Stranger Things, which returns for a second season this week, was one of the first truly global shows on Netflix. The sci-fi series turned cultural phenomenon premiered last year just as the streaming service expanded from 60 countries to over 190.
Netflix says the first season was watched by subscribers nearly everywhere around the globe. One member streamed the first season from Antarctica, a handful watched from places like Bhutan and Chad; millions more streamed from countries like the US, Mexico, and Germany. It wasn’t easy to make the Duffer brothers’ homage to 1980s American pop culture land globally.
Netflix’s localization team dubbed Stranger Things in nine languages and subtitled it in 22, such as Thai, Hebrew, and Korean. They conferred with the creators to stay true to the show. Some translations were easier said than done.
The now iconic scene in episode three, Holly Jolly, in which Winona Ryder’s character, Joyce Byers, hangs a string of colored Christmas lights with the letters of the English alphabet painted beneath each bulb to communicate with her missing son, posed a particular challenge for Netflix’s subtitlers. In the scene, Joyce asks Will, who is stuck in the Upside Down, where he is. “Right here,” he spells out in lights, in one of the the show’s climactic moments.
“We couldn’t repaint the wall,” said Denny Sheehan, director of content localization and quality control at Netflix, “so as she’s spelling we’re finding translations with the same number of letters.” In German, it was ”Genau hier” and in Spanish, it was “Aquí mismo.”
The voiceover artists who dubbed Ryder’s character may sound familiar to fans of the actress who watched in Spanish, French, or Italian. Netflix tapped some of the same people who voiced Ryder in movies from the 1980s and 1990s for the show. The dub voices in Castilian Spanish and French both voiced Ryder in Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). And the Italian dub voice also voiced her in Beetlejuice (1988).
“We’re tying to create dubs where if you close your eyes and switch between them you’d identify the same characters,” said Sheehan.”We wanted people who embodied the spirit of those characters.”
The dubbed versions worked especially well in countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, and Brazil, which had the largest share of members who watched Stranger Things with dubbing.
Stranger Things dub consumption by country
Whether dubbed or subtitled, translations of US-centric terms like “demogorgon” required extra care. The term is borrowed by the kids in the show from the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons to refer the monster in their town. To be authentic to fans and the time period, Netflix went back and found the local translations to those words in the 1980s. In French, it was “le démogorgon,” for example.
And then, of course, there’s Eleven’s signature snack, Eggo, the frozen-waffle brand that plays a key role in her character’s cultural awakening. In some languages, Netflix left the brand name as is. But in others, Netflix replaced it with words that better described the snack food, like “gofres” in Castilian Spanish and “panquequas,” or pancakes, in Portuguese. In the Thai subtitles, Netflix transliterated the brand name, “เอกโก.”
How many ways are there to say Eggo? A lot, it seems.