Analysis of more than 200 entries from the top ‘worst Hollywood accents’ lists online found which accents are most frequently misrepresented by actors on screen. Tallying 203 individual mentions on 16 entertainment website ‘worst Hollywood accents’ lists, online educational platform Shaw Academy shawacademy.com found the most difficult accents for actors to fake on screen were:
1. British (77 list mentions)
2. Irish (37 list mentions)
3. American (37 list mentions)
4. Russian (15 list mentions)
5. Australian (10 list mentions)
The British Accent
The Great British accent proved to be the most difficult of all the accents to imitate - along with the regional Yorkshire and Cockney pronunciations, in particular. The Matrix star Keanu Reeves’ performance in Dracula was most consistently voted the worst - being mentioned in 14 of the 16 ‘worst accent’ lists analysed, for his British attempt.
Other actors who caused a lot of confusion about their attempted British English accents were Anne Hathaway in One Day, who was cited in 10 lists; Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, who was cited in 10 lists; Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, who was cited in 10 lists; and Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven, who was cited in six lists for his attempted Cockney accent.
“This accent attempt is especially unnatural because Keanu only emphasised the difference between British and American English by its rhotic vs. non rhotic endings,” a Shaw Academy English course educator said. “Getting the British accent correct takes more than just pronouncing the ‘r’ at the end of a word or not pronouncing it.”
Professional voiceover artists speaking in Queen’s English, Yorkshire and Cockney accents can be found on the Shaw Academy British accents playlist [https://soundcloud.com/user-711572952/sets/british-accents].
The Irish Accent
The luck of the Irish was nowhere to be found for many celebrities tasked with performing with an Irish accent, according to the Shaw Academy research.
P.S. I Love You star Gerard Butler’s performance as the husband speaking from beyond the grave, Gerry, was voted the worst - being specifically mentioned in nine of the 16 ‘worst accent’ lists analysed, for his attempt at an Irish accent.
Other celebrities frequently cited in the ‘worst’ lists include: Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own, who was cited in eight lists; Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly, who was cited in eight lists; Tom Cruise in Far and Away who was cited in six lists; and Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York who was cited in five lists.
“Here’s the thing about the Irish accent - there are so many wildly different variations of it that any non-native speaker is going to struggle to master it,” a Shaw Academy course educator said. “Irish is called a language of a million accents, so it’s not really easy. Also, Gerard has gone on record to publicly apologise for his fake accent in an interview, so it’s hard not to love him for that.”
Professional voiceover artists speaking in Northern Irish, Southern Irish and Belfast accents can be found on the Shaw Academy Irish Accent playlist [https://soundcloud.com/user-711572952/sets/irish-accents].
The American Accent
Non-Americans and Americans alike struggled to keep up a united state of the American accent - particularly seeing regional challenges with the Southern and Bostonian accents. Real-life California native Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of Cameron Poe in Con Air topped the lists marking the worst accents - he was mentioned in four lists for his unrealistic Alabamian drawl.
Others who were often criticised for their efforts with American English include: Gerard Butler in The Bounty Hunter, who was cited in four lists; James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues, who was cited in five lists; Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground, who was cited in three lists; and Kate Winslet in Titanic, who was cited in just one of 16 lists.
“If you’re hoping to master the Southern accent, you’ll not only need to add some words from the Southern dialect, but it will also help if you can remember one thing: It’s usually hot in the South, which is one reason why many people say Southerners move at a slower pace,” Shaw Academy course educators say. “This is reflected in their speech as well - the accent is full of long vowels, and you’ll often find several words enunciated as one.”
Professional voiceover artists speaking in Bostonian, Alabamian and Chicagoan accents can be found on the Shaw Academy American Accent playlist [https://soundcloud.com/user-711572952/sets/american-accents].
About Shaw Academy
Shaw Academy is an online educational platform, providing learners worldwide with top quality courses to pursue their desired practical skills and gain globally-recognised qualifications. Supplying over 50 courses, Shaw Academy encourages its students to actively learn at their own convenience and have seen over four million graduates succeed since its establishment in 2013.
- Research completed 5-6 May 2020.
Shaw Academy reviews information from ‘worst of’ lists from the following websites: Backstage, Cheatsheet, Cosmopolitan, Daily Break, Digital Spy, Looper, MTV, RadioX, Russia Beyond, Shortlist, Taste of Cinema, The Culture Trip, The Loop, The Telegraph, Women’s Day and Yahoo to find which accents were most frequently listed as difficult for actors to fake.
The most difficult accents for actors to fake, by frequency of mentions in ‘most difficult lists are: 1. British (77 list mentions); 2. Irish (37 mentions); 3. American (37 mentions); 4. Russian (15 mentions); 5. Australian (10 mentions); 6. Greek (7 mentions) 7. Scottish (5 mentions); 8. Italian (3 mentions); 9. South African (3 mentions) and 10. Jamaican (3 mentions).
All sources and data can be viewed here.
All Soundcloud accent recordings were recorded for the purpose of this article and have commercial licensing in place.