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Nice Try, Nicholson – A-List Actors Are All Too Capable of Bad Accents


Impressed by a fake accent? You should be. As just about any actor can attest, mastering the inflections of a dialect from somewhere a plane trip away from where you learned your ABCs is no easy feat. Just how tough is it? Well, judging by the long list of fine actors who have tried and failed, it appears to fall somewhere between winning an Oscar and being Paul Newman. The excellent actors on this list have delivered some of the worst accents in movie history. Some of the entries may surprise you…

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Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)
That’s right: Pacino in Scarface. Think about it: Sure his performance is amazing, but have you ever spoken to a Cuban? Did they talk like that? Despite his best efforts, Pacino manages to sound like he’s in an introductory Spanish course trying to imitate some sort of accented Spanish. Now you don’t have to live the rest of your life thinking that’s what it sounds like when someone from Cuba speaks English. You’re welcome.

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Ben Affleck in Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Affleck’s Boston accent for Good Will Hunting (1997) was probably easy for a native like him, and he hit it out of the park. But judging by his bungled attempts at doing a convincing British accent in Shakespeare in Love, it’s actually a bit surprising he was able to perfect any accent at all. Actually, a good Boston accent is so hard to come by that perhaps Affleck should really just stick to what he knows best.

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Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (1964)
It’s hard not to love Dick Van Dyke and Mary Poppins. Honestly, who doesn’t? The thing is, Van Dyke actually fooled a
nation of American children into thinking that that’s what a British
Cockney accent actually sounds like. Then one day British Parliament
is on C-Span and everyone receives a nasty surprise. Still, Bert the
Chimney Sweep remains a beloved children’s character, bad accent or not.

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Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Don Cheadle does the
impossible: In Ocean’s Eleven, he achieves an even poorer rendition of Van Dykes’
accent. While it probably wasn’t
Cheadle’s intention to stand out because of his flaws, at least it
makes his character memorable despite the movie’s star-studded cast. Interesting fact: Both
Cheadle and Van Dyke were born in the great state of Missouri. Casting
directors, take note.

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Keanu Reeves in Dracula (1992), Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Despite butchering a British accent in Dracula, Reeves was then whisked away to star in Much Ado About Nothing alongside actual British Shakespearean pros. Believe it or not,
he one-upped himself! He’s no bad-accent xenophobe though: He has
trouble with entire regions of the U.S. too, as evidenced by his
comical attempt at a Southern twang in The Devil’s Advocate. Luckily, he only uses that one about half the time, which, believe it or not, is a good thing.

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Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), JFK (1991) and Thirteen Days (2000)
Costner’s enunciation in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is so bad that competing legends have sprung up to explain it.
Some say his director nixed the accent, so Costner used it anyway
whenever he was in a bad mood. Costner claims he realized he wasn’t
good at it and gave up halfway through. No matter: Like Reeves, Costner
will use any accent poorly, including a laughable attempt at Jim
Garrison’s New Orleans drawl in JFK and an equally poor Boston accent in Thirteen Days.

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Jack Nicholson in The Departed (2006)
Nicholson seems to get a free pass for his outrageous attempt to sound like a Bostonian in The Departed. Sure, the guy’s a total legend and the movie’s fantastic. But
just like Pacino, Nicholson speaks in incredibly distinct
intonations, which, when combined with an attempt at a difficult accent, seems
to lead to disaster. In fact, Nicholson’s might have the worst Boston
accent ever committed to film. Somewhere, Matt Damon is shaking his
head in shame.

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (2006), The Departed and Gangs of New York (2002)
For a great actor DiCaprio sure does have trouble with accents. He appears to be attempting a Rhodesian inflection in Blood Diamond, but it’s impossible to tell. Same goes for his attempt at the Boston accent in The Departed. But it’s his Gangs of New York performance that really takes the cake. DiCaprio was going for a
part-Irish, part-19th century NY accent. It’s tough to tell because, in
the tradition of Kevin Costner, he abandons the attempt halfway
through.

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Natalie Portman in Star Wars Episode I, II, and III
A quick disclaimer: Nobody knows what kind of accent the talented Portman was attempting in Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. Some people in Star Wars
seem to be British, others American. The real problem is that she falls
into the classic trap of switching between a (bad) British accent and
an American one at will. She really should have just picked one — after
all, for all we know they could all sound like Moroccans speaking
English in the Star Wars universe.

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Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Despite his poor attempt at
recreating the local dialect in Good Will Hunting,
William managed to win an Oscar for his role as Sean. His accent may
not even be all that terrible, but he’s playing against a stacked deck.
The other actors are either from Boston (Damon and the Affleck
brothers) or not attempting Boston accents at all (Minnie Driver).
Williams’ less natural try sticks out like a sore tongue.

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