Large streaming platforms like Netflix are exposing more viewers to international media. Non-English-speaking television series continue to exceed viewer expectations and make history. Let’s take a look at some of Netflix’s foreign shows that have generated this volume of attention.
Reading subtitles no longer seems like such a hassle. Good television has become the new universal language. The popular streaming service, Netflix, exposes more viewers to the history and culture from different parts of the world.
Squid Game (South Korean)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
“Squid Game’s unflinching brutality is not for the faint of heart, but sharp social commentary and a surprisingly tender core will keep viewers glued to the screen – even if it’s while watching between their fingers.” – Critics Consensus
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have seen the phenomenon that is Squid Game. For those who have not seen it – spoiler alert – it is one of the best shows to come to Netflix since the streamer’s inception! The South Korean blockbuster is not only Netflix’s most streamed non-English speaking series, but it’s also Netflix’s most streamed series, period! Just within the first four weeks of its debut, the show blockbuster garnered 1.65 billion hours of viewing.
The show centers around a father fighting to escape debt, competing with 456 other contestants. The winner not only earns millions of dollars, but they are the only living survivor as the show turns innocent children’s games into brutal battles to the death. The Director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, chose the title Squid Game because “it’s the most symbolic game that reflects today’s competitive society.” The series’ social commentary speaks on socioeconomic divides, class, power, and greed.
While most of the content can be disturbing and violent, it has captivated viewers worldwide. We could not help but connect with the protagonists Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-jae, and Kang Sae-byeok, played by Jung Ho-yeon both won multiple awards, including a Screen Actors Guild Award for male and female actors in a drama series.
Squid Game makes SAG Awards History as first non-English-language TV series to win acting prizes: Lee Jung-Jae won male actor and Jung Ho-yeon won female actor in drama categories. ￼ pic.twitter.com/c62RNShjT4
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) February 28, 2022
The Netflix hit made history, being the first non-English language to have four SAG nominations.
The “old man” in the series, Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su), was the first South Korean to win a Golden Globe. In his acceptance speech, he said – “Now it’s no longer ‘us within the world,’ but it’s ‘the world within us.’”
Squid Game is the first non-English language series to be Emmy nominated for Outstanding Drama — stars Lee Jung-jae, Jung Ho-yeon, Park Hae-soo, and Oh Young-soo also received Emmy nominations for their incredible performances! pic.twitter.com/8zCH0Kpfvs
— Netflix (@netflix) July 12, 2022
Dong-hyuk also won an Emmy for directing a drama series. The show’s immense success leaves viewers anxious for season 2!
Money Heist / La Casa De Papel (Spanish)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
“It is also deliciously melodramatic at times, riffing on the telenovela style of telling one concentrated storyline that has outrageous twists and much passion. But it throws into the recipe a deeply serious social agenda and, at times, what’s unfolding is at the level of the best premium cable drama in this neck of the woods.” John Doyle (Globe and Mail).
After five seasons, the infamous team of convicts – who have cities for names – are finally done robbing banks. The series occurs in Madrid, Spain, where the criminal mastermind, “The Professor,” assembles this team to plan a heist at the Royal Mint of Spain. Within five seasons of the show, we’ve seen Halloween costumes of the Dalí masks and people singing the team’s freedom song, “Bella Ciao.” The last season ended in 2021 and earned nearly 190 million viewing hours.
Smaak to go to a Halloween party with the gang all dressed in red jumpsuits and Dali masks pic.twitter.com/FL0HwGbvfi
— نبيله (@haleeban) April 5, 2020
The characters, Tokyo, Denver, Nairobi, and Rio, are viewed as heroes, rebelling against the constraints of the police and government. The Dalí masks symbolize an uprising, while the famous Italian revolt song “Bella Ciao” is their anthem for freedom and democracy. The show’s political commentary touched and inspired thousands of viewers to the point of it becoming a phenomenon.
Netflix even released a documentary called Money Heist: The Phenomenon, revealing its unexpected rise in popularity – interviewing the creators and cast of the show. While the plot of each season is repetitive, viewers continue to be entertained, fall even more in love with each character, and become angrier at the antagonists. According to the Washington Post, it became an early entry in Netflix’s Global Top 10 list, gaining 65 million viewers. It has won numerous awards, including an International Emmy for best drama series.
Money Heist’s seasons 3-5 have generated more than 2 billion hours of viewing in their first 28 days on the platform.
— LifeFlip Media (@lifeflipmedia) December 8, 2021
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
“A comedy mystery caper drama Lupin drew on the French attitude to both immigration and racism, while at the same time celebrating the mystique of literary legacy.” – Graeme Blundell (The Australian)
We’ve heard of Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes, but have you ever heard of a gentleman thief? After watching three seasons of Netflix’s French series Lupin, you’ll learn all about the one and only Assane Diop. The protagonist, played by Omar Sy, is based on Maurice Leblanc’s 1900s novels surrounding the story of the criminal Arsène Lupin.
Assane lives a double life – making a living as a janitor and blending in with other people of color in the community. But he also transforms into a member of Paris’ bourgeois society. As a master of disguise, he steals from the rich and gives back to the poor to avenge his father’s suicide, who was falsely imprisoned by the wealthy.
Looking forward to the next Lupin… but master of disguise?! Let’s be realistic please. pic.twitter.com/GDUqgJMAfq
— Curtis Moldrich (@Khurtizz) October 6, 2023
The show’s popularity speaks for itself after becoming the first French origin to declare a number one spot in the U.S. Top 10 list. Season 3 is Netflix’s number one non-English Speaking series in the Global Top 10. Within the first 28 days of airing, it gained 76 million subscribers. The humorous and suspenseful show has earned multiple nominations for the Critics Choice Awards, the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Awards, the International Emmy Awards, and more. Sy charms the viewers with his charisma and wit, enticing people of all languages to root for his cause to seek justice.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
“It’s beautiful, mysterious, and a little bit maddening, and you’d want to take in every little second of the show even if it wasn’t in German with English subtitles, because every aspect of it matters.” – Emily St. James (Vox)
Netflix’s first German original series became a hit after three seasons. The plot begins once two children disappear in a small German town, unleashing the sinful past of these families searching for them. Forbes declares the Sci-Fi series as “mentally exhausting,” especially when going into depth on an unexplored topic – time travel: “Dark has gone deeper into the concept than any series or movie I have ever seen.” However intricate and detailed, viewers continue to keep up with the subtitles as over 90 percent of the show’s views come from outside of Germany.
The series won multiple awards, including Best Writing Fiction in the German Television Awards. Many critics have compared the show’s 1980s nostalgia to the American hit Netflix series Stranger Things. The German 1980s nostalgia is also popular in the United States.
Parrot Analytics found that the show’s audience demand is 12.7 times higher than the average U.S. TV series in America.