The Best & Worst American Accents We've Ever Heard

The thing about an American accent is that there isn't just one. Or, rather, there are a few dozen of them. You've got Western, Texan, Midwestern, Western Pennsylvanian, Appalachian, Southern, Deep Southern, New York, Boston, Jersey, Philly, and Chicagoan, to name a few. (And then, within those regions, locals know there are subsets — think Staten Island vs. Brooklyn.) So, who's to say what makes a "good" American accent?
Unless you're a bonafide phonologist, it's hard to say. But you'll know it when you hear it. A good American accent has an effortless authenticity to it. There are certain cadences, emphases, and pronunciations that most of us couldn't identify — but when flubbed, they're dead giveaways that somebody's Yankee yammer is faux.
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It's a challenge every non-American actor playing an American character faces. And it's not easy — even with the best dialect coaches, A-listers can easily fuck it up. Just to be clear, we're not picking on nonnatives here — American actors have been butchering every accent under the sun since the dawn of Hollywood. But in the patriotic spirit of Independence Day, we thought we'd round up some of the best and worst attempts at American accents in movies and on TV. Happy Fourth!
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Best: Damian Lewis
Homeland (2011 - 2014) & Billions (2015 - Present)

Lewis' role on Homeland was centered on his character being conflicted about his patriotic duty, so it was essential that we believed him as an American. And we did — I can't tell you how many people said they didn't realize he was British until after he left the show.

As New York City hot-shot investor Bobby Axelrod on Billions, Lewis couldn't get away with any old American accent. His gusto-filled outer-boroughs accent is a huge part of both Axelrod's characteristic bravado and authenticity as a local. His secret? Staying in character. "When I work on set, I wake up in the morning with an American accent. I don’t come out of my American accent until someone shouts, 'Wrap!'" he said.
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Worst: Priyanka Chopra
Quantico (2015 - Present)

We love Priyanka, we do. She's a total badass IRL, she has great natural pits, and she's killing it in her first starring TV role as FBI trainee Alex Parrish. But that accent leaves something to be desired. It's too proper, hyper-enunciated, and vaguely British. Chopra admitted to struggling with it last summer, tweeting that it took her three days to “Counter Terrorism Taskforce” in an American accent. We still love you, Priyanka!
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Best: Christian Bale
American Hustle (2013)

Christian Bale is the poster boy for transformative roles and method acting. So it would only make sense that he's a pro at mastering American accents of all varieties — and his Bronx-native speak as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle is no exception. We really should be listing the guy's entire IMDB page here, because he nails the accent to a T every time. Seriously, hearing Bale speak in his native British accent — like in this featurette — is disconcerting.
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Worst: Clive Owen
Inside Man (2006)

Literally, Clive, are you even trying?! Maybe 20% of his words here are pronounced like an American, and that's being generous. The thing is, we kind of love Clive Owen's British accent and wouldn't mind listening to it all damn day. But his criminal mastermind, Dalton Russell, is supposed to be a New Yorker (and probably a Brooklynite, though it's never made explicit). And his accent is criminally lacking.
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Best: Hugh Laurie
House (2004 - 2012) & Veep (2015 - Present)

Laurie embodied Dr. Gregory House for eight years, and not once in eight seasons did the actor remind viewers that he is, in fact, British. Today, he's reprising his American accent to play Tom James, the charismatic Vice President to Selena Meyer (Julie Louis-Dreyfuss), on Veep. In a way, his ordinary go-to American accent is totally unremarkable. But that's the idea, isn't it?
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Not The Worst: Cara Delevingne
Paper Towns (2015)

Delevingne's accent in her first starring role on the big screen is definitely not the worst we've heard. But the problem for me was that her character, Margo, is supposed to be so free and effortless — and she was, in every other way — but her accent just feels so...labored and inauthentic. Like, if you met Margo at a party, you'd have literally no idea where she's from — because there is no place in America where people sound like that. I guess it just adds to her character's mysterious air?
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Best: Andrew Lincoln
The Walking Dead (2010 - Present)

As Southern sheriff-turned-zombie-killer Rick Grimes, Lincoln rocks a Georgian accent so naturally. In fact, when he first auditioned for the role, the producers he read for had no idea he was from the U.K. For the Brit, it's about living in that environment. "It helps that we film in Georgia," he told the Daily Mail. "If you’re living and working around people who are in the same ballpark in terms of dialect, you pick up the rhythms. I’m like a sponge. I absorb inflection."

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Worst: Orlando Bloom
Elizabethtown (2005)

Just no, bb. I mean, I guess Bloom's soul-searching shoe designer Drew could pass for an American who just has a very strange way of saying everything. But at least the actor didn't wreck some four-star masterpiece — Bloom's subpar accent was definitely not the worst thing about this film.
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Best: Alfred Enoch
How To Get Away With Murder (2014 - Present)

Dean Thomas who? Though we got to know Enoch as the Quidditch-playing Gryffindor, he got his big break as Wes on the crime-drama as Annalise Keating's favorite student. He plays his American accent straight, and it totally works. How'd Enoch do it? By speaking like a Yank on- and off-camera — even to his girlfriend. "She finds it pretty strange," he told Teen Vogue. "But I don’t want to slip! It helps, doing it all the time. It means there’s no change of gear for me."
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Worst: Jamie Dornan
50 Shades of Grey (2015)

I suppose that everything about Christian Grey is supposed to be a little...off. But the deep, throaty bellow that Dornan relies on to hide his Irish accent for much of the movie is just odd. And not in a sensual, mysterious way. We would've loved to hear his full-blown Irish brogue or a convincing Yankee accent — but this? Not so sexy.
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Not The Worst: Emma Watson
The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

Watson manages a half-decent job, but glimpses of Hermione emerge here and there in the actress' take on the free-spirited Sam. Stray syllables and odd emphases give away her nationality. Almost, Emma!
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Worst: Colin Firth
Main Street (2010)

OMG, STOP IT. If you missed this North Carolina-set drama, it may be worth seeing just for Firth's laughably bad attempt at a Texan accent as shady businessman from out of town Gus Leroy. Please, at the very least, skip to the 0:50 mark in this video and tell me that's not a Kiwi accent. My god, Colin.
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