Following its successful debut at SXSW in March, writer/director Joe Cornish's 'Attack the Block' had the film community buzzing about its crossover potential. The clever sci-fi horror/comedy about a teenage street gang fending off an alien invasion in their South London housing project was the unquestioned hit of the Austin festival. But possible distributors were worried how the characters' heavy accents and unfamiliar slang would play in North America. When the possibility of adding subtitles was raised, many loudly (and wisely) questioned the logic behind treating an English movie like a foreign language film.
'Attack the Block' hits select theaters on July 29th (without subtitles), but it wouldn't have been the first time an English-language movie was modified for sensitive American ears. When 'Mad Max' was originally released stateside in 1980, the Mel Gibson classic was re-dubbed over similar concerns that the Australian accents would be too tough to decipher. Nowadays, of course, people have no trouble understanding Gibson -- though his publicist might wish they could redub some of the things that have come out of his mouth in recent years.
Still, all the fuss over 'Attack the Block' got us thinking about some other characters and movies that could've used subtitles. Whether they're mumblers, motor-mouths or just downright incomprehensible, here are five characters that make the South London teens in 'Attack the Block' sound like Henry Higgins.
Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt) in 'Snatch':
The poster child for movie character incomprehensibility, Mickey has such a thick Irish Traveller's drawl, even the other characters can't understand it. Guy Ritchie's film plays this English language barrier for laughs, leading to some particularly memorable -- if not exactly quotable -- exchanges, but even then it takes a few tries and plenty of contextual clues to decipher Mickey's lines. The DVD for 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' came with a helpful guide to its characters' Cockney rhyming slang, but in 'Snatch,' Pitt's bare-knuckle boxer should've come with his own personal interpreter. (Thankfully, in the Special Features section of the 'Snatch' DVD, they do feature subtitles.)
Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) in 'The Usual Suspects':
Like his 'Snatch' co-star, Benicio Del Toro is no stranger to on-screen miscommunication. "Who is Keyser Söze?" may be the biggest question on moviegoers' minds while watching Bryan Singer's iconic crime thriller, but "What the hell is Del Toro saying?" runs a close second. The criminal's mumbled and mangled English makes for the movie's best running joke, leaving his interrogators, fellow suspects and audiences everywhere wondering if he's speaking a different language.
Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) in 'District 9':
The "prawns" aren't the only ones who need subtitles in Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi action movie. And actually, at times, the aliens are easier to understand than Wikus' Afrikaans accent and slang. There was talk of toning Copley's South African accent down for the movie's American release, but 'District 9' had no problem translating at the box office as is. The surprise hit took in tons of cash, and landed Wikus and his accent their very own YouTube tribute video.
Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) in 'True Grit':
Jeff Bridges has made a career out of playing laid-back characters, but in the Coen Brothers' 'True Grit' remake, he plays a character who's so laid back he can't even be bothered to form complete words. As the drunken US Marshal Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is prone to slurring his lines beyond recognition at times -- which may be why he lost the Best Actor Oscar to Colin Firth, whose character understood the importance of proper enunciation. Regardless, Cogburn gets some serious bonus points here for being even less comprehensible than "La Beef" (Matt Damon) after the Texas Ranger loses part of his tongue.
Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in 'Trainspotting':
The heavy Scottish accents in Danny Boyle's 'Trainspotting' were initially deemed so incomprehensible Mirimax had the first 20 minutes of the film redubbed for its North American release. After listening (and re-listening) to Robert Carlyle's borderline psychotic Begbie, we only have one question: why stop there? Even with the added dubbing, there's no shortage of difficult accents in Boyle's breakthrough film, but Begbie's takes the cake. That said, his serious anger management issues come through loud and clear no matter what accent he's shouting in.
Are there any other movies or characters that make you reach for the subtitle button on your remote?