Beyond Words - Language Blog

Dubbing Fails for Popular Hollywood Films (and one surprising hit)

Multilingual dubbing is a profitable business in the modern film market. As a result, many movies today are dubbed into as many as 30 or 40 different languages from around the world. This is especially true of many films from the United States, as they tend to be popular in various countries around the globe. When a movie is translated from one specific culture and language into many various ones, there are bound to be some miscommunications and confusing interpretations throughout the process. Here are some very famous movies from the United States whose translations in certain countries failed due to cultural misunderstandings.

  1. Star Wars – Loss of Name Nuances with French Literal Translations

    The French voiceovers of the Star Wars movies leave something to be desired, mainly because France is very careful to translate English names and sayings in literal terms. “Darth Vader” becomes “Dark Vador,” “Tusken raiders” translates into “sandpeople” and “battle droids” are named “droids of combat.” While these translated names and other terms are easy to understand, they lose some of their meanings related to the Star Wars narratives that the author originally intended. This makes the movie seem inaccurate from an English speaker’s perspective, though French viewers may not notice any plot-based discrepancies.

  2. Shrek -Mixed Cultural Interpretations for A Polish Fable

    Shrek is another popular film that highlights the cultural confusion that comes into play when a film is dubbed from one language into another. In one scene of the film’s Polish version, Shrek threatens to drag Donkey to the meat house. While this statement may seem strange and violent to English speakers, it actually makes a great deal of sense to the people of Poland. As it turns out, there is a very popular piece of folklore in the country that deals with a donkey and a slaughterhouse. Since many of the stories referenced in the animated film are not known to Polish moviegoers, the translator decided that mentioning this famed fable would add humor and relatability to the version shown in Poland. This is one example of a dubbing “fail” that may seem confusing to English-speaking moviegoers but actually turned out to be a successful translation for Polish viewers.

  3. Sudden Impact – Well-known Quotes Lose Impact in Literal Italian Translation

    Sometimes the cultural references in movies from the United States get completely mixed up when translated. Sudden Impact suffered in this department when translated into Italian. For instance, the well-known line “Go ahead, make my day,” as uttered by Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, becomes “Go ahead, make me happy” in Italian. Like with Star Wars in France, the strictly literal Italian interpretation of this famous saying from Sudden Impact resulted in the much more nuanced meaning of the phrase being lost on the film’s audience in either France or the United States.

    As multilingual dubbing becomes more and more popular in cinema, there will likely be more confusing fails that audiences around the world will be subjected to. Advances are also being made in this regard, so as time goes on, higher-quality voiceovers can also be expected, leaving United States residents and those in other countries with more logical and higher-quality material to enjoy.

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If you are looking for trustworthy foreign language voice-over artists, look no further. ALTA Language Services offers professional voice-over and dubbing services with voice-over artists who are native language speakers and linguistic experts. This means that all translations are culturally, contextually, and linguistically accurate with no room for misinterpretation. Contact us today for a free quote!


Lindsey J. Flagg is a freelance writer who lives in Schererville, Indiana. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Purdue University Northwest, where she also completed a Minor in Media & Culture. Her interests lie in cultures, media and travel.

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