If You Have a Friend Who’s Afraid of Subtitles, Get Them to Read This

Oscar nominee Lion has made a good impression at the local box office. Not only did it manage to beat xXx: Return of Xander Cage and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for the #1 spot, it managed to stay there for two weeks.

I love this for two reasons. One, it restores my slowly withering faith in audiences that they’ll support extraordinarily well-told stories over shoddily-made action vomit. Two, half the film is subtitled.

But I bet most people didn’t realise that second part, including those who feel averse to subtitled films.

If that had been apparent in the marketing, it wouldn’t have done nearly as well. For many people, the idea of reading subtitles is as repellent as watching the film while doing a Year 12 calculus test. “It’s just too much work.”

“You can do it,” I’d reply. “Just give it a shot,” I’d plead. “It’s not that fucking hard,” I’d think to myself with gritted teeth before saying “That’s OK, I totally understand why you don’t want to try watching a subtitled movie.”

And in total honesty, I do understand how daunting it may seem to a newcomer. But like a lot of fears, all you need to do is jump straight in to find your swimming legs.

I can’t remember the first time I watched a subtitled film (Oldboy in 2005, maybe?) but I typically hear from fellow converts how quickly you get use to reading stuff at the bottom of the screen while looking at stuff everywhere else on the screen. Before long, it becomes as natural as using a knife and fork.

For years, I’ve wanted to find fool-proof ways of breaking these subtitle seals. My original go-to tactic was to show off the trailer to The Raid (not a word of dialogue is present) and then immediately shove the film into the hands of the subtitle sceptic before they can even ask if there’s any reading required. It’s like hiding your pet cat’s medicine inside the catfood, except the medicine was the subtitles and the catfood was eye-blistering action scenes.

However, not everyone is into artful/horrendous acts of violence.

My next go-to would be The Intouchables – a French feel-good flick with an approachable premise, a slick sense of humour, and a proven track record with audiences outside of le pays de l’amour. It also has one of the fuzziest DVD covers in movie history. Just look at these winning smiles.

“That’s nice ‘n all, but I’ll just wait for the American remake.”


Now that Lion is out and building that juicy word-of-mouth momentum, I think I’ve found my new go-to tactic. Unlike The Raid and The Intouchables, this is technically not a foreign language film, meaning it’ll sneak past the radar of anyone who’s averse to subtitles. It also means it’ll have more of a chance reaching Western audiences.

But there’s another entity that’s already been doing this that has reached millions upon millions of people: Facebook.

Anyone who has come across so much as a tweet from a Social Marketing 101 course will know that automated video content is the new highway billboard. The best way to engage the people with a muted vid is to slap it with some juicy graphics and – pay attention now – SUBTITLES that get straight to the point. This has worked on me and, chances are, it has worked on you too. And I doubt anyone who has been caught in this new-age advertising has stopped watching because of an inability to read and watch at the same time.

If you have adjusted to the flood of subtitled video content that engulfs your news feed on a minutely basis, then you’re absolutely ready for subtitled films. You can easily watch heart-pounding Danish drama The Hunt, immortal Japanese classic Seven Samurai, Oscar-winning Iranian soul-crusher A Separation, haunting Polish WWII horror Son of Saul, kickass Te Reo action adventure The Dead Lands, melancholy French-Canadian masterpiece Monsieur Lazhar, and cataclysmic Korean revenge thriller I Saw the Devil – to name a few.

Welcome to a whole new world. Enjoy it. It’s amazing.