From Shere Khan in the Jungle Book to Alan Rickman in Die Hard, British villains have long been terrorising victims on the big screen. And now the reason behind why they make such effective baddies has emerged; they speak with the right accent.
Actors who use Queen’s English are more likely to appear untrustworthy, experts have suggested, as it immediately suggests that they are from the upper classes.
They also come across as more intelligent, making it more likely for an audience to believe their complicated revenge plans.
Just why British actors are commonly placed in “bad guy” roles is a question that has permeated the Hollywood scene for years, prompting A-list stars including Dame Helen Mirren to complain.
Rachel Weisz has a British accent as she plays the Wicked Witch of the East in the 2013 fantasy film Oz the Great and Powerful Credit: Disney
She previously claimed that such actors were being seen as “easy targets” and insisted that Britons are not the “snooty, stuck-up, malevolent, malignant creatures as we're so often portrayed”.
Now, Chi Luu, a New York linguist who has worked with companies including Microsoft, has claimed the perfect villain has to be an actor who speaks in Received Pronunciation (RP) as those with regional accents are too friendly and sincere to be cast in such roles.
She rebutted claims it is because the accent is thought by many to sound nicer and instead blamed people’s preconceptions.
Writing in an article released on Jstor, she said: “Speakers of the prestige Received Pronunciation (RP) accent (otherwise known as the Queen’s English or BBC English) are regularly evaluated by non-RP speakers as more educated, intelligent, competent, physically attractive, and generally of a higher socioeconomic class.
British actor Anthony Hopkins was cast in The Silence of the Lambs
“At the same time, in terms of social attractiveness, those same posh RP speakers are consistently rated less trustworthy, kind, sincere, and friendly than speakers of non-RP accents. Sounds like a good start for a villain.”
Other experts who have written on the subject argue that those with upper-class English accents garner more hatred as they appear to have privileges they do not deserve.
Sociolinguist Peter Trudgill, when asked previously about the subject, said RP speakers were often perceived “as soon as they start speaking as haughty and unfriendly by non-RP speakers unless and until they are able to demonstrate the contrary”. They are, he added, “guilty until proven innocent”.
Ms Luu added: "It turns out many of us believe, often without realizing it, we can predict social and personal traits about a person, simply by the accent they use. We may be wrong, but we do it anyway."
The trend arguably started 50 years ago, when George Sanders was cast in the Jungle Book as malevolent, man-hating tiger Shere Khan.
Since then, British actors have regularly, inevitably and almost predictably been cast as villains, experts said.
More recent additions include Rachel Weisz, who plays the Wicked Witch of the East in the 2013 fantasy film Oz the Great and Powerful, and Tom Hiddleston, cast as supervillain Loki in the Marvel series.
Ms Luu does point out, however, that we may be starting to see a change.
One of the biggest film’s last year, American superhero film Deadpool, cast British actor Ed Skrein as the villain but he instead spoke in a Cockney accent.