The Problem with Dubbing
One of the big arguments that will be brought up by some people with regards to this issue is that there are dubbed versions released so that the viewer doesn't have to read subtitles. And this is true - you will find most foreign language movies will have a dubbed audio track as an option.
But what I find is most often a huge problem with the dubbed audio is that it 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, because all you can hear is (often half-assed) English-language voice work. Sometimes dubbing is done well - particularly if it's some sort of special edition of the movie - or in the case of animated movies, where dubbing is not as much of an issue (all animated films require voice-over work, after all). However, for most live-action films, dubbing detracts from the experience - especially if the voice-over person was not involved in the production, on the set, or directed by the film's director.
Dubbing is often done by actors not from the country which the original film is from, and thus what is being dubbed over isn't getting across not just what precisely is being said, but not getting across how it's being said. One example of this that comes straight to mind is the non-special edition UK DVD release of Hard Boiled, which had Chow-Yun Fat and Tony Leung dubbed by American actors and it just sounded ridiculous going with the visuals of who's meant to be speaking (the actors).
Thankfully a special edition of Hard Boiled was released with remastered subtitles...
Apart from the actual language, the actual way certain words are said in English is radically different to China, or France, or Sweden (and so forth) and dubbing doesn't often reflect that. The sense of culture from one language/country to another is undoubtedly different, and dubbing doesn't really get across certain parts of a word, or slang terms and so forth.
English Language Remakes
Foreign/subtitled movies' inability to make bank at the U.S. box office usually means that the big studios (usually American) will take the idea and remake it as an English/American film, rather than debut it in it's foreign-language form. This often leads to the remake being seen by more people, and thus making more money. As an example, the original Japanese version of The Ring (called Ringu) went straight to video in the U.S., whereas the Gore Verbinski/Naomi Watts remake was released theatrically and made just under $130 million domestically.
However, dollars and cents aside, English-language remakes are almost always inferior to the foreign-language original, and the lack of attention the original gets just means we will get more and more unneeded and unwanted remakes, not only of foreign films but of any film, new or old, which is deemed "inferior" or "past its prime" (the horror genre is a great current example). By watching a remake (whether they're aware it's a remake or not), people are (for the most part) exposing themselves to re-hashed version of somebody else's inspired idea.
There are certainly other, more specific reasons why avoidance of subtitled movies should stop, but those are the main ones.
And, in case you happen to be one of those folks who have been actively avioding subtitled films, here are some great ones to get you started on becoming a convert:
- Oldboy (2003, Korean)
- Seven Samurai (1954, Japanese)
- Amelie (2001, French)
- Downfall (2004, German)
- Hard Boiled (1992, Cantonese)
- City of God (2002, Portugese)
- Let The Right One In (2008, Swedish)
- Audition (1999, Japanese)
- Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, German)
- Rashomon (1950, Japanese)
- Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Spanish)
- [REC] (2007, Spanish)
The next time you're at your local movie theater or DVD rental store, and you see that word "Subtitled" on a poster or on the back of a DVD case, ask yourself: "Why rob myself of a great experience just because of a minor inconvenience that, if stuck with, will eventually cease to be one?" Treat foreign language films the same as those in your own language: judged no worse or no better until you've seen the end credits roll.
Whether good or bad, cinema is cinema, no matter what language it's in.
Are you a subtitle movie watcher?