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Movie Localization: 7 Films That Appear Differently in Other Countries

These are seven movies that have been modified to suit audiences in different countries.

By Sean Patrick HopwoodPublished 5 years ago 6 min read

Subtitling and dubbing are not the only changes or additions employed when importing movies to audiences abroad. A good number of movies end up getting slightly modified not only in their translated or interpreted dialogues, but also in some scenes or images shown on the screen. These changes are done as a result of localization, largely in deference to cultural and political sensitivities. They don’t alter the overall stories or plots of the movies, but they can be significant and noticeable enough. While some movies simply add or change the audio and visuals during post-production, there are movies that shoot different versions of entire scenes to be used in the localized versions shown in different countries.

1. More Exposure for Chinese Characters in Iron Man 3

The highest grossing movie in the Iron Man franchise is the only iteration that exceeded the $1 billion mark. It even came close to the final international box office haul of the first all-star Avengers movie. This is partly attributable to the co-production between DMG Entertainment (which is based in China) and Marvel Studios. The involvement of a Chinese company in a way resulted in a localization that put heavy emphasis on attracting Chinese viewers.

The Iron Man 3 versions released in China featured more scenes aimed at giving more exposure for the Chinese characters in the film. In particular, Dr. Wu, Tony Stark’s friend, and Dr. Wu’s nurse had more scenes in the Chinese theatrical release. There were also some product placements like the one for the Chinese milk brand Gu Li Duo. All in all, the added scenes totaled approximately four minutes.

While some criticized the addition of new scenes for being pointless and unnecessary, they may have had a positive effect on the Chinese audience as China gave Iron Man 3 its largest box office opening. It also became the highest-grossing American movie released in China in 2013.

2. Buzz Lightyear Subtly Shedding off His American Identity in Toy Story 2

Buzz Lightyear is undoubtedly American. If it isn’t obvious enough, the iconic Toy Story character’s name is based on American engineer and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. However, for the international release of the Toy Story 2 movie, at least one scene had to be modified.

This scene was when he was giving a stirring speech to his fellow toys before they embarked on a mission to save their friend. The original (US) version of this scene showed Buzz Lightyear getting an American flag backdrop and the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background just before he strode off. For the international version, the American flag was replaced by a spinning globe with fireworks around it. The music was also changed with a song called “One World Anthem” specifically written by Randy Newman for the film.

While some critics may say this move was a pathetic attempt to please audiences in large international markets like China, the change is not significant. Its goal was simply to make the movie more appealing or relatable to viewers who are not familiar with American themes and references.

3. A Sheepish Wolf of Wall Street

The 2013 black comedy starring Leonardo DiCaprio was both a commercial and critical success. It became the most commercially successful work of American-Italian filmmaker Martin Scorsese drawing in $392 million in the box office. It is described as a modern-day Caligula movie as it depicts various instances of greed, lust for power, and excessive indulgence. It is also notable for its more than 500 f*** curses, which factored in heavily in its R rating.

It’s no surprise why a number of countries ditched the movie entirely. However, for conservative countries that considered giving it a theatrical release, major changes had to be made. India and Singapore, for instance, took away major vulgar scenes from the movie.

The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, made drastic cuts to rid the film of its sexual content, depictions of drug use, violence, and loathsomeness in general. The cuts took away around 45 minutes of the film. Well, 45 minutes may not sound that much considering that this movie based on the life of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker turned criminal, is a Titanic-level 3 hours long. Still, the cuts were apparently too much that many in the audience reportedly failed to grasp the plot of the movie. There were also reports of Dubai audiences getting confused by the dialogues.

4. Cutting off Some Shin in The Shining

The original version of this 1980 psychological horror drama by director Stanley Kubrick was two hours and 26 minutes long. However, reportedly due to poor reviews and slow box office sales, the non-US release of the movie had to be cut by around 25 minutes.

The scenes removed included a part of the meeting between Watson and Jack in the hotel and Danny’s scene with a doctor where her injury from Jack’s attack was referenced. Some of the attempts of Dick Hallorann to enter the hotel during a snowstorm were also taken down along with some of his dialogues in the hotel and the scene that showed Wendy discovering skeletons in the hotel lobby.

Aside from the cuts, The Shining also had one scene localized for major movie markets. This scene was Wendy discovered that her husband had been repeatedly typing the sentence “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in hundreds of pages. True to Kubrick’s reputation of bone-breaking perfectionism and realism, this scene was localized in four languages, namely Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Take note that this was in the 1980s, so the multitude of paper containing the repeated sentence was not produced by CGI. All 500 pages shown in the English version with “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” were reproduced manually in four different languages.

5. Easy Solution for a Die Hard Conundrum in Germany

The first film in the Die Hard movie franchise presented a unique problem when it was introduced to the German movie market in 1988. Back, then a far-left terrorist group called the Red Army Faction and other similar violent organizations was still hounding Germany. It was plainly a bad idea to offer a movie depicting Germans as gun-toting villains. Doing so would have attracted criticisms and worse, a boycott.

The production team’s solution for this problem was simple: change the name and origin of the movie’s villains. Luckily, the film did not include imagery that would clearly associate the movie’s baddies with German terrorists. Hence, the solution was simply to work on the dubbing of the names and history of the villains. Their names were changed from something German-sounding to English. Their were also turned to ex-mercenaries of the IRA instead of having German origins.

6. Country Connotations for Animals in Zootopia

The 2016 hit CGI movie featured quirky animal characters, an intelligently written plot, and a social commentary on government conspiracy. This Disney movie was highly successful not only because of excellent marketing and its family-oriented content. The exemplary savviness of Disney in reaching out to international audiences also factors in.

Redditors were the first to write about how Disney made subtle but noticeable changes to make the film more endearing to specific audiences. The imported versions of Zootopia had some changes in a specific character: the news anchor. While the US and Canada version of the movie featured a moose as the news anchor, it was replaced by a snow leopard for the Russian and European releases. For the Japanese movie market, character was a Japanese raccoon dog or a tanuki (a mythical creature). For the Chinese version, the replacement was a panda—obviously. Australia and New Zealand also had their own animal news anchor version: a koala.

7. Captain America’s Idea of Modern Pop Culture

The first Captain America movie had a plot that required a good grasp of what “modern life” means for the audience. As the film’s titular character was supposedly stuck in cryogenic sleep since the 1940s, he has no idea what modern life is. To adapt, he has a list of things to do.

This to-do list is nothing complicated. In the movie, it’s just a piece of paper with handwritten things to get acquainted with or accomplish. However, the producers of the film wanted to make turn this list into something suitable or more relatable for audiences in major movie markets. As such, different lists were created. For the Russian release, the list had the Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Uysotskiy name drop. In South Korea, Dance Dance Revolution, Ji-Sung Park, and the violent Korean movie Oldboy came on top of the list. Italian moviegoers were given the nod by mentioning Vasco Rossi and Roberto Benigni. British audiences, on the other hand, saw The Beatles and Sean Connery on the list. For Mexico, the list included Maradona’s Hand of God, Shakira, and Neri Vela.

Except for the drastic and extensive cuts, the changes made to the movies above have not altered their stories, the intended message, and their artistic value. These changes are in line with the goal of localization, the process of making things more appealing or non-offensive to audiences who come from different cultural and sociopolitical backgrounds.


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