Why You Shouldn’t Avoid Subtitled Movies

Published 6 years ago by

why you shouldnt avoid subtitled movies header Why You Shouldnt Avoid Subtitled Movies

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.

seven samurai Why You Shouldnt Avoid Subtitled Movies

Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' (1954)


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).

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  1. Happily stumbled across this blog when looking for subtitled movie recommendations for my students. I teach struggling high school readers and use subtitled Asian tv serials for my students who need to improve their reading rate. It works!

    Good movies for teenagers- appropriate for school. My students go to movies- so I’d like to offer them something compelling, surprising or just plain different from the usual fare Hollywood provides them at the mall theaters. I copied the suggestions in the comments above and copied some of the opinions as well- great discussion material.

    What’s good for teenagers?

  2. whoah this weblog is magnificent i really like studying your articles.

    Keep up the good work! You already know, lots of people are looking around for
    this information, you can aid them greatly.

  3. Reeding makes my hed hurtt!

  4. When I download movies (with subtitles) from Youtube the downloaded version comes without the subtitles.I use iLivid site for downloading. Can anybody suggest another downloading site?

  5. i love foreign movies. i really do. more love to any foreign movies than English and American movies. i’ve been watching subtitle films and tv shows (in foreign and English language) for about 9 years or more. So i’m use to it. my dad has bad hearing so one day, my dad started to watch subtitles movies, thinking he will be able to understand what the people are talking about and not be “wait, what’s going here?” moments. I also don’t have good hearing. i’m not deaf or anything, it’s just i find the English language to be slurring their words a lot, mumble a lot and not as articulate than other languages. I do live America, so i guess i’m one of those small percent of Americans over here who accept, appreciate and care about movies, no matter from which country they came from. India (Bollywood), Nigeria (Nollywood, i know, it sounds a little weird, but i enjoy them), China, Japan, Korean, Mexico, French, Brazil, Russia, German, and even Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran movies. The last 3 countries i mention do have movies, but not a lot of them. There are so many foreign films that I have watched for years as you can tell so many more. again, i love them. not all foreign movies are good, they have their bad ones like in America and UK. The most amazing thing with foreign movies is you’ll get to experience a country’s culture, their religions, their idols and their pros and cons of their movie industries. it’s called exploring, learning something new and broadening and connecting to other countries. Aren’t tired of the same thing over and over? that’s how i view about how not a lot of Americans don’t watch foreign films. I’m honesty offended when people will watch a foreign trailer movie and the first thing comes to their minds is “Where’s the subtitles?” “They better have English over this!”, even though i’m American. Most of you guys are not even paying attention to “Oh this really has good acting in this”, “Nice costumes”, “Very good art direction” and so on. Why many of you guys comment those type of comments with English movies, but not foreign movies? i’m confuse. I know reading the subtitles at first can be a pain in the but. However, reading subtitles is like exercising your brain and people who are not good spellers will soon be able to spell. I was a terrible speller, but the years with subtitles, they have helped me spell hard words. Reading subtitles can make you a bit smarter, in my opinion, not all of you will agree with me. Here’s I want you guys to try. watch a short foreign movie. Don’t even add the English subtitles yet. Watch from beginning to end without it. “Oh come on!” “I can’t understand what’s going on!” don’t complain, don’t even focus on what the actors are saying on the screen. Focus on the actor’s emotions and their facial expressions on the screen. if you just really focus those two alone, along with the music to set the mood (like in American movies), you’ll soon understand them. Yes, you might be surprise you’ll understand a foreign film without the English subtitles. Why? Because that means the actors are doing their job. Don’t most you guys pay attention to whether a movie will have good acting? Well here it is guys. After you get the gist of what the short foreign film is about as whole and you’re comfortable with knowing the characters, by observing their behaviors, you than can put on the English Subtitles. First watch will be frustrating, i know, but the more you practice and practice, the easier watching foreign films will be fun. Then you can start watching feature length foreign films, whenever you think you’re ready to watch one. you don’t have to do this, but i’m suggesting this for people who wants to see a foreign for the first or the ones (many) who are cranky about foreign movies. sorry if offended to some of you guys right there, but it’s the truth.

  6. There are some movies which I don’t mind reading subtitles for. However, there are so many in which it ruins the movie.

    Sorry, but it takes about three to five times longer to read something than listen to it. You also remember far less.

    Anything with good cinematography… you can’t appreciate a wonderful iMax scene when your eyes are reading text at the bottom of the screen. Anything with fast action… you can read rapid text at the bottom while explosions are happening. In action scenes, eyes are naturally drawn to movement and colour. Anything which requires complex concentration… again reading doesn’t register as quickly as speech, so you tend not to remember key details. Mysteries, plots with lots of characters, complex plot devices, etc. which have subtitles quickly become confusing.

    “[dubbing] doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate the subtleties of the sounds, the emotions, the true nature of what is being said by the native actors”

    Either do subtitles. My in-laws and wife speak another language. When they do… I have *no* clue of any subtle emotions. None! I dare anyone to tell the difference between concern, fear, worry, suspicion, sarcasm, etc. if you don’t speak Cantonese. Hence romances, non-physical comedies, complex dramas, etc. typically don’t work well with subtitles. Worse… in having to read, you are no longer looking as closely at facial expressions which makes it doubly hard to convey complex emotional states through dialog.

    There are times subtitles are fine. A WWII movie where you are showing the German generals meeting for a 30 seconds. Speaking German makes it more realistic and reading is fine for a few minutes. However, reading for the entire length of a film means you saw less than half the film and in many types of films that simply isn’t good.

    The reality is that most US (and other) movie goers will not see movies which are subtitled. Subtitling loses impact just as much as bad dubbing. There is a reason Hollywood dubs or remakes a movie rather than subtitling.

  7. I will choose subtitles over the bs they make here in the U.S any day. They do have some good stuff here, but I can’t stomach the majority of it.

  8. I love subtitled films and dramas some of my favorite are Korean