5. Winona Ryder – Mina Harker (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
We can focus on Keanu Reeves’ atrocious English accent, but this is a list that is based more on good performances that get brought down by bad accents. Reeves as Jonathan Harker is a low point in the film in a plethora of ways.
Winona Ryder as Mina Harker is much stronger, especially when it comes to hitting her emotional cues. However, she is on this list for a reason. While her accent is far from Reeves’ weaving of English and American accents (both terrible), Ryder, too, was likely misguided with her performance. Her English accent may not be as wobbly or blisteringly sinful, but she still misses inflections, and either over-enunciates or underperforms.
Ryder is fully capable of taking on accents, but she cannot be unscathed from the hole Reeves also fell into. Still, her Mina is quite strong and can keep up with most of the other actors (Gary Oldman was always light years ahead of anyone else in this film), so she has that going for her.
4. Tom Hardy – Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
With all of the plot holes that “The Dark Knight Rises” had (how did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham City if it was fully blocked off? Actually, let’s not go down this rabbit hole), there is one question that most viewers asked: what the hell is Bane’s accent? Tom Hardy’s Bane is so confusing, because he sounds like an old-fashioned train conductor trying to speak loudly through a megaphone.
There are hints of a (possible) British accent, but half of the issue is the muffling that detracts from the pronunciations. Hardy can slur his words together (it works a bit better in “The Revenant” with his Southern drawl), and the masking of his dialogue (physical or digital) make these diction puzzles even harder to solve.
Hardy emotes so well behind a mask, and his villainous presence makes the spell Gotham is under believable. You can tell that Hardy always likes to have an interesting voice with his films, and while it sometimes works (“Bronson”), it won’t always (this film). Hardy’s impossible accent was the bane of, well, Bane.
3. Renee Zellweger – Ruby Thewes (Cold Mountain)
“Cold Mountain” has a gigantic ensemble cast, and it was Renée Zellweger’s comedic relief that won her an Academy Award. As Ruby Thewes, Zellweger brings forth a sense of charm and the occasional laugh in a film mostly surrounded by grief, fear, and struggle. Films need some sort of balance to make their ambitions easy to digest.
“Cold Mountain” is fairly lengthy and contains some traumatic experiences for the characters within the narrative, so some comedy doesn’t hurt. However, Zellweger coats her Southern accent with such a strong inflection that it is funny for the wrong reasons. This is not a natural accent by any means, and it somewhat turns Thewes into a tossed-in character rather than a believably realistic person.
There’s nothing wrong with being goofy; weird and eccentric people exist in real life. Zellweger’s work here is sadly a bit too much, because her likeability is still present and her magnetism is as strong as ever; you just get shown how obnoxious her accent is all the more often.
2. Dick Van Dyke – Bert (Mary Poppins)
Before you get angry, there is an explanation for this. Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent is so awful that it ranks on so many worst accent lists (usually as the worst offender). There is no justification for how terrible his attempt was. Van Dyke has even commented on this attempt by insisting that no one told him he was doing a bad job (and he was surrounded by British actors), so he never thought to change his voice.
Fair enough; you won’t do anything differently if you aren’t aware that you aren’t succeeding. The voice becomes even worse when Van Dyke sings, because it then turns into a melodic exaggeration and not just hyperbole. Now, here lies the biggest problem – Dick Van Dyke is loveable as Bert, and people often forget that.
While he remains a big part of many of our childhoods, his accent is what has been brought up more than his performance nowadays. We sometimes forget how memorable Bert was for the right reasons: his comedy, his wit, the sympathy we felt for a humble man who takes on many jobs. While this is a list about accents, let us use this entry as a means to remember why we love Dick Van Dyke, and not why Bert’s voice hurt our ears.
1. Sean Connery – Jimmy Malone (The Untouchables)
When it comes to bad accents, Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone in “The Untouchables” is very much untouchable. To this day, it is still almost impossible to know quite what the hell is going on here. Is Malone from some made up country in the fictitious continent Geographia? Nope, he is simply applying an Irish accent to his usual Scottish voice. This accent is so awful, it barely even exists. There is no sound on earth that sounds like Jimmy Malone’s conversational voice.
This ranks number one, because Connery made Malone such a terrific character. Even though you can barely make out what he is going for half of the time, his intentions as a rough cop are pure. Connery made Malone an officer who is so fed up with the ways of the powerful gangsters, that you want to stand behind him as he single-handedly mows down these fierce figures.
You’ll never want to say goodbye to Malone, because he is arguably the best character in the entire film. Connery even won an Academy Award for this performance, and rightfully so; anyone who watches “The Untouchables” grew on Jimmy Malone.
The issue is, his performance will be as memorable as his peculiar mess of an accent. This accent feels like Marcel Duchamp’s defacing of the Mona Lisa: the work of art has been strongly defaced, but Connery’s performance is still a work of art.