Director Oliver Stone’s film about Edward Snowden opened this weekend, and it’s not getting the best reviews ever. But we’ve had trouble taking it seriously even before its release because all of the trailers feature Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s spot-on — and weird — impression of the NSA whistleblower.
The problem is that his accent isn’t bad; Snowden actually sounds like that. It’s just that when we watch movies and TV shows, we don’t necessarily want 100 percent accuracy because reality is often strange and unpleasant, and we go to entertainment to escape that nonsense.
But Snowden isn’t the only culprit here; actors often change their voices for roles in ways that some consider to be unnatural. Here are 15 fictional characters with just the weirdest (but not necessarily worst) accents.
16. Paul Serene – Quantum Break
This 2015 video game/TV series from Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Alan Wake) has a great cast that includes Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Dominic Monahan (The Lord of the Rings), and Lance Reddick (Fringe). But it’s Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen who earns a spot on our list for his portrayal of antagonist Paul Serene, a morally questionable industrialist and time traveler trying to prepare humanity for the end of time.
It’s a really weird plot, we know. But while Gillen’s American accent isn’t terrible, it comes with a distracting mannerism: A big part of how the actor hides his natural brogue involves mostly just talking out of one side of his mouth. Usually the left one.
Regardless, his Massachusetts accent is better than our Irish accent (or our Massachusetts accent, for that matter), so we can’t be too hard on him. Still, it wasn’t that obvious during his 35-episode run on The Wire, so we’re not sure what happened between then and now.
15. Quentin Lance – Arrow
Arrow‘s setting, Star City, is a stand-in for either Seattle or Cleveland, depending on which episode you’re watching. We’re leaning more toward the Ohio option, since characters regularly take trains between there and The Flash‘s Central City, which has typically been a stand-in for Kansas City, Missouri. This means that its citizens should basically sound like newscasters, so it’s a little jarring that English actor Paul Blackthorne, who plays the Green Arrow’s police contact, Quentin Lance, would go with a more “street-smart,” New York-style accent for his role.
To be clear, we’ll take this weird voice over hero Oliver Queen’s stupid voice changer, which makes him sound like the Jigsaw Killer from Saw doing an impression of Batman. But the geography of Star City is confused enough without this dialectical mash-up.
14. John Fitzgerald – The Revenant
Tom Hardy sounds totally different in every role, and he draws inspiration for his characters from some interesting places. Take the incredibly bizarre voice he adopts as John Fitzgerald, the villain in director Alejandro Iñárritu’s critically acclaimed Oscar-winner, The Revenant. It’s a fascinating accent, and it’s one of several reasons that Fitzgerald is the film’s most fascinating character.
Even more interesting is the fact that Hardy wasn’t actually aiming at any particular region for his Revenant voice. He started, oddly enough, emulating Sgt. Barnes, Tom Berenger’s character from director Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film Platoon. And then, he just kind of stacked whatever “sounded cool” on top of it. The character is supposed to be generally Southern, but one viewer claims Hardy accidentally ends up somewhere around Baltimore.
We don’t really care, however, mostly because Hardy’s performance was way more engaging to us than watching Leonardo DiCaprio eat a raw liver or Hoth himself inside a dead horse.
13. Cameron Poe – Con Air
Con Air‘s Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) has the gold standard of dodgy accents, but we love it so much that we don’t even care how accurate it is. Poe is a former Army Ranger and convicted murderer from Alabama who is one of the few decent people on the eponymous Con Air, a high-security prison transport plane that falls into the hands of its more evil passengers. But that’s pretty incidental to us, since the most important scene in the whole movie comes when the hero confronts one of his fellow inmates in the belly of the vessel.
The bad guy, Bedlam Billy, finds a letter revealing that Poe has been paroled, and therefore it may not be in his best interest to help the guys who are stopping him from reuniting with his family. He discovers this in a box of personal belongings that includes a stuffed rabbit that the parolee had set aside for his daughter. How Poe got this toy after being in prison for eight years is beyond us, but that doesn’t matter, because it gives us the best line in one of the most amazing accents committed to film.
“Put the bunneh back in the bawx,” he warns.
Billy doesn’t do so, so Poe reiterates his ardent bunny/box position: “Ah sehd,” Poe says, but more slowly this time so we can all understand that he is very, very Southern. “Put … the bunneh … bayk in the bawx.”
12. Danny Archer – Blood Diamond
In Blood Diamond, Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler caught in a conflict between warring political factions over a priceless, pink gem. And he has an accent to go along with his assumed nationality.
The actor has since received a lot of internet attention, specifically on “bad movie accent” articles like this list of readers’ picks from Moviefone (which still exists, as it turns out) and this Indiewire one from three years later. Then again, the South African accent that DiCaprio goes for is notorious for being one of the most difficult dialects to nail down on the planet, so frankly, you’ve got to give him props for even trying to take on such a tall task.
The debate is ongoing, with some people calling DiCaprio’s vocal stylings terrible and others saying it’s not bad for a foreigner. We don’t know enough to say either way, but that’s hardly the point of the movie, anyway.
11. Kevin Lomax – The Devil’s Advocate
People like to pick on Keanu Reeves’ stilted performance as Jonathan Harker in the Francis Ford Coppola-helmed Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And truly, it is the verbal equivalent of a throat punch. But North American actors have been butchering the Queen’s English forever. It’s their revenge for all that colonialism.
Well, you tell us.
Our obligatory Keanu Reeves entry on this list has to go to his turn in The Devil’s Advocate, however, in which the Canadian actor plays a (literally) damned lawyer from Gainesville, Florida. And while residents of that area can sound pretty Southern, we’re still not sure which region he’s going for here. Sometimes, he sounds Georgian, and sometimes, he sounds like he’s from one of the Carolinas. Usually, though, he just sounds like Keanu Reeves, but slightly drunk.
We probably wouldn’t even bother pointing this performance out if he didn’t spend the entire movie having Al Pacino upstage him with his unhinged, gleeful turn as the actual Devil. It just makes his own work seem that much worse.
10. Ford – Tales from the Crypt: “Cold War”
The seventh season of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, an anthology series that adapts stories from the infamous ’50s horror comics line, was shot and set entirely in England. It is also mostly terrible.
One episode, “Cold War,” stars Ewan McGregor and Jane Horrocks as Ford and Cammy, two small-time crooks who can’t even do the small-time stuff right. After a shop robbery goes especially bad, Cammy leaves Ford to go find someone who won’t almost get her shot. She ends up with Jimmy (Colin Salmon), who’s dangerous in a totally different and plot-twisty way.
But none of that is relevant here because the main point is that despite the setting, Ford is inexplicably American. The script provides no reason for him to be a Yankee — other than a running joke concerning his odd hatred of the word “wankers,” which he says “sounds like some fucking breakfast cereal.” But we’re not sure that was a good enough joke to go to the mat for.
9. Sánchez – Highlander
Kevin Costner’s practical non-accent in Prince of Thieves (more on him in a bit) is nothing compared to Highlander co-star Sean Connery, who plays the role of Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez as just straight-up Scottish.
This is especially odd considering he sounds more Scottish than Swiss-raised actor Christopher Lambert, who plays main character Connor MacLeod. But the story goes out of its way to explain that MacLeod spent a lot of time in France, so that’s why he sounds better suited for a beret than a kilt. We get some of Connery’s character’s backstory; he was born in Egypt and spent time in Babylonia, Greece, China, and Japan before eventually settling in Spain. And that’s a lot of world to cover, but it still doesn’t include the country to which his accent belongs, or even any nation that borders it.
Connery’s a repeat “offender” here; other than a bit in which he speaks Russian, he plays Soviet submarine commander Marko Ramius in The Hunt for Red October with the same voice he uses for every character he plays: his own.
8. Guy Lapointe – Tusk
Director Kevin Smith (Clerks) brainstormed almost the entire plot to his Human Centipede-esque horror show — which is about a one man sewing another into a walrus suit made of human skin — during an episode of his podcast. But even hearing the whole story laid out in a 20-minute, free-form discussion didn’t prepare us for Guy Lapointe.
Johnny Depp plays the Québécois manhunter (who is, of course, named after a former player for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team). And he decides to go for a super-French-Canadian incarnation of famed TV detective Columbo, which may not even be in the top five weirdest choices in Tusk, but it’s the one relevant to this article.
The whole movie is so completely bizarre that we aren’t sure if we’re supposed to be amused or horrified, and that also applies to Depp’s performance. But we do have to hand it to him: he really goes for it.
7. Unnamed guy who Bill murders – Kill Bill: Volume 2
A deleted scene in director Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 2 has Bill and Beatrix Kiddo happily strolling through a marketplace before one of the former’s many, many enemies confronts them with a batch of thugs. Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight, Spawn) plays the assailant, who is inexplicably Australian.
It seems Bill killed the Aussie’s master — he’s probably killed a lot of people’s masters, after all — and now the student wants revenge. But it doesn’t take long for him and his cronies to end up on the wrong side of a katana.
Deleted scenes are usually boring and/or horrible, but we love this one. We assume the point was to show Bill’s considerable fighting skills before the eventual showdown with the woman he wronged. But Volume 2 is already pretty long, and something probably had to go to keep the story moving. White’s accent is really something special, however.
6. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg – The Fifth Element
We have no idea what Gary Oldman is going for in his role as the villain of director Luc Besson’s insane, sci-fi/action movie, but the whole movie is so crazy and fun that we also don’t care. Is he from France? England? The southern U.S.? The answer is “yes.”
Oldman plays the head of Zorg Industries as a weapons baron who is also secretly in league with a dark, cosmic evil to obtain four magical stones that are components of the only weapon that can destroy it. But mostly, he delivers monologues on the virtues of chaos and kills a bunch of people with the ZF1, his company’s combination machine gun/rocket, arrow, and net launcher/flamethrower/freeze gun. And he sounds awesome doing it.
We like to think that Zorg represents an amazing, globalized future in which Englishmen with incredibly French names can sound like they’re about to invite you over for a barbecue, and all of that is just totally normal.
5. Bert – Mary Poppins
We can almost excuse Dick Van Dyke, who plays one-man band/sidewalk artist/chimney sweep Bert, for not having a handle on how Cockney people actually sound. The Disney classic came out in 1964, one year before Michael Caine starred in The Ipcress File and showed the rest of the world how it sounds when real men lay words on them.
Van Dyke’s performance as Bert features an ‘orrible excuse for a Cockney accent. But somehow, it would work really well if the jack of many trades were an Australian. And an Aussie living in 1910 England wouldn’t even be the least probable thing that happens in Mary Poppins, considering it’s a film that includes a magical tape measure and an Edwardian bank manager getting a joke.
4. Paul Serone – Anaconda
That’s right … this article contains both Paul Serene and Paul Serone. But it’s impossible to get them confused because one is a time-traveling, superpowered CEO, and the other is Jon Voight doing an impression of Tony Montana from Scarface — but the version of Tony Montana in the takes director Brian De Palma didn’t use because Al Pacino was being too over the top.
Anaconda is an objectively bad film that starts with Danny Trejo shooting himself just so he doesn’t have to be in it anymore, and just gets more embarrassing from there.
Jon Voight plays rogue snake hunter Paul Serone, who kidnaps a documentary-film crew and forces them to help him track his quarry: the biggest anaconda anyone has ever seen. And when he fails to do that, an even bigger one happens along, which is pretty good news for Serone until it kills him.
We aren’t sure why the anacondas even bother with all the dumb humans, when one scene has the snake ambushing and killing a jaguar, and if it can do that, we don’t know why it would be interested in Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, who are all the way out in the water. But we like to think that it takes out Serone to do the audience a favor. The funny part is that if Christopher Walken had played the character with exactly the same voice, nobody would have cared. But that’s certainly more to do with what people expect from Christopher Walken.
3. Robin of Locksley – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
We’ve been picking on Americans playing Englishmen a lot here, but Prince of Thieves star Kevin Costner somehow manages to out-Keanu Keanu with his performance as a Robin Hood, who is almost, but not quite, completely un-British-sounding.
“[Costner] had a tempered accent, a softened-up Americanization,” the film’s producer and co-writer Alan Watson told the L.A. Times. “It was inappropriate to have him sound like Prince Charles. We didn’t want to go all the way to British royalty. But we didn’t want him to sound Californian.”
That article also says that the star claims that the producers fired his dialogue coach before he could “master an English accent.” But Watson says that he had help available both during and in post-production. We aren’t sure whom to believe here, but the performance is what it is. By which we mean that it is weird.
Near the end, Costner lays on an even worse accent for a scene in which Robin is in disguise. So maybe we should just be thankful for what we got.
2. Frank Underwood – House of Cards
We’ve actually enjoyed most of the accents featured here, and the one Kevin Spacey uses in the hit Netflix political series House of Cards is one of our absolute favorites. Unfortunately, however, we know it’s incredibly inaccurate. And that doesn’t diminish our love of it in the slightest, but it does sour it a little.
Underwood is from South Carolina, and he sounds mostly alright, but a linguistic analysis posted at Vox identifies a few odd and/or outdated features. One is the fact that Spacey almost never pronounces the letter “r,” so words like “car” come out sounding more like “cah.” But that’s a feature that was more prevalent before World War II, and Underwood isn’t old enough to have it. It’s the same with his habit of inserting an “h” before “w” sounds, like when he refers to the Senate’s “Minority Hwhip.” That’s not just a bit from Family Guy; it’s a real linguistic trait that, again, Underwood isn’t old enough to use.
You can learn about Spacey’s “open-o’s” and Monophthongization in the rest of the article we linked to above. Or you can just enjoy Spacey’s amazing, crazy performance and try not to think about it too much. We’d understand either way.
1. Bane – The Dark Knight Rises
We know that Tom Hardy has already been on this list for The Revenant, but we really couldn’t leave off what could be considered the most controversial vocal performance in recent years.
The antagonist of The Dark Knight Rises sounds weird, and that’s not just because he delivers all of his lines through a mask that covers most of his face. And even more bizarrely, his voice changes, sometimes even between lines. Sometimes, he sounds kind of English; other times, he leans a bit more toward Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies; and every once in a while, he just goes straight-up Sean Connery.
We don’t have a problem with any of this, because the occasional ridiculousness of the voice provides a great and unsettling contrast to the stark, physical malevolence he constantly puts out. He’s a huge beast of a man with a terrifying mythology surrounding him, and if he occasionally sounds like James Bond talking through a Darth Vader voice-changing mask he picked up at Toys “R” Us, that only makes him more unsettling to us.
And just like he did in The Revenant, Hardy took some surprising inspiration for his performance. But it wasn’t another actor’s work this time; instead, it was Bartley Gorman, a Romani, bare-knuckle boxing champion known as “The King of the Gypsies.” Because of course it was.
Did we miss any of your favorite, weird character accents? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
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