Features and Columns · Movies · TV

Subtitles Are On the Rise (And Digital Technology is to Blame)

“Sorry, I can’t hear anything without the subtitles on.”
By  · Published on March 6th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why more and more viewers are watching content with subtitles on.

It goes without saying that there’s nothing wrong with subtitles. They’re an invaluable tool for accessibility, both to folks with hearing differences and to those who don’t speak the language of the film they’re watching. And even if you don’t “need” them, no one should make you feel silly or less-than for doing so.

Alongside this, however, there’s something a little crunchier going on: an unexpected consequence of the way modern movies are made and consumed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I couldn’t understand dialogue in new releases (in English, my mother tongue) without subtitles on. I suspect you’ve had similar experiences. So what gives? Why does a ham-fisted ADR’d giallo from the 1970s ring loud and clear while the latest Netflix release has you reaching for the remote?

Unfortunately, much like the prevalence of the “why is the image so dang dark?” phenomenon, it has to do with digital filmmaking and consumption. While new recording technologies have made dialogue much more audible, they’ve also made dialogue less intelligible in the process.

The “why” of it all is a complex mix of factors that I’ll leave to the experts below to explain. But, suffice to say, there’s small solace in the fact that you’re not alone: we all need subtitles now.

Watch “Why we all need subtitles now”

Who made this?

This video about how modern motion capture involves more artistry than you’d expect is by Vox, an American news website owned by Vox Media, founded in 2014. Vox produces videos on news, culture, and everything in between. This video was produced and animated by Edward Vega, with art direction by Joey Sendaydiego and story editing by Bridgett Henwood. You can subscribe to Vox on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).