In 2020, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite became the first non-English language Best Picture Oscar winner. The historic victory was representative of a larger trend that has permeated Hollywood and popular culture alike: the mainstream acceptance and celebration of foreign films and television.
This weekend, the Japanese double feature of The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One represented nearly one-third of all box office receipts, breaking numerous records along the way. The Boy and the Heron flew into the top spot with a $12.8 million domestic opening, the first time any original anime film has topped the North American box office.
After roaring to an $11.4 million domestic opening last weekend, Godzilla Minus One dropped 24.8 percent during its second weekend, notching $8.3 million and securing its spot as the highest-grossing live-action Japanese film in the United States and Canada.
The Hollywood Reporter reported Sunday that last weekend marked the first time two Japanese films have ever coexisted within the domestic top five, let alone the top three. But these results are not unexpected. Anime films such as Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero both topped the domestic box office during their respective runs and Parasite collected more than $53 million stateside.
While these results have shocked box office pundits, the seeds of a foreign film renaissance have been rooted across the past decade. In his 2019 Golden Globes acceptance speech for best foreign-language film, Joon-ho made a bid to American audiences that have historically shied away from international productions.
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Joon-ho said through a translator.
While older audiences haven’t always embraced subtitle technology, Gen Z and millennials have overwhelmingly adopted the accessibility tool into their regular viewing routines. A 2023 YouGov poll revealed that 63 percent of United States audience members ages 18 to 29 prefer to use subtitles when viewing native-language media.
Similarly, a 2023 WordFinder by YourDictionary survey found that 69 percent of Gen Z and 57 percent of millennials watch anime, compared to 23 percent of baby boomers. Fifty percent of all American respondents indicated that they watch anime in the original Japanese instead of the dubbed-over English translation.
These results demonstrate a clear popularization of foreign-language media, but the trend isn’t contained to Japanese animation. The first season of the South Korean television series Squid Game remains the most popular season of television ever on Netflix, with more than 265 million views as of Dec. 3. The fourth season of Spanish series Money Heist sits at second on the streamer’s non-English language charts.
The Norwegian folk-thriller Troll lit up Netflix in 2022 with 103 million streams, becoming the then-biggest non-English language hit on the platform. Last year also saw the Oscar-winning Indian mega-hit RRR win over Western audiences with its crowd-pleasing combination of action and musical numbers.
With the 2024 awards season heating up, Variety has put four foreign-language films in its top 20 predictions for the Academy Awards’ Best Picture race. If two or more are nominated, it would be the first time the Academy has recognized multiple foreign films in the Best Picture category. The dual nomination of Babel and Letter from Iwo Jima in 2007 doesn’t count — the latter was an entirely American production and the former had large swaths in English.
With the United States growing more diverse, the exploding popularity of foreign entertainment should come as no surprise. Subtitles are more accessible, international cinema is more profitable and audiences are more open to media created outside of the Hollywood bubble. The success of The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One paves the way for future subtitled smashes and dispel the idea that American audiences crave only American products. The future of cinema is bright, no matter which language it’s in.