The Real Reason a Ton of Movie Villains Have British Accents

Have you ever noticed that a ton of movie villains tend to have accents?  And when it comes to the super devious and super smart villains, they tend to have British accents.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  I mean sure we associate a British accent with intellect but there’s actually more to it than that.  If you ask a professional linguist you’ll see that they’d have a full answer.  Luckily for us one linguist actually gave a full answer.

Here’s the full explanation in NYMag:

The reason, as linguist Chi Luu recently explained in JSTOR Daily, is that the accent lends itself well to the particular qualities that make for a compelling movie villain, a cocktail of traits more nuanced than just “pure evil.” Research has shown that speaking in the received pronunciation accent – the “posh” iteration of the British accent, also known as the Queen’s English – makes people appear “more educated, intelligent, competent, physically attractive, and generally of a higher socioeconomic class.”

In one study, for example, a researcher delivered the exact same lecture in two different accents, receiving more positive reviews when he did it in received pronunciation. On the other hand, though, RP speakers are also generally considered “less trustworthy, kind, sincere, and friendly than speakers of non-RP accents.” And when you put the two together, you get someone with a fierce intellect and low morals – the perfect combo for a fictional bad guy.

But there’s something else at play, too, Chuu noted: There’s a concept called “standard language ideology,” the belief that there’s one ideal form of a language and then various accented offshoots:

“Speakers of the standard form are considered the ones that “have no accent” and any dialect that strays from from that is stigmatized in one way or another. Believing in this concept legitimizes the institutional discrimination of those who don’t use or didn’t grow up with the standard language. The reality is of course that everyone has an accent.”

In other words, British actors are usually cast in American movies as the villain because we associate the received pronunciation with high intellect and low morals.

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