Half of Americans now watch TV with closed captioning or subtitles on because of muddled audio or hard-to-understand accents according to a recent survey by Preply, with noted mumbler (and Oscar nominee) Tom Hardy ranked as the hardest to follow.
British accents in general pose a problem for U.S. viewers, with shows like “Peaky Blinders” and “Game of Thrones” topping the list of series that are watched with subtitles.
Hardy is often delivering his lines from behind a mask, particularly in Christopher Nolan films “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Dunkirk,” but his manner of speaking has inspired articles like Vulture’s 2018 piece “Tom Hardy Needs to Learn How to Enunciate” and Dallas Observer’s 2020 list “Tom Hardy Movies Ranked by How Hard It Is to Understand What He’s Saying.” British director Nolan (who isn’t mentioned in the study) has also prompted Reddit threads such as “Why is the dialogue in Christopher Nolan films always so damn hard to hear?” for his distinctive sound mixes.
U.K. gangster series “Peaky Blinders,” which is set in post-WWI Birmingham, is the most confounding series for Americans, according to the study, which surveyed 1200 people. Hardy plays recurring character Alfie Solomons on the Netflix series, which also stars Irish actor Cillian Murphy.
The percentage of viewers using subtitles was much higher in younger demos (72% for Gen Z) than for Gen X or Boomers, which means it’s not just those who are hard of hearing using subtiles.
Other celebrities on the list include fellow Brits Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba and James McAvoy, as well as non-native English speakers Sofia Vergara, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. The only two U.S. actors mentioned were Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, likely for their respective roles as Jack Sparrow and incomprehensible Irish boxer Mickey O’Neil in “Snatch.”
The study found that 57% of Americans have used subtitles to better understand actors with an accent, with Scottish accents like those used in “Outlander” the hardest to comprehend, followed by Irish accents such as those on “Derry Girls,” and British accents of all backgrounds such as on “Downton Abbey,” “Bridgerton,” “Skins,” and “Doctor Who.”
South Korean hit series “Squid Game” is also on the list, but the default setting on Netflix is Korean audio with English subtitles. (You can also watch with English audio.)
A small percentage of viewers (18%) said they used subtitles to “learn a new language.”