The case for — and against — watching movies and TV shows with subtitles on

The case for — and against — watching movies and TV shows with subtitles on
"Stranger Things."Netflix
  • I've never been a fan of subtitles, but I find myself using them more these days.
  • They can enhance the viewing experience and make character names and dialogue more clear.

While watching HBO's "House of the Dragon" recently, I found myself doing something I had vehemently avoided in the past: turning the subtitles on.

I've always found subtitles distracting, and still do for most content. But for "House of the Dragon," I've found that it's necessary and supplemental.

It's not just that "Game of Thrones" prequel. I've also been watching Amazon's "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" with subtitles, for similar reasons.

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With a recent survey revealing that people are increasingly using them, I took a look at the case for — and against —turning on subtitles.

The case for — and against — watching movies and TV shows with subtitles on
"House of the Dragon."HBO

Subtitles can enhance your experience

For the aforementioned fantasy shows, it's almost impossible to not watch them without subtitles, and props to anyone who can.


They are steeped in actors with thick accents reciting countless characters and locations that can easily be mixed up. Without subtitles, it might be difficult to keep track of Aegon and Aemond, and Rhaenyra, Rhaena, and Rhaenys on "House of the Dragon."

On "The Rings of Power" especially — with its two dozen characters and locations, and expansive mythology — it's helped me be more invested in the series.

I also turned subtitles on for the new "Star Wars" series, "Andor." How else was I supposed to know people were saying "Preox-Morlana"?

Subtitles can also be helpful if your TV doesn't have the best sound quality (although there are ways to adjust that).

And subtitles for content in another language are vastly superior to dubbing, the process of adding a vocal performance over the existing audio (but that's an entirely different argument).


Subtitles can also just be an experience in their own right. Netflix's "Stranger Things" took its subtitles to the next level with season four, with descriptions like "tentacles squelching wetly" that sparked social-media conversation.

The case for — and against — watching movies and TV shows with subtitles on
"Stranger Things."Netflix

Subtitles can be distracting

There are drawbacks to having subtitles on, though.

"House of the Dragon" and "The Rings of Power" are some of the best-looking shows on TV, and the subtitles can distract from the beautiful imagery.

If you want to be fully immersed, one can argue subtitles are just as bad as Googling a character name during a show or movie. Just sit back and read a recap afterwards if you're struggling to follow along.

Sure, you might notice something new with subtitles, like a prominent sigh, or a quiet sound or whisper. But sometimes it's more satisfying to notice them yourself.


Subtitles can also get ahead of the audio, so you'll be reading the dialogue before it's said (this is especially annoying when watching a stand-up comedy special and the punch line is ruined).

At the end of the day, it really just comes down to preference, but as I said, I generally don't use subtitles for the reason above — unless it's a big-budget TV series based on popular IP, apparently.