Van Der Beek
The Film: Varsity Blues (1999)
Accent Attempted: Southern
It may not be the first example of an actor butchering an accent, but it just may be the most memorable and most often cited and mocked. Anyone who spent any time in the 1990’s as a teenager probably has the “I don’t want! Your life!” line forever burned into their brains.
Luckily, Van Der Beek himself is a great sport about it. Just a couple of years ago, James played himself in a Cars.com commercial, re-visiting the line for a customer who expected there to be more drama when purchasing a new vehicle.