Are all people from the United Kingdom inherently evil?
Evidence points to no, but apparently Hollywood didn’t get the memo. British actors have been consistently cast as villains in movies when there’s no reason for the characters to be so — and sometimes even when the villains are specifically not supposed to be British. Some say this bias is because Americans are so anti-intellectual that it’s easy for us to associate the urbane accent with bad guys, while others believe it’s a carryover from the War of Independence.
If that’s the case, why not spend the Fourth of July watching these films while needlessly holding a 250-year-old grudge?
Let’s start with the most obvious example. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were a bunch of Space Nazis, and practically all of them had English accents. In all 11 Star Wars movies, practically every major villain is British: Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor; Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin; Christopher Lee as Count Dooku; Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke; Ray Park as Darth Maul; Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, and more. The only notable exceptions are Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren — the child of Han and Leia, two characters who spoke American English — and Darth Vader, who was voiced by the Missouri-born James Earl Jones… although he purposefully used a transatlantic accent, which sits right in the middle of American and English. Apparently, in the Star Wars galaxy, evil isn’t just a concept, it’s an accent, too.
They say the devil is in the details, which means the details are located in Basingstoke, England. Or so Bedazzled posits, given that the town’s very own Elizabeth Hurley plays Satan in the pretty forgettable 2000 romantic comedy co-starring Brendan Fraser (which is a remake of the more thoroughly English 1967 movie, co-starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook). In the film, Fraser’s hapless character makes a Faustian bargain with Hurley’s Devil to win the girl of his dreams, until Fraser eventually realizes that perhaps magically forcing a woman into a relationship, then spending his afterlife in eternal damnation, just might not be the right course of action.
It’s probably a bit pedantic to condemn any accents in a movie where all the characters are jungle animals, but pedantry is the spice of internet listicles. In this Disney animated film, the main antagonist is the lion Scar, who murders his sovereign/brother Mufasa and runs off his royal nephew Simba in order to seize the throne of the animal kingdom for himself. The voice actors make an unlikely pairing, as the uber-American-sounding Matthew Broderick plays Simba, while Jeremy Irons voices his uncle in what is possibly the most cruel, malicious and diabolical English accent imaginable. Seriously, if all the British sounded like Scar, America would still be fighting them to this day. (Fun fact: Irons also played the baddie in the third Die Hard movie, appearing as the brother of quintessential British baddie Alan Rickman from the first film. Sadly, both had crap German-ish accents instead of their usual eeeevil English ones.)
The Wachowskis’ sci-fi bomb is so utterly bananas that I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of so-bad-they’re-great movies. The absolute highlight of the 2005 film is Eddie Redmayne’s gloriously unhinged performance as Balem Abrasax, the Emperor of the House of Abrasax and the head of an incredibly profitable galactic pharmaceutical company that owns several planets, including Earth. Just let that sentence sink in a little. Honestly, the fact that Balem is another Space Brit is much, much less interesting than the fact he’s the Emperor of his family, which seems to consist of less than five people.
Arguably the greatest monster/villain in pop culture, Dracula has had many cinematic incarnations, starting with the Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi, a perfectly apt fit for an undead Count hailing from the historical location of Transylvania, located in central Romania. You might think Christopher Lee, who played Dracula in several movies for Hammer Films from 1958 to 1973, might also be a natural fit to play the character as he was born in Belgravia… except that Belgravia is actually a particularly affluent district in London. While refusing to adopt an accent of any kind, Lee imparted both a sinister malevolence and a smoldering sexuality to the character, which redefined the idea of vampires in pop culture. It’s worth noting that in 1966, Lee refused to speak any dialogue in Dracula: Prince of Darkness whatsoever, because he thought the script was completely godawful, so at least the Transylvanian Count didn’t have an incongruous voice in that movie.
In the most beloved of Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies, Clark Kent/Kal-El meets the only other survivors of his home planet of Krypton: General Zod, Ursa and Non — played respectively by Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran — who are three superpowered bad guys that want to take over the Earth, naturally. Zod and Ursa’s accents heavily imply they grew up in the U.K. section of the alien world, where all the evil Kryptonians lived, while the baby who would become Superman lived among the noble, American-style aliens. Interestingly, while O’Halloran was actually an American actor, Non was mute and never spoke a line, which means he almost certainly grew up on the wrong, English side of the Kryptonian tracks as well.
Explaining the plot of Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy film Legend is a fool’s errand. Suffice it to say it’s essentially a classic fairy tale with fantasy stalwarts like elves, dwarves and goblins, and starring Tom Cruise, a mostly dead unicorn, and Tim Curry as Satan. Okay, the character is only named the Lord of Darkness in the movie, but he’s got his Satan cosplay nailed — he’s hellfire red, has fanged teeth, sports giant black horns and walks on cloven feet. He also has Curry’s delightful English accent, the only non-American voice in the film. Pretty much every other villain on this list is playing a human or at least a humanoid, so revealing that Judeo-Christian demons speak the Queen’s English is really saying something, no pun intended.
There’s never been a movie simply titled Fu Manchu, but the sinister Chinese supervillain has appeared in many movies, so I’m using the character’s name as a bit of a catchall. Fu Manchu has often been played by English actors (and always by white actors) including Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Peter Sellers. Thankfully, Karloff and Lee don’t add more insult to injury by using a horrible, fake Chinese accent in their performance, although Lee speaks with a slightly odd affectation. Sellers, on the other hand, goes all out with the stereotype in his painfully unfunny The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, and it’s just inexcusably awful.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Khan Noonien Singh is Star Trek’s most iconic villain, played so memorably by Ricardo Montalban in the original Star Trek TV series and The Wrath of Khan, the second and beloved movie in the franchise. Less memorable is Khan’s deeply goofy origin story. He was a genetically engineered superhuman who, during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s (we all remember those, right?) ruled over more than a quarter of the Earth’s population before shooting himself into space and going into suspended animation, eventually to be found by the Enterprise crew in the 23rd century. As his name might suggest, Khan is of Indian descent, which made it a little weird for him to be played by the Mexican-born Montalban back in 1982. But it also makes it totally insane that J.J. Abrams recast the character for his 2013 reboot sequel Star Trek Into Darkness with quintessential English actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The decision effectively whitewashed two ethnicities, which is almost as impressive as it is deplorable.
British actors have a long history of playing ancient Greeks and Romans, which means there’s a long list of classical heroes and villains with what TV Tropes calls “The Queen’s Latin.” It sort of defeats the purpose of this list if everyone in a movie is speaking English, so cheers to Stanley Kubrick’s amazing epic Spartacus for primarily casting Americans as the noble slaves-turned-freedom-fighters and proper Englishmen as the tyrannical elite of the Roman Empire. The slave revolt is led by Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus and Tony Curtis’ Antoninus (who memorably uses his heavy New York accent as a slave of unknown European origin), while Peter Ustinov plays a scummy slave owner, Charles Laughton a scheming Roman senator and Laurence Olivier a Roman senator so evil he not only literally crucifies Spartacus and all his companions, he tries to seduce Antoninus! The horror! Kidding, it’s just completely homophobic.
Casting David Bowie as a Goblin King who takes a high-maintenance baby off his overwhelmed sister/babysitter’s hands was a stroke of genius. Bowie always seemed ethereal in the real world, and he plays Jareth with a sinister sexuality that gives the fantasy film an interesting edge while he simultaneously entices and torments Jennifer Connelly’s character, who’s trying to make her way through the titular labyrinth to rescue her brother. That said, the real-world portion of the movie seems to be set in America, which makes one wonder why the goblin world isn’t. Maybe Jareth is a traditional English fairy king who hopped the pond for a business visit?
Despite being based on a Stephen King novel, 2003’s Dreamcatcher is a movie that absolutely shouldn’t exist, because no one who read the script should have agreed to star in it, no director should have taken the job and no production company should have given the movie a penny. It is purportedly a serious sci-fi/horror film about malicious aliens, but these aliens — and I’m not kidding in the slightest — kill people by crawling up their asses. The protagonists, played by a shockingly over-talented cast which includes Justified’s Timothy Olyphant and Billions’ Damian Lewis, refer to the aliens as “shit-weasels.” Lewis plays an American character named Jonesy who gets possessed by a larger, more stereotypical alien named Mr. Gray, who plans to invade the asses of the entire world and, of course, speaks with a comically British accent. Fun fact: In 2014, King admitted he wrote the entire novel while he was stoned on oxycontin as a result of his horrific 1999 car accident. It shows!