It’s no secret that movie stars often face challenging roles over the course of their careers. From difficult characters to extreme preparations, many movie stars have to prepare for months on end in order to deliver convincing performances. One of the most famous examples of exhausting preparations by a movie star were those of Tom Hanks for his famous role in Cast Away. The film was shot at separate times to allow Hanks to play the role convincingly. At the start, Hanks gained 50 pounds to play chubby Chuck Noland, a man stranded on an island in the South Pacific. He then lost it all and bulked up with a rigorous diet and exercise programme, in order to realistically portray Chuck after he had been fending for himself for three years, eating nothing but fruit and fish. Such dedication to an acting role is indisputably admirable.
However, accents are often what sort out the best from the worst in terms of acting talent and preparation. Acting roles often come with a particular regional accent, and attempts by actors to tackle the accent can often make or break the role. Although most big budget films provide vocal coaching, the level of effort and study put in by the actor or actress themselves is often all to clear, and may even prove to be the deciding factor for critics reviewing the film in question.
Some of the most notable on-screen accent failures are attempts at Irish and English accents – accents which American actors are commonly required to tackle. Granted, the subtle regional versions of these accents can be incredibly difficult one to master, but some of the attempts are downright painful, especially for native audiences. The following list ten of the most outstanding examples of woeful accents brought to the big screen, by some of Hollywood’s acting royalty.
10. Keanu Reeves – English
Keanu Reeves joined a top-billed cast to play Jonathan Harker in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola. Despite generally positive reviews from film critics, many state that Reeves’ sorry attempt at an English accent spoils the film. Reeves’ accent is incredibly exaggerated and it constantly fluctuates between a bad English accent and something that sounds nothing like an English accent. We’re not sure what Reeves was basing his accent on, but it certainly wasn’t an English person. Winona Ryder‘s accent in the film was also criticised, but Reeves’ performance is the most cringeworthy of the lot.
9. Nicolas Cage – Italian
Nicolas Cage starred in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in 2001 alongside Penélope Cruz. The film tells the tale of two Italians brought together in unlikely circumstances because of war. Penélope Cruz, who hails from Madrid in Spain, has no trouble putting on a Mediterranean accent – her guttural tones are quite convincing. Cage, on the other hand, fails miserably with his attempt at a rustic Italian accent. His accent is completely bizarre, and sounds particularly jarring in contrast to Cruz. At some points, it even sounds like Cage is impersonating Dracula. Whoever his vocal coach was for this film should probably have been fired.
8. James Van Der Beek – Southern American
Varsity Blues is a beloved movie for many reasons, but that is despite and not because of James Van Der Beek‘s horrendous attempt at a Southern American drawl. His accent is exaggerated to the point of absurdity. The clip below has done the rounds on Youtube and on social media just because of how comically bad it is. In this particular clip, the lines “I DON’T WANT YOUR LIFE” are replayed for maximum impact. Truly terrible.
7. Angelina Jolie – Greek
Angelina Jolie is without a doubt one of the most established actresses in Hollywood. She has delivered some truly incredible performances in her time, like 1999’s Girl, Interrupted. Jolie shined as the vexing sociopath Lisa, who rules the roost at Claymoore Hospital, a mental institution for women. Other notable films include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Changeling and Salt. However, there is a reason why 2004’s Alexander doesn’t make the list when discussing her greatest movie moments.
In Alexander, Jolie plays the strong-willed Queen Olympias, the mother of Alexander. Her attempted Greek accent completely misses the mark. Jolie sounds like she hails from deep within the Soviet Union rather than the Mediterranean and her accent contrasts heavily with that of her son, Alexander, played by Colin Farrell. Farrell doesn’t do a spectacular job either – his Irish accent breaks through at multiple points in the film, but Jolie’s woeful effort takes the cake.
6. Marlon Brando – English
Marlon Brando is commonly referred to as one of the greatest actors of all time. Throughout Brando’s extremely successful career, he starred in some of the standout films of the 20th century, notably Last Tango in Paris, Julius Caesar, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. His incredible looks as well as his ability to diversify his acting roles have made him one of the most beloved movie stars on the planet.
However, his 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty sticks out like a sore thumb. The film itself was a box office flop, and it contains a pathetic attempt by Brando at a posh English accent. His accent is incredibly forced, which saps the integrity of his performance. Compared to the other natural English accents in the film, Brandon’s is jarring and altogether distracting. A classic case of trying far too hard!
5. Matt Damon – South African
South African accents are quite unusual. The Afrikaans language stems from the Dutch settlers who once colonised the area, which gave birth to the unusual African twang heard by Afrikaners speaking English. Many were left divided by Matt Damon‘s attempt at the accent in the film Invictus. As a whole, the accent sounds far too British, a common mistake by those aiming to impersonate the South African tongue. Many critics claimed that Damon sounds like he is trying too hard, which makes his role feel inauthentic.
His performance is often pitted against that of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s attempt at a Rhodesian accent in the critically acclaimed Blood Diamond. Favour tends to swing in the direction of DiCaprio who, despite a few flaws, seems to have nailed the difficult accent.
4. Natalie Portman – English
Natalie Portman is currently one of the favourite actresses in Hollywood. The Israeli-born actress made waves in 2010 with the release of her film Black Swan. Portman’s strong performance was adored by critics worldwide. However, in 2006, Portman played Evey Hammond in the hit film V for Vendetta. Although Portman’s performance isn’t flawed, her accent certainly is: Portman is meant to be English, but her accent is incredibly exaggerated. It sounds as if she belongs in the pages of a Charles Dickens novel, seemingly mimicking the Artful Dodger in many scenes.
3. Cameron Diaz – Irish
Cameron Diaz isn’t exactly renowned for her acting ability and unfortunately for Diaz, her attempt at an Irish accent in Gangs of New York didn’t do much to change that fact. In Gangs of New York, Diaz stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis as Jenny Everdeane, an Irish pickpocket and con-artist. For the majority of the movie, Diaz completely fails to cover up her thick Californian drawl. When her attempt at an Irish accent does break through, it is jarringly leprechaun-esque. A truly cringeworthy effort.
2. Brad Pitt – Northern Irish
1997’s The Devil’s Own stars both Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Despite the fact that Pitt is Hollywood royalty, his accent in this film is subpar at best. Pitt plays a Northern Irish man named Frankie. Granted, the Northern Irish accent is a very difficult one to nail down, an unusual mix between Irish and Scottish which is notoriously difficult to impersonate. Pitt actually seems like he did put in a heroic effort, but unfortunately his accent completely misses the mark. It sounds totally unnatural to those who are familiar with the Northern Irish accent and the film itself received mainly negative reviews.
1. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman – Irish
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were a couple at the time, both gave one of the worst performances of their careers in 1992’s Far and Away. The film itself received lukewarm reviews, but was panned by many solely due to the ridiculous Irish accents attempted by both Cruise and Kidman. The ridiculous exaggeration of the pair make their accents sound almost comical. While natural Irish accents are generally very soft, their the accents in this film are loud and harsh. Cruise in particular sounds like he’s going for a comical impression of the accent, rather than the accent itself. In this case, the terrible accents prove to be the ruination of the movie.