Thanks to Patreon member Branden Caine for suggesting this week’s Top 5!
Accents are hard, and we’re not talking about the accent you swear is English that you throw out at parties as proof you should be an actor. Even some of the most A-list celebrities fail at acting like they’re from another country, and we’re here to remind you about the best of the worst. We’re looking at the top 5 accents that make us cringe every time we hear them.
Part of why I think Branden suggested this is because I call myself the queen of bad accents, in that most of the men I love have one in their back pocket. I could have put a lot of people on this list, from Josh Brolin’s Russell Brand-inspired English accent in Women in Trouble (actually, everything about him in that movie should be seen to be believed), Justin Theroux’s utterly terrible Cockney accent in those three episodes of Alias, and Brad Pitt’s pronunciation of “Him-a-LIE-As” in Seven Years in Tibet. In the end I went with a mix of terrible favorites and ones that still leaving me scratching my head.
Oscar Isaac in Robin Hood (2010)
Yep, you knew he was gonna make this list. I love Oscar Isaac, but the man can’t do an English accent if his life depended on it. Back in 2010 I openly made fun of him in this movie – this was before the love bloomed, of course – because his performance is so over-the-top. And while I love him now the performance is still over-the-top AND the accent is terrible. He goes for England by way of Dickensian street urchin, and there are moments where his accent turns into something out of Greenstreet Hooligans. Literally, he starts making “f” sounds when he’s saying something with a “th” that makes me think….what region are we going for here, sweetie? And if you’re thinking he’s gotten better with time…..yeah, his accent is better in In Secret but he still sounds like he’s auditioning for Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter (1995)
The Scarlet Letter is one of the best worst adaptations of a classic novel ever. It’s terrible, but I never get tired of making fun of it, and it contains one of the defining bad accents ever committed to celluloid. There’s a reason Emma Stone mocks it in Easy A with a “‘ello guv’nor” because that’s exactly what Moore is going for. That’s when she bothers to have an accent at all and doesn’t just start talking like Demi Moore. I almost think the badness of her accent is in direct proportion to how hammy Gary Oldman’s acting is, as if he’s trying to compensate by going insane during the whole thing. As if that will make our ears stop bleeding.
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
Like Kevin Costner on Lauren’s list, Leo makes it on here for failing to do an accent at all. This was his follow-up to Titanic and it’s failure left us wondering if Leo was ever gonna come back from it (we were so innocent). He plays King Louis of France….let that sink in because when he opens his mouth he sounds like Jack Dawson with a wiglet on. And, like with The Scarlet Letter, I’m pretty sure consummate professionals like Jeremy Irons and Gabriel Byrne are just left to roll their eyes and act better to compensate for him. Come on, Leo, you couldn’t even roll your “R’s” or say “Bonjour” a time or two?
Michael Fassbender in Jonah Hex (2010) AND Justin Theroux in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
I went back and forth for at least 15 minutes trying to figure out which Lucky Charms-level Irish accent I wanted to include on here. Both are near incomprehensible, though I give the edge in coherence to Fassy, maybe because he actually IS Irish. Honestly, I’ve got to believe his accent in this movie was a directorial choice. There’s no reason for the accent to be THAT broadly Irish, especially when you have an actor of that nationality. We’re not talking Colin Farrell, In Bruges-level Irish. Fassy is the living equivalent of a leprechaun here. But, at the same time, Justin Theroux’s accent in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is over-the-top, comically bad, and completely hard to discern. I’ve seen the movie…..several times, and I still have to use subtitles in order to understand what he’s saying. If I don’t have them all I can make out is he’s talking about Drew Barrymore’s ass a lot.
Angelina Jolie in Alexander (2004)
Alexander is such an actor’s showcase of terrible accents. The movie is set in Greece but everyone is from either England or…..something trying to pass for England. But then you have Angelina Jolie, sitting all by herself in this movie with an accent I can only presume is akin to a Russian Count Chocula. Seriously, she sounds Transylvanian, doesn’t she? I’m guessing because that fine feminist scholar Ollie Stone wanted to show women, thou art terrible and vampiric. I almost put in Rosario Dawson’s Eartha Kitt meets actual cat vocal tics in this movie. Or whatever the hell Jared Leto is aiming for. This movie is so terrible….I love it.
Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
My favorite thing about this terrible accent is how no one cares. Sometimes it’s there, other times it’s not. But then, every non-British actor in the movie goes through the same thing, so it’s best to just pretend not to notice.
Maisie Williams in Mary Shelley (2018)
I couldn’t find a good clip, but Maisie Williams’ Scottish accent in Mary Shelley is so bad, I heard they’re killing Arya Stark in the season premiere of Game of Thrones over it. It’s comforting to know that not all English actors and actresses can master accents.
Nicholas Cage in Con Air (1997)
Nicholas Cage has given some great performances in his career. Con Air is not one of them. And his accent is one of the (many) reasons. Don’t get me wrong! I have a soft spot for this completely illogical thriller that really creepily makes you root for a child-killing pedophile in the end and then have to spend months talking to your therapist about it. But Cage proves the Southern accent is just too much for him.
Tom Cruise in Far and Away (1992)
I love the man, but Tom Cruise cannot do accents. It’s so adorable to watch him try, though. But I’m fairly certain this performance is why every actor in Valkyrie just speaks in his own natural accent, even though most of them are Not Germans playing Germans.
Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
I know it’s supposed to be Austrian. But, honestly, what is this?
Christian Bale in Batman Begins (2005)
No, this is not just me taking the opportunity to smack Christian Bale. His accent in Batman Begins really is atrocious. It has no definable origin or regional affiliation – East Coast? West Coast? Midwest? Anywhere? – and when he’s Batman, he sounds like he swallowed a mouthful of gravel and then tried to do an impression of Marlon Brando. He’s not good at this, guys, I don’t care what you say.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs of New York (2002)
Oh, Leo. I don’t know why Martin Scorsese loves you so much. Gangs of New York is full of…questionable accents, but Leo’s is the most grating to me. Is it Irish? Not really. Is it New York, of any description? Nope. Is it an amalgam of the two, which would make sense given the character’s origins? Not even that. It changes in every scene, and DiCaprio struggles so much to maintain it that he forgets to do little things, like acting. A shame, because otherwise Gangs of New York is one of my favorite Scorsese films.
Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Keanu’s accent in Dracula has gone down in history, but it’s still a wonder to hear. To give him credit, Winona Ryder’s accent is almost as bad.
Leslie Howard in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Even allowing for the nebulous Hollywood definition of Southern accents, Leslie Howard’s game attempt is still remarkably awful. It’s not surprising, though: British people think they’re way better at American accents than they actually are, and Howard hated working on Gone with the Wind. It shows.
Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
I’m not certain if this even counts as a bad accent, since Costner hardly tried at all. But when he does try, it’s pretty bad.
Aiden Gillen in Game of Thrones (2011-Present)
I love, love, love Aiden Gillen, and his take on Littlefinger remains one of my favorite things in Game of Thrones. However, you don’t have to dig too deep to hear that the character’s accent is a struggle for the talented actor. While his natural Irish accent isn’t (geographically) too far from the English accents of the rest of the cast, he struggles to nail down a consistent accent. His accent is inconsistent with his native Irish accent poking through more than occasionally.
Leslie Howard in Gone with the Wind (1939)
The first time I watched Gone with the Wind, I fell in love with Leslie Howard… hard. I totally got Scarlet’s desire to win over the dashing Ashley. Screw that Rhett Butler fellow! However, this makes the list of worst accents for one reason: What accent? The English born Howard doesn’t even bother to attempt a southern accent for the decided southern Ashley Wilkes.
Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
This performance belongs on a variety of worst of lists. It’s just… ouch. This is an example of an actor leaning on stereotype over actual performance. In the classic movie, Rooney’s performance seems to step even beyond The Charlie Chan detective series in problematic territory. This is one of the most infamous takes in all of classic Hollywood.
Dolly Read in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
I can hear the questions from here, what do you expect from a Russ Meyer movie? Well, a better accent for one! May 1966 Playmate of the Month Dolly Read (center) stars in the film, which is essentially a rock-and-roll take on the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls. Throughout the film, the British Read has a hell of a time covering her natural accent, resulting in one of the more cringeworthy accents on our list.
Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (2016)
When Benedict Cumberbatch took off his deliciously long Sherlock coat and replaced it with Dr. Strange’s cloak, accepting the actor as the American superhero was a bit of a struggle. As you watch the superhero origin story, Cumberbatch’s accent doesn’t sit quite right on the ear. It’s difficult to pin down the struggles, but it’s not good (and had this fangirl worried). However, the skilled Cumberbatch seemed able to largely figure things out by the release of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018.