Angelina Jolie in Alexander
Warner Bros.

10 Worst Accents in Movie History

The only thing more curious than these A-listers incredibly off accents is why their dialect coach never intervened.
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From the impossible to place to the borderline made-up, it seems like these A-list actors spent plenty of time running lines, but they weren’t quite able to master (or even decide) how the words should come out of their mouths. Obviously, mastering other accents isn’t always easy. No matter how many Hollywood millions some stars are offered for a role or how well-versed their dialect coach might be, sometimes nailing it just isn’t possible.

Also, the more well-known an actor is known for their actual (and sometimes distinctive) accent, the more trouble they seem to have pulling off a different one, especially in the eyes and ears of the audience. Even if their attempt is passable, critics and moviegoers are notoriously difficult to convince when they’re hip to what real accent lies beneath. Still, there’s no excuse for the horrible accents on this list.

Highlander

Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert found themselves in this age-old pickle the moment Highlander was released. Critics have not only been ripping apart their character’s accents since 1986, but they’ve been consistently questioning the casting logic.

Why on earth did they feel it was wise to cast a French-American actor (Lambert) to play a Scotsman while the only cast member with an authentic Scottish accent (Connery) played “The Spaniard”? Connery’s real accent is practically his calling card, and he doesn’t exactly hide it. And why should he? Considering this adventure-fantasy flick was set in Scotland, it all remains a head-scratcher.

Con Air

Touchstone Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

We give many beloved actors accent passes when we love the movie they’re in just as much as we love them in it. Nicholas Cage’s southern/Alabama accent in Con Air is a classic example of this. Frankly, I kept waiting for him to reveal he was actually from elsewhere. As someone who grew up all over the South, I’ve heard every accent under the blazing sun. This is not one of them. What I do hear, however, are periodic tinges of something pretty common among actors who seemingly have no clue what people in the South actually sound like.

Often dubbed “Hollywood’s southern accent,” this blanket bad accent was made most famous by Gone With The Wind. Best described as an “antebellum accent,” it disregards the reality that different regions have drastically different tones, and nobody talks quite like that these days. This dialectical misrepresentation has forever confused the masses and, apparently, Nicholas Cage. Frankly, I could devote a list solely to Southern set movies with woeful accents, but due to how unintentionally hilarious Cage’s twang comes out (and how bad even his attempt at “Hollywood Southern” is), he long wears the crown.

Varsity Blues

MTV/Paramount Pictures/Tollin/Robbins Productions

We all love to have a roaring laugh at the heated, not-so-Texan way James Van Der Beek says I don’t want your life in Varsity Blues. But let’s be fair. For most of this coming-of-age movie, his attempt at Texas twang isn’t that bad. Yes, the entire cast won a “Worst Fake Accent” award the year it debuted, but one cast member notably had a much harder time sticking to the Lone Star state sound than the others.

Paul Walker wasn’t just unable to conceal his California native tongue when he tried to, he didn’t seem to try very hard or often. His character was supposed to be born and bred in Texas, was he not? The truth is, I, like so many in 1999, was too smitten with the dreamboat Walker always was to care about this massive plot hole. Still, even behind my rose-tinted glasses, it was impossible not to notice his surfer boy slip-ups.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Paramount Pictures

Some accents aren’t just terrible. In retrospect, they’re deemed terribly offensive. Case in point: Mickey Rooney’s accent for the role of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The 1961 beloved classic starring Audrey Hepburn is full of unforgettable scenes, lines, and iconic fashion. Unfortunately, it also includes a not-so-thoughtful characterization of the Japanese that can never be undone. For far too long, portrayals like this one were encouraged and sold as comedy by the film industry. But it’s forever not okay.

Today, it’s one of the most criticized and just plain bad accents in movie history. In 2014, Jeff Yang wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Rooney’s portrayal of Yunioshi — taped eyelids, buck teeth, sibilant accent and all — has become one of the persistent icons of ethnic stereotype, brought up whenever the conversation turns to the topic of Hollywood racism.” In the same article, Yang also gives credit where credit is due, but not to the actor’s accent. He notes that Rooney once said he would’ve never taken the role if he’d known it would offend so many people.

Alexander

Warner Bros. Pictures

On and offscreen, Angelina Jolie has repeatedly proven she’s a woman who can pretty much do whatever she wants. And she did “whatever” pretty shamelessly in 2004’s Alexander, but not in a good way. Her linguistically curious portrayal of Queen Olympias raised as many questions as it did eyebrows. If we’re being totally honest, Colin Farrell struggled, too, sounding Irish-British most times. But considering Jolie was 29, and 28-year-old Farrell was playing her son, perhaps those pulling the strings were more to blame for all the oddness.

Playing a historical figure comes with responsibilities, even when films tend to take plenty of creative liberties and run with them. Unwittingly rewriting history, Jolie’s accent veered into Spanish at times, Russian at others, and was all-around mercurial. Whatever the intention, it didn’t sound at all like Greek to me. Alongside costar Rosario Dawson, she earned a Worst Fake Accent Stinkers Bad Movies Award for this one. Some critics even compared her bad accent to Morticia Adams.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Warner Bros./Morgan Creek Entertainment

Is it just me, or does it seem like Kevin Costner is too comfortable being Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? I mean… was he actually attempting a British accent at all? Would anyone believe that? More importantly, did he?

These are the Costner accent-related questions we’ve all been asking since 1991. But as we later learned from Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it’s best to laugh off such failed attempts and never repeat the same mistakes. Or, as Cary Elwes put it, ”Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.”

Elysium

MRC/Genre Films/Alphacore/QED

The problem with Jodie Foster’s accent in Elysium is that it’s indecipherable. The award-winning actress seemingly oscillates between sounding sort of South African, kind of British, and occasionally she speaks French. When she’s delivering any lines in English, however, it’s not crystal clear what she’s aiming for. Her character’s accent is most commonly described as “off-putting” and “inconsistent.”

With that said, many critics agree that if you’re willing or able to overlook Foster’s murky accent, this hit sci-fi/action film is hard to pick apart. That’s good news for the film but bad news for Jodie. Audiences and critics alike have said the director should’ve put a stop to whatever she was trying to do for the sake of the movie. But for reasons unknown and inconceivable, they didn’t.

Gangs of New York

Miramax/Touchstone Pictures/Intermedia

To this day, I’m not sure how to feel about Cameron Diaz’s Irish accent in Gangs of New York. Or Leonardo Dicaprio’s, for that matter. I guess when it comes down to it, Cameron’s is sillier, but Leo’s isn’t stellar. Perhaps these American A-lister’s dialectic shortcomings wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious or distracting if their costars’ accents hadn’t been so sound.

London-born Daniel Day-Lewis received critical acclaim for his role and unanimous praise for his applaudable accent. Comparatively, however, Diaz’s and Dicaprio’s Irishness fell short, especially for two people in lead roles. While not totally dreadful, they’re consistently off in their own special ways. Either they’re trying too hard to fit the 1863 Irish mold or not trying hard enough.

American Pie

Summit Entertainment/Universal Pictures

No matter how funny some of it is, unpacking a few of the deeply misguided, cringingly questionable choices made by the minds behind American Pie would take more time than any of us has today. So I won’t go there. Instead, let’s focus on Shannon Elizabeth’s campy yet strange foreign exchange student accent in this wildly successful 1999 comedy, shall we?

Obviously, her character is not a realistic high school student. And her visual, um, contributions were positioned as the focal point of her scenes, not how she sounded. We get that. But that doesn’t make her thick, not-so-Czechoslovakian accent any less ridiculous. Blatantly cast for her sex appeal more than her acting chops, I don’t blame Elizabeth for not toiling away with a dialect coach for this role. In the end, she gave directors what they wanted, terrible accent and all.

Dracula

Columbia Pictures/American Zoetrope

Let me preface this by saying Keanu Reeves can do no wrong in my book. As previously discussed, we don’t deserve him. Sure, he’s well known for undeniably hollow deliveries here and there, but he’s also made movie magic just as often. Thanks to that je ne sais quoi he possesses, most of what he touches turns to box office gold in a flash. And so, I hate to say this: Keanu is lucky his accent in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula didn’t tank his career.

Honestly, it’s so painstakingly bad, it’s arguably one of the key reasons Reeves developed a reputation for being less incredible than he actually is. His fair-weathered, choppy attempts to sound British would be laughable if they weren’t so sad. Fumbling over the half-hearted brit accent, he can barely get a smooth sentence out, but he commits nonetheless. Consider this movie indisputable proof that Keanu Reeves has many strong suits as an actor, but accents aren’t one of them.