It is a a sad, sad truth that most English-speaking movie-goers will not watch foreign (and therefore subtitled) movies. No matter the type of film… Regardless of actors, the director, or whatever – if it’s not in English and subtitles have to be read, the choice will usually be made to opt for something else that doesn’t require reading while watching a movie.
There are several weak reasons for this: The most basic reason is that one has to ACTUALLY READ (blasphemy!) in order to understand what’s going on. Then there’s the fact that (most) subtitles appear along the bottom of the screen and therefore takes some of a viewer’s concentration off the action that’s taking place. Finally, subtitles require more attention be paid to a movie that’s not in one’s native language (English).
But as a lover of all types of cinema, whether in English or any other language, I look at those above reasons as insufficient, and simply not good enough to warrant the sort of avoidance of foreign films we sadly see all the time, except for those film buffs who enjoy good movies whether they are subtitled or not.
No, I’m talking about the more general movie-going audience in English-speaking countries (the US and the UK are notable examples); the fact that (for the most part) subtitled movies don’t get the attention they rightfully deserve; and most importantly, how the shunning of foreign films affects the box office and therefore, the choices of movies we have to pick from when we go to theater.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is annoyed and perplexed by this issue. In an attempt to help, I have come up with (or rather pointed out) a few reasons why the general English-speaking public needs to stop avoiding subtitled movies.
You’re Missing Out On Greatness
Breaking news flash: English-speaking countries aren’t the only ones which make great movies. Some of the best films ever made are in a language other than English, and by avoiding certain movies because they’re subtitled, people are effectively robbing themselves of a potentially great experience.
Also, much like the example of modern moviegoers not watching black and white films, a lot of English-language movies wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for certain foreign ones. A prime example of this is the work of late-great Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. His masterpiece, Seven Samurai (which is foreign AND in black and white…Shock! Horror!), was one of the prime inspirations (if not the inspiration) for the classic John Sturges English-language film, The Magnificent Seven. Imagine if Sturges had shunned Kurosawa’s work because it wasn’t in English: no Magnificent Seven.
Practice Makes Perfect
Much like learning how to ride a bike, once you’ve watched enough subtitled movies and have familiarized yourself with the process of watching and reading at the same time, you will barely even notice the subtitles, much less make the conscious effort to concentrate on them.
If someone has been avoiding subtitled movies their entire movie-watching life, it is obviously going to take a bit of getting used to. But if you stick with it and go through the process a few times, it becomes second nature (and I’m speaking from experience).