There are so many genre performances that call for accented fun, and many of them are excellent or at the very least serviceable. But there are times when you hear a lilt or a diphthong and suddenly everything has gone horribly wrong, and you are stranded for the better part of an hour or two with an eye twitch that acts up every time you hear a hard ‘r.’ These are the accents that have haunted our dreams, from Southern socialites to the awkward Australians.
Here are some of the very worst.
Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Look, David Boreanaz is a great guy or whatever, but those flashback scenes with ye olde Angel? Ouch. They hurt so bad. It’s not just that his brogue is weak, it disappears every three words. Could they not get a dialect coach for the poor fellow? Make him watch Waking Ned Devine on a continuous loop? (A lame fix at best, but he might have gotten closer.) It’s sort of doubly sad when James Marsters is traipsing around for the entire series convincing everyone that he might actually be from London. (Although we know he had ample help from Anthony Stewart Head to that purpose.) And mega-sadder when you watch Aidan Turner on Being Human and realize what Angel was supposed to sound like in those scenes.
Bill Compton (True Blood)
The southern accents on True Blood are all over the place to begin with, but Bill wins this one by virtue of never getting those ‘r’s down pat. He consistently switches to a softer sound on the letter, which is a by-product of Stephen Moyer’s native English accent. Not a single line is spared. Scenery-chewing loses its luster. You’d think someone might have made mention to him, but I suppose that was never intended to be part of True Blood’s charm.
Robin Hood (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
Sorry, Costner. This is really not your strong suit. If you’re going to be Robin Hood at any point after Errol Flynn, you might want to curb your chill California vibe. (An anthropomorphic fox managed it better. Come on.) Though I suppose that without his attempt at sounding vaguely British we would have never gotten that sublime potshot from Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when Cary Elwes tells Prince John and the Sheriff to beware: “Because, unlike some other Robins Hoods—I can speak with an English accent!”
Conner MacLeod and Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Highlander)
This is particularly amazing because the point here basically seems to be: if you hire Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, you get Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. It’s funnier because Ramirez shouldn’t sound Scottish and MacLeod should, and neither of them do. Also, we’re supposed to buy Connery as an Egyptian? (He was supposedly born during the Third Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, so it’s not like we could say he’s Greek or Roman to even begin trying to make sense of anything.) Just… make it work in your head.
Ray Vecchio (Due South)
Due South counts because there are ghosts in it, okay? This show has one of the central problems that many series filmed in Vancouver have—it’s so clear that most of the cast is Canadian as soon as they speak. Due South is meant to take place in Chicago, which sets them at a further disadvantage. Enter Benton Fraser’s first partner, Ray Vecchio, who is supposed to be a born and raised Chicagoan… and sounds like he’s from Jersey. Which is hardly surprising because the actor who portrays him was born in Newark, NJ. Look, the rest of the world may think that all American cities produce similar accents, but people in the Midwest sound nothing like people on the East Coast, particularly residents of the New Jersey/New York areas. You’re adorable, Due South, but your one piece of stock footage featuring the El train is fooling no one.
Bert (Marry Poppins)
There’s actually a name for this non-accent—it’s called “Mockney Cockney.” Obviously, Bert is a big part of many of childhoods, but Dick Van Dyke is over-the-top in his portrayal in a decidedly vaudevillian way. He’s still charming as all get out, it’s just a shame that no one had the foresight to ask him to maybe tone it down a notch. This is the reason why so many American children actually believe that saying “‘Ello Guv-na!” makes them so very good that ‘talking like British people.’
Jonathan Harker (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
It’s not as though anyone was expecting genius from Keanu Reeves here, and his portrayal of Jonathan Harker overall is appropriately vacant considering Stoker’s text. (Though he did end up on Total Film’s list of “50 Performances That Ruined Movies.” Sheesh.) But if Francis Ford Coppola is directing the movie, you kind of expect him to notice? Maybe he just preferred Keanu’s dulcet tones, or was too enamored of Gray Oldman to notice. Gary Oldman is a super distracting individual.
Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
See, this gets kind of awkward: how can an ostensibly “made up” accent be bad? After all, Gungans aren’t real, so their accent isn’t either, right? Except for the fact that it is meant to be a vague mashup of various Caribbean accents, created by actor Ahmed Best. The result makes Jar Jar come off as a racist caricature, and he’s not the only character in the prequels who had this problem—the Nemoidians were similarly panned. By that count, it seems fair enough to call this a bad accent. And that’s without bothering to debate Jar Jar’s relative annoyance to the general population.
Tallulah (Doctor Who, “Daleks in Manhattan”/“Evolution of the Daleks”)
There are so many bad New York accents out there, but this one stands out because it seems almost intentionally horrible. As though the director on these episodes of Doctor Who thought that going all-camp would make everything funnier? Lighter? Distract us from plot holes? It didn’t. All it did was make certain that whenever the words ‘bad New York accent’ come up in sequence, we all hear Tallulah drawl, “Whaddya mean, creatures?”
On a side note, have you ever heard David Tennant’s American accent? It’s so momentously bad, you will instantly need to wash you ears out with the sound of Doctor (or his actual Scottish burr).
Jim Taggart (Eureka)
Played by Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame, Jim Taggart was Eureka’s biological containment specialist, which sort of makes him a capturer of wild thingamabobs, which might be why the show’s creators thought it could be clever to make him Australian? He’s sort of like the Steve Irwin of the town? Either way, Frewer’s Ozzie accent was decidedly dodgy… but then, when is an Australian accent ever managed convincingly by a non-native? It’s a rare one to get right.
Chekov (Star Trek)
Walter Koenig’s accent basically amounts to swapping his ‘v’s and ‘w’s. Anton Yelchin (whose parents are Russian) said that he considered adopting a more accurate accent when he took on the role of Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek movies, but decided that the character was so iconic, it was better to just go with what Koenig had set up. As if there weren’t enough reasons to love Anton Yelchin.
Dracula (NBC’s Dracula)
Vampires really seem to have a problem with this, don’t they? Sure, vampires probably need to be able to adapt, to blend into their chosen environments, but why does Jonathan Rhys Meyers need to be southern? He’s about as awesome at it as Bill is. Plus, you’re missing out on allowing this show to be exactly what it wants to be—The Tudors, but with vampires.
Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings)
You’re surprised to see this one here, aren’t you? But the things is, Viggo Mortensen clearly changed his mind about how Aragorn’s accent was going to work while they were filming. At the start he has a sort of hybrid accent that is part elven—which makes sense, given that Aragorn was raised by elves—but he later gives up on it. Which means that throughout Fellowship he’s saying everyone’s names with these weird flips around the vowels; rolling the second ‘o’ in Boromir, drawing out the ‘a’ in Legolas. And then he just stops doing it. Honestly, you can forgive him for it just because it’s so funny.
It’s sort of an African accent of some kind? Similar to our dear Aragorn, it’s clear that Halle Berry tried this out, decided it didn’t work for her, then dropped it in later X-Men films. Unfortunately, the awkwardness of the accent just makes Storm’s admittedly sad dialogue in the first film sadder. “Do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning?” Um, no, but you clearly have some strong feelings on the matter, so have at that.
Herkemer Homolka (Congo)
Tim Curry… what are you doing? What is this? Where are you from? What is happening? How did you decide that Romanians sounded this way? How many times can you say “Lost City of Zinj” in the same movie?
Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Paul Freeman adorably cops to this in an interview about his audition for the role of Dr. Rene Belloq: when asked if he could produce a French accent for the character (Freeman is English), he simply said yes and gave it a go. And everyone bought it even though he had no idea what he was doing. It’s hard to care overmuch when you recall his stupendous performance as the “shadowy figure” in Indy’s life, but it’s doesn’t change the fact that no English-speaking French person sounds like that. Which just proves that confidence really does get you everywhere.
Practically Every Asian Accent on Film
This one is so awkward because there are just too many examples. From Mr. Wing handing over Gizmo in Gremlins to Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, every actor placed in this position seems to receive the direction “just read the ridiculous chopped up English as it’s written. You know what, could you sound like Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffanys? People will love that!” It’s more impressive to find respectful examples, such as Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Special Mentions: Dean and Sam Winchester (Supernatural)
Overall, the Winchester brothers do well enough with their vague accents, but because both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are from Texas, a twang slips into their speech patterns everyone once in a while. When it does, it’s the most noticeable thing ever. And it’s adorable.