How Superheroes Gained Fame with Translation and Localization

- October 12, 2021
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Whoever your favorite superhero is, they’re likely well-known around the world. Names like Superman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, and The Avengers, are all globally known.

Of the total $2.795 billion in box office receipts for the Avengers: Endgame (as of August 2019) about 69.3% was generated outside North America. The main driving force behind these results was strong sales in China, which accounted for roughly $629 million of the total. 

However, it’s estimated that less than 1% of people residing in Mainland China speak conversational English. So, how exactly did China generate almost as much ticket revenue as North America?

The reason for these results (besides an intriguing storyline—thanks Stan Lee) is translation, and likely localization as well.

Before we dive into how translation and localization have impacted superheroes, let’s define what they are.

Translation and localization

Translation is the act of taking a source text (or speech) and converting it to another language so it can be read (or heard) and understood. Translation’s sole focus is on converting the source accurately, while localization is all about adapting the text (or speech) so that it better appeals to the target audience. 

A common use of localization is seen with superhero names because not every name translates well to other languages. For example, The Green Goblin from Spiderman when translated into French is “Le Bouffon Vert” which actually means “The Green Buffoon”. As you can see, instead of using a direct translation, localization should have been used to create a name that more closely resembled the character.

An even funnier one was Batman’s previous name in Sweden, Läderlappen, which actually translates to “The Leather Patch.”

Successful superhero localizations

While there have been some blunders with superhero translations, the use of localization has made them (mostly) a thing of the past. 

Here are some of our favorite superhero localizations:

Captain America’s reference list

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve was creating a list of references that he needed to catch up on since he wasn’t from that time. However, for certain countries where the movie was shown, the list contained different key references specific to the region. 

For example, the North American version contained Steve Jobs and the Moon Landing, while the French one contained Daft Punk and The Fifth Element. There were other variations such as the Beatles in Britain, while the Latin American version mentions Neri Vela, their first astronaut. 

Have you noticed any differences in the list in your region? Let us know in the comments below!

Ironman’s quips 

In Avengers: Infinity War, Tony Stark was seen calling Ebony Maw “Squidward”. While calling Maw “Squidward” could have been hilarious for an American audience, the problem is, in the French version of Spongebob Squarepants, Squidward’s name is actually “Carlo”. 

Instead, in the French version of Avengers: Infinity War, Tony refers to Ebony Maw as Voldemort. While not quite as funny as Squidward, it does get the job done and avoids any confusion by calling him Carlo instead. 

My name is Totoro

During Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Peter Quill mockingly refers to Yondu as Mary Poppins. While western countries familiar with the British nanny likely caught on to the joke quickly, others in countries like Taiwan probably wouldn’t have appreciated the joke. Instead, Taiwan’s dub of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 had Peter call Yondu “Totoro” instead. 

While Yondu seemed to appreciate the comparison, I’m not sure Totoro would!

Bloody spears and 12+ age ratings don’t mix

In the Agents of SHIELD series, Agent Coulson’s death was edited for Region 2 DVDs in the UK, Europe, and a few other places. Simply put, the original version where Loki’s spear pierces straight Agent Coulson was deemed too inappropriate for their chosen viewing advisory rating. 

In the edited version, Coulson is still visibly stabbed, but the actual blade is nowhere to be seen, leaving it up to your imagination. 

Have you seen other instances of superhero localization?

While these are just a few scenes where superhero localization has taken place, there are bound to be many others that we’ve missed on this list. 

Do you have any favorite superhero moments that have (or haven’t) been localized effectively? Let us know in the comments below and maybe we can feature them in the next edition!