In cinema, there are villains, and then there are very British villains. These guys tend to be upper-crust baddies with a pronunciation that verges on parody. Not every English person in film (and certainly not the real world) is an evil Brit, but seemingly more often than not in American films, our villains are British.
Very British villains became a thing in the '60s and '70s with the Bond films and the Star Wars trilogy, and before long, an English accent was shorthand for a guy with a giant laser. The trend of villains with British accents comes and goes. Sometimes the theater will go years without a bad guy speaking the Queen's English, and then blimey, before you know it, every evil mastermind is from London town. It's enough to make your head spin, innit?
The trope of villains having British accents just to prove they're evil has accomplished quite a few feats onscreen. It's made actors like Tim Curry and Tom Hiddleston household names, and it's outed actors like John Lithgow for having the absolute worst English accents. Now, which of these actors is the most obvious British baddie, guvna?
- Photo: Labyrinth / TriStar Pictures
Is there a more British villain than Jareth the Goblin King? Not only is he played by David Bowie, an incredibly British human-alien hybrid, but he also walks around his castle performing close-up magic - is there anything more English than that?
Aside from playing with a set of crystal balls at inopportune times, Jareth spends much of the movie taunting a young American girl after kidnapping her baby brother to turn him into a goblin. (So English!) It's not just that he's an evil kidnapper/magician, Jareth lives in a castle in the middle of a giant maze and acts like he's better than those he surrounds himself with. It's like he's a character in a Virginia Woolf novel.
Any cool factor that's in Jareth comes from Bowie, but even he can't tone down the natural English villainy at the heart of this character.317Obvious British baddie?
- 2Photo: The Lion King / Buena Vista Pictures
In spite of the fact that every lion living around Pride Rock speaks with a flat, American accent, Scar is extremely British - but not in a fun way. There's a condescending nature to the way he speaks to Simba and the rest of the animals around him; that may not be why he's evil, but it does clue the audience in that he's not to be trusted.
Aside from the Hamlet of it all, Scar kind of has a Blofeld from You Only Live Twice thing going on. He stays one step ahead of his brother and then later Simba, and he's happy to tell everyone just how great he is at being bad. Even if he didn't speak with an English accent, he would still be evil, but it's the posh accent that makes him so off-putting.240Obvious British baddie?
- 3Photo: The Avengers / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Not every English person who has Loki's upper-class accent is bad, but in the darkness of a theater, you can bet your life savings on someone with a similar uptick in their voice trying to open a portal to another dimension for vaguely sinister purposes. Loki embodies the worst of what Americans think about upper-class Brits. It's not just his accent; it's the way he acts as if he has the upper hand even when he's locked in an impenetrable glass cube.
Loki's unwarranted self-assuredness is exactly why he's an amazing villain. Audiences love to see people who act like him get their faces stuffed in. His whole I'm better than you because of where I was born attitude is what makes the final act of The Avengers work. His failed attempt to turn Tony Stark into a mindless minion and the realization on his face that he's not going to win is one of the most satisfying moments in the MCU.
It's hard to imagine Loki speaking with an American accent. It's not like his underhanded plans or constant subterfuge would be any less frustrating, but he just wouldn't be as conniving - and what's fun about that?254Obvious British baddie?
Shere KhanPhoto: The Jungle Book / Buena Vista Distribution
There's no version of Shere Khan that's good. He's slightly chill in 1967's version of The Jungle Book, but he's evil nonetheless. It's never a question of whether he's a bad guy - he's a tiger who wants to eat a child, for goodness sake - but he's so droll about it that it's almost shocking he doesn't take a break for tea.
In 2016, Idris Elba voiced the character and gave him the voice of a proper hard man. This version of Khan makes it clear he's ready to mess up anyone who gets in his way, especially the "man cub." Khan doesn't need to be English to let the audience know he's evil - he's a burned-up tiger who believes in animal-on-animal violence - but he was given an accent just so the audience really gets that he's not someone you want to be around.120Obvious British baddie?