Many of the Best Actor nominations for the Oscars this Sunday are Irish. St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. What better way to celebrate than an authoritative ranking of the five worst Irish accents in movie history?
The Irish accent is consistently voted one of the most attractive in the world. But for decades, Irish people have had to endure a motley collection of ridiculous attempts at our dulcet tones. Otherwise competent Hollywood stars usually pitch it somewhere between hearty pirate and shaky Scottish. Some manage a lot worse.
We asked a team of accent and dialect experts to compile a list. This is what they came up with.
1. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977)
One review of the original Star Wars movie was that there were “too many Irish people and not enough Black people,” which is fair enough. Even on other planets far, far away, where there is a boisterous pub, there will be Irish people.
Alec Guinness made his name in Ealing comedies, where he often played more than one role. However, his take on an Irish Jedi master is painful. It would take another 20 years before Liam Neeson could repair the damage in The Phantom Menace.
2. Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Rocky (1982)
Stallone may have nailed the traditional Irish slurred, drunken delivery of dialogue, willingness to do anything for a fight, and unaccountable triumphalism about losing.
However, he dropped the ball with the accent. “At least I think he did,” said one of our experts. “It’s hard to tell.”
3. Chow Yun-Fat as Tequila in Hard Boiled (1987)
Filmed in Hong Kong, Hard Boiled features Chow Yun-Fat playing possibly the least convincing Irish character on film. It’s as if someone told the director what Irish people were like but he’s never actually met one.
For one thing, the hero is named after the only type of alcohol Irish people know nothing about: tequila. For another thing, he speaks Cantonese throughout with an accent that can only be described as embarrassingly far from anything any real Irish person sounds like.
4. Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard (1988)
With a traditional Irish name like “McClane” and armed with hard-to-translate Gaelic phrases like “Yipee Kay-Ay motherfucker!”, Willis’s portrayal of the have-a-go hero should have been a lock.
Unfortunately, his accent comes across more like a disaffected, off-duty American police officer than anything else.
5. Ian McKellan as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings (2001)
As all Irish people know, J.R.R. Tolkien originally envisioned the centuries-old wizard as a flat-capped Irish farmer, holding up a bar in rural Mayo and downing pints of Guinness while sharing the wisdom of the ages with the little people surrounding him.
While he gets the motivation and character, Ian McKellan’s accent is genuinely awful. Maybe the only Irish person he’s ever heard in person is Pierce Brosnan.